Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
The notorious final film from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom has been called nauseating, shocking, depraved, pornographic . . . It’s also a masterpiece. The controversial poet, novelist, and filmmaker’s transposition of the Marquis de Sade’s eighteenth-century opus of torture and degradation to Fascist Italy in 1944 remains one of the most passionately debated films of all time, a thought-provoking inquiry into the political, social, and sexual dynamics that define the world we live in.
Criterion presents Pier Paolo Passolini's Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-def transfer.
Since they look very similar I'd say that the transfer here is the same one used for the 2008 DVD reissue, which was a revelation in comparison to their original DVD edition they released ten years earlier. Past a weird strobing effect in a tree very early on, some washed over blacks, and some minor wear and tear the image for this Blu-ray edition of Salo looks great. What still gets me, even more so here pm Blu-ray, are the colours in the film, which are bright and bold, very life like. Being stuck with Criterion's washed out, drab original DVD edition for years, which presented dank, muted colours, I still can't get over the presentation on the DVD re-issue and now this Blu-ray edition. Reds again pop off the screen, though are much purer and cleaner here in comparison to the 2008 DVD edition.
As mentioned there's still some minor wear including a few marks and some flickering, but again it's in far better shape than the 1998 DVD which had some large scratches and tears. The digital transfer overall is still sharp and clean, but far more film like in comparison to the DVD, presenting natural looking film grain. I noticed some shimmering in a few patterns on screen but this is minimal and the transfer overall is very stable.
In the end it does offer a noticeable if subtle improvement over the 2008 DVD edition from Criterion and is easily the best I've ever seen the film look, a far cry from the original DVD Criterion released.
I revisited the audio for the 2008 DVD edition and realize now I may have oversold it, but in comparison to the audio on the original DVD the new mono track on the newer DVD was absolutely incredible and I probably focused too much on how awful the mono track on the 1998 edition really was. In reality the mono track on the DVD re-issue is still a fairly flat track.
And that still carries over to this Blu-ray. The lossless linear PCM mono track found here (in Italian with a little French) is sharper than the DVD's but there's no range or fidelity, and still comes off lifeless. Its advantage, like the DVD re-issue, is that the dialogue doesn't sound detached from the film like it did with the original DVD. Since audio was recorded during post-production there are some lip-synching problems but they're actually easy to overlook.
Criterion again includes a dubbed Dolby Digital mono English track, which surprisingly also sounds pretty decent, even if lip-synching is more of a problem here. Still most will probably stick with the original track, which also has the benefit of sounding a little bit better.
Criterion appears to have ported everything over from their two-disc DVD edition, making up for their barebones original edition.
Unfortunately no commentary has been recorded. If a film ever called for one (or a few) it is Salo, as a scene-by-scene analysis or general discussion during the film would be more than welcome. But Criterion tries to make up for the lack of this with the other supplements.
The first disc contains one loan supplement, an English-dubbed theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen. I always wanted to see a trailer for this film and here it is, not holding back at all.
The first feature is 'Salo' : Yesterday and Today, a 33-minute documentary on the film and Pasolini. It appears to have been made for French television and is presented in 1.33:1. The feature starts with black and white behind-the-scenes footage of Pasolini shooting the final segment. It then moves to an interview with Pasolini where he talks about the film, the inspiration for it, moving the novel to 1944 Italy, and its themes of power and how he wanted the film to reflect what he felt was going on at the time. Cast members give their experience, with Helene Surgere explaining that the attitude on set was actually relaxed, even 'jovial' and that she was shocked when she actually saw the film, having no idea they were making a film that 'awful.' There's even more information including a bit of info on the French dub (which featured Michel Piccoli) and even a bit on Passolini's murder. It's a fairly extensive feature, definitely worth looking at. The documentary is broken down into 6 chapters.
Fade to Black is a 23-minute UK documentary on the film, presented here in widescreen. This one presents interviews with other filmmakers including Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, and John Maybury (and there's also another clip with Pasolini that looks to be from the same interview used in the previous feature, this time with Pasolini dubbed over by someone that really sounds like Adolfo Celi.) They somewhat reflect on first seeing the film (Bertolucci hated it on first viewing but it stuck with him.) They also offer their own analysis of the film, going over its themes of power, consumerism, sexuality, and even go over some of the symbolism found in the film. This, along with the next feature, offers some decent analysis of the film and Pasolini's work. This feature has also been broken down into 5 chapters.
The final documentary is The End of 'Salo', presented in 1.33:1 and running just shy of 40-minutes. This one has a lot to digest, covering many aspects of the film and Pasolini's career. It presents interviews with a couple of cast members and members of the crew. It includes some interesting little trivia, such as when Paolo Bonacelli reveals what the feces was made of (chocolate and candied fruit) and how screenwriter Pupi Avati, who did help in writing the screenplay, still refuses to watch the film. There's a lot of discussion about what Pasolini was going for, some reflect on the film and the director, and again touch on the themes of the film. This also gets a little more into Pasolini's death, though isn't out to exploit it. Interestingly it presents some deleted stills from the final sequence (including a bit with what looks like an electric chair) presented more as recreations from photos. These finished scenes are apparently lost forever. It also presents some dialogue that was originally supposed to appear at the end. Like the other documentaries it's pretty good on its own but I think all of them together give a decent overview of the film, though still not as good as a commentary. This documentary is broken down into 8 chapters.
The remaining disc supplements are two interviews. The first is an 11-minute interview with production designer Dante Ferretti (who also appears in the End of 'Salo' documentary) and he talks a bit about how he got into his career and working with Pasolini, first meeting him during the making of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. He goes over the look of Salo including his use of empty space and the colours of the film. The second interview is a 27-minute interview with director/scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin, recorded for Criterion in February of 2006 (sometimes I'm amazed at how long it takes for these releases to make it from inception to store shelves.) He explains for one to really understand Salo one has to really understand the 60's and he touches briefly on political filmmaking at the time. He also talks about the literary influences for the film and on Pasolini's intentions. His English can be hard to understand at times and I had to rewind and watch again every so often but it is a decent interview. Both interviews are worth watching and add quite a bit of context to the film. The first interview has no chapter stops but the Gorin interview has 5 chapters.
The disc then concludes with the film's theatrical trailer, which is interesting itself to say the least.
Similar to the DVD edition this Blu-ray comes in a digipak and sports an 80 page booklet with quite a few essays, and it looks as though everything is still here. An intro states that one essay wouldn't be enough so they have instead put together six essays from six different writers, including Neil Bartlett, Catherine Breillat, Naomi Greene, Sam Rohdie, Roberto Chiesi, and Gary Indiana. Each offer their impressions of the film or get into certain aspects of it, Indiana focusing primarily on the bibliography title card during the opening credits (also brought up by Gorin in his interview.) They're all very good reads and offer more analysis into the film. Closing off the booklet is an article by Gideon Bachmann called 'Pasolini and the Marquis de Sade', which first appeared in the 1975-76 issue of Sight and Sound and went to press before Pasolini's death. This article is sort of a diary by Bachmann covering his visit of the set of Salo during its production over a period of four days. It's an interesting piece, conveying the general attitude shared by the cast and crew, which was really no different than any other film, though some crew were pretty sure the film wouldn't make it past censors and Bachmann himself is somewhat amazed at how the cast seems so willing to go along with what is called upon them. This was my favourite section of the booklet because of the behind-the-scenes aspect of it, the look at Pasolini's techniques, plus there are more insights from the director himself as he talks to Bachmann about his intentions and ideas with the film.
And that closes the release. Obviously a big upgrade over the older no-frills edition, but I'm still disappointed there wasn't more about Pasolini, even if The End of 'Salo' does dig a bit into his career (at least more than the other documentaries.) And yes I admit I would have liked more insight into Pasolini's death. His death is mentioned throughout the features but it is still skimmed over, interview members expressing their shock or how it changed their viewing of the film (Bertolucci states he found the film harder to watch the first time because of it as does Ferretti.) But I think the one thing I'm still most disappointed with isthe lack of a commentary. I still think this film would greatly benefit from one. At least the documentaries and the booklet offer some decent insight into the film and do help one understand a little better what Pasolini was hoping to achieve with it. Despite that short coming, though, it's still a solid collection and they're all still worth going through.
Not an easy film, that's for sure, and for those unfamiliar with the film I would strongly suggest a rental first. But for those familiar with Salo and looking for a decent presentation with some strong supplements they need look no further than here. The supplements, despite the lack of a commentary, are still strong and may help in building one's appreciation for the film, and the presentation is the best I've yet seen for the film.