BFI Modern Classics: Salò or The 120 Days Of Sodom

Author: Gary Indiana

Even today, some 36 years after its release, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film, Salò:120 Days of Sodom still has the power to shock. In an era of such films as the Saw and Hostel franchises and the recent A Serbian Film, Pasolini’s film still stands up against these other films. It is also an intellectual film about the body politic and fits Michel Foucault’s quote: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” perfectly. This was Pasolini’s last film before he was brutally murdered by a rent boy in 1975 and follows on the back of Pasolini’s literary adaptations at the end of his career: Boccaccio’s Il Decameron (1971), Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights (1974) and in Salò he has updated the Marquis De Sade’s novel, ‘120 Days of Sodom’ to late war northern Italy (Salò is the name of an Italian town on Lake Garda in northern Italy and was the puppet republic of Mussolini).

Gary Indiana’s BFI book delves into the body politic, consumerism, fascism and the complexities surrounding Pasolini’s films. Indiana himself is a writer and essayist and author of such gay classics as ‘Rent Boy’. It’s not until page 37 that Indiana even begins to discuss Salò and up to this point he explores Pasolini’s place in cinema history and his own early experience of watching Salò as a young horny man in an LA picture house in 1977. I too can remember my first time I saw this film – on a date at the ICA none the less.

Well illustrated throughout, Indiana goes through the set ups of the film and unsurprisingly he focuses on sex, power and depravity. It’s al here: coprophilia, sodomy, incest and cold blooded murder. He makes the observation that most of the bodies of the victims and the ‘fuckers’ are alike; only the libertines and the courtesans have distinctive features. The bodies of the men, Indiana observes are well endowed and definitely fall into Pasolini’s ‘types’. Nor does Indiana hold back on the graphic depictions of torture and sexual abuse – the most shocking scenes of all include the segment entitled ‘Circle of Shit’ in which the libertines dine on a banquet of faeces (actually Swiss chocolate – and the knowledge of this does not make it any more comfortable) abjected from the bodies of the naked victims and the finale torture and murder of just about everyone in the cast. Indiana’s book is most assuredly a good compliment to Pasolini’s film.

Steven Hurst

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