Well, well, well, where to begin with this one?
Regular readers of this blog will know that I love movies and watch many of them each year, and that I will watch pretty much anything, even films that are considered subversive or taboo. I like to do so because I see film as an art and am not afraid to stare down something that is awful in an attempt to find out why others enjoy it, who the target audience might have been, or what the makers were trying to communicate be it via allegory or directly.
On many “Worst Of” movie lists, Salo, Or the 120 Days of Sodom makes a regular appearance, so when I had the opportunity to watch this a few years back, I took it. And while yes, some of the events that it portrays were disgusting, that value of it as a piece of art / film history is there if you look deep into it. On finding out that it was based on a book, I thought that I would like to read it as I find the source materials for movies to usually be a good read, no matter the quality or lack thereof of the film.
I recently happened across a copy of the book that Salo was based on, a tome called The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism written by Marquis de Sade. One of the surprising things I learned ahead of reading it was that it was written in 1785. As such, I thought “How bad can it be? The people of the time are often regarded as somewhat prudish.”
Oh how wrong I was.
Let’s just say that the book makes the movie look like an episode of Full House, and the fact that the author’s surname is where the word “sadism” comes from should tell you a lot.
To be honest, I am torn on this book.
From a historical and literary point of view I think it is an important work. Why? The book was written by the author on a long scroll of glued together paper while imprisoned in the Bastille. The Bastille? Does that sound familiar? You have probably heard of The Storming of the Bastille, a famous event in French history, and it was during this event that Sade was freed but the manuscript was thought to have been lost forever in the subsequent looting. It wasn’t until later that the scroll was found in the wall of his cell, and not until even later (1904) that it was first published.
Reminding me of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey it is an inanimate object around which key moments in history occurred and therefore stands an important relic and reminder of our past. It is now rightfully preserved as a precious item.
From an entertainment point of view though, it really does not offer much unless you are into the most depraved sexual acts that a mind of the 1700s could think of. It gives candid accounts of rape, sodomy, torture, child abuse, scat, incest – basically, if you can think of it, there is probably a sexual version of it in this book. If that is your cup of tea, then I have probably told you all you need to know, otherwise, like me you will probably find yourself skipping quite a few pages.