Christmas might as well be in November this year, because for the first time ever in the United States, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life” will be coming to DVD and Blu-Ray, on the 13th of the month. And who is carrying out the release? Well, you probably guessed it: the Criterion Collection, a film company that if I gushed over them any more than I already do, people would think I was a paid employee. Just the other day, I found myself adding four more of their films to my ever-growing “C.C”, as I call it, by way of their 24-hour, 50% off Flash Sale, which brought many of these pricy films down to below $20. I allowed myself to splurge a little bit, and bought The Night of the Hunter, The Last Temptation of Christ, 8 1/2, and Paths of Glory. It was only last night, when I decided to look through their list of upcoming releases did I find my heart jumping for joy.
No brand of DVD’s has ever gotten me more excited or caused me to sing songs of praise like the Criterion Collection has, since I first discovered them a few years ago. On this site, whenever I have reviewed a movie released by the CC I have made special note of it, because the product they put forth is superior to any other kind on the market. But they do not just release good movies, that would be too simple. They turn movies into an art-form, something that film should have always been considered.
From classic masterpieces to long forgotten silent and foreign films, the Criterion Collection has had their hand in it. Aside from the high-definition transfer and the amazing cover art work that accompanies all of their movies, the discs are loaded with extras that make you appreciate the film that you are watching. There is not a DVD company out there that has taken so much time to carefully examine a film and set it up to perfection. This leads to the only real problem I have with the Criterion Collection—the price.
Because of all the extras and care given to every DVD, the prices for most of their movies are higher than what one would normally like to pay. This is why I resign most of my viewings to Netflix, who despite the many problems I have had with, supplies Criterion movies. Every so often, though, Barnes & Noble will have a 50% off sale, and there is actually one happening right now as we speak.
This is the time to make your purchases, as I did the last time they had one of these sales over the summer. I was able to pick up Vampyr, Che, and The Last Wave. I also bought The Seventh Seal, but had to bring it back and return it several times because it would not play entirely on my DVD player. There must have been a defect in the certain batch shipped to that store, but they gave me my money back. Nevertheless, I didn’t want my money back—I wanted the movie. The only other Criterion movies aside from those three that I own are Brazil and Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom.
After counting off the top of my head how many Criterion films I have watched over the years, I came to 24, but I know it is more than that. Among those are the ones mentioned above, and also A Night to Remember, the best movie made about the Titanic to date, The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent masterpiece that still holds up to today, and Solyaris, the Russian science-fiction epic that would later be adapted by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. I also currently have two of their films from Netflix that I have yet to watch: Black Narcissus and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
I cannot recommend that you check out their movies enough. If you want to experience the world of film making, don’t waste hundreds of dollars on a film class, where the same films are shown over and over again (Citizen Kane, Metropolis, and The Searchers, to name a few), go get yourself Netflix, or better yet, run to Barnes & Noble and take advantage of this latest sale. You will not be disappointed in what you find. These are not movies, but works of art.
This film caught my eye because it was in the upper echelon of lists that suggested the most disturbing movies ever made. Having seen Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom, Cannibal Holocaust, and Caligula, I was not sure how this movie would affect me, and if it would live up to its stature as one of the more horrific movies ever filmed.
While I was disturbed at some points, this just goes to show how de-sensitized we have become as a society, with appalling movies such as the Saw series, and all the other countless pieces of garbage that try to mimic it. By today’s standards, this film could be placed near Saw for the gore factor, but it surpasses it in storytelling, because what we have here is the true story of Unit 731, a Japanese biological and chemical warfare test facility. This film examines some of the atrocious experiments conducted on human beings, which in this case, were captured Chinese citizens and soldiers.
When this first came out in 1988, it was probably one of the most disturbing movies ever made up until that point. I have no doubt that there were countless people who got up and left the theaters. There is no censorship here; when they are conducting an experiment, we see everything.
Sometimes the experiments are done on men, sometimes women and children, which make it all the more disgusting. But perhaps the scene that really made me cringe was when the doctors threw a live cat into a tub of rats and watched it get eaten alive. This was without a doubt a real cat, because the whole scene was too realistic, and there was no CGI back then to make a cat. Had this part been left out, I would have been able to give this film a higher rating, but I am not a fan of having animals killed for the making of a movie.
Aside from medical experiments, which includes testing a man in a high pressurized chamber and watching his entrails burst out of him, and testing a woman’s arms in sub-130 degree temperature, only to have them submerged in hot water where they then rip the skin off her bones, the film also goes into detail on the youth corps serving there.
This youth corps would be kept from the secrets going on at the camp until the very end, when they are asked to participate in the extermination of all surviving prisoners because, as the film mentions, Japan was bombed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was nearing an end.
Another thing that caught my attention was the mention of the Nazi’s and there experiments, and how the Japanese doctor says that Germany’s are subpar to theirs, and that they will never accomplish what the Japanese already have.
Camp 731 also has a crematorium, which is there to mimic that of a concentration camp used by the Nazi’s. I don’t know if they were that identical in real life, or if director T.F Mous just used it as a parallel.
All in all, this film has some very realistic and shocking death scenes sure to make you cringe. But it is not just a gore fest, there is an actual story and some history behind it. Camp 731 really existed, and the main character, Lt. General Shiro Ishii, played by Gang Wang, existed as well. I have not done further research, but I am sure that I will find more truth than fiction in this movie, making it all the more stunning. My final grade will be a 6 out of 10, and I do recommend this to an audience that is not faint of heart and wants to learn some of the secrets of WWII human experimentation.
Just mention the name Pier Paolo Pasolini to any foreign film connoisseur, and immediately their eyes will light up. That is because Pasolini was one of the most brilliant thinkers in Italy during the 1960’s and 70’s, who unfortunately, never got to reach his full potential because of his murder in 1975. But between 1961 and then, Pasolini took Italy by storm because of his unflinching look at urban life, and his takes on literary masterpieces, which he would convert to film. Although dead thirty-five years this coming November, Pasolini continues to have a very loyal, but small following.
In 1960, he would get his first big break in the film industry when he co-wrote the screenplay for La Dolce Vita, an Academy Award winning film by legendary director Federico Fellini. In 1961, though, he would have a chance to direct his first feature film, Accattone, which took a painful look at the dangerous life of prostitution in Rome. He would follow that up a year later with Mamma Roma, a film that many claim to be his masterpiece. He cast world renowned actress Anna Magnani in the role of a mother who returns to a life of prostitution so she can have enough money to afford a good home for her son and keep him out of trouble.
With two major films already under his helm, Pasolini would finally achieve national notoriety in 1963, albeit negatively. In a short film titled, “La Ricotta”, which was part of a compilation of short stories called Ro.Go.Pa.G (named for the first letters of each directors name; Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pasolini, and Ugo Gregoretti). In his short film, he depicts the making of a movie, with Orson Welles starring as the director, and because of the storyline’s apparent low budget, they film a story of Jesus Christ being crucified in a garbage dump. Pasolini was arrested but later given a suspended sentence.
As part of his penance, he chose to focus on the story of the life of Jesus, titled, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, as his next movie, which the Vatican itself even lauded as a masterpiece. In this film, that had hardly any budget, Pasolini cast people off the street to star in major roles, many having never acted a day in their life both before and after.
By the mid 1960’s, Pasolini finally came into his own when he directed The Hawks and the Sparrows, which was yet another tale involving religion. In this film, Saint Francis insists that the constant fighting between two flocks of birds (hawks and sparrows) must end, and he makes two monks convert them to Christianity. But it was after this film that Pasolini would begin directing his “Mythical Cycle”, comprised of four films- Oedipus Rex, Porcile, Medea, and finally my personal favorite of the group, Teorema, in which British actor Terrence Stamp plays the role of a mysterious visitor who corrupts an average Italian household.
The entire film leaves the audience asking, “Is Stamp God or the Devil?” The ending is still something that no one understands. In the film which runs at just 105 minutes, there are only 923 spoken words, letting the setting and acting stand on their own.
When the 1970’s rolled around, it was apparent that the sexual revolution of that time had played a major influence on Pasolini. He began filming “The Trilogy of Life”, first consisting of The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio’s infamous medieval comedic jab at the Catholic Church. It was because of this movie that Pasolini would end up becoming the first, and to date, only director in history to have a movie on both the Vatican’s list of movies to see (The Gospel According to Saint Matthew) and movies to ignore (The Decameron).
The final two movies in the trilogy would be The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights. All three were lighthearted comedies that were full of fine acting by stalwarts Ninetto Davoli and Franco Citti (of The Godfather Part II fame), who appeared in all three. But Pasolini’s love of life and fun outlook would take a turn that never veered off course.
By 1975, Pasolini had become disgusted with society, and set out to film one of the most infamous movies in film history called Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom. He would use the novel by Marquis De Sade as a medium and updated it to 1940’s Fascist Italy. In this film, he would display his hatred for Fascism, when he depicted four leaders who, with the help of storm troopers, kidnap eighteen young boys and girls and subject them to one-hundred and twenty days of physical and mental torture during the waning days of Benito Mussolini’s reign.
This movie is not for the faint of heart and contains graphic and disturbing imagery from beginning to end. Pasolini took De Sade’s work and structured it much like Dante’s Inferno, with different segments as the movie went along.
It was because of this movie that many suspect Pasolini was murdered, in 1975. Who really killed him remains a mystery to this very day and the director did not even live to see the most banned movie ever made hit theatres in his native Italy. Pasolini himself was quite the character and it was a shame that the world would never get to see his true potential and unique personality. During post-production of Salo, a reporter approached him wanting to know what kind of audience such a disturbing film could be for and asked who could possibly want to watch such a deplorable movie. Pasolini candidly responded with a grin on his face, “This movie is for everyone, for people like me.”
Previously published in Brookdale Community College’s newspaper, “The Stall”.