Sight and Sound Top 250 #228 – Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Once again we continue our journey through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #228, Pier Paolo Passolinis Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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“All’s good if it’s excessive.”

I’ll admit, there are certain films on this list that I’ve been avoiding for one reason or another. Some of them are overly familiar, and I’m not sure what new I might have to say about them, others just don’t seem (at least at first glance) like they’re the kind of film that would pique my interest. Then there are a few, such as today’s film, Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom that I’ve been putting off because of their reputation.

Based at least in part on the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and tinged with Dante’s Inferno, the film definitely has a reputation as one of the most vile and disgusting movies ever to be released to mainstream theaters.. How then did it make a list of the best films of all time?

The basic premise of Salo can be easily summed up: a group of eighteen young adults – nine male and nine female – are kidnapped by four aristocrats who have their own small army to keep everyone in line and are brought to a palatial villa where they are forced to submit to the aristocrats’ every whim.

The problem comes with just what those whims are. The aristocrats are an extremely perverse lot – perhaps some of the worst villains ever put on film – and they indulge themselves in everything from physical torture, rape, sodomy, the eating of feces, golden showers, and yes, even murder. To make matters worse, they seem to experience a sexual pleasure from this perversity.

It would, of course, be easy to dismiss Salo as simply pornography, and this has been done, In its own native Italy, where the film was released just over a month after director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s death, it was pulled from theaters after three weeks and was formally banned. It has also been banned and censored in other countries, although, surprisingly, never in the U.S.

But there is something to the film which, despite its objectionable subject matter an its portrayal of abominations, raises it high above mere simplistic dismissal.

First, there is the fact that, despite the abhorrent nature of the material that is being portrayed, Salo is, in fact, a beautiful film. The setting, the aristocrats’ palatial estate, provides a gorgeous backdrop, and it seems that every room has been immaculately conceived to provide just the perfect setting and color scheme for what is taking place. And color is obviously very important to Pasolini as every hue is deep and rich and draws the eye even as one wishes to avert it from what is actually taking place.

Pasolini’s camerawork s also obviously that of a master, as he chooses just the right way to frame every scene in order to intimidate the thinking viewer but also to provide a sense of distance which allows the viewer to be more of an observer as opposed to an actual participant in the horrendous goings-on.

I was especially struck by this towards the end of the film when the most horrific physical tortures are taking place. As opposed to many modern day horror films which place the audience as close to the blood and gore as possible in order to give the audience a type of “you are there” experience – yes Hostel and the rest of your ilk, I’m looking at you – instead we view the scenario which is taking place in the villa’s courtyard from the perspective of on of the aristocrats who is viewing the events through an upstairs window using binoculars, thus providing us with a much needed sense of detachment which, while not completely relieving the horror of what is going on, nevertheless allows the viewer to maintain a bit of distance.

Further, there are also the political and social commentaries that are being made in the film. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the setting of the film is Italy’s Republic of Salo (thus the film’s title) during the last days of the regime of Benito Mussolini. The aristocrats fashion themselves as Anarchists, and the entire film is structured to represent the abyss dividing those with power from those without. The young adults who are the subjects of the men’s tortures are given little background and little personality and are basically treated as interchangeable commodities existing solely for the use of these men.

To say that Salo is not an easy film is a huge understatement. Nor is it a film that I would recommend to everyone, nor one that I am ever likely to revisit. It is a challenge to sit through, and there are scenes which are definitely repulsive. Nonetheless, it is a film that goes far beyond its basic premise and will reward the open-minded viewer with an experience that film rarely equals.

Here’s your trailer:

 

 

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Break On Through To The Other Side – Stargate (1994)

I seem to have been on a bit of a Kurt Russell kick lately. Just recently I wrote about The Mean Season, which starred Russell as a reporter who has to track down and confront a serial killer, and now it’s 1994’s Stargate which also features Russell as Colonel Jack O’Neil.

I have to admit that Stargate has always been something of an enigma to me. The movie itself is okay, but not the kind of thing that I would have expected to spawn three different quite popular television series. Certainly there is much that can be extrapolated from the basic set-up of the film which could be used to expand the universe it takes place in, which is what the series do, but nonetheless, to me it still seems odd.

Of course, a big part of my question lies in the fact that I really only find the movie, as I stated above, “okay”. As a science fiction film it works as long as you don’t try to follow any of the logic and are willing to overlook the obvious plot holes, but where it really falls down is in the characters.

Okay, since I’ve already mentioned Kurt Russell, let’s take a quick look at his character. Our first introduction to him is as a man who is despondent and nearly suicidal after his son has accidentally killed himself with a gun, Nonetheless, he is considered fit enough to lead a military team on an expedition into the unknown. Also, once he’s back on the job, the only real effect his depression seems to have on him is an aversion to letting the younger members of the tribe found on the alien planet handle his guns. Sure, I suppose you could chalk his willingness to stay behind on the planet and make sure that the stargate is destroyed as a symptom, but in the film he simply presents it as “doing his duty”, so no, I;m not willing to attribute it there.

Then, of course, there is James Spader’s Daniel, who often seems not just clueless but willingly obtuse to everything going on around him. Of course, this points out another of the film’s huge flaws: the fact that no one in the movie ever bothers to ask what could be considered the important questions until it is convenient to provide a plot twist.

Then we come to the movie’s biggest flaw, at least as far as the characters are concerned, an that is with the film’s main antagonist, Ra, who is played by Jaye Davidson. At the time, Davidson was hot, having just come off of an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Crying Game.

The problem is that Davidson simply doesn’t work as the kind of intimidating presence that is needed to embody the conqueror of a people and the all-powerful Egyptian sun god. It was a daring casting choice, but in the end, as the film shows, without his otherworldly armor and space flyers and weapons, he really just has too much of a boyish look to pull off the role.

Then there is the plot itself. While the stargate, which turns out to be a portal to other worlds is definitely a concept that can lead to many adventures, the mechanics of it really make no sense at all. Also, the fact that the military has been working with this thing long enough to understand the mechanics of it and have set up a scientific base around it that is ready to actually open it at a moment’s notice as soon as they are able to figure out the last needed symbol, and even more that they have somehow intuited just exactly what the thing is in the first place, and yet they are dependent on the presumably cockamamie Spader to give them the clue to the last symbol and to explain to them just how the thing works is rather ridiculous.

Also, it seems odd that even though the civilization on the other side of the gate is apparently thousands of centuries old (after all, they were supposedly the ancestors of Earth’s ancient Egyptians, and have been under the rule of Ra for all those years, they have also seemingly been asleep for all those years as they have made absolutely no technological advances of their own, nor has Ra used any of his own technology to advance the civilization, instead apparently simply  – I don’t know – napping in his flying pyramid space ship?

Okay, I could go on and on about all of the problems with the film, but there’s really no point, And, as I said at the first, it really isn’t a bad movie, just one that, like producer Dean Devlin and director Roland Emmerich’s most famous blockbuster Independence Day, is really best viewed by paying more attention to the popcorn you eat while watching it than to what is going on on the screen, because the more you actually think about the movie, the less sense it actually makes.

Here’s your trailer:

Saturday Double Feature: The Black Panther (2018) and…

It’s Saturday, and that means it’s time for another Saturday Double Feature!

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Hey, gang, guess what it’s time for! Yep, you guessed it – another Marvel Superhero movie! I think this is the first of eighteen or so that are going to be coming out this year. Woo hoo!

Okay, I’ll dial back the sarcasm a bit, because I am actually looking forward to this week’s release of The Black Panther. An if the box office estimates are anything to go by, I’m far from the only one. Let’s take a quick look, shall we?

So the obvious route to go when looking for something to pair with The Black Panther for a double feature would be an earlier superhero movie, or perhaps even something like Blade, the first Marvel movie to feature an African-American protagonist. (And yes, I do realize that T’Challa, the lead character of The Back Panther is purely African, specifically Wakandan, but…)

Anyway, instead of going that route, I thought today we’ take a look at an earlier movie also titled The Black Panther. In this case, however, the title character is not a superhero but rather one of England’s most notorious serial killers and kidnappers. What makes this film even more interesting is that it was released in 1977, less than two years after Donald Neilson, aka The Black Panther was arrested, and while his crimes were still fresh in the public mind,

Now today that might seem to be an advantage – “ripped from the headlines” is a huge selling point – but in this case the movie was met with fury and condemnation with one television commentator stating that the movie’s director, Ian Merrick, had made a “sick” movie, even though she had not yet seen it.

As a result of the outrage, the film was pulled from the theaters it had already opened in, and was never really given a full release and was banned. Then, in 2012, the British Film Institute “rediscovered” the film, resurrecting it from its too-early grave, and released it to home video on DVD and blu-ray.

Here’s the trailer, and if you’d like more information on the film, I recommend checking out this article from the Guardian which details the history of the crimes and the film.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with The Black Panther? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

You Really Shouldn’t Be Here – Get Out (2017)

Get Out is one of those movies that I heard quite a bit about last year, but just never got around to seeing, something I’ve thankfully now remedied.

Coming from first time writer and director Jordan Peele, previously best known for the comedy sketch show Key and Peele,, a horror movie like Get Out may seem an odd step, but Peele says he thinks that comedy, which is all about reveals and taking things to unexpected places was actually a good training round for moving into horror.

Get Out is also a reflection of ideas that have always been of concern to Peele such as race relations and the experience of being black in America today.

There is an obvious Stepford Wives influence to Get Out, not only in its basic premise, but also in the way it comments upon the current tensions between the races in the country and issues such as racial profiling just as Stepford was a reaction to and reflection of the tension between sexes brought on by the feminist movement of the time.

More than that, however, Peele never forgets that the main purpose of his movie is to entertain, and that it does extremely well. Along with the scares and tension of which there is plenty, there are also moments of humor, both of the laugh-out-loud variety and those that are quite subtle. It’s also is an incredibly well constructed movie, from the script level up, with early moments that resonate more forcefully as the movie progresses and we begin to clue in on just what is going on.

Get Out has received a number of accolades since its release, including four Academy Award nominations, and they are all well deserved. If you’re looking for a film that will get under your skin and give you reason to think about what is going on, not just in the film itself but in the world at large, it is definitely a movie for you.

Here’s your trailer:

Throwback Thursday -Old Time Radio: Bold Venture

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Before I started Throwback Thursday here, the Thursday feature was devoted to Old Time Radio, another of my favorite forms of entertainment, and a genre that unfortunately has died out, at least here in the U.S, though it does thrive in Britain and other countries to this day. Plus, there would often be a film ir Hollywood tie-in, as in today’s reprinted feature. So enjoy, and hey, if you’re interested in seeing a return of some kind of regular OTR feature, let me know.

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 Old Time Radio Thursdays – #005: Bold Venture (1951-1952)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Bold Venture! Adventure! Intrigue! Mystery! Romance! Starring Humphrey Bogart! And Lauren Bacall! Together in the sultry setting of tropical Havana and the mysterious islands of the Caribbean. Bold Venture! Once again, the magic names of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall bring you Bold Venture and a tale of mystery and intrigue…

51-04-10-Storz-Beer-spot-adHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall together on the radio? In a weekly dramatic adventure show? Set in the Caribbean? Yep, that’s exactly what Bold Venture promised, and that’s exactly what it delivered.

1951 had to have been a busy year for one of Hollywood’s most popular couples. Bacall was pregnant with the couple’s second child, and they would soon be off to “deepest darkest Africa” where Bogie would be filming his Academy Award winning turn as Charlie Allnut in The African Queen. Nonetheless, the couple managed to record 30 episodes of the radio show before their departure, and supposedly another 48 upon their return.

Bold Venture is the story of Slate Shannon (Bogart), who runs a hotel and fishing boat rental service in Havana and his “ward”/sidekick/possible love interest Gail “Sailor” Duval (Bacall) as they scrape and scrap their way through stories involving everything from spies to lost love. The setting obviously was designed explicitly for the couple, as “Shannon’s Place” might just as well be “Rick’s Cafe” from Casablanca, and the fishing boat set-up is obviously a combination of To Have and Have Not and Key Largo.

1-bold-ventureIn reality, however, the show probably could have been set almost anywhere, because the real draw for listeners, and the real appeal, is obviously the interaction between the two stars, and in that aspect the show definitely doesn’t disappoint. The natural chemistry between the two shines through, even when the scripts are on the weak side or when the plot becomes somewhat muddled. This is definitely a show where the leads were able to bring even a mediocre script – and there were, unfortunately, more than one of those, though when the writing shines, it really does shine – to a much higher level. Which is exactly what one would expect from stars of this calibre and level of intimacy.

Speaking of stars, special note also has to go out to supporting actor Jester Hairston who played “King” Moses on the show. If Bogart was reprising Rick Blaine, then King was his Sam, and one of the more intriguing aspects of the show was that after the first commercial break, King would provide the listener with an up-to-this-point plot summary in the form of a calypso verse, which was an interesting way to play up the Cuban setting even when the script really didn’t otherwise call for or allow much reference to the island nation.

One thing that you may have noticed earlier when I noted the number of episodes recorded before and after the shooting of The African Queen is that I said “supposedly another 48 upon their return”. Bold Venture is what was known as a syndicated series, meaning that rather than going out live, the episodes would be recorded before hand and then sent out (usually on lacquer disks) to the local stations who would then slot them into their schedules with local sponsors buying individual spots. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion over just how many episodes were actually produced, the sequence they were aired in, the dates they would have originally aired, and even the titles given to the episodes. This is unfortunately the case with many radio shows of the period, especially since the disks themselves were often supposed to be destroyed after their broadcast – remember, this was a time when there was no secondary market for these programs, and there was no value seen in the shows beyond their initial broadcast.

Humphrey-Bogart-Lauren-Bacall-1This has led to the unfortunate situation where many of these early radio shows are simply lost to our generation, and many of the ones that do survive exist only in the form of recordings made of the actual on-air broadcasts by enthusiasts who would set up tape machines to capture their favorite shows. Also it means that those trying to research these shows often have to piece together snippets of information or advertisements from various newspapers or magazines in order to try to make some sense of exactly which shows do still exist and other information about them.

In the specific case of Bold Venture, the syndicator’s records indicate that a total of 78 shows were recorded, but of those only 57 have been verified to still exist and are “in circulation” – meaning they are available to collectors and/or listeners. There may very well be more recordings out there, but if so, they are either in the hands of private collectors or may even simply be sitting on a shelf without the owner even realizing the treasure they have.

This is, of course, yet another thing that these old radio shows have in common with early films and television shows.

Anyway, we fortunately do have those 57 shows available to listen to, and the full collection of them can be found here.

And now, once again, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, and let the magic of Bogart, Bacall, and Old Time Radio take you on your own Bold Venture.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on Bold Venture. Next week? Well, next week we’ll take a look at one of Hollywood’s most notable horror icons as he steps into a much more… “saintly” role.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Say “Cheese” 008 – A Minor Miracle (1983)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

On, man, we’re back into the realm of seventh-generation VHS transfers with this almost unwatchable Mill Creek entry.

There was a time when Pele was one of the hottest sports stars in the world, and that popularity has to be the only reason for the existence of A Minor Miracle.

Young Catholic priest Father Reilly wants to go to New England to teach at a parochial school. He is assigned, however, to help at a San Diego orphanage where an older priest has been running things for years.

Father Cardenas (played by elder film statesman John Huston) has been at the orpanage for so long that it has become as much his home as it is one for the boys in his charge, and though he knows he is likely soon to die and suspects that the younger man has been sent there solely to help out until he is gone at which point the church will foster out the boys and sell the property, he is determined to do all that he can to keep the facility going and to provide for the boys.

There are also unscrupulous real estate developers who have their eye on the land and who have a city councilman in their back pocket. Also, the building itself is in bad need of repairs and the church has refused to allocate any money for the purpose.

Thus, Father Cardenas comes up with a desperate last-minute scheme. You see, he used to be a missionary in Brazil, and was instrumental in Pele’s early education. Thus, he feels he has a special connection to the soccer player, and writes a letter asking him to come to San Diego and put on a soccer clinic at an exhibition match between the boys of the orphanage and the team from an elite private high school.

Unfortunately, the letter gets lost in the mail and Pele is a no-show, putting the school in even further danger as the city, which agreed to promote the clinic and Pele’s appearance is considering fraud charges against the orphanage.

Oh, and it turns out Father Cardenas is dying of cancer.

While not a bad movie, A Minor Miracle is one of those heart-string tuggers that unfortunately all-too often passes for family fare. It diligently ticks all of the necessary boxes, including a training montage featuring Pele and the kids from the orphanage.

Sorry, no enbeddable trailer for this one, but if you’ve any interest at all in watching the movie, here’s the full thing on YouTube, in a quality that’s actually better than the version found on the Mill Creek disk:

Up Next: The Swinging 70s  Disk 2 Movie 1: Crypt of the Living Dead – Let’s crown a new vampire queen!