Pier Paolo Pasolini
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pasolini distinguished himself as a philosopher, linguist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, newspaper and magazine columnist, actor, painter and political figure. He demonstrated a unique and extraordinary cultural versatility, in the process becoming a highly controversial figure.
Pasolini's first novel, Ragazzi di vita (1955), dealt with the lumpen proletariat of Rome. The obscenity charges against him that it resulted were the first of many instances where his art caused him legal problems.
He would then direct the black-and-white The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964). This film is widely hailed the best cinematic adaptation of the life of Jesus, who was portrayed by Enrique Irazoqui. While making the film, Pasolini vowed to direct it from the "believer's point of view," but later, upon viewing the completed work, realized that he had expressed his own beliefs instead.
In his 1966 film, Uccellacci e uccellini (literally "Bad Birds and Little Birds", known as The Hawks and the Sparrows in the English version), a sort of picaresque - and at the same time mystic - fable, he wanted the great Italian comedian Totò to work with one of his preferred "naif" actors, Ninetto Davoli. It was a unique opportunity for Totò to demonstrate that he was a great dramatic actor as well.
Later movies centered on sex-laden folklore, such as Il fiore delle mille e una notte (Arabian Nights, 1974), Boccaccio's Decameron (1971) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1972), on to the Trilogy of Life. His final work, the only one from the expected Trilogy of Death, Salò (1975), went far beyond what most movie-goers could stomach at the time, because of its scenes of intensely sadistic graphic violence. Based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it continues to be his most controversial film; in May 2006, Time Out's Film Guide named it the Most Controversial Film of all time.
Pasolini, as a director, created a sort of picaresque neorealism, showing a sad reality—hidden, but concrete—which many social and political forces had no interest in seeing in artistic work for public distribution. Mamma Roma (1962), featuring Anna Magnani and telling the story of a prostitute and her son, was an astonishing affront to the common morality of those times. His works, with their unequaled poetry applied to cruel realities, showing that such realities are less distant from us than we imagine, have made a major contribution to a change in the Italian psyche.
The director also promoted in his works the concept of "natural sacredness," the idea that the world is holy in and of itself, and does not need any spiritual essence or supernatural blessing to attain this state. Indeed, Pasolini was an avowed atheist.
General disapproval of Pasolini's work was perhaps primarily caused by his frequent focus on sexual mores and the contrast between what he presented and the behavior sanctioned by public opinion. While Pasolini's poetry, outside of Italy less well-known than his films, often deals with his same-sex love interests, this is not the only, or even main, theme: much of it also takes as a subject his highly revered mother. As a sensitive and extremely intelligent man, he also depicted certain corners of the contemporary reality as few other poets could do.
His films won awards at the Berlin Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Italian National Syndicate for Film Journalists, Jussi Awards, Kinema Junpo Awards, International Catholic Film Office and New York Film Critics Circle.
Pasolini generated heated public discussion with controversial analyses of public affairs. For instance, during the disorders of 1969, when the autonomist university students were carrying on a guerrilla-like uprising against the police in the streets of Rome and all the leftist forces declared their complete support for the students, describing the disorders as a civil fight of proletariat against the System, Pasolini, alone among the communists, declared that he was with the police; or, more precisely, with the policemen. He considered them true proletariat, sent to fight for a poor salary and for reasons which they could not understand, against pampered boys of their same age, because they had not had the fortune of being able to study, referring to poliziotti figli di proletari meridionali picchiati da figli di papà in vena di bravate, lit. policemen, sons of proletarian southerners, beaten up by daddy's boys in bragging mood). This ironic statement, however, did not stop him from contributing to the autonomist Lotta continua movement.
Pasolini was also an ardent critic of consumismo, i.e. consumerism, which he felt had rapidly destroyed Italian society in the late 1960s/early 1970s, particularly the class of the subproletariat, which he portrayed in Accattone, and to which he felt both sexually and artistically drawn. Pasolini observed that the kind of purity which he perceived in the pre-industrial popular culture was rapidly vanishing, a process that he named la scomparsa delle lucciole, lit. "the disappearance of glow-worms"), the animalistic joie de vivre of the boys being rapidly replaced with more bourgeois ambitions such as a house and a family. The coprophagia scenes in Salò were described by him as being a comment on the processed food industry.
Not only economic globalization but also the cultural domination of the North of Italy (around Milan) over other regions, especially the South, primarily through the power of TV, angered him. He opposed the gradual disappearance of Italian dialects by writing some of his poetry in Friulian, the regional language of the region where he spent his childhood.
The glbtq encyclopedia states the following regarding Pasolini's homosexuality:
While openly gay from the very start of his career (thanks to a gay sex scandal that sent him packing from his provincial hometown to live and work in Rome), Pasolini rarely dealt with homosexuality in his movies. The subject is featured prominently in Teorema (1968), where Terence Stamp's mysterious God-like visitor seduces the son of an upper-middle-class family; passingly in Arabian Nights (1974), in an idyll between a king and a commoner that ends in death; and, most darkly of all, in Salò (1975), his infamous rendition of the Marquis de Sade's compendium of sexual horrors, The 120 Days of Sodom. (Ehrenstein, David (2005). Pasolini, Pier Paolo. glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.)
"If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief." (1966)
"The mark which has dominated all my work is this longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn't lessen but augments this love of life." (Interview in documentary, late 1960s)
- Accattone (1961)
- Mamma Roma (1962)
- RoGoPaG, episode: La ricotta (1963)
- La rabbia (1963)
- Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964)
- Sopralluoghi in Palestina per Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)
- Comizi d'amore (The Assembly of Love, 1964)
- Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows, 1966)
- Edipo re (Oedipus Rex, 1967)
- Le streghe, episode: "La Terra vista dalla Luna" (The Witches, 1967)
- Capriccio all'Italiana, episode: "Che cosa sono le nuvole?" (1968)
- Teorema (Theorem, 1968)
- Appunti per un film sull'India (1969)
- Amore e rabbia, episode: "La sequenza del fiore di carta" (1969)
- Porcile (Pigpen, 1969)
- Medea (1969)
- Appunti per un romanzo dell'immondizia (1970)
- Il Decameron (The Decameron, 1971)
- Le mura di Sana'a (1971)
- 12 Dicembre 1972 (long and short version) (1972)
- I Racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales, 1972)
- Il fiore delle Mille e una Notte (A Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, 1974)
- Pasolini e la forma della città (1975)
- Appunti per un'Orestiade Africana (Notes Towards an African Orestes, 1975)
- Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (The 120 Days of Sodom, 1976)