The new edition of Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò or 120 Nights of Sodom" (1976) is a revelation and will bring with it a reassessment of what can only be described as one of the purest works of art barely released as a commercial film product. This was as Pasolini would have had it, though his work has become a highly sought after cultural artifact, a commodity of another kind altogether (but still a commodity).
Pasolini wanted to direct a film that was "indigestible" as a commodity and more a work that would stand a statement on "the anarchy of power," consumerism, the hopeless inevitability of hierarchy, and so much more. Perhaps our culture is ready for his message of power run amok, it couldn't be more timely.
Yet, there are always those who are going to claim that there's no definitive cut. This is partially-correct as Pasolini was murdered while working on the French cut of the film, not even finishing its dubbing. Pasolini strangely and enigmatically stated that the French version would be "definitive" before his untimely assassination.
What does this mean? We don't know, and probably never will, though some of it has a relationship with the artist's obsession with language, and DeSade was a French aristocrat who wrote in his native-tongue.
Conversely, the film was being made for an Italian audience first, having been backed mostly by Alberto Grimaldi, producer of Sergio Leone's (a close friend of Pasolini's) "the man with no name" trilogy with Clint Eastwood, as well as films with the rest of the Italian canon of directors during the 1960s-70s. He recently co-produced Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" with the Weinsteins. Italians barely got to see Pasolini's film due to a succession of bannings that extended into 1978, though there were an unknown number of renegade screenings that caused a proliferation of grainy-prints--and some strange variations in the cuts.
The censored prints that eventually got shown to the Italian public only exacerbated this problem. Somehow, someone in the UK got a print with a scene that doesn't exist in any other...
Whenever I have a question about a master on one of my projects, my first stop is with our technical director, Lee Kline. He confirmed that our new HD transfer was made from an interpositive (IP) off of the original camera negative, which exists at Technicolor in Rome. An IP is usually the preferred source, especially when made from an original negative, since it’s wet-gated and contact-printed, and typically safer then using a cut original negative. Lee also confirmed that the missing scene is not in the IP. I had been in touch with a number of Pasolini collaborators, friends, and scholars as part of my general research on the project, and so I began asking them about how this scene might have made its way into the print used by the BFI for their 2001 release. ("Because You Can Never Have Enough," Kim Hendrickson, The Criterion Collection Blog, 08.28.2008)Would Pasolini have wanted the scene in the final cut? There's no evidence of that, especially considering that this 24 second scene included in the 2001 BFI DVD and now Blu-Ray disk isn't found in any of the original materials, only a sole British print in their possession. Had Pasolini really wanted this tiny poetry reading scene in (there are others in the film), we would find it in these archival materials.
My own take here? It's only about marketing. The BFI edition simply has something that Criterion's doesn't, and vice versa--and that's about it. It strikes me as doubtful that there was any regard given over the director's original intentions in adding it to the cut, but more to feed a mania of "more is better" for a specific audience out there. Stupid, but there it is.