A few months back, after we announced our upcoming release of Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, we received a note from a viewer asking us which version of the film we would be releasing, noting that a 2001 British Film Institute (BFI) release featured a brief scene not contained in the original Criterion DVD. Dealing with various versions of a film is a common situation for us, and as a producer it’s one of the first issues I address.
The scene in question occurs at the end of the wedding sequence, approximately forty-four minutes into the film. In the Criterion master, the scene cuts just after the magistrate shuffles the wedding guests out the door and down the stairs. In the 2001 BFI release, this scene extends to include the magistrate reading a short poem.
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.
In this case, I first went to Roberto Chiesi, head of the Pasolini Foundation in Rome. He checked his archive and confirmed that their prints did not contain the scene. In one of his notes to me, Chiesi indicated that Pasolini died shortly after supervising the French version of the release and that the problems relating to the versions might have emerged after this point, although he didn’t have any information to confirm this.
Next on my list was Gideon Bachmann, a close friend of Pasolini’s who was on set during the filming. He was puzzled too. And hoping to cover all bases, I got in touch with Sergio Toffetti, who worked on a special version of Salò for the Venice Film Festival in 2006 that included deleted scenes. Unfortunately, he was not familiar with the scene either.
Meanwhile, Lee touched base with James White, the technical director at the BFI, who was in Rome this summer working on a new transfer of the film for their upcoming rerelease. James used original film materials in Rome that didn’t contain the scene either. He said he didn’t know where the BFI got the print with the extra footage.
Where this scene came from—how it appears in a UK print but not in original elements in Italy—remains a mystery I just cannot solve. It could have been present in an early print made for color timing or for an eager foreign distributor or for a festival, then cut later by Pasolini. Or it’s possible that the footage was lost from the original negative after Pasolini's death. The only thing we know is that no one had the answer, and in that case the film has to speak for itself. We went with the version that matched the original materials, our existing version, and the prints at the Pasolini Foundation. It’s kind of a shame to lose this little bit, because it does add a little something to the scene, so for those of you who are interested, here it is . . .
The first is from the BFI print, and the second is from original materials: