The new MGM DVD, a co-production with the BFI, represents a slightly different cut than Criterion's release, restoring a short sequence during the first wedding ceremony where one of the high officials reads a poem. The Criterion transfer, which itself was supposedly mastered from a PAL source, exhibits a slight yellow tint which is missing from the MGM transfer. Whether this color was intentional or not is unknown, but after years of watching the Criterion transfer it seems strange viewing the stark white colors of the MGM disc. The cropping on the MGM transfer seems slightly wider than Criterions, with details on the sides of the screen oftern more balanced.
The subtitle tracks are essentially the same, with the MGM track erring toward the lyrical side. On the MGM disc the closing choir piece which is playing through the radio is subtitled, whereas in the Criterion print it's not. On a slightly disturbing note it seems as if BFI's translators felt the need to infuse their subtitle track with numerous british slang such "bum" and "arse" which might alienate Yanks familiar with Criterion's more sedate style of four-letter words.
I suppose that the casual viewer who owns any of the original Criterion releases probably wont find enough extras in the new MGM release to upgrade but the picture quality and longer cut are absolutely essential for the rabid fans or those who simply missed out on the earlier releases.
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Laserdisc and DVD:
CLV 1-Disc NTSC LD; SS-SL Reg. 1 NTSC DVD / PCM Mono;
DD 2.0 Mono / 1.78:1 both
SS-SL Reg. 2 PAL DVD / DD 2.0 Mono / 1.66:1 / Rel. 2000
Italy is a land well-known for its sexually-explicit cinema whose extravagancy can rarely be matched by other countries. The king of savage psycho-political italian sex movies is Pier Paolo Pasolini, with his masterpiece being his final work Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom.
Based on a work by the Marquis DeSade, Salo tells the story of a small group of high officials and industrialists during fascist Italy who, seeing the end is coming for Mussolini (distant sounds of tanks and warfare are ever present) decide to kidnap a group of a children and bring them to a secluded country estate where they can indulge in their every sexual fantasy in one last hurrah. Those captives who play along and are considered valuable will be taken with the fascist on their journey to Salo, the sole remaining fascist hold-out territory. Those that disobey their convoluted set of rules will meet some undetermined, vile fate. The group all gather at the beginning of each day in the "orgy room," where one of the wives of the "Masters" tell a story of her own perverse sexual conquests in order to arouse the everyone's interests. From these stories come bizarre challenges and games; urination, shit-eating and all manner of gratification are exposed and explored by the figures of authority. When one of the guards or inmates step out of line they are either promptly punished or marked for later reprisal. Eventually the end of their stay draws near, and in the courtyard a final ceremony takes place, one whose participants will likely not survive.
Pasolini meant Salo to be an example of Fascism's crippling effect on human society but there's also the strong sense of a creative figure finally exercising his own personal demons. Pasolini's own violent and mysterious death shortly after the making of the film seem almost strangely appropriate given the aura of degeneracy which still appears to surround this film. Running parallel to the numerous scenes of torture in Salo is also a strong level of traditional italian humor; at one point the masters even dress up like society women and marry their favorite male lovers. This mix of comedic hijinks and anal sex is even more powerful than a serious approach would have afforded.
Salo's first big leap into home theatre came with the Criterion Collection's Laserdisc in the early nineties. While it was a full uncut version of the film it seems that even Criterion wasn't immune to fear of censorship, as the list of chapters with such names as "Circle of Shit" and "A Little Sex" were conveniently printed on a seperate sheet of paper and included inside the packaging as opposed to the normal practice of printing the chapters of the back of the sleeve. When Criterion moved into DVD production they released Salo using the same transfer as the laserdisc. After a short period on the market the dvd went out of print due to various sordid rights issue and suddenly the pricess of the discs skyrocketed to $500. For a short period there even existed a small run of bootleg Salo DVDs which flooded online auction sites everywhere. Much of this activity ceased when a region 2 PAL DVD was finally released by MGM late last year.