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Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom"
February 14, 2010 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Despite my absolute fidelity to Sade's text, I have however introduced an absolutely new element: the action instead of taking place in eighteenth-century France, takes place practically in our own time, in Salò, around 1944, to be exact. (some links extremely NSFW)
posted by Joe Beese (95 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh dear God. Far and away the most disturbing film I have ever seen. Utterly brilliant, too.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:29 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


And oh so fitting for Valentine's Day. Joe Beese, you are a romantic.
posted by philip-random at 8:32 PM on February 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


absolute fidelity to Sade's text

As harsh as Salò is, it has absolutely nothing on the original text "120 Days of Sodom". The book makes the film look like a pleasant weekend outing.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:36 PM on February 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Salo is one of my favorite films. I didn't find it disturbing, because the gross-out scenes were so obviously meant to be, well, gross. But it was provocative and interesting, and managed the feat of having lots of nudity without being titillating.
posted by Forktine at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


(some links extremely NSFW)

Well, I do work in Guantanamo Bay, so...
posted by Avenger at 8:39 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow, I really hate this movie. I'm going to hang back for a while, though, because I say that every time the subject comes up over here, and I think I've about exhausted my material on Salo. Anyway, I'd rather hear some cogent arguments as to why I'm wrong; I will say I do think it has sickening moments that stick with you forever, but so does the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and I've yet to see anyone defend that as a great work of art (it is not).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:40 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The hell, Metafilter, get out of my head. I'd already planned this for my romantic evening. (Twitter proof)
posted by naju at 8:43 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


120 Days of Sodom ONLINE
posted by Hammond Rye at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


managed the feat of having lots of nudity without being titillating.

Well...that kinda depends on the audience. It's decently shot BDSM porn, so yeah, it's true to the book in that way especially.
posted by kathrineg at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2010


"A man Martaine described on the 12th of January, the one who set off fireworks in the woman’s ass, has, for his second, this other passion: he ties two pregnant women together so that they form a ball and fires them from a large mortar. "

to my great disappointment, there are no scenes of pregnant women being shot out of cannons in SALO.
posted by Hammond Rye at 8:57 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


stinkycheese, I was about to say the same thing. The text of the book has a very different, and entirely more disturbing, effect than the movie. Not just because the perversions depicted in the book are so much more complicated and grotesque, but because there're so many more episodes presented, and mostly presented in these little 1-sentence thumbnail sketches. It becomes totally numbing, and indeed even a bit tedious after a while, in spite of Sade constantly ramping up the level of carnage - just this constant repetition of the same obsessional themes with the volume turned higher and higher.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:02 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course business and political leaders are fascist and enjoy torturing and molesting children. I guess some people need it spelled out.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:04 PM on February 14, 2010


One more thing to make me look back at the 1970s and say, "What the fuck, 1970s? What the fuck?"

I'm glad that my experience of the decade was as a reasonably sheltered child.
posted by edheil at 9:07 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still banned in Australia :(
posted by Ritchie at 9:13 PM on February 14, 2010


I enjoy Salo. It's not as disturbing as... well, Frenzy, Mysterious Skin and Straw Dogs are three films that I think of right away.

It's a fascinating film. Any movie that gets its creator murdered would have to be. I first encountered it in a class, where we screened it as an illustration of the fearsome culmination of enlightenment thinking in libertinism and as an expressive analog of Arendt's notion of "the banality of evil."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:21 PM on February 14, 2010


A cabbie in Las Vegas told me and my buds one about his experience distributing Salo on VHS. "You know, it was about perversion and stuff. Very tasteful art film," he said. "We sold to the discerning home collector." As I recall, he got a big kick out of refusing to sell any copies to rental stores in West Hollywood.

Drivers in Vegas have the strangest stories are weird.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:21 PM on February 14, 2010


kittens for breakfast: "I will say I do think it has sickening moments that stick with you forever, but so does the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and I've yet to see anyone defend that as a great work of art (it is not)."

Actually, I thought the remake of The Hills Have Eyes was very good. A great work of art, I don't know, that gets us into the whole idiotic "what is art" discussion, and I'm not particularly interested in that, but it's a fine horror movie, it draws you in, you sympathize with the characters, who are mostly quite believeable, it's extremely tense and suspenseful, and as you say, the horrible moments (thus, "horror movie") stick with you.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:34 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The text of the book has a very different, and entirely more disturbing, effect than the movie. Not just because the perversions depicted in the book are so much more complicated and grotesque, but because there're so many more episodes presented, and mostly presented in these little 1-sentence thumbnail sketches.

And the victims are younger as I remember, pre-teens as opposed to the teens in the movie, which I haven't seen.

I remember "discovering" Sade in the early days of punk rock. A fine arts university prof wasn't impressed with all the shock + provocation in punk; said that "the Marquis" had already taken things beyond all reason two hundred years previously. Something to do with the beheading of Louis XVI (the execution of God, and thus all morality).

Anyway, a few years later I stumbled upon a translation of 120 Days Of Sodom, randomly flipped it open and UNholy fuck .......

I guess I'm sort of still reeling.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 PM on February 14, 2010


It's probably the only thing I've ever read that made me feel like I might literally throw up.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:39 PM on February 14, 2010


(sigh) I'll start taking notes for a FPP on Pierpaolo Pasolini (affectionately known as PPP here, so a FPP on PPP). It's kinda sad that one of the most valuable european intellectuals (director of movies and documentaries, poet, novelist, journalist, screenwriter, political dissident, free thinker, possibly one of the first gay activists) of the XX century is only known for his last film.
posted by _dario at 9:39 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ambrosia Voyeur: "I enjoy Salo. It's not as disturbing as... well, Frenzy, Mysterious Skin and Straw Dogs are three films that I think of right away."

I'm not a huge fan of Salò, in part because I think it has little purpose beyond being shocking, I'm surprised you find it less disturbing than Straw Dogs. The violence in Straw Dogs is cathartic, and to a point justified, although it does tend to get out of hand. Salò has much more extreme and sadistic stuff, and the characters do it mostly for perverse pleasure.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:40 PM on February 14, 2010


Any movie that gets its creator murdered would have to be.

Maybe, maybe not. The truth of this is not established. What is known is that in the months leading up to his death Pasolini was denouncing the corruption of the Italian political class and their connections to the Mafia in a series of articles the Corriere della Sera, and that this action did not endear him to them.
posted by Wolof at 9:50 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, I thought the remake of The Hills Have Eyes was very good. A great work of art, I don't know, that gets us into the whole idiotic "what is art" discussion, and I'm not particularly interested in that, but it's a fine horror movie, it draws you in, you sympathize with the characters, who are mostly quite believeable, it's extremely tense and suspenseful, and as you say, the horrible moments (thus, "horror movie") stick with you.

I'm smalltexting this because it's kind of sideways to the real discussion, but:

I think Aja's film is (like his High Tension, but not as good as High Tension, which is actually pretty great until the ridiculous, irredeemable last act) well-made and very nice to look at, but its attempts at casting itself as some sort of critique of American culture are clumsy and on-the-nose to the point of distraction, and its use of rape (most pointedly) is so obviously meant to be titillating that it really, really squicks me out, but not for the reasons it's meant to. Same with the footage of actual deformed people in the opening credits; same with the lingering (fictional) footage of a man being burned alive. I think a horror movie should be allowed to go anywhere, but that the filmmaker has to keep in mind that what s/he's walking into is a minefield. I just don't think that the film earns the right to go the places it does; you need to have a really fucking good reason to go that big, to play with that kind of material, and this movie has the depth of a puddle. Because anyone can play those cards -- it doesn't make you a bold director to play them (without a better reason than to make people jump), it just makes you an insensitive one. You can't just stick in a shot of a dude skewering another dude through the head with an American flag and be all like, "I'm saying something here, yo." To me, I feel like that's what Aja's doing, and it doesn't work, because come on, man: You aren't saying shit! I'm cool with straight up exploitation, but don't bullshit me, you know? The visceral stuff does work, and I do believe that's harder to pull off well than a lot of critics seem to realize, but the film itself doesn't support it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:02 PM on February 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


_dario: "FPP on Pierpaolo Pasolini (affectionately known as PPP here, so a FPP on PPP)"

I have to say, it's totally appropriate that a FPP on PPP would contain so much peepee.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:03 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Joakim Ziegler: it is at least arguable that depicting violence as cathartic and justified is can be more horrific than depicting it as pointless and unreasonable. Catharsis is a common motivation for atrocities, and self righteous vengeance the rationale that usually accompanies it.
posted by idiopath at 10:04 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


i have heard of this film and still i am uncertain about watching it. i dont like horror movies generally, and am not shure about this. i do find that when people start saying "such and such a movie" is art just because it is repugnant or revulsive it puts me off.

also, that daily motion link is so pixellated it is hilarious.
posted by marienbad at 10:05 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This movie nearly got me kicked out of high school and DID get a prominent teacher of mine kicked out, by dint of showing us part of it. Never seen it since.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:07 PM on February 14, 2010


Pasolini Requiem
posted by Burhanistan at 10:07 PM on February 14, 2010


i have heard of this film and still i am uncertain about watching it. i dont like horror movies generally, and am not shure about this. i do find that when people start saying "such and such a movie" is art just because it is repugnant or revulsive it puts me off.

If you do decide to watch it (and I'm not recommending for or against viewing), you should probably read up on the political and social context in which Pasolini was living in, and read some interviews with him. Just a naked (ahem) viewing of the film will net you more shock than understanding.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:10 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hammond Rye: "120 Days of Sodom ONLINE"

Disturbingly, my first thought when I saw this was "They made a MMORPG out of it?"
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:22 PM on February 14, 2010 [23 favorites]


The new Criterion discs come with excellent essays on the film by Neil Bartlett, Catherine Breillat, Naomi Greene, Sam Rohdie, Roberto Chiesi, and Gary Indiana.

/doesn't work for Criterion
posted by stinkycheese at 10:26 PM on February 14, 2010


Those essays are online here.
posted by naju at 10:30 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those essays are online here.

Thank you!
posted by Wolof at 10:36 PM on February 14, 2010


Disturbingly, my first thought when I saw this was "They made a MMORPG out of it?"

Good, I'm not the only one. Unfortunately, I could actually think of the specific rape-based MMORPG I thought that was referring to...

NSFnon-horrible people
posted by FatherDagon at 11:01 PM on February 14, 2010


Disturbingly, my first thought when I saw this was "They made a MMORPG out of it?"

I just assumed it was a link to Second Life.
posted by empath at 11:16 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here in Copenhagen, Salò is currently being reenacted as (extreme) interactive performance theater called Villa Salò (English website). A theater troupe has rented out a big mansion in the city, and for 120 days they live there and act out the book 24/7. Visitors can book tickets to enter the house and stay for however long they want (you get a card when entering, which will also let you enter the house again on a later date without buying new tickets). You then get assigned as either a Child, Maid, Guard or Master, and get to walk around the house with privileges matching your assigned "rank".

I myself have not yet experienced it - I've bought tickets for next Monday, and am already freaked out about the thought of entering. I've read reviews about it (all very favorable) and some of my friends have gone - they say that it is very true to the book, with actual intercourse, beatings etc. happening. The "children" are of course all 18+, but look scarily like young teens. The performers all stress the interactive aspect, and urge people to join in on the roleplaying (it's prohibited to have sex with anyone, though) - my friend experienced one of the actors peeing in a cup, and then sprinkling the pee out over and guests alike. One review I read said that after being in there for a while, your sense of right and wrong becomes distorted, and instead of stepping in when seeing someone getting violated right in front of you (bear in mind, this is not going on on a stage - but all throughout the house, so the actors and guests are standing together), you accept it happening. Some people actively join in, so when given a whip by one of the "Masters" and told to spank one of the "children", they do - because of the authorative aspect of obliging to the Master or for their own enjoyment, who knows.

I'm really not planning on joining in on anything, but the voyeur in me thinks that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience something much more extreme and disturbing than I ever would, while it still not being "real" (they are actors and such all consenting adults). Still I expect the experience to stay with me for a long, long time (hopefully not scarring me for life).
posted by coraline at 11:19 PM on February 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


They act out the book = they act out the movie, which is of course based on the book.
posted by coraline at 11:20 PM on February 14, 2010


I enjoy the sensuous rhythms and sultry voice of Sade and I look forward to hearing more of her music when I click on the links of this post.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:29 PM on February 14, 2010 [30 favorites]


Man, I saw this movie once back in the mid nineties and it's still the sickest shit I've ever seen. Nothing else has even come close. And if I never see anything as sick again I'll be happy. For me, that movie still exists as an amorphous blob of dread in my subconscious and defies any real attempt to justify or criticize it on its artistic merits. And I'm pretty sure I wont be reading any Sade. I just don't have the stomach for it.
posted by jake1 at 11:32 PM on February 14, 2010


I've read reviews about it (all very favorable)

I can't seem to find any - are they online?
posted by kid ichorous at 11:35 PM on February 14, 2010


I can't seem to find any reviews in English (sorry), but Politiken and Berlingske (the biggest Danish newspaper) give it five and four stars (out of six) respectively.

Also there is a video with some scenes from the house and interview with the participants here (also in Danish).
posted by coraline at 11:47 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks!
posted by kid ichorous at 11:49 PM on February 14, 2010


stinkycheese: It's probably the only thing I've ever read that made me feel like I might literally throw up.

As long as we're on the subject of plumbing the depths of depravity - I've only ever had that reaction to one book, The Debauched Hospodar by Apollinaire or whoever wrote it. It's short but it's a real test of endurance. If you see it on a shelf somewhere (unlikely), do yourself a favour and keep walking. If someone tells you "but Picasso liked it", just ignore them...
posted by The Mouthchew at 11:50 PM on February 14, 2010


I have not seen Salo, not do I ever intend to. A friend of mine, whose judgment I trust, told me that if she could un-see one single thing in her life, it would be that film. And I did see Frenzy when I was 14 or so-- I think on the grounds that Hitchcock was this master filmmaker, etc.-- and I've never watched another Hitchcock film since. (Yes, I know.)
posted by jokeefe at 12:31 AM on February 15, 2010


Here in Copenhagen, Salò is currently being reenacted as (extreme) interactive performance theater called Villa Salò (English website).

You know, if there's an author in the world that definitely shouldn't be the base for an interactive performance, then Sade. He's already re-enacted often enough in the news. I'm quite open-minded, but that is sick, and no amount of positive reviews by bearded pervs posing as literary critics will convince me of the contrary.
posted by Skeptic at 2:46 AM on February 15, 2010


As harsh as Salò is, it has absolutely nothing on the original text "120 Days of Sodom". The book makes the film look like a pleasant weekend outing.

Incidentally, I saw The Road yesterday and it was so optimistic compared to the book. One could still notice that a few couples had picked the wrong movie for Valentine's day though.
posted by ersatz at 3:19 AM on February 15, 2010


"Mangia! Mangia!"
posted by jgbustos at 3:24 AM on February 15, 2010


I read the 120 days of Sodom when I was 17. I had to mail order it via an academic bookshop (ah those furtive days before the internet!). I was introduced to De Sade via Angela Carter's The Sadeian Woman (brilliant book - highly recommended) and wanted to read around the subject. I agree with the above comment that the book becomes numbing after a while, but you can approach a text in many ways and it deeply influenced my thinking about power, morality and deviance.

I didn't get any of that from Salo. Had I watched it before reading the book I think I would have missed a lot of what I got from the text. It remains the one film I wish I'd never seen.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:54 AM on February 15, 2010


I've never watched this film (though I've loved some of Pasolini's other films) but have been terrified by it nonetheless -- an emotion based solely on the reactions of people whose artistic insights I trust.

Nothing in this post or discussion makes me any more inclined to see it.

I guess I do have a lingering question, though . . . how does the film's depiction of atrocities actually contribute to a broader cultural understanding of the social/political/historical atrocities for which it's something of a metaphor? The impression I get from people who've seen the film and written about it is that it doesn't, at all -- it just confronts you with those atrocities. So what can I get from this film that I don't get from being aware of the horrors of history? Do I really need a more visceral confrontation with those horrors than, say, Elie Wiesel's Night? And why should such a confrontation be metaphorical when there are so vastly many non-metaphorical accounts of such atrocities?
posted by treepour at 4:20 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had the distinct impression that Sade intended what we now have as the text of 120 Days as just an outline, but he was never able to write the actual book he intended because of the whole being incarcerated thing.

I somehow never got around to seeing Salo, it's got to go on the to-do list.
posted by localroger at 5:15 AM on February 15, 2010


A Minnesota state senator tried to perform a citizen's arrest to stop a showing in Minneapolis, circa 1978.

I saw it at a public showing in the mid 80s.

Is it scary? Depends on your definition. It's not Dracula.

Will it teach you about the Italian experience of fascism? Probably not specificly; I have less context, there could be allusions that flew past me. On a superficial level, yeah, fascism is bad, hard to escape that.

Does it give you something to think about, abstractly, about the abuse of power? Sure.

Will it shock you? Will it make you sick? The overall effect isn't sexually exciting, and violence is (sadly) too easy to find in mainstream movies. The scene(s) where people were forced to eat from bedpans were probably the most shocking to me, although I was able to keep some distance during those scenes. The torture viewed through binoculars at the end make me queasy, which is not a moviegoing experience that I seek out.

Caligula was much worse--I had trouble eating for a couple of days after seeing it--and was fairly pointless beyond the lump shock value.

Have I felt like seeing it again? No. Is it a great film? Don't know, that might need another viewing, which I'm not inclined to do, and probably would need more context. It didn't stand on its own for me.
posted by gimonca at 5:59 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there something in this film that's different from other ones that cover WWII, the Holocaust, that era? Well, there are probably thousands of others, I doubt I've seen them all.

You could think about the last scenes with the torture viewed through binoculars--isn't that you, the audience, behind those binoculars? What is your responsibility in this? That might be a question to turn back and forth and consider.

(And if you take his films in chronological order, wouldn't those be the last scenes of Pasolini's career?)
posted by gimonca at 6:08 AM on February 15, 2010


localroger: "Sade intended what we now have as the text of 120 Days as just an outline"

Indeed, I found it unreadable not so much for the content, but the lack thereof - after a point it just becomes a list of actors and actions, with no reflection or description.
posted by idiopath at 6:32 AM on February 15, 2010


I'm quite open-minded, but that is sick, and no amount of positive reviews by bearded pervs posing as literary critics will convince me of the contrary.

I think it is supposed to be sick. There are people who enjoy being disgusted, shocked, depressed, and so forth, and they are the ones who go to performances like that. The "bearded perverts" you refer to are therefore reviewing the performance as something intended to make you feel sick. If you don't like feeling sick, take their approval as a sign to stay away.

I would never recommend this sort of theater to anyone; but it's probably good that there are some people who like it. Those are also the people who can fight in trenches, perform invasive surgery, intervene in domestic abuse situations, and the like, without really minding.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:35 AM on February 15, 2010


Er, I don't know if lumping people who enjoy live depictions of sadism in the same category with people who do tough squeamish jobs is all that great of a comparison.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:37 AM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've done FPPs about child labor, birth defects, and actual torture. And yet, strangely, this is the one that upset me the most. It ruined what was left of my Sunday night and continues to haunt me this morning. Even completely SWF screengrabs like this one were enough to trigger the stomach-gripping sense of horror I associate with my third and final viewing of the film several years ago - which I quit during the climax, unable to withstand any more. Uniquely among all the films in my experience, it became more disturbing upon repeated viewings.

For this reason, I don't seek to persuade anyone to overcome whatever reluctance they might have to see it. But I would like to offer one defense of its monstrousness: To me it seems unquestionably a work of serious artistic intention. The difference between it and exploitation fare like The Hills Have Eyes is that the latter wishes to entertain you with its horrors. Salò has a strong claim to being the least entertaining film ever made.

I don't think it has anything much to say about politics, per se. Rather, it examines human nature - which expresses itself politically. The Italian fascists shown in the film were removed from power by the American military - an institution that went on to perform similar abuses at Abu Ghraib. And so the cycle continues...
posted by Joe Beese at 7:38 AM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


It pleases me that the Pirate Bay has some 10 torrent links for this film, including one that's been actively seeded since 2004.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having watched it for the first time yesterday, I wasn't particularly disturbed by most of what I saw. Maybe this is a sign that I really need to get my head checked. But really anything with actors that I watch on a screen gives me a clinical distance. The interactive performance art that Coraline mentions, though - holy shit. There's a real danger of going from the harmless "I like watching things that disturb/depress me" to "I risk having my entire personal value system irrevocably changed for the worse."
posted by naju at 8:35 AM on February 15, 2010


Also just the idea that this isn't a 2 hour experience that you can then put aside and evaluate. The horror is there 24/7, as long as you're willing to stay. You go to sleep to the sounds of screams, you wake up to the sounds of screams. It only gets worse the more I think about it.
posted by naju at 8:38 AM on February 15, 2010


From my understanding, "120 Days" was more a personal catalog of Sade's fantasies created for his own pleasure during his captivity and less an actual work to be published. That's why it seems more like an outline than a story.

As far as "Salo" is concerned, a discerning eye can see that many of the actors are friends that are totally into it, projecting a joy and fun that the victims portrayed in the book would not have displayed. IMHO.
posted by bonefish at 8:50 AM on February 15, 2010


> The violence in Straw Dogs is cathartic, and to a point justified, although it does tend to get out of hand.

Clearly you're not referring to the rapes.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:10 AM on February 15, 2010


If your personal value system depends on your emotional reaction to things, I think you need to rethink it.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:11 AM on February 15, 2010


If your personal value system depends on your emotional reaction to things, I think you need to rethink it.

Sorry, but that seems a bit misinformed and callous. If someone is subject to extreme situations, then their internal sensibilities can become shifted. It's good to protect yourself from potentially traumatic situations. I would say that if you are into seeking out shocking things just to test your fortitude (not saying you are, just in general), then that may indeed be grounds for a rethinking of values.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2010


If someone is subject to extreme situations, then their internal sensibilities can become shifted

If by sensibilities you mean emotional responses, then sure, that's true. But I don't think that one's emotional responses necessarily reflect anything at all about one's moral code. In fact, I don't think they should, because emotions are fickle and often quite easy to manipulate.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


[H]ow does the film's depiction of atrocities actually contribute to a broader cultural understanding of the social/political/historical atrocities for which it's something of a metaphor? The impression I get from people who've seen the film and written about it is that it doesn't, at all -- it just confronts you with those atrocities. So what can I get from this film that I don't get from being aware of the horrors of history? Do I really need a more visceral confrontation with those horrors than, say, Elie Wiesel's Night? And why should such a confrontation be metaphorical when there are so vastly many non-metaphorical accounts of such atrocities?

Exactly. Not to mention the actual, real life atrocities that are occuring this very minute, as I type, somewhere in the world. I don't need to see Salo to be informed of humanity's capacity for cruelty, abuse, and horror.
posted by jokeefe at 10:26 AM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I don't think that one's emotional responses necessarily reflect anything at all about one's moral code. In fact, I don't think they should, because emotions are fickle and often quite easy to manipulate.

True, but the idea of some kind of infallible "code" is kind of a phantom. If someone is subject to trauma their sense of the world can change, and any justification or "code" can fall in line with that. Expose yourself to enough rape porn and eventually it won't seem like a big deal. The idea of a moral code is a bit of a red herring. What is important is how one actually responds internally or externally, not the narrative that they construct post hoc.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:31 AM on February 15, 2010


Expose yourself to enough rape porn and eventually it won't seem like a big deal.

Really, now? I like hack-and-slash video games. The sort where you go into a dungeon and kill hundreds of sentient beings so that you can get lots of treasure. According to this argument I shouldn't much care when the mafia uses violence to shake people down for their money. But I really do. I think that people should earn their money, and intimidating people to get paid is morally reprehensible.

I think you're confused about the distinction between fantasy and reality. I suggest you avoid any fantasies that disturb you, and accept that others are better at maintaining the distinction.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2010


I think you're confused about the distinction between fantasy and reality. I suggest you avoid any fantasies that disturb you, and accept that others are better at maintaining the distinction.

Now that's just be prickish.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:51 AM on February 15, 2010


Really, now? I like hack-and-slash video games. The sort where you go into a dungeon and kill hundreds of sentient beings so that you can get lots of treasure. According to this argument I shouldn't much care when the mafia uses violence to shake people down for their money.

And this is a false equivalency. That kind of logical extrapolation to divert an argument is disingenuous. I said "watch enough rape porn and it will stop bothering you". It refers to rape porn, not actual raping in the streets or something. But saying I can't distinguish between fantasy and reality because I express sentiments that limiting exposure to sadistic depictions (like the house in question here, not some silly hypothetical that you can throw manufactured logic in any direction to make a point), is just being prickish.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:54 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you're confused about the distinction between fantasy and reality.

Isn't that what we were originally getting at here? The screen version of Salo offers a clinical distance that starts to break down when, say, someone's pissing in a cup and then pouring it all over you. These actors are living the experience as closely as possible within consensual bounds, for 120 days straight. The guests sign up for, well, whatever goes. Guests can't have sex with the actors, but from a brief glance there's nothing in the rules about guests fucking/humiliating/etc. other guests. The possibilities are well within the bounds of traumatizing and profoundly changing you. And yes, our moral codes are more elastic than we'd like to admit. Talk to some war veterans and ask them whether war changes you. Go ahead and call them weak for letting their emotions dictate their response to the world.
posted by naju at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2010


The possibilities are well within the bounds of traumatizing and profoundly changing you.

I agree.

I really don't want to go to that performance and if the possibility of trauma doesn't entice you, then you shouldn't either.

I just don't think that liking that sort of thing makes you a rapist, or even a rape-enabler. Just a person with fucked-up tastes.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:23 AM on February 15, 2010


Apart from those who actually find this arousing, it's really hard for me to believe that this is anything more than an exercise in showing off what you can handle; pretending to find something worthy of analysis is the mark that you've made it through.

This is a waste of time. There is no upper limit to the depravity you can reach in torture porn, nor to what you can bring yourself to watch if you convince yourself that it's worthwhile. Where you choose to stop is completely arbitrary and teaches you nothing.
posted by Anything at 11:23 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just don't think that liking that sort of thing makes you a rapist, or even a rape-enabler. Just a person with fucked-up tastes.

Who said that here?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:24 AM on February 15, 2010


Burhanistan, it's possible that I interpreted "Expose yourself to enough rape porn and eventually it won't seem like a big deal." as something other than it was meant. If so, I apologize.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:35 AM on February 15, 2010


From my understanding, "120 Days" was more a personal catalog of Sade's fantasies created for his own pleasure during his captivity and less an actual work to be published.

This is pretty much my half-informed read of the book. That is, The Marquis just wrote it all down, from his "disturbed" imagination direct to paper. As I touched on earlier, the historical context is very important in terms of why we should even be having this discussion. France was in the process of going revolutionary when Sade was doing his writing; eventually overthrowing and executing the King and Queen (the direct blood of God), and thus Morality itself.

So Sade's writings seem to have become representative of what comes from "the godless void" and, I guess, challenge us (humanity in general) to come up with reasons beyond an old Judge in the sky to NOT just be vile, sadistic creatures, forever trying to sate our insatiable hungers.

Or something like that.
posted by philip-random at 11:35 AM on February 15, 2010


philip-random: So Sade's writings ... challenge us (humanity in general) to come up with reasons beyond an old Judge in the sky to NOT just be vile, sadistic creatures

Actually it was just the opposite. Sade had a keen eye for hypocrisy and lived in an extremely corrupt regime; he believed in the first place that to preach morality while practicing vice was the height of hypocrisy and pretty much the most evil thing you could do.

On the second hand, he believed that those desires morality would advise us against are in fact our true nature (he was a big fan of the word "nature") and that pretty much the second most evil thing you could do would be to deny your own desires, which are the root and foundation of your existence as a being. So for the most part, Sade's writings were meant to challenge us to BE the vile, sadistic creatures our undoubtably vile and sadistic Creator had created us to be.
posted by localroger at 12:03 PM on February 15, 2010


LogicalDash: No worries. I think too often here we (self included) get caught up in extending statements out past their useful analogy when saying "by that logic, you could X the Y..." It looks good rhetorically, but it often ignores the substance of a point. Anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2010


This is a waste of time. There is no upper limit to the depravity you can reach in torture porn, nor to what you can bring yourself to watch if you convince yourself that it's worthwhile. Where you choose to stop is completely arbitrary and teaches you nothing.

Well, now, hang on a second there, because it sounds like you're painting all violent horror film with the same (reductive) brush, and that aggression will not stand. First of all, Salo is the kind of movie that critics who love to throw around lazy terms like "torture porn" will adamantly tell you is not torture porn -- whereas, for me, it's about the only movie I've ever seen that really is torture porn. Understand that when I think of porn (a genre that, you know, I'm kinda okay with), I'm thinking of material that really only has the intent to get the viewer off (it may contain wider societal implications -- it surely does -- but these are usually totally unintentional on the part of the filmmaker*). Salo, as far as I can tell, only exists to make us experience torture. I mean, you can put a sociopolitical gloss on that, but it's not a film with much of a narrative or a point beyond the depiction of gross shit happening to pretty people. And I'm sorry, but "torture porn" movies like Hostel and certainly the brilliant Martyrs and, hell, even a goofy but fascinating trainwreck like I Know Who Killed Me are ALL doing more than that; Miike, who probably got the whole "torture porn" ball rolling in the last decade, is doing much more than that.

I think critics like Salo because it's...well, because as someone said above, it's anti-entertainment. So it must be important, right? You can't say you liked it when there's nothing to really like about it; there isn't the uncomfortable feeling you might get recommending a movie like Inside (which I'll do right now, because it's fucking great), because you don't have to justify your enjoyment of a film that depicts terrible, terrible things for no better reason than it's so crazy you can't stop watching it. I'd more or less put Haneke's Funny Games in the same category as Salo, though even Haneke's movie is saying something about film, anyway, no matter how basically useless what it's saying may be. You can't really say that Salo fails, but I'm not sure it succeeds at anything that's worth succeeding at.

*Oh wow, is THIS a separate debate. But essentially, what I'm saying here is, if "Gilligan's Island" has meaning as a cultural document -- and I can't really see how it couldn't, as it unintentionally addresses issues of class and gender as experienced in its times -- does that make it a work of art worthy of study for its artistic contributions to society? Hell, no: It's crap! But just as a bug trapped millions of years ago in amber is something with all kinds of things to tell science now, but was in its day just a pest you would have stomped on, it gains currency just for standing witness to events that seemed unremarkable to it at the time. Therefore, if porn can tell us all kinds of things about...well...class and gender, mostly, that's cool and very worthwhile, but it doesn't make a stag film somehow retroactively Citizen Kane. It's still cultural flotsam; it's just very useful cultural flotsam.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anything: "it's really hard for me to believe that this is anything more than an exercise in showing off what you can handle"

There is a value to understanding the transition where a person stops seeing another person as human - the rationalizations that make it seem reasonable, the emotional urges or drives that make it desirable.

Many people, (myself included) have a vague category of "ick", that includes a variety of visceral responses - to feces, to dead bodies, to seeing cruelty, to certain kinds of sexual acts, to the results of certain injuries.

I am glad to know the difference between the gut feeling of disgust when I see torture and what is morally wrong with it, because that helps me temper and distrust the gut disgust I may feel when I see a burn victim or someone born with a disfiguring birth defect. That same gut repulsion that makes people cringe at the inhumanity of torture can also lead them to shun the elephant man - it is simply an emotion, sometimes it has positive effects, sometimes negative.

Also, by understanding the emotional process by which someone convinces himself that he has a right to abuse another human being, I like to think that I can better recognize it in myself and those around me, and take steps to prevent it from coming to fruition.
posted by idiopath at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2010


You can't say you liked it when there's nothing to really like about it

I outed myself way up above as someone who liked it, and who liked it a lot. It was interesting and smart; the gross-out scenes were over the top but that was their point. I'm not a film scholar, but I suspect that a well-grounded argument could be made for both Salo's importance and its artistic merit.

But then I look at the review of the Danish Salo recreation project, and wish I lived close enough to buy a ticket and see it in person. I like in your face performance art, and art that's meant to offend and shock. Salo fits into a very long artistic tradition, and one that I enjoy. I'm aware that I'm out of step with the majority opinion here, which is that it is unambiguously disgusting and reprehensible. And I agree that Salo might not be an ideal first date movie, except perhaps as a screening device.

But yeah, I liked it and will watch it again one of these days.
posted by Forktine at 12:49 PM on February 15, 2010


So for the most part, Sade's writings were meant to challenge us to BE the vile, sadistic creatures our undoubtably vile and sadistic Creator had created us to be.

localroger, I don't doubt this, but neither do I care really what Sade, THE ARTIST, intended as I don't really rate him as such. What interest I have in his work rests in its existence as "artifact" (200 plus years old) of at least one human's need/desire to depict acts of vile sadism, and share them, and what it says about not just his time, but our species in general. Kind of like what kittens-for-breakfast is getting at in the fine print above. Specifically:

if "Gilligan's Island" has meaning as a cultural document -- and I can't really see how it couldn't, as it unintentionally addresses issues of class and gender as experienced in its times -- does that make it a work of art worthy of study for its artistic contributions to society? Hell, no: It's crap! But just as a bug trapped millions of years ago in amber is something with all kinds of things to tell science now

Now, an episode of Gilligan's Island, where the Marquis gets washed ashore with a chest full of whips and such (and various shenanigans ensue), now that would be a work of art.
posted by philip-random at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


In college I somehow ended up at that movie on a first date. Awkard.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now, an episode of Gilligan's Island, where the Marquis gets washed ashore with a chest full of whips and such

Someone get JJ Abrams on the phone.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


philip-random, it's not so much that Sade was an artist, since that's a loaded word on whose definition no two people seem to agree; what is undeniably true, however, is that he was a philosopher. And the philosophy he invented, since we use the word Sadism for something else, is called Egoism. And while we take it for granted today (THANKS AYN RAND) in its day it was a Very New Thing.

To think Sade was just venting his fantasies is to entirely miss the point. 120 Days is very atypical of his writings, which is why it is generally regarded as an unfinished outline. Compare it to Justine or Juliette, each of which got longer and ever more detailed each time he rewrote them, or even a short story like Eugenie de Franval, and you see the difference. Sade was no outliner; he was very interested in the way people interact, in the interface between character and action, individual and society. Sade wrote with a lot of dark humor -- what we would today call snark. Check out the brilliant (and mostly SFW) pamphlet Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If We Would Be Countrymen, which makes Jonathan Swift look like a rank amateur at the art of satire.

Sade lived in a world that had never heard of Jack the Ripper, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or anyone like them. So he was inventing the possibility of such people, imagining what they might be like and elevating them to heroic status in the bargain, free as they would be demonstrating themselves from the corrupted false morality system that was strangling basic human nature. That he got it so spectacularly wrong in so many ways is almost inevitable. Evaluating Sade's writing from today's perspective is like comparing a Porsche 911 to a Model T Ford. It's easy to see all the mistakes and lost chances, but the wonder is that he wrote what he did in the 18th century at all. He was must read material for anyone who considered themselves educated throughout the 19th century, and it is really only since 1950 that new voices have started to do what he tried to do better.
posted by localroger at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm feeling schooled.
posted by philip-random at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2010


SALO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:29 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sade lived in a world that had never heard of Jack the Ripper, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or anyone like them.

I think he may have heard of Baron Gilles de Rais.
posted by Wolof at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wolof: Yes, Gilles de Rais is the one exception, and in Sade's day it would have been a three hundred year old story. It would be as if the only serial killer in all of American history had lived a hundred years before the Revolutionary War, and in order to learn of him we would have no true crime writers, no encyclopedias (much less Wikipedia), no TV documentaries, no contemporary dramatizations, nothing except stories told by mothers to scare their children (be good or Gilles de Rais will get you!) and no way to confirm the details of them except to go to a courthouse halfway across the country, by horse-drawn carriage, and pore over three century old handwritten accounts of the trial. That was the world in which Sade tried to imagine -- for all practical purposes -- our world.
posted by localroger at 3:02 PM on February 15, 2010


Wolof: "I think he may have heard of Baron Gilles de Rais."

Or Elizabeth Báthory or Caligula or Vlad III Draculea or the various excesses of the Spanish Inquisition or ...
posted by idiopath at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2010


idiopath, the thing that sets all of the people you list apart from most of Sade's heroes is that they were royalty, and to a certain extent it was assumed that they had a right to do what they were doing. Sade's principal point was that everyone has the right, under what he liked to call natural law, to indulge such tastes inasmuch as they should arise.

Sade liked to write of people who were able to indulge their tastes because they were wealthy but who did not, according to the corrupt rules of contemporary reality, have the "authority" to conduct such activities, and he liked to write of ordinary people who simply indulged their "criminal" (Sade's quotes) inclinations with disregard for the law. A common person could not aspire to be Elizabeth Bathory or Vlad III no matter how dramatic his fantasies. Even Gilles de Rais is a bit of a stretch, and Sade's minor criminals indulging in sex crime were a phenomenon that would be almost entirely unknown until the 20th century.
posted by localroger at 3:17 PM on February 15, 2010


Generally speaking, people live on with a name in history if they are rich and or powerful. Sade included common brigands and ruffians as well as the rich and powerful in his stories, and the concept of such a person was not his invention. I will agree with you that he was novel in his advocacy that everyone should indulge their urges, but dissolution, regardless of social class, is an ancient theme, at least as old as religion, and in no way an invention of his.
posted by idiopath at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2010


Oh man...this fucking movie.

I was on an 'intense' movie kick a few years ago, (Actually it's been going for awhile and has only just stopped after watching the appalling "Martyrs" and the ultra-depressing "Eden Lake") I had heard about Salo's notoriety for years and as it was (and still is) banned in Australia I flipped when I found it in our local arthouse video store in a plain white cover. I got it out with 'Pink Flamingoes" for a day of trash.
Pink Flamingoes never got watched.
I thought I was tough and could take it, but Salo fucked my shit up. For the following week I couldn't sleep. unable to stop replaying one of the final scenes with the victims sitting in buckets of shit, with their ribbons, waiting to die crying out "Why have you forsaken us God?" The thought of being in such a hopeless hellish situation was too much for my brain.
I've watched it since and its impact is lessened, but it is still very, very hard going.
ALSO- I second kittens for breakfast's recommendation for "Inside" up above. THAT is a truly freaky and well made splatter flick.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 5:21 PM on February 15, 2010


Oh yes, Inside is great horror, really hits the right notes.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:25 PM on February 15, 2010


nothing except stories told by mothers to scare their children (be good or Gilles de Rais will get you!)

Well, Perrault wrote "Bluebeard" not so long before Sade's time (indeed, it's quite conceivable that it may have been little Sade's favourite bedtime tale), so one should not underestimate the imprint that de Rais left in French culture.
Anyway, what sets apart Sade's writings from the real-life stories of most of those serial killers that have been mentioned, past and present, is that in those famous real-life cases there was crime and punishment. However, Sade was cynically aware that, in his time, you could literally get away with murder if only you were sufficiently higher placed in society than your victim.
To confirm this, it suffices to read the memories of that contemporary of Sade, Giacomo Casanova. He's unfairly gone into history as a great seducer, when in fact his diaries show that what he quaintly called "ravishing" rarely involved his sexual partner's (male or female, adult or child) consent. He was a serial rapist, and a singularly unrepentant one with that. Yet he was held in awe by many of his peers.
What got Sade into trouble wasn't what he did, but what he wrote. His exposure of hypocrisy was socially explosive stuff.
posted by Skeptic at 12:13 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Skeptic: What got Sade into trouble wasn't what he did, but what he wrote.

This, absolutely. For all the images he created Sade never did much at all in RL except perhaps whipping one prostitute a bit more enthusiastically than she'd agreed to. But for what he wrote he spent more than half of his life incarcerated.

I take much of my attitude toward historic crime from Colin Wilson, for whatever his wacky ideas on the occult might be is a formidable student of true crime and author of the mammoth and awesome A Criminal History of Mankind. (Wilson, incidentally, includes a blistering condemnation of Sade's philosophy in that volume.) Wilson makes a clear case that we simply can't imagine today how rare the idea of pure sex murder was before the 19th century; there was murder, yes, and even murder with sexual overtones, but most of it was driven by survival imperatives and in those rare cases where it had a modern flavor, such as Gilles de Rais or Caligula, it was made possible by affluence and power. And one point he makes is that when here and there such monsters did arise, rare as they were, their tales were spread far and wide, so that if there were more of them it's likely we would know. Our ancestors were just as fascinated by such monsters as we are, but we seem to make more of them IRL.
posted by localroger at 6:09 AM on February 16, 2010


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