Gideon Bachmann

Pasolini on de Sade

by Gideon Bachmann

An interview during the filming of "120 Days of Sodom"
Appeared in Film Quarterly 29 No.2 1976
Copyright G. Bachmann and Film Quarterly.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's recent death, apparently stemming from an episode that might have figured in one of de Sade's stories, brings to an end a career that deeply influenced Italian literature (he was also a poet and novelist), linguistic thought and film.

It is reputed that Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade, spent only 37 days, writing from seven to ten every evening, in composing his masterpiece, the unsurpassed 120 Days of Sodom, the first psychopathia sexualis ever written, and preserved only in fragmentary form. More than half of what has been left are just lists of perversions, lacking that deep sociological and political insight which characterizes most of the Marquis's other work, and which assured him his ranking place in prerevolutionary French literature.

Nobody has ever used a de Sade book as material for a film. It is therefore all the more surprising that Pasolini should have chosen not just any de Sade work, but this mammoth potsherd, running to over a quarter of a million words, as the subject of his newest film, giving up a previous project in order to do so. Since with this film he wishes to return, according to his own assertions, to a more political concern, he might have chosen a less suggestive and more philosophical original.

But meeting the man and discussing one's doubts, it becomes clear how he plans to do it. He has taken the story of the four debauched gentlemen who exercise every conceivable form of torture and excess on innumerable victims, out of the seventeenth-century Swiss villa where de Sade's imagination had set it, and has placed it in 1944, in a country estate in Italy's northern fascist republic of Salo, Mussolini's lst stronghold. And where de Sade attacks God and Nature, Pasolini attacks power and exploitation. Sadism, for Pasolini, is a sexual metaphor for class struggle and power politics.

-- [Nov 2004]

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