Tag Archives: Pier Paolo Pasolini

CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti

PLOT: Four Italian fascists kidnap dozens of young boys and girls and imprison them in an isolated villa to sexually torture them in bizarre rituals of sadism.

Still from Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Salo: disturbing, intense, perverse, depressing, extreme. “Weird” is pretty far down the list. (I did not find any critics who used the word “weird” in discussing Salo). So many of our readers have nominated it for review that I am forced to confess that it may be found lurking somewhere in the outermost penumbra of the weird—but if you want to see a truly weird treatment of the same source material, look at how ended L’Age d’Or with a Surrealist reference to the same novel adapted in Salo.[1] Casting Jesus Christ as Duc de Blangis is less obscene but far more provocative than anything Pasolini could depict in his literal rendition of the book.

COMMENTS: “Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites… and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes… We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.”

Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom may seem stranger to someone who comes to the movie with no foreknowledge of the source material, the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom,” than it does to someone who knows the backstory. De Sade, of course, is the 18th century writer whose name inspired the now commonplace words “sadism” and “sadist.” He was an aristocrat devoted to literature, philosophy, and pornography (not in that order), and he produced some genuinely accomplished works. His most powerful books, such as “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue,” mix shocking depictions of sexual cruelty with virile intellectual monologues wherein the characters philosophically justify their depravity and smash moralist objections.

“The 120 Days of Sodom” was not one of those books. It was De Sade’s first major work, written while was imprisoned in the Bastille (for a string of crimes including the beating of a prostitute and consensual homosexual sodomy). “Sodom” is an obsessive catalog of perversions, with almost none of the philosophical speeches that would add meaning and value to De Sade’s later work,[2] arranged according to a mathematical progression: 30 days of orgies in each set of four escalating perversions, moving from “simple” passions (such as urine drinking) to “murderous” ones. The novel was probably intended for De Sade’s own sexual gratification. The result is the Continue reading CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

  1. Henri Xhonneux and also make far stranger references to the book in their twisted De Sade biopic, Marquis. []
  2. “The 120 Days of Sodom”  was unfinished and the ending only sketched, so it is conceivable De Sade would eventually have inserted philosophical reflections later. []

LIST CANDIDATE: THE HAWKS AND THE SPARROWS (1966)

Uccellacci e Uccellini

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Totò, Ninetto Davoli

PLOT: A wandering father and son meet a talking raven on the road.

Still from The Hawks and the Sparrows
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It is, indeed, quite weird, with Totò and his young companion passing from one absurd scenario to another as they walk down life’s metaphorically dusty path. The main problem with the movie, however, is that it seems very much a product of its time and place: which is to say, not merely the 1960s, but Italy in the mid-1960s, and not merely 1960s Italy but 1960s Italy as seen through the eyes of leftist intellectuals of that period. For all its supposedly timeless and mystical talk about class and religion, I’m not sure this movie has traveled well in its long journey to our era.

COMMENTS: Casting the famous clown Totò (the Italian equivalent of France’s or Hollywood’s ) as an amoral bourgeois tramp in a nonlinear Marxist/Surrealist adventure may have been a coup and a stroke of genius in 1966, but it’s a move that doesn’t register with a modern international audience—jokes lose their force when they have to be explained via a footnote. Similarly, it’s sort of funny when, in the middle of the movie, intertitles pretentiously inform us that the talking raven represents “a ‘left-wing intellectual'”; but then they confuse us by adding “…of the era preceding Palmiro Tagliatti’s death.” Who wants to have to pause the DVD to jump on Wikipedia and discover that Tagliatti was the head of the Italian Communist party from 1927-1964? (You can see his portrait in footage from his funeral that Pasolini splices in at random at the end of The Hawks and the Sparrows). Much of the flighty Hawks seems like an in-joke made for people who are long dead now, which is a bit of a shame, because Pasolini’s pair of clowns do encounter some universal themes on their journey from and to nowhere. The meat of the movie is a flashback to the time of St. Francis, who tasks Fra. Totò and apprentice with bringing the Gospel to the “arrogant” hawks and the “humble” sparrows. Against all odds, through months of prayer and chirping and hopping about, the monks appear to accomplish the feat, only to watch a bitter punchline undo all their good work. The movie feels complete at this point, but there are still 45 minutes to go, so Totò and son return to the modern world, where they get involved in various land disputes as both the exploiters and the exploited, and join up with a wandering carnival for a while before ending up by competing for the affections of a roadside slut. The movie’s messages are encased in the candy shell of Totò’s slapstick, with lots of mugging for the camera, absurd little dances, and sped-up chase scenes. Pasolini’s parable seems, at first, to prophesy that Marxist ideas of equality will eventually triumph and bring about the ancient Christian vision of the brotherhood of man that the Church has failed to achieve in centuries of work. But, given the the raven’s final hopeless failure to convert Totò and son, perhaps he isn’t so naïve about equality’s prospects in this bird-eat-bird world.

I must confess to having a personal disaffinity for the works of Pasolini; it’s hard to explain why. To me, he always seems like an intellectual who has turned to cinema, not a natural born filmmaker. One of his movies is even entitled Theorem, for God’s sake. The irrational came naturally to directors like or , but when Pasolini wants to fly beyond reason, I always see his wings straining. He’s still a huge figure in cinema, and something of his deserves to be on the List of the weirdest movies ever made, but what?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “A sort of Marxist Hellzapoppin, politicized vaudeville and skittery poesy, an open structure overflowing with gags and ideas…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: TEOREMA (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Pier Paolo Pasolini

FEATURING: , Laura Betti, Massimo Girotti, Silvana Mangano, Andrés José Cruz Soublette, Anne Wiazemsky

PLOT: A mysterious guest sleeps with every member of a wealthy household, and when he leaves they come to strange, mostly tragic ends.

Still from Teorema (1968)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Mainly on the strength and reputation of its director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, a seminal figure in the Italian avant-garde scene of the 1960s and 1970s, who nonetheless has only a small handful of films that might qualify for the list of the 366 best weird movies. Teorema, while not his best known movie, may be the the poet-cum-director’s most mysterious parable, and therefore demands consideration.

COMMENTS: Today, it’s hard to imagine the controversy that accompanied the relatively tame Teorema in 1966. The film was given an award by a left-leaning Catholic film board at the Venice Film Festival, then condemned by the Vatican for indecency. Despite containing no nudity or explicit sexual depictions, Teorema was brought up on obscenity charges in Italy. Some of Pasolini’s Communist brethren even criticized the film for its irreverent approach to Marxism and for its apparent religiosity. I imagine what really unnerved people at the time was the bisexuality of dreamy, blue-eyed Brit Terence Stamp, the movie’s mysterious visitor. A homosexual character would have been somewhat shocking in 1968, but a man who fornicates equally with men and women—and whose charms are irresistible to straight men—is far more threatening to sexual mores; it’s even more outrageous when it’s hinted that the pansexual visitor may be God. Teorema is schematic in structure: after a few introductory passages, including a long sequence done silent film-style, the plot settles down to a series of sexual encounters between the magnetic Stamp and the members of the household (mother, father, daughter, son, maid) where he stays as a guest, followed by an examination of their individual breakdowns after he leaves them bereft. Synopses invariably misreport that Stamp “seduces” the household, which is almost the opposite of Pasolini’s scheme here: each of the family members is attracted to the visitor on their own and seeks to seduce him. He initially rejects their advances, but quickly succumbs—he provides sex as an act of charity, or grace. When Stamp leaves, with as little explanation as was given for his arrival, the family falls apart. The pastimes they cling to to try to fill his absence—sex, respectability, money, art, even sanity—are revealed as empty and unsatisfactory. The housekeeper Elena, who retreats to her country village where she eats nettles and performs morose miracles, appears to escape the tragic fate of the others—although her end hardly seems more comforting than the father’s, who winds up naked and raving mad in the desert. What it all means is up for interpretation: despite delivering each plot point on time with mathematical regularity, Pasolini leaves out some essential step from his proof that would lead us to an irrefutable conclusion. I suspect the movie is mostly about the death of God and Pasolini’s notion that, with the decline of Christendom, the bourgeois class would implode from a lack of meaning in their lives. (If Pasolini is to be believed—and surely his tongue was tucked partially in his cheek when he gave this reductionist quote—the film’s message is that “a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong).” The snail’s pace and minimum of dialogue make the movie a bit of a chore to watch, and for all his concern with sensuality, Pasolini is no more than average as a visual stylist. True to its name, Teorema (Italian for “theorem”) is a dry theoretical film that’s more interesting to discuss afterwards than it is fun to watch.

Astute 366 readers may note that Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q is basically an inverted (and perverted) version of Teorema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sort of moviegoer who thinks all movies must make sense — obvious common sense, that is — should avoid ‘Teorema.’ Those who go anyway will be mystified, confused, perhaps indignant.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “lo-fi jr.,” who called it “the most psychotically Catholic flick I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)