(15/06/07) – Following the release of a first volume that included Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accatone (1961) (also called The Procurer and The Scrounger, his contribution to the portmanteau film RoGoPaG (1963), La Ricotta, and the documentary Comizi d’amore, (1965) or Love Meetings, Tartan has come out with a sequel that includes key works that reveal eloquently the artistic character of one of the most relevant voices in the history of art cinema. This package provides examples of the ecclectic range of styles and narratives that Pasolini pursued, all of which he managed to master and imbue with his unmistakable authorship, an aesthetic vision infused with mythic realism and poetry as well as intellectual probity. It also includes two documentaries, Notes For a Film On India and The Walls of Sana’a. It is fair to say that no other film director has achieved so high a level of authenticity ever since.
Pasolini was a literary star in Italy before he ingressed on a filmmaking career. Having lived in the suburbs of Rome with his mother, Susanna, he used the Roman dialect he diligently observed in the prose of his literary breakthrough, Ragazzi di vita, first released in 1955 (he was a published poet before that). His ear for street dialogue called the attention of Federico Fellini, who hired him to write dialogues for Nights of Cabiria (1957) and La Doce Vita (1960), for which he is uncredited. These experiences and his increasing stature as a writer and post-war intellectual made it possible for him to make a headstart in film in 1961 with the aforementioned Accatone, which was also Bernardo Bertolucci’s first foray into cinema as production assistant.
The 1960s were a prolific time for Pasolini, when he directed 10 features and got involved in numerous other projects. He carried on producing frantically into the 1970s until he was murdered in 1975 after he completed Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom), a dark illustration of fascism, power and consumer society. It was one of cinema and Italy’s biggest losses ever.
Pasolini was part of a generation of European directors who benefitted from visibility and credibility at a time when Hollywood was going through a crisis triggered off by television and the industry’s inability to deal with the changes of wind brought on by the 1960s and the counter culture that emerged then. Add to that the rise of cinephilia and the appearance of film clubs and you get the cultural conditions in which this type of cinema could thrive internationally four decades ago, something unimaginable these days.
Pasolini was not an easy artist to pigeonhole. A Communist who was expelled from the party for his homosexuality, he had a fiercely personal voice that did not fit in any movement very smoothly. For example, he fell out of favour with the May 1968 generation when he sided with the police because, in his view, the latter came from the working class while the students emerged from the bourgeoisie. He was also against abortion while at the same time he remained a resolute atheist who seemed to crave for a more pastoral past (at the same working with the quintessentially modern medium of cinema). All these paradoxes converged to form a fascinating, sophisticated and deeply cultured mind. it is clear, though, that as the dark clouds that covered the 1970s gathered, Pasolini grew increasingly disillusioned with an Italy, and perhaps world, dominated by mindless consumerism and uniformity – you could only guess what he would make of today’s hyper-capitalist world.
Pigsty, made in 1969, presages Salo whose astounding artistry will always be tainted by its perceived connection with Pasolini’s murder. Composed with equally stark symmetry and a theatrical direction of actors, Pigsty touches on taboo themes such as cannibalism and scatology. However, despite its bleakness and hard surface, it becomes increasingly permeable as it progresses, compelling even. The film is hinged around two seemingly unrelated sections. One is set in an undetermined past (the Middle Ages perhaps) where a soldier descends into cannibalism and develops a band of bloodthirsty followers. The location settings are absolutely stunning and the cinematography makes the most of it.
The other section of the film focuses on a businessman, the son of a former Nazi who prefers pigs to his fiancé. A French-Italian production, it features Jean Pierre Leaud (of Truffaut’s 400 Blows fame) and Pierre Clementi (who also appeared in Antonioni’s The Leopard). Pigsty is an essayistic film that remains defiantly intelligent to these days.
Uccellacci e uccellini
Pasolini had a lighter side, too, as Uccellacci e uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows), delightfully shows. It is a sweet, philosophical black and white ‘strada movie’ starring Italy’s comic supreme Toto as he travels through suburbia and small villages in the company of Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli (who plays his son) and a talking crow. Charades about the church and Communism abound but it’s all done with a typically Italian sense of irony that goes back to Boccaccio’s Decameron (which Pasolini also filmed in 1971). The witty soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, which even includes sung credits, is an extra attraction.
Pasolini was also good at handling classics and Oedipux Rex is possibly one of his most lavish and captivating renditions of such texts. Here he also juxtaposes two different temporal zones (20th century Bologna and an undetermined, dreamy ancient world), to great effect. Pasolini cast his regular actor Franco Vitti in the title role and the ethereal Silvana Mangano (also seen in Death in Venice) as Jocasta. Adopting the same principle of straightforward story-telling as he did with The Gospel According to St Matthew in 1964, the use of anachronist details and pan-geographic costumes renders the film alive and relevant to a modern audience, surely the best way to inject life into a text that has been done, almost literally, to death. What is impressive about Oedipux Rex is how economically Pasolini succeeds in visualising the tale. During the crowd scenes, for example, you may get 100 extras, but you feel as if the whole world is there. Danilo Donati’s costumes create a sense of exoticism and exuberance that is utterly seductive. His atemporal costumes play a significant role in Pasolini’s rejection of precise period settings, which increases the throbbing immediatism of his films.
There is a sense of life in Pasolini’s ouevre that is quite unique. This seems to derive from his understanding of language, art and history as well as his love for folk culture and society’s outcasts. He was a director who swapped classic elegance for an aesthetic of visual impact and vitality. Most importantly, his films have lost none of their relevance. In fact they seem to have gained even more of it since his death.
Pasolini – Boxset 2 is out now. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.