I rather have the feeling that you missed the points of consequence in Pasolini's Salo. Which is not surprising: it is an extraordinarily difficult film. I don't think Salo is intended to 'shock the audience' per se, though it does to a most extreme degree. And I definitely don't think that the prime purpose of the film is to make a political statement about Italian fascism, though that is used as the framing context. Salo is about torture. It is also about who might allow themselves to enact extreme torture on others and what their mindset right resemble; on what torturers would make of the world.

I have seen Salo, and it is most definitely an assault on the senses; literally repellent because such an aversive experience in that most of us would never want to witness let alone participate in vicariously or otherwise what transpires in the film. I recall when the lights went up on the screening I attended now years ago, the audience around was literally too stunned to clap hiss or respond at all; like they'd been in a car crash were someone was just decapitated. I have, deliberately, never watched any of the beheading videos posted online in recent years but I suspect one would have a similar response to viewing those not really knowing what is coming. The torture in Salo, and especially the element of sexual torture is quite extreme, a depiction which few of us ever think about even in fantasy.

But some do have sexual, corporeal, and power fantasies of that kind; even often. De Sade tortured others, sexually and otherwise; it was why he was committed to prison. He had thoughts of this kind, but was sociopathic enough that he carried them into deeds, lacking any empathy for his victims. I know numbers of others who have comparable fantasies now, who enjoy them, but do not act on any of those nonconsensually. But what if they did? Who would they be? What would be their mindset? What would a society, even a tiny isolated enclave, look like if they ran it and acted freely as they wished?

We know for a fact that Fascists in mid-century deliberately and gratuitously tortured many, many, people to death. It is easy to transpose from those actions into a completely fictional one, and to see an enclave of torturers _as_ Fascists; especially easy for someone such as Pasolini who had lived through that era. I don't think the function of the film is to say "Fasicism is sadism, and fascists are sadists." One can draw that inference or not. To me, the inference is the reverse: Salo is a film that says "Unrestrained fantasy _becomes_ fascism at its most sociopathic. If we have no empathy, THIS is what the worst of us would make of the rest of us," a statement made by someone thinking about torture as something which would be desirable to do if he allowed himself to. It's a cautionary tale, in other words. "Think it all you want, but to pursue it to the last extremity, as did de Sade, as did the torturers in fascist prisons or the gulag, is to become fascist," the crime that is framed as WORSE than the tortures depicted. Fascists just don't care if you suffer and die, and are some of them entirely prepared to enjoy your execration. It's only a small step psychologically to go from there to enjoyed that misery in a sexual sense. Those who ran the blocks in Abu Gharib let themselves go in tis way and made their own private Salo for a time, just as much psychologically if not nearly as much sexually. Salo simply says, "Many of you could go there if nothing stood in your way: this is what YOU would look like if so."

I think that one has to have some connection to sado-masohism as a psychological and sexual experience to read Salo in this way, but I think that this is the most direct way to read it. I'm not sure that this was literally Pasolini's intended reading of the content. But I don't think a person would make this particular film without a psychological response to extreme S/M and the extreme psychological states in its practice imagined, whether or not ever experienced; it would be unimaginably unpleasant to make this film without that frisson of response.

Salo isn't truly a political film as you seem to have read it, it's a psychological study. An extreme one, to be sure. I wouldn't necessarily call it a great work of art (and I see a lot of cinema). I wouldn't even recommend to someone to see it. But if you want to see what a world without empathy and restraint could look like, Pasolini's Salo is a place to go to find out. Just don't go there to stay . . . .

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Certainly; I haven't seen the film either, but I know there are people who think they are "leftist" because they "épaute les bourgeois". Kind of self-hate, I think.

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Jan 28·edited Jan 28

Interesting, I can't speak to "120 days" as I've never seen it but I am currently reading "In search of lost time" for the first time

I'll add a little more by admitting it's fantastic, but not at all what I expected it to be after hearing about it for so long. Funnily enough my thoughts on it are summed up quite well in a line in I just came across in the book:

"The impression given us by a person or a work (or intrepretation of a work) of marked individuality is peculiar to that person or work. We have brought witu us the ideas of "beauty", "breadth of style", "pathos" and so forth which we might at a pinch have the illusion of recognizing in the banality of a conventional face or talent, but our critical spirit has before it the insistent challenge of a form of which it possesses no intellectual equivalent, in which it must disengage the unknown element. It hears a sharp sound, an oddly interrogative inflection. It asks itself: "is that good? Is what I am feeling right now admiration? Is that what is meant by richnesd of colouring, nobility, strength?" And what answers it again is a sharp voice, a curiously questioning tone, the despotic impression, wholly material, caused by a person whom one does not know, in which no scope is left for "breadth of interepretation." And for this reason it is the really beautiful works that, if we listen to them with sincerity, must disappoint us most keenly, because in the storehouse of our ideas there is none that responds to an individual impression."

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