Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) – First Impressions

4 Jan
Standard audience reaction to Salo, in a nutshell.

Standard audience reaction to Salo, in a nutshell.

[Copypasted from a forum post, because of course writing something longer than 140 characters for the express purpose of broadcasting it on social media gives me stage fright.]

After being tormented (so to speak) by morbid curiosity since I did some research on it last summer, I decided to finally bite the bullet and watch Salo. I expected to either love it or hate it (which seem to be the two sides on which people fall regarding this film) but as it turns out I… neither loved nor hated it.

Maybe my muted response came from the fact that, since I’d already read about most of the particulars of the film’s onscreen nastiness, it didn’t especially shock me; maybe because its reputation is so towering that the real thing couldn’t possibly live up; or maybe because the style of the film itself is so detached, not just from the characters but from reality, that it’s hard to get emotionally involved in merely the bizarre and disgusting images depicted on the screen (once you’ve been around the internet enough I gather not much can shock you anymore as far as images go).

(Another thing: I feel like a good deal of the script may have been lost in translation for me, both because the subs I used seemed to be very dry and literal and because I don’t know a whole lot about Italian politics, history and social structure, to which the film heavily alludes.)

Still, even if it wasn’t quite all I’d hoped it would be, I did find it to be an interesting piece of Dadaist, uh, “fun” a la Bunuel, Jodorowsky, etc.. It’s the eye-cutting scene in Un Chien Andelou extended to feature length, with a handful of political subtext thrown in and weird meditations about the nature of unrestrained sexual id.

I do find it strange though that the film seems to invite the audience to identify with the libertines as opposed to the victims. I mean I guess pressuring audience members to recognize themselves in the abusers rather than the abused is an important part of Pasolini’s social critique, but it has the weird effect of muting audience sympathy towards the victims of the profane acts in favor of visceral disgust at the acts themselves.

So, those are my first impressions.

Next up I wanna watch Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, because I saw some people describing it emphatically and because I recently remembered how much I liked Under the Skin (I guess I’ll end up working my way backwards through his filmography, getting to Sexy Beast last)

A Bon Mot on Barry Lyndon

24 Dec

This might go in some review or essay or something, someday. Who knows. Posting it here for posterity.


It amuses me when people say about Barry Lyndon, “It’s so beautiful – but what a cold, inhuman story!” After all, one of the film’s (and Kubrick’s) major motifs is the beautification of barbarity. The whole thing is 2001‘s “Dawn of Man” sequence with period wigs and upper-crust accents. In place of bludgeoning things over the head with a bone, our young primate discovers that he can get what he wants by lying, cheating, and otherwise playing the repressive social mores of 18th-century Britain to his advantage – all with a jolly old English “Please” and “Thank you”.

Violence (draft)

3 Mar

Violent fantasies for me, including but not limited to those entertained through film and video games and fiction in general, are a very self-consciously morbid thing. I want to feel bad for watching or engaging in violence on the screen; I want it to make me feel uncomfortable, and I want to have nightmares about it. To witness or experience true violence against myself or those close to me is one of my absolute worst fears in real life; and yet I believe that violence is also an unavoidable force of nature, and therefore as intrinsic to human existence and history as any other behavior we’ve inherited from the natural world; and I realize that I have the capacity in me to enact and to lust for violence, as a human being and as a man, and that’s in a way as frightening as the thought of having violence enacted upon me.

So for all of these reasons and all of these intense and conflicting ideas and emotions I have surrounding the topic, violence is a subject of deep fascination to me, both the way in which it occurs in reality and the way in which we relate to it through art and media. The artistic portrayals of violence in media that enthrall me the most are those in which I find a sort of purging effect; by passing myself, via projection, through the cleansing fire of intensity associated with the violent interaction of two bodies, the willful infliction of pain or mutilation or the ending of the life of one human being by another in the pursuit of desire or rational self-interest… through this experience, I feel burned and cleansed, and my perspective of the world surrounding me is sobered.

I make my uneasy peace with the savagery of natural order in a violent universe through the ritual of fantasy.

An Apology

26 Jan

Checking my stats, it seems like this little blog is getting slightly more hits than usual, at least in part due to one of my posts having apparently been linked on a discussion forum that I, as a non-member, don’t seem to be able to access. I don’t know what about it exactly is of interest to you guys, but I figure I might as well say: thanks for reading! Even if you hate it, still thanks.

More importantly, I’d like to apologize for my blog looking like an absolutely hideous bag of shit. I… haven’t been the most attentive keeper of this blog, in case the sporadic nature of my posts didn’t make it obvious, and so the half-assed placeholder setup I put in place when I first started this thing almost two years ago has gone completely unchanged for all that time. I keep telling myself that sooner or later, I’m going to revisit this thing and clean it up proper. We’ll see. In the meantime, sorry for assaulting your eyes, but thanks for putting up with it! However briefly.

Short Review: Clockers (1995)

10 Nov
Watched Clockers last night. The inspiration for The Wire (season 1 in particular) is easy to see, but since the novel had the misfortune of being adapted by Spike Lee (with his nigh-pathological aversion to subtlety in full force), the film is pretty well ruined by random bouts of soapbox editorializing, distracting skin-deep stylistic flourishes, campy overacting galore, and a fucking awful score that undermines nearly every scene. (Like, imagine if 80% of The Wire‘s scenes were accompanied by either a terrible soap opera soundtrack that didn’t even match what was happening onscreen, or licensed R&B music played during violent scenes for an in-your-face “ironic” contrast that wears out its welcome about 15 seconds into the opening credits. Yeah.)
Should’ve just read the book.

Short Review: 12 Years A Slave (2013)

5 Nov

12 Years A Slave is, for better or worse, pretty much what you’d expect: a Slavery Movie about how Slavery Was Bad (Really Bad). It’s not a character study of Solomon Northup, a quasi-documentarian reenactment of history, a political allegory for some contemporary phenomenon, a sociological examination of the institution of slavery, a philosophical rumination on the nature of human freedom/enslavement/control/suffering/etc., or even a sentimental memorial a la Schindler’s List. It’s just… the Slavery Movie.

I suppose that’s not the worst thing to be, and I’m glad it exists (and mildly disgusted that it took until the year 2013 for it to get made), and I’m sure it’ll soon join Last of the Mohicans and Hotel Rwanda as a high-school history class standard. It’s certainly not easy to fault on any formal level. But artistically, it’s hard not to feel that something’s lacking.

Zero Dark Thirty: A Slant Magazine Review

19 Dec

[quote=”Joseph Jon Lanthier (highlights mine)”]Much like Fritz Lang’s M, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty begins with violent death that’s aurally suggested rather than seen, and concludes with a woman’s ambiguously symbolic tears. These disorienting overloads of affect bookend a deceptively rational police-procedural thriller, cataloguing the steps taken by a steely CIA operative (Jessica Chastain) to hunt down Osama bin Laden through a political decade defined by torture and mishap. Hyperkinetic drama trumps context throughout; discussion of Operation Cyclone and even Islam is riskily absent, as though Bigelow were writing history with lightning. The code-named characters meanwhile behave like they’re auditioning for HBO; Chastain’s self-proclaimed “motherfucker” of an agent, who scrawls angry notes on her male superior’s office window (a.k.a. “the glass ceiling”), has an anemically sketched inner life. Yet all of these vernacular tropes form a shrewd, daring rouse. In a move worthy not only of Lang but of Brecht, Bigelow has politicized her pop aesthetics. Her compulsively watchable film brings a global exchange of unthinkable pain down to earth while still retaining the essence of its ineffability. Zero Dark Thirty is ultimately about unknowable cost—not only the cost of keeping a worldwide hegemony afloat with grisly violence, but the cost of maintaining a worldwide entertainment industry with facsimiles of the same.[/quote]

So [i]Zero Dark Thirty[/i] (that’s the same [i]Zero Dark Thirty[/i] that [url=]David Edelstein[/url] describes as “borderline fascistic”) is the [i]Starship Troopers[/i] of its generation, and only JJ Lanthier here with his cromulent prose and incoherent metaphors can tell! Who knew? And if you were one of the millions of people who made the connection between [i]Zero Dark Thirty[/i] and German Expressionism – and how could you not? – JJ has you covered there, too. He knows a lot about cinema, you see.

Oh, Slant. It’s this kind of nose-upturned, art-school-socialist pedantry you just can’t fake; and yet, it’s the kind of smug, rigorously pretentious provocation that makes you (occasionally) worth reading.