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July 11, 2009

Salo (Classic Film Pick)

Salò_(poster) Pier Palo Pasolini's last film was the most ambitious of his career, and the most misunderstood. Still banned in several countries, "Salo" (1975) is a haunting journey into the depths of hell on earth, loosely stewarded by the literary underpinnings of the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom." Pasolini also incorporates the three descending levels of Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" as a structural device. Shockingly graphic, and yet formally composed, "Salo" is a fascinating film that employs the full arsenal of Pasolini's polemic and satiric tools, used toward a poetic commentary on fascism (disguised as consumerist capitalism). The story's crimes-against-humanity are enforced by a complicit group of wealthy bourgeoisie dignitaries.

It is a film that expands in meaning over the passing years since its creation to encompass every degree of political and military corruption that history has acutely fulfilled--most recently, at the time of this writing, in the atrocious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Pasolini set the story in his Italian hometown of Salo, where his brother was killed during WWII, and where Pasolini himself was once arrested by Nazi soldiers. Four Mussolini fascist libertines prepare for their certain demise before the end of the war by kidnapping nine boys and nine girls, for the purpose of living out their most outlandish sexual fantasies within the confines of a private villa. The men employ the assistance of four experienced courtesans to fire their debauched imaginations with ribald parlor stories that inform the humiliating and brutal sex acts that they execute upon their naked nubile prisoners. Dramatically feral and artistically fertile, "Salo" is a rigorous movie that dares to use the metaphor of torture as a device of utter physical and psychological annihilation for both the victim and the torturer. It is significant that such an intellectual filmmaker could so dynamically condense thick layers of social commentary into an artistically skeletal form that is so perfectly transparent upon reflection. There is nothing exploitative about "Salo." It is a film that demands to be studied with the same degree of scrutiny that corporate, religious, and governmental industries should be subjected to for enslaving the planet. This is work, and not play.

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