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Salon Kitty

Blue Underground // Unrated // November 23, 2010
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 13, 2010 | E-mail the Author
At one
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point in Salon Kitty, an androgynous whore who looks disturbingly like Ziggy Stardust is decked out in swastika garters and stretches out on a bed. Triumph of the Will, meanwhile, is projected onto her naked body. Clutched between her thighs is a cock-shaped loaf of bread which a Nazi officer fellates and eventually chomps on, and that sends the hooker spiraling into literally-foaming-at-the-mouth dementia. With a couple dozen of the SS' whores and a gaggle of Nazi johns looking on, she's locked in a straightjacket and is lugged out of the room on a stretcher.

What's truly amazing...? That's not even close to the strangest thing that happens in Salon Kitty, a movie whose 133 minute canvas affords Tinto Brass (Caligula) plenty of real estate to go nuts. I mean, oodles of weepy romances have starcrossed lovers running away from one another in tears at a train station. Tinto Brass takes that trope, blankets the place with Nazi flags, and caps it off with sticky sex in a men's room. There's a botched abortion that looks like something out of Alien. Four incredibly flamboyant men in full makeup and dresses do the can-can, flashing their junk in front of billowing swastikas. Hell, the whole movie pretty much kicks off with a gender-bending musical number. Shortly after that, a couple dozen stark-naked women are lined up and heiling Hitler (is "heiling" a word?), then they march off to an orgy with a gaggle of SS officers who they screw in slo-mo, backed by a live band and artfully writhing around pommel horses and stuff. There's a montage that's almost nothing but whores trying on merkins and having their pubic hair trimmed. Jesus Christ is accused of being the bastard son of a Roman prostitute and a German marauder. There's footage of pigs being slaughtered that seems completely out of place but does indeed get a callback in the final seconds of the flick. The sheer volume of nudity is staggering, but lest you mistake it for empty titilation, some of these scenes also involve things like amputees, a naked, misshappen dwarf, and a dildo the size of my forearm. It's too batshit demented to be confused with porn.

So yeah, if you're not on a first name basis with Salon Kitty, we're talking about a movie that's on the brink of being a musical in which pretty much everyone -- men and women alike -- get bare-assed naked in an upscale bordello as part of a scheme to uncover disloyal Nazis. It's based on a true story too. There's a Wikipedia page and everything! Helmut Wallenberg (Helmut Berger) schemes
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to outfit a bordello with young women fiercely loyal to the National Socialist party. Otherwise-unavailable champagne and impossibly beautiful women could lull officers into a false sense of security...could have them spilling their most closely guarded secrets. Maybe what they reveal in their weakest moments is cause for them to be gunned down as traitors; maybe it's just something the power-mad Wallenberg can squirrel away for blackmail down the road. These patriotic whores are supposed to report on all that potentially treasonous pillowtalk, but unbeknownst to all but Wallenberg and his flunkies, the rooms are bugged, and every word that's spoken is closely monitored and etched on vinyl. The only thing Wallenberg lusts after more than power is a whore named Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy), and she's seething with vengeance after a john she'd come to love was slaughtered. The madam of the salon, Kitty Kellermann (Ingrid Thulin), wants desperately to restore her bordello to its former respectability, and the young, nubile Margherita may be just the weapon she needs...

I know this review probably reads as if I'm poking fun at Salon Kitty, but I promise that's not the case at all. I'm enthralled, to be honest. Salon Kitty is shockingly well-produced. It's well-cast, for one, and Tinto Brass directs with his distinctive confident flair. The costuming -- when the cast can be bothered to wear clothes, at least -- is stunningly lavish. Too often when I think of '70s production design, drab oranges, greens, and browns come to mind, but Salon Kitty doesn't settle into those sorts of clich├ęs, boasting instead a palette that's lush and vibrant. The film benefits greatly from the unparalleled visual eye of Ken Adam, the designer behind some of the best Bond films, Dr. Strangelove, and Barry Lyndon. His sets across the board are sleek, elegant, and immediately striking. I have no idea what the budget for Salon Kitty was, but bringing Adam onboard ensures that it looks like a much larger movie than perhaps it really was: one that's extravagant and rather artful at the same time. It's smirking satire, Nazisploitation, erotica, arthouse cinema, and a
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musical, of all things, all impossibly rolled into one. I wouldn't argue that Salon Kitty is a great film, but as an experience, there's not much out there in the world like it. This is one of those movies where the idea that it even exists is kind of amazing. That it found its way to Blu-ray...? Maybe even moreso. Salon Kitty does have its share of flaws, though. Its runtime of 133 minutes seems needlessly bloated. There are a few scenes that seem to drag on a good bit longer than necessary, and I don't think the film would've been any worse for it if a couple of its many musical numbers had been nixed. Salon Kitty doesn't suffer excessively for its lengthy runtime, though, and it's consistently more watchable than most of the exploitation cinema that gets dropped into my mailbox.

In his interview elsewhere on this disc, Ken Adam likens Salon Kitty to a ballet, and given its artful compositions, breathtaking production design, emphasis on musical numbers, and a certain amount of grace, I can see that. Unlike most ballets, of course, there's a depraved sexuality sopping into most every frame along with more Nazis than I'd care to count. I'm pretty sure those are all checks in the 'win' column too. Not having been properly indoctrinated beforehand, I wasn't sure what to expect out of Salon Kitty, and this is a movie that's been more than a little divisive in cult cinema circles. Me, though...? I really dug it. Again, it's best taken as an experience. It's so unrestrained and so prone to excess in every conceivable way that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. Between Ken Adam's gorgeous production design and the rampant nudity, why would I look away? I'd hope it's obvious by now that I'm not talking about a commercial, immediately accessible movie, so if you want to hedge your bets, you're better off with a rental first. On the other hand, if you're already an acknowledged fan or are just feeling adventurous...? Definitely Recommended.

Oh, and it's also worth noting that this Blu-ray release does feature the unrated director's cut of Salon Kitty, including some scenes that had never been dubbed into English.

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most everything else Blue Underground has issued on Blu-ray, Salon Kitty looks gorgeous in high definition. There are some soft shots -- often by design -- but by and large, clarity remains consistently impressive throughout. The level of detail strikes me as strong for a film of its age and class, and I don't think the screenshots scattered around this review do it justice at all. I also love the subtle gradations of color that really set this disc apart from anything DVD could hope to deliver. Its palette is bolder and more vibrant than I waltzed in expecting to see, and the colors are particularly eye-popping during its musical numbers. As expected for a Blue Underground release, no speckling or wear of note ever creeps in. The sheen of grain gives Salon Kitty a nicely filmic texture without ever coming across as intrusive. The image is lightly letterboxed (and slightly pillarboxed on the left of the frame) to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Its AVC encode has also been afforded a massive bitrate if you're the type to stare at bit meters. The 133 minute film devours 70% of the capacity of this BD-50 disc, and that's not even counting the extras. Clearly no corners have been cut with this encode.

I'll admit that there are some moments that don't look quite right to me, though. It's a little tricky to try to reproduce in a screenshot, but there's a moment where Margherita and her ill-fated lover (played by John Ireland) are standing in front of a set of train tracks, and a strange crosshatch pattern seems to overtake the frame. Color saturation flutters a bit in a couple of scenes, but this isn't a constant nuisance and really isn't the least bit unusual besides. There are a few shots like this one that I'd continually revisit, convinced there was something off, although maybe I've just read too many conspiracy theories from the AVS Forum and there isn't anything the least bit wrong at all. These are incredibly minor gripes and don't diminish my enthusiasm for the presentation on this Blu-ray disc in the slightest. I've been thrilled with virtually everything that Blue Underground has put their stamp on in high definition, and Salon Kitty continues that remarkably long streak.

It's rare to come across monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on Blu-ray at all. Salon Kitty, meanwhile, offers not one but two of them. The first of these lossless soundtracks presents the film in its original Italian, while the other is predominantly an English dub. Since there are moments in this extended director's cut that had never been dubbed into English, some Italian dialogue is inevitable no matter which soundtrack you select. (For anyone keeping track at home, the Nazis speak Italian this time around, and I'll admit that this very much factors into my fascination with the film.) I'm generally pleased with the way Salon Kitty sounds on Blu-ray. The audio is reasonably clean and clear overall. A faint hiss can be detected in the background, but it never dominates. A number of lines sound somewhat dated and exhibit a bit of strain, though not to any greater extent than expected. Don't keep your fingers crossed for much in the way of swooping dynamics -- there aren't any crystalline highs or foundation-rattling lows -- but it all comes through well enough. I don't have any meaningful complaints, and again, it's appreciated to see a film's original monaural soundtrack(s!) preserved like this. Too often, there's a multichannel remix that scores the lossless treatment while the original audio gets shrugged off, and I'm very glad to see that didn't happen here.

There are two English subtitle streams: one is captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing while the other translates the original Italian dialogue. Subtitles are also offered in French and Spanish.

  • Inside Salon Kitty (15 min.; SD): Salon Kitty's
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    extras are anchored around two interviews, the first of which features director Tinto Brass. He begins, appropriately enough, at the beginning: the genesis of the project, what he did and didn't draw from the book of the same name, and the allure of the cast he selected. I'm pretty sure this is the first interview I've heard where the director chats about having an actor's pubic hair shaved off to make his dick look larger. Brass also delves into his intentions with the film: distinguishing between the perversion of power and perversions of the sexual variety as well as how an exploration of this sort of depravity demands itself to be depraved. From there, Brass speaks about struggles with the censors and the very different responses to Salon Kitty the world over. Though I do think the interview is punctuated too excessively with snippets from the film, Brass still manages to tackle quite a bit in these fifteen minutes, and there's certainly a part of me that's glad he did it so succinctly rather than having recorded an audio commentary.

  • Designing Salon Kitty (18 min.; SD): Production designer Ken Adam opens his interview by noting how liberating it was to work on Salon Kitty, being offered complete artistic freedom following his second and thoroughly difficult collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. Adam speaks about location scouting in Germany, including a stop at the remnants of the original Salon Kitty where he was still able to spot traces of the Nazis' recording devices. From there, he largely comments on the design of each of the key setpieces in the film, many of which are accompanied by his original production sketches. Despite admitting that he hadn't thought of Salon Kitty in ages, his memories are impressively detailed. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how his own childhood in Berlin influenced the design of some sets along with touches like inverted walls as well as forced perspective making a short corridor look as if it spans hundreds of feet in length.

  • Trailers and Radio Spots (8 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras is a gallery of vintage promotional material: an international trailer, a domestic trailer, and three radio spots. The international trailer is encoded in HD but doesn't look the part.

The Final Word
I'm sure it goes without saying that a 2 hour and 13 minute Nazi-sexploitation almost-musical isn't so much for all tastes. The fascinatingly bizarre Salon Kitty is better viewed as an experience than a film, but however you want to classify it, I found the melding of its artful visual flair with such deliriously over-the-top depravity to be irresistable. If you missed out on Salon Kitty on DVD -- and judging by the stratospheric prices those older discs are going for on eBay and Amazon these days, I'm guessing quite a few of you did -- it's certainly worth discovering on Blu-ray, especially given how gorgeous the film looks in high-def. The uninitiated might want to opt for a rental first -- a movie this far out there is tough to recommend shelling out thirty bucks to buy sight-unseen -- but if you're still reading this review, chances are you owe it to yourself to experience Salon Kitty at least once. Recommended.
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