Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
I've written volumes on this film and my twisted obsession with it, an obsession that seems to run askew to every other passion in my life. I won’t bore you with any of that here, but if you want to be bored, check out my more extensive blog essay on my 120 Days of Cinema site. What I wish to bore you with in this essay is a reference to another film I watched recently, Randy Moore’s indie labor of love Escape From Tomorrow, a work deemed controversial because he covertly filmed it on the Disneyworld properties.
Although Escape From Tomorrow is not perfect, I was struck by one scene involving a former Disney Princess (Allison Lees-Taylor) who relates a story of her descent into madness because of the job requirement that she always wear a perfect smile. Her tale of dementia culminates in a nightmarish flashback where she gives a little girl a royal hug and winds up squeezing the child to death. I was reminded of when I lived in Florida several years ago, and dire financial circumstances necessitated that I take a job at Disneyworld loading guests onto rides. In the beginning, the experience was magical--days completely devoted to the comfort and joy of others is truly spiritual--but as time wore on, a disquiet began to build in my heart.
In hindsight, that disquiet is tied directly to the horrors of Saló.
The four Fascist libertines in Saló are bored. Prior to the allied invasion, they have assumed positions of so much wealth and power that they have run out of ways to entertain themselves. It is, as Pasolini suggests, a case of an abundance of choice leading to an absence of all choice, Fascist Italy’s version of the Springsteen son "57 Channels (And Nothing On)." As such, the libertines create their own Disneyworld, with themselves as the Guests. They enlist the aging madams as Imagineers to tell them how to entertain themselves, and then they abduct and coerce the hapless peasant adolescents to function as Cast Members, acting out the stories of the Imagineers. Why do the libertines do this? Because their time is running out. The allies are on the move--the entire film is underscored by the roar of allied bombers passing over their villa--and the libertines want to "escape from tomorrow."
Most of all, however, they do it because they are … entitled.
I am reminded of something Bobcat Goldthwait said years ago during a stand-up, about how he didn't understand famous rock stars dying of drug overdoses because they were so rich they could have just paid poor people to act out their hallucinations. This is what happens in the Italian villa in Saló and in Disney theme parks (as well as others) across the worls: the proletariat are given little choice but to act out the fantasies of the bourgeoisie.
The Fascist libertines in Saló are no different, relying on the sexual experiences of the madams to dictate the ebb and flow of their own 120-day theme park simulation. The difference, however, between Saló and Disneyworld is that Disney Guests are not the wealthy and powerful, but everyday people like you and me, seeking a bit of respite from the terrors of real life, drowning out the roar of enemy planes above by cranking up the volume of man-made distractions.
In other words, my friends, we live in our own 120 days of Sodom, in world of synthetic color and light and music that cocoons our mindstream within a simulacrum of solace. If that thought alone doesn’t permit Saló to be included in the horror film genre, I don’t know what does.
Previous Days of Halloween:
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise
Day 3 – The Shining (miniseries)
Day 4 – 28 Days Later
Day 5 – 28 Weeks Later
Day 6 – Dawn of the Dead (original)
Day 7 – Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day 8 – The Howling