Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Salo o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken us?

Well, here it is. The day has finally come. I can honestly say that I’ve been dreading having to watch this film since pretty much when I started this quest. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve been using a random number generator to randomly pick my films for me is because I did not want to have to actually choose to watch this. Well, someone at the 1001 Club went ahead and picked this, hilariously enough for Valentine’s Day, so I guess I owe them at least a mild thanks for making me finally get this out of the way. I know of many people who have seen stuff like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede; films I absolutely refuse to watch, and thus condone the filmmaker’s efforts. But, having been forced to watch this basically against my will, I will say this: it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. But then again, that is likely wholly because of how my brain approached the film.

If you don’t know or have never heard of this film, the plot should give you your first indication or red flag that this may not be for you, or for anyone. It involves a group of rich fascist Italians engaging in a secret ritual for unknown reasons, which involves marrying each other’s daughters and kidnapping nine young boys and nine young girls to a palace in the countryside for 120 days of torture and debauchery. The film starts out almost deceptively meek, rolling what can best be described as smooth jazz over the opening credits, as if this film were nothing but a care in the world, and then opening on a lovely pan of the town in question. Then, in a scene a few minutes later, a group of guards come into a room with the daughters in question, and one promptly walks up and spits in one of the girls’ face. Red flag #2. And then the young’uns are rounded up, herded to the palace, and explained the rules. And from there, the actual film begins, which consists largely of some of the captors regaling tales to the young folks, tales which consist entirely of the most depraved actions, pretty much all of them, that the human mind can possibly conceive of. During these tales, the young victims are subjected to degradations of a mostly sexual nature, though there is one section of the film appropriately titled “Circle of Shit” that consists of a few scenes of coprophagia, and if you don’t know what that word means I will spare you the definition. Really, except for the aforementioned section, the film was a lot tamer than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be this constant, non-stop, all-out orgy of despicable and disgusting actions for virtually the entire two-hour runtime, but it wasn’t. It was, amazingly, more reserved than that, only giving us bits and pieces of the depravity one at a time, instead of the deluge I thought the film was going to be. Not that that should be seen as a recommendation, though; the film is still highly in the running for the most disgusting film ever put to celluloid, but it wasn’t overwhelming 100% of the time, which enabled me to actually get through the whole thing. The one compliment that I’d heard about this film was that, at the very least, it was well made for what it was. I, however, did not get that perception. Frankly, despite that this was made in the 1970s, I actually think I could take the same material and subject matter and make a better made film from it than Salo. Not that I would, though. I do still have a little bit of humanity left.

Here’s the thing about my viewing of Salo, that I figured out some time while I was watching the film and decided to completely leave alone to do its thing: none of what is seen in the film is really, actually happening. That it was a fictional film was just the layer of protection my mind needed to remain largely whole on the other end of my viewing of this one, and again, even after figuring that self-defense mechanism out, I left it alone, since it was working out well for me. Still, I couldn’t help but think that there was no way Salo could possibly be made in today’s filmmaking age. That the filmmakers were able to make a film like this, even in the 1970s, is baffling. That they got the actors to agree to do this film is nothing short of appalling. What’s even more amazing is that the credits told me the musical score was done by none other than Ennio Morricone, which was probably the most mind-boggling. I will say, though, that the main reason this isn’t getting a lower score from me was because it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, and for very few other reasons (one of which being just another middle finger to the one film I have given a lower score to). Still, even with the protection of that fourth wall my mind constructed, a little part of my soul has been taken from me, abused and tortured and raped like the young folks of Salo. To imagine what has been done to it is to relive the events of the film. I don’t think I want it back.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10

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Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke

That’s some heavy shit, man.

Cheech and Chong have a storied place in American pop culture. Whether that place is wholly deserved isn’t up to me, but for what my two cents are worth, the stoner comedy duo aren’t really worth a whole lot to Americana. They have a comedy routine, man, that’s mostly about how sweet joints are, man, and about the wacky misadventures of trying to get high, man. Man. Man. Seriously, that word is so often repeated it got to be like nails on a chalkboard to me. Regardless, I had a good feeling this would offer absolutely nothing for me, and lo and behold, I was right.

Up in Smoke is derived from the hundreds of other comedy routine films in that it serves largely as a basis for putting Cheech & Chong’s comedy routines on the big screen, and little else. The plot is there for no other reason than to serve as a structure to support the so-called comedy, and even then, the film could do with a little more effort. This is a prime, maybe the definitive, example of a film that doesn’t even want to try; a perfect metaphor for the stoner mentality that the film largely sells itself to. This is a really long-winded way of saying that this is the premier stoner comedy, and offers absolutely nothing else.

This was so wasteful that it made me not even want to put forth the effort to write this review. There was no reason at all for this to make the list. Even if Cheech and Chong were deemed culturally important enough to warrant a spot, the shoddy and listless filmmaking on display here would pretty much rule this out as a viable film, let alone one MUST see before they die. Trust me when I say, you can be perfectly well off not seeing this one. It’s got no appeal outside the stoner crowd, and they won’t be reading my blog anyway, so for those of you that are, and haven’t seen this one, you can do just fine without having to.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10

Flaming Creatures

Flaming Creatures

Ali Baba comes today.

Flaming Creatures is one of the most controversial film releases in cinematic history. When the film was first released, the police came in and seized the film, that’s how controversial it was. The film is essentially a trans-gender orgy, and that’s pretty much all it is. Opulent filmography, frequently obscene and sexual imagery covering the screen; this is not a film as much as it is a fetishistic porno. I assume this is in the book because of its extreme controversy, because there’s little else here that makes this must see viewing.

Admittedly, the print I saw of this film was of extremely low quality (if indeed it wasn’t the film itself), so much so that you can barely make out the opening title cards, but I could still make out a lot, and what I made out was just pure depravity in crystalline form. This film offers nothing else; even in its tepid moments, there is nothing happening other than voyeurism, again another fetish that the film seems to be packing in. Unless you’re looking into a controversial episode in film history, there is absolutely no reason to subject yourself to this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10

The Hangover

The Hangover

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes.

Hoo, boy. I was not looking forward to this one, what with everyone I know extolling the virtues of this relative to the stoner comedy genre, a particular niche I have never endorsed as worthwhile cinema, no matter how stupidly funny it may be. I was expecting more of the same with this one, and lo and behold, my suspicions were sadly confirmed.

Simple, predictable, banal comedy, with an occasional slip into the vulgarity territory that makes me detest these films so. I’m probably taking this a little too personally, but films that pander to the crowd like this film does are what’s wrong with cinema today. Plenty of people will say there’s nothing wrong with a little harmless, stupid fun, but to me, all that does is reinforce the low-brow mentality that people all too often let consume their lives in place of genuine creativity.

All in all, this is standard fare that really doesn’t deserve to be on the Must See list. This film tries too hard to be clever and original and funny, and ends up failing in almost every regard. I’m sorry, I tried, but this just turned out to be yet another film of the kind that I just can’t stand.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10