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Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)

 

Italian director, screen writer, essayist, poet, critic and novelist, was murdered violently in 1975. Pasolini is best known outside Italy for his films, many of which were based on literary sources – The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales. Pasolini referred himself as a "Catholic Marxist" and often used shocking juxtapositions of imagery to expose the vapidity of values in modern society. His friend, the writer Alberto Moravia, considered him "the major Italian poet" of the second half of the 20th century.

"In neorealistic film, day-to-day reality is seen from crepuscular, intimistic, credulous, and above all naturalistic point of view... In neorealism, things are described with a certain detachment, with human warmth, mixed with irony  characteristics which I do not have. Compared with neorealism, I think I have introduced a certain realism, but it would be hard to define it exactly." (In Pasolini on Pasolini by Oswald Stack, 1970)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna, traditionally the most left-wing of Italian cities. Throughout his life, Pasolini was especially close to his mother. Pasolini's father was a fascist and non-commissioned officer, moving from one garrison to another. Pasolini has said, that in the film Edipo Re (1967, Oidipus Rex) he told the story of his own Oedipus complex. "The boy in the prologue is myself, and his father, the infantry officer, is my own father, The mother, a governess, is also my own mother."

Pasolini's family originated from Fruili, a region in the North-Eastern part of Italy where a local language, Friulano, Rhaeto-Romanic dialect, dominated, which he used in some of his early poems. However, later in life Pasolini adopted as his way of expression the crude language of the Roman suburbs. Most of his childhood Pasolini spent at Casarsa della Delizia, his mother's birthplace northeast of Venice. During this period he became deeply involved with the dialect of the region.

I was twenty, not even eighteen,
nineteen... and I had been alive for a century,
a whole lifetime
consumed by the pain of the fact
that I would never be able to give my love
if not to my hand, or to the grass of ditches
or maybe to the earth of an unguarded tomb...
Twenty and, with its human history and its cycle
of poetry, a life had ended.

(from 'A Desperate Vitality,' tr. by Pasquale Verdecchio)

In 1937 Pasolini returned to his native city and studied art history and literature at the University of Bologna. He published articles in Architrave, the politico-literary monthly of the students, and began writing poems. Pasolini's first collection, Poesie a Casarsa, which he printed at his own expense, appeared in 1942. It reflected his intense love for "maternal tongue," Friulian landscape, and its peasants, whom he depicted also in the novel Il sogno di una cosa (1962). The poems showed Pasolini's knowledge of the poetry of Giovanni Pascoli, on whom he later wrote his thesis, and Eugenio Montale. Pasolini's early Italian verses, L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica, date from this period but appeared in 1958.

During World War II Pasolini's brother was executed by Communist partisans, who supported Tito. Pasolini joined the Communist Party as a young man – in his works he often explored ideological problems, but his relationship with Communism was questioning – actually similar to the attitude towards him by his party members. The mutual schism led to his expelling from the party for alleged homosexuality in 1949. However, to the end of his life, Pasolini regarded himself as a Communist, though a heritical one. His father, who had been captured as a prisoner of war in Kenya in 1942, eventually drank himself to death in 1958. From 1943 to 1949 Pasolini worked as a teacher in almost total obscurity. His first great love was a young country boy, whom the taught to write poems. After a scandal, he was forced to abandon his post.

Pasolini's essay on Pascoli and Montale, showing his skills in close textual analysis, appeared in 1947 in the Bolognese review Convivum. An essay on Giuseppe Ungaretti, written in the years 1958-51, was later included in Passione e ideologia 1948-1958 (1960). In 1949 Pasolini moved with his mother to Rome, where he wrote poems and novels of slum life. The first two parts of a projected trilogy, Ragazzi di Vita (1955, The Ragazzi), composed in a mixture of Italian and Roman dialect, and Una vita violenta (1959, A Violent Life), established Pasolini's reputation as a major writer. In these works he depicted with neorealistic approach subproletarian life and the awakening of social awareness. Both novels were translated in the 1960s into English.

The Ragazzi was accused of obscenity and confiscated by the police by the order of Prime minister Antonio Segni. Tommaso, the protagonist in A Violent Life, is a homosexual, who with his friends lives in a world without hope. After being released from a prison, he gets an opportunity to change his purposeless existence. Eventually he dies of tuberculosis. "But this novel is a great deal more than the sum of its political ideas. It is not devitalized by or dependent on Marxist philosophy. Tommaso's story has its own profound and cumulative power; his world boils with life created by Pasolini's relentless use of dialogue and vivid detail." (Anne Rice in The New York Times, November 3, 1985)

During his career Pasolini published nearly ten collections of poems. Many critics, such as Alberto Moravia, considered him one of the most important contemporary poets in Italy, who gave voice to the post-war generation. With Moravia, he travelled in the 1960s in Africa, making preparations for a film about "black Oedipus," but the idea was never realized. Pasolini also built with Moravia a house in Sabaudia. According to Moravia, Pasolini honestly believed that the lowest proletariat would save the world with all of its freshness, incorruptness, and originality. "Pasolini was, in his own way, a follower of Rousseau," Moravia wrote in Vita di Moravia (1990).

In Le ceneri di Gramsci (1957) Pasolini returned to ideological debate. He took as his starting point the theories Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), a political leader and the cofounder of the Italian Communist Party, who spent in fascist prisons the last ten years of his life.

In addition to writing scripts, Pasolini worked in the 1950s as an actor. In 1961 Pasolini made his debut as a director. His first film, Accatone, is a re-working the novels The Ragazzi and  A Violent Life. Set in Ciampino, a suburb of Rome, where Pasolino taught from 1949 to 1951, the story centered on the life of a pimp, who was portrayed in the manner of religious painters such as Giotto and Masaccio. Franco Citti, the then amateur actor, played the eponymous hero. In the background of squalid scenes, Pasolini used Bach's St Matthew's Passion. "My vision of the world is in essence epico-religious," he stated. Accattone! began a decade-long working companionship with the cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli. Speaking of this film, he said: "We provoked a minor revolution on technical level [by using] a lens . . . which nobody wanted at the time, a 35-140 mm [with a small zoom ratio of 4:1], joined to an Arriflex, a camera that wasn't yet used in Italy . . . we certainly inaugurated a very distinctive photographic style. Pasolini . . . wanted to make a cinéma-vérité film whose photographic rhythm would correspond to that of the universe of Accattone! This lens offered exactly the desired result . . . " (Making Pictures: A Century of European Cinematography, 2003, pp. 262-263)

Pasolini examined further the theme of prostitution in Mamma Roma (1962), which portrayed Rome's underworld realistically. Anna Magnani played a prostitute who has to go back on her profession. International fame Pasolini gained in the mid-1960s. Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964) was a straightforward re-telling of the New Testament story, based on words and scenes from St Matthew's Gospel. Pasolini loathed the institution of the Catholic church, but his religious sense was evident in his movies. Most of the film was shot in Lucan and Calabria, not far from the regions, which  Carlo Levi (1902-1975) portrayed in his novel Christo si è fermato a Eboli (1945). The Catholic Church helped to finance the film. At the Venice Film Festival it received the Special Jury Prize. Two years before Pasolini had been accused of blasphemy over his satirical sketch in RoGoPaG (1962), directed by Rosselini, Godard, Pasolini and Gregoretti. However, Pasolini once said: "For years I thought that an addressee for my 'confessions' and 'testimony' existed. Only now do I realize that he does not exist." Saint Paul was meant to be a sequel to his film on the Passion of Christ. Pasolini transposed Paul's life to "the conformism of present-day bourgeois civility," as he explained in his plan. He worked on the screenplay in 1968, edited it further in 1974, butnever found financing for the production.

Il Decameron (1971), I racconti di Canterbury (1973) and  Il fiore delle Mille e una notte (1973, Arabian Nights) were based on medieval tales and celebrated the world of simple joys and sexuality. With the "trilogy of life" Pasolini acquired a more broader audience than contemporary avant-garde directors –  moreover, there was plenty of nudity and voyerism on the screen. At that time Pasolini wanted to turn away from ideology, because he had understood, that "to make an ideological film is finally easier than making a film outwardly lacking ideology." In The Canterbury Tales, Pasolini himself played Chaucer, a farcical character in the opening sequence. At the end he finishes his book, smiling at the camera. Of the original 24 tales, Pasolini selected eight but combined them together in a different order, and added new scenes. The stories follow one another without any transition. Young males are cast into roles of prostitutes and loose women.

As a side-production of Arabian Nights, Pasolini made a short film,  Le mura di Sana'a (1973), in which he expressed his disgust for demolition of old buildings in the name of modernism. Oidipus Rex was an adaptation of an ancient text of Sophocles. Teorema (1968) was a dissection of a wealthy Milanese family through the slogan "make love, not war." Love enters the lives of the family members in the persona of a young man. At the end, the father gives his factory to workers, strips himself naked, and like John The Babtist becomes a voice in the wilderness. Using non-professional actors with professionals, Pasolini attempted to combine realism and revolutionary concepts with sex, violence, and sadism. With the gay liberation movement the community of homosexual novelists grew internationally, and along with Pasolini from it emerged such writers as Christopher Bram, James Purdy, Allan Hollinghurst, José Lezema Lima, Reinaldo Arenas, and Yukio Mishima.

In the 1960s Pasolini's interest in language drew him to semiotics, although his concern with dialect marked his work from the first collections of poems. One of these early influences was the modern novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose experimental novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, written in a mixture of Italian, Roman, Venetian, and Neopolitan dialects, appeared in a Florentine review 1946.

Pasolini presented his approach to cinema in a number of essays. His opposition to the liberalization of abortion law and criticism of the radical students made him unpopular on the left. From Porcile (1969), in which the son of a Nazi father is eaten by pigs, Pasolini's films took an increasingly controversial tone, but at the same time his ideological stance became more concealed and individualistic. He denounced the student demonstrations of 1968 and opposed abortion. Pasolini once remarked: "I too, like Moravia and Bertolucci, am a bourgeois, in fact a petit-bourgeois, a turd, convinced that my stench is not only scented perfume, but is in fact the only perfume in the world." His last film, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, set in the last years of WW II in Italy, linked fascism and scatalogy and sadism. The film was banned virtually everywhere.

Pasolini's creative productivity did not stop in films. He wrote several tragedies in verse and published in 1971 a new collection of poetry, Trasumanar e organizzar, which was dismissed as bad poetry. His critical writings and newspaper articles were collected in such volumes as Empirismo eretico (1972, Heretical Empiricism) and Lettere luterane (1976). Pasolini also contributed to the Milanese newspaper Corriere della sera.

The circumstances surrounding Pasolini's death remain a mystery. On morning of 2 November, 1975, his body was discovered on waste ground near seaside resort of Ostia. A young male prostitute was tried and convicted for the murder in 1976. A week before his death, Pasolini had said in Sweden, that he will be killed probably very soon. He had began to investigate the Mafia's link to the prostitution business. Pasolini's massive unfinished novel, Petrolio, came out in 1992.

For further reading: Pasolini on Pasolini by Oswald Stack (1969); Pasolini by T. Anzoino (1971); Vita di Pasolini by Enzo Siciliano (1979); 'The Storytellers Art' by Ben Lawton, in Modern European Filmmakers and the Art of Adaptation, ed. by Andrew S. Horton and Joan Magretta (1981); Pasolini: A Biography by E. Siciliano (1982); Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism by Millicent Marcus (1986); Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy by N. Greene (1990); A Certain Realism: Making Use of Pasolini's Film Theory and Practice by Maurizio Viano (1993); Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives, ed.  P. Rumble and B. Testa (1994); A Poetics of Resistance: Narrative and the Writings of Pier Paolo Pasolini by D. Ward (1995); The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini by Sam Rohdie (1995); Allegories of Contamination: Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life by Patrick A. Rumble (1995); Pasolini: Forms of Subjectivity by R. Gordon (1996); Encyclopedia of World Literarture in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed.  Steven R. Serafin (1999); Pasolini, Chaucer and Boccaccio: Two Medieval Texts and their Translation to Film by Agnès Blandeau (2006) - See also: Pentti Saarikoski, Matteuksen evankeliumi (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), translation into Finnish also in the 1960s. Pasolinilta on myös suomennettu valikoima Laitakaupungin valot sekä Tuhkan laulaja, valikoinut ja suomentanut Pentti Saaritsa (1999).

Selected works:

  • Poesie a Casarsa, 1942
  • I pianti, 1946
  • Poesia dialettale del novecento, 1952 (editor, with M. dell'Arco)
  • Tal cour di un fruit, 1953
  • La meglio gioventù, 1954
  • Il canto popolare, 1954
  • Ragazzi di Vita, 1955
    - The Ragazzi (translated by Emile Capouya, 1968)
    - films: La Notte Brava, dir.  Mauro Bolognini (1959); La Canta delle Marane, dir.  Cecilia Mangini (1960)
  • Le ceneri di Gramsci, 1957
    - The Ashes of Gramsci (translated by David Wallace, 1982)
  • L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica, 1958
  • Una vita violenta, 1959
    - A Violent Life (translated by William Weaver, 1968)
    - Kiihkeä elämä (suom. Aira Buffa, 1962)
  • Passione e ideologia 1948-1958, 1960
  • Donne di Roma, 1960 (introduction by Alberto Moravia)
  • Roma 1950 – Diario, 1960
  • Aeschylus:  L'Orestiade, 1960 (translator)
  • Antologia della poesia popolare, 1960 (ed.)
  • La religione del mio tempo, 1961
  • Accattone, 1961 (screenplay)
  • Il sogno di una cosa, 1962
  • L'odore dell'India, 1962
  • Plautus: Il vantone, 1963 (translator)
  • Poesia in forma di rosa 1961-1964, 1964
    - A Desperate Vitality (translated by Gavin Ewart, in the London Magazine, 1964; Pasquale Verdicchio, 1996)
  • Il Vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964 (screenplay)
  • Poesie dimenticate, 1965
  • Potentissima signora, 1965 (with Laura Betti)
  • Alì dagli occhi azzurri, 1965
    - Roman Nights and Other Stories (translated by John Shepley, 1986)
  • Uccellacci e uccellini, 1966 (screenplay)
  • Orgia, 1968 (in Porcile, Orgia, Bestia da stile, 1979)
    - Orgiat (suom. Martti Berger, 1995)
  • Edipo re, 1967 (screenplay)
    - Oedipus Rex: A Film (translated by  John Mathews, 1971)
  • Teorema, 1968
    - Theorem (translated by Stuart Hood, 1992)
    - Teorema (suom. Aarre Huhtala, 1971)
  • Pasolini on Pasolini, 1969 (ed. by Oswald Stack)
  • Medea, 1970 (screenplay)
  • Ostia, 1970 (screenplay)
  • Poesia, 1970
  • Oedipus Rex, 1971 (translation of screenplay)
  • Trasumanar e organizzar, 1971
  • Canzoniere italiano, 1972 (ed., 2 vols.)
  • Empirismo eretico, 1972
    - Heretical Empiricism (translated by  Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 1988)
  • Affabulazione; Pilade, 1973 (prod. 1969)
    - Fabrication = Affabulazione (translated by Jamie McKendrick, 2010)
  • Caldèron, 1973 (play)
  • Tal cour di un frut = Nel cuore di un fanciullo, 1974
  • La nuova gioventú. Poesie friulane 1941-1974, 1975
  • La Divina Mimesis, 1975
    - The Divine Mimesis (translated by  Thomas Erling Peterson, 1980)
  • Scritti corsari, 1975
  • Il padre selvaggio, 1975
    - The Savage Father (tr.  Pasquale Verdicchio, 1999)
  • Trilogia della vita, 1975 (screenplays: Decameron, I racconti di Canterbury, Il fiore delle mille e una notte)
  • Lettere luterane, 1976
    - Lutheran Letters (translated by Stuart Hood, 1987)
  • Lettere agli amici, 1976 (edited by Luciano Serra)
  • Le belle bandiere. Dialoghi 1960-1965, 1977 (edited by Gian Carlo Ferretti)
  • Pasolini e Il Setaccio (1942- 1943, 1977 (edited by Mario Ricci)
  • Con Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1977 (edited by Enrico Magrelli)
  • San Paolo, 1977 screenplay)
    - Saint Paul: A Screenplay (translated by Elizabeth A. Castelli; foreword by Alain Badiou) 
  • Manifesto per un nuovo teatro, 1978
    - Manifesto for a New Theatre: Followed by Infabulation (translated by Thomas Simpson, 2008)
  • I Disegni, 1941/1975, 1978 (edited by  Giuseppe Zigaina)
  • Il cinema in forma di poesia, 1979
  • Il caos, 1979 (edited by Gian Carlo Ferretti)
  • Porcile-Orgia-Bestia da stile, 1979
  • I turchi in Friuli, 1980
  • Poesie e pagine ritrovate, 1980 (edited by Andrea Zanzotto and Nico Naldini)
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems, 1982 (translated by  Norman MacAfee)
  • Selected Poems, 1983 (bilingual edition)
  • Lettere 1940-1954, 1983
    - The Letters of Pier Paolo Pasolini (translated by Stuart Hood, 1992)
  • II primo paradiso, Odetta, 1985
    - The First Paradise, Odetta (translated by  Antonino Mazza, 1985)
  • Trilogia della vita, 1987 (edited by Giorgio Gattei)
  • Lettere 1955-1975, 1988
  • Poems, 1991 (selected and translated by Antonino Mazza)
  • I dialoghi, 1992 (foreword by Gian Carlo Ferretti, ed. by Giovanni Falaschi)
  • Petriolio, 1992
    - Petrolio (translated by Ann Goldstein, 1997)
  • Un paese di temporali e di primule, 1993
  • Antologia della lirica pascoliana: introduzione e commenti,m 1993 (edited by Marco A. Bazzocchi)
  • Bestemmia: tutte le poesie, 1993 (2 vols., edited by Graziella Chiarcossi and Walter Siti, foreword by Giovanni Giudici)
  • L'Academiuta friulana e le sue riviste, 1994 (edited by  Nico Naldini)
  • Vita attraverso le lettere, 1994 (edited by Nico Naldini)
  • Interviste corsare sulla politica e sulla vita: 1955-1975, 1995 (edited by Michele Gulinucci)
  • Storie della città di Dio. Racconti e cronache romane (1950-1966), 1995 (edited by Walter Siti)
    - Stories from the City of God: Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966 (translated by Marina Harss, 2003)
  • Trilogia della vita: le sceneggiature originali di "Il Decamaron", "I racconti di Canterbury", "Il Fiore di Mille e una notte", 1995 (foreword by Gianni Canova)
  • I film degli altri, 1996 (edited by Tullio Kezich)
  • Poesie scelte, 1997 (edited by Nico Naldini and Francesco Zambon)
  • Meglio gioventù, 1998 (edited by Antonio Arveda)
  • Romanzi e racconti, 1998 (2 vols., edited by Walter Siti, Silvia De Laude)
  • Saggi sulla letteratura e sull'arte, 1999 (edited by Walter Siti and Silvia De Laude)
  • Per il cinema, 2001 (edited by Walter Siti and Franco Zabagli)
  • Teatro, 2001 (edited by Walter Siti, Silvia De Laude)
  • La nuova gioventù: poesie friulane 1941-1974, 2002 (edited by Furio Brugnolo)
  • Tutte le poesie, 2003 (2 vols., edited by Walter Siti, Fernando Bandini, Nico Naldini)
  • Pasolini rilegge Pasolini: intervista con Giuseppe Cardillo, 2005 (edited by Luigi Fontanella)
  • La rabbia, 2009 (edited by Roberto Chiesi)
  • In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology, 2010 (edited, with an introduction by Jack Hirschman)
  • La terra vista dalla luna, 2010 (edited by Graziella Chiarcossi and Antonella Giordano)
  • The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Bilingual Edition, 2014 (edited by Stephen Sartarelli; foreword by Jamea Ivory)

Films as director:

  • Le notti di Cabiria, 1957 (Nights of Cabiria; co.sc., uncredited, dir.  Federico Fellini)
  • Accattone, 1961 (Accatone! / The Procurer / TheScrouger) 
  • Mamma Roma, 1962 (Mamma Roma)
  • Ro.Go.Pa.G., 1963 (with Rosselini, Godard, and Gregoretti, the episode 'La Ricotta'; Let's Have a Brainwash) 
  • La rabbia, 1963 (with Giovanni Guareschi)
  • Le mura di Sana, 1964
  • Il vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964 (The Gospel According to Matthew)
  • Il padre selvaggio, 1965
  • Comizi d'amore, 1965 (Assembly of Love) 
  • Sopralluoghi in Palestina, 1964 (Location Hunting in Palestine)
  • Le streghe, 1966  (ep. La terra vista dalla luna; The Witches) 
  • Uccellacci e uccellini, 1966 (The Hawks and the Sparrows)
  • Edipo Re, 1967 (Oidipus Rex)
  • Teorema, 1968 (Theorem)
  • Capriccio all'italiana, 1968 (ep. Che cosa sono le nuvole?; Caprice Italian Style) 
  •  Amore e rabbia, 1968 (ep. La sequenza del fiore di carta; Love and Anger) 
  • Porcile, 1969 (Pigpen / Pigstry)
  • Medea, 1970 (Medea)
  • Appunti per un romanzo sull'immondezza, 1970
  • Appunti per un'Orestiade africana, 1970 (Notes for an African Orestes)
  • Il Decameron, 1971 (The Decameron)
  • I Racconti di Canterbury, 1972 (The Canterbury Tales)
  • 12 dicembre, 1972
  • Il fiore delle Mille e una Notte 1974 (A Thousand and One Nights; Arabian Nights)
  • Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, 1975 (partly based on Marquis de Sade's novel; Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
  • La rabbia di Pasolini, 2008 (with Giuseppe Bertolucci)


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