The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

6:58am on Friday, 11th March, 2005:

120 Days of Sodom


In my acceptance speech for my award (I did mention I won an award, didn't I?) I referred to an occasion when I had been a first penguin of the kind to which the metaphor usually refers. I was unable to relate my anecdote, however, because I didn't have the time. Also, it's not all that funny... I've been asked since what it was exactly, though, so here goes.

Reminder: the first penguin is the one standing on the ice floe being kept warm by the body heat of the other penguins who leaps alone into the icy waters where the fish is and will die of cold if the rest don't follow, however they do follow because they were just waiting for one penguin to jump first.

OK, so it's the early 1980s and this Italian film, Salò: 120 Days of Sodom, is going to be shown at the University of Essex Film Society (of which most students are members). The film has been banned across Europe for its explicit sexual content, and it's illegal to screen it in the UK except to private film societies. Yes, FilmSoc counts as such a society.

So there's a huge turnout, maybe 600 students in a double-sized lecture theatre, all there to see this pornography (er, art). There is huge expectation. The projector rolls, and we get this description scrolling slowly up the screen like in Star Wars, describing how the film has been banned. OK, fair enough, but then it goes on about how this movie is based on a novel by the Marquis de Sade, which relates a story of a bunch of innocent teenagers taken into the Florentine hills and subjected to perversions for 120 days. It then warns us of the scenes we will be shown, how we may be offended, that we should regard it as art...

It carries on in this vein for fully 15 minutes. Each new paragraph is met with groans. When it finally stops, there is rapturous applause. The movie proper begins!

It is the most boring movie ever made.

Really, it is. The action is very slow, the dialogue explains nothing, and you can't tell what explicit act of sexual perversion the characters are about to undertake until right before they undertake it. Except, they don't undertake it: the camera cuts away at the last moment. Given some of the perversions, this is probably just as well (I don't really want to see people eat excrement), but it happens all the time. One moment, some women is on her knees and a man approaches from behind with a rolling pin; next moment, she's on a swing or something.

OK, so I have a predicament. I am being bored intolerably by this movie, and I really, really want to leave, but then everyone will think I'm a prude. But it's boring. But I'll look a prude. But it's boring! But I'll look a prude!

I turn to the person I went with, Brian Mallett, and say, "Is it just me, or is this a rubbish movie?". I may have used a stronger word than "rubbish"... Brian replies, "It's a rubbish movie". He definitely used a stronger word.

I wait 5 minutes, but it doesn't get any better.

I snap. I get up, and make my way down the steps towards the exit. I get about half-way down before I hear this thunderous roar behind me. I turn, and see 590 students standing up and following. Everyone but 10 actual perverts wanted to leave, and were just waiting for someone to make the first move.

So I can be that kind of first penguin. Only, of course, for MUD1 I wasn't...

Referenced by Western Crete.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).