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September 11, 2008


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I'm a-scared of this movie. It's in my queue, though.

Glenn Kenny

And well you should be. Scared, that is. I'll likely never look at it again, except in the case that I need to refresh my memory for a professional obligation.

Tony Dayoub

Yeah, I know what you mean. It's reputation for being so revolting has frightened me as well.

I feel like I need a frame of reference. For example, if there were a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being not revolting at all and 10 being so repulsive it could make you vomit, where would "Salo" and "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" fall?


I could use that frame of reference as well, although when I saw "The Cook ..." my friend and I were the only people in the theater who seemed to get any of the jokes.

And there were jokes, I swear.

No jokes in Salo, I take it.

Glenn Kenny

To put it bluntly, "Salo" makes "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" look like "Horse Feathers." For one thing, "Salo" is deeply, utterly humorless, while the Greenaway indeed revels in a variety of mordant wit. Also, there's no (overtly visible) artifice to "Salo." Yes the compositions can be artful—and there's certainly none of the wobbly tripod stuff that turns up in some of the more hastily-shot Pasolini films that preceded it—but that has to do more with the film's setting and such; in any case, there's nothing to even suggest a distancing effect, where with Greenaway the decors and costumes and whatnot certainly serve that function. Finally, there's just the endless parade of misery, degradation, depravity. Human emotions such as kindness and love, values such as trust, emerge only ever-so-fleetingly, and are squashed like bugs. I look at it more of an object for study than a full-fledged aesthetic experience, finally.


The Greenaway film didn't get under my skin that much the one time I saw it. It was probably a bit over my head at the time (I did laugh at the ending, however), but I was watching it mainly out of purient interest anyway.

"Salo", though, from everything I've ever read, simply wants to rub the viewer's face in rot and pain and filth. And that's it. And I really have a hard time justifying any desire to see it, other than curiosity, and to be able to say that I've seen it. At the same time, I don't feel the need to see, say, "Cannibal Holocaust" for similar reasons -- I simply don't ever want to watch that movie. So why does "Salo" linger as a possible future viewing experience? I have no idea. It could just be the "but-it's-Pasolini!" art-film lure of it working as justification. And also, it's all fake in "Salo", while the animal killings in "Cannibal Holocaust" are real.

Glenn Kenny

Whatever you do, don't make this your first Pasolini film. It may well turn you off the guy, in which case you'd miss gems such as "Mamma Roma," "Accatone," "Teorema," and "Hawks and Sparrows," all of which are totally worth your time.


It wouldn't be my first, technically speaking. I've seen "Porcile" and "The Decameron", but so long ago that I may as well have not seen them at all.

I wish a good edition of "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" was available. I'd check that one out next if I could.

R. Totale

I consider myself a reasonably well-adjusted adult and I think this is a great movie. No, I don't have it in constant rotation on my dvd player. But, I've seen it several times and I do get something out of it each time. I can't quite articulate it at the moment but something about the power relations and Pasolini's unwillingness to flinch from the degradations is moving to me. For instance, at the end when the men are watching the torture through binoculars is tremendously moving to me.

Glenn Kenny

@R. Totale: I totally respect your perspective while not sharing it. I also admire your observations. Look, I don't want to be totalitarian about this (or any other) film; I'm just giving my own account of my time and, let's say, mental space with it.

@Bill—I wasn't meaning to imply anything about your own experience of Pasolini, just thinking out loud. G-ddammit, I wish there was a decent version of "St Matthew" out, too—it's spectacular. Criterion's "Mamma Roma" is great, Koch/Lorber's "Teorema" is very good, and the two foreign-region Pasolini boxes I've got from the late British label Tartan, consisting of "Accattone," "RoGoPaG," "Love Meetings," Hawks and Sparrows," "Oedipus Rex," and "Porcile" are gifts from the cinephile gods.

Dave McDougall

As much as I love Pasolini, this has scared me, too. I think being able to see a good dvd transfer will make me finally take the plunge - in a theater I expect it would be too much for me, but at home, there's a built-in aesthetic distance that should make it possible.

I think decoding the film probably requires a serious consideration of Pasolini's POV on language/order/power/oppression and the equivalence thereof [though one could still be left cold with the film after 'decoding' it]. Porcile, I think, shares some of Pasolini's same sociological concerns through entirely different formal means.

Add me to the list of those who look forward to a good "St. Matthew" dvd.

Ryland Walker Knight

He's yet another blank spot for me and I know I don't want to start here. But your piece does build up the mystery and intrigue. Someday. Whenever I get that lucrative job and can stop writing hidden things instead of distracting myself and filling my time with things other than my Netflix account and all those rep screenings I always miss. If only I'd "finish" a book or eight I wouldn't have to wade to my desk every day. Wow, this has nothing to do with the film or Pasolini, does it? Taking that trajectory: filling in another gap starting tomorrow: Jia Zhangke. More on that later.


Saw Gaspar Noe present this a few years back @ the IFC Center on a double-bill with I Stand Alone. Noe: "My movies are funny, there are lots of places to laugh. Salo is not so funny, there are only four or five places to laugh."

Scary thing is, I kind of agreed with him...


A coincidence just occurred to me: Glenn, at the end of your review of "Salo", you say you're next going to look at De Sade through Freddie Francis's "The Skull" (which, I understand, looks like but isn't a Hammer film). Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that based on a Robert Bloch short story? Meanwhile, sitting here at home, unwatched, I have Cy Enfield's "De Sade", a -- I presume -- similarly Hammer-esque horror film written by Bloch contemporary Richard Matheson.

I can only make loose, fact-based connections, having not seen either "The Skull" or "De Sade", and I have to go to work now, so I can't write anymore, but...hey, interesting!


I have to admit, I didn't like the end result, but I found "Quills" hilarious in places, especially when I realized it followed the typical Hollywood "triumph-over-adversity" formula, except with necrophilia, writing on walls with feces, and driving a priest crazy.

Bill C

THE SKULL is an Amicus joint; Amicus was two New Yorkers trying to beat Hammer at its own game by poaching the Hammer roster--and they succeeded more often than not, if you ask me, though they really came into their own by specializing in anthologies. Couldn't resist clarifying this for you, Bill, because I always seize any opportunity to recommend ASYLUM, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS from the same studio, though THE SKULL may be their finest hour.


Thanks, Bill C., I'll have to see "The Skull" (I read the Bloch story -- which is called, I believe, "The Skull of the Marquis De Sade" -- a long time ago). I have seen a lot of Hammer films in my time, but not many from Amicus. Had I planned better, I could have had Netflix send me "The Skull", "De Sade" and "Salo" all at once. What a great triple feature that would have been.


Dan, that's the best summary of Quills I've read so far.

Ray Ghaul

I made the mistake of beginning with Salo, mainly out curiosity due to its reputation. However, I have recovered with viewings of The Gospel According to St. Matthew, La Ricotta, Teorema, Hawks and Sparrows, Decameron, and Arabian Nights. The first four were amazing, and the humor in Teorema, La Ricotta and especially Hawks and Sparrows demonstrate that Pasolini did have a sense of humor.


@Self-Styled Siren

Why, thank you! I'm still wondering whether it was a desire to make a point about censorship over an original plot, or Kaufman just has a sick sense of humor. My gut tells me a little of both.

Bill C

Yeah, I'm interested in Glenn's take on THE SKULL because it tends to put some people off for implying that De Sade was more or less evil incarnate, his skull being this object with the psychic power to turn decent folk into homicidal maniacs.


I'm cool with that idea, though, since De Sade was, in reality, kind of a bad guy.


Hey, "The Skull" sounds pretty good. I'm glad Legend is putting out releases like this, especially since it means I'll finally get to see "Phase IV".


You can get "Phase IV" on Netflix, Dan. They still have the old edition. And it's a damn good movie, too.

Nathan Duke

I remember trying to decide to go see this film in a theater when I lived in LA about five years ago. My pal and I got ourselves all worked into a tizzy, having heard how horrifying the film is. And, strangely, while it's definitely disturbing, I thought it wasn't half as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I've seen a lot worse. Interesting article though, Glenn. Also agreed on your "Burn After Reading" take. I don't think it's quite as "light" as some people are making it out to be.


Okay, so I'll have to see "The Skull". That "uncomfortable nerve" Tim Lucas talks about is one I, as a horror fan, think about a lot. And it's a nerve that seems to be more or less completely ignored by the kinds of writers and filmmakers who would most benefit, artistically, from a close look at it.


@ bill

There IS no "old edition". Until Legend stepped in and licensed the title from Paramount, it wasn't available on disc. Trust me, I've been looking for YEARS.

There is a god-awful Dean Cain TV movie with the same title, which is probably what you're seeing.

Glenn Kenny

Bill, I presume you've already seen Powell's "Peeping Tom," which hits a very uncomfortable nerve for cinephiles across the board..


Dan, I'm talking about the Saul Bass super-intelligent ant movie, with Michael Murphy and Nigel Davenport. Seriously, go to Netflix and look up the title. I just watched it about four months ago.

Glenn - As with nearly every other movie we've had reason to talk about around here lately, I've only seen Peeping Tom once, years and years ago. So the time has come to give it another spin, methinks...

steve simels


Feh. Embarassingly stupid...


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