Pasolini, Pier Paolo
PASOLINI, Pier Paolo
Nationality: Italian. Born: Bologna, 5 March 1922. Education: School Reggio Emilia e Galvani, Bologna, until 1937; University of Bologna, until 1943. Military Service: Conscripted, 1943; regiment taken prisoner by Germans following Italian surrender; escaped and took refuge with family in Casarsa. Career: Formed "Academiuta di lenga furlana" with friends, publishing works in Friulian dialect, 1944; secretary of Communist Party cell in Casarsa, 1947; accused of corrupting minors, sacked from teaching post, moved to Rome, 1949; teacher in Ciampino, suburb of Rome, early 1950s; following publication of Ragazzi di vita, indicted for obscenity, 1955; co-founder and editor of review Officina (Bologna); prosecuted for "vilification of the Church" for directing "La ricotta" episode of Rogopag, 1963. Awards: Special Jury Prize, Venice Festival, for Il vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964. Died: Bludgeoned to death in Ostia, 2 November 1975; buried at Casarsa.
Films as Director:
Accattone (+ sc)
Mamma Roma (+ sc)
"La ricotta" episode of Rogopag (+ sc); La rabbia (part one)(+ sc)
Comizi d'amore (+ sc); Sopralluoghi in Palestina (+ sc); Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel according to Saint Matthew) (+ sc)
Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows) (+ sc);"La terra vista dalla luna" episode of Le Streghe (The Witches) (+ sc)
"Che cosa sono le nuvole" episode of Cappriccio all'italiana(+ sc); Edipo re (Oedipus Rex) (+ sc)
Teorema (+ sc); "La sequenza del fiore di carta" episode of Amore e rabbia (+ sc)
Appunti per un film indiano (+ sc); Appunti per una Orestiade africana (Notes for an African Oresteia) (+ sc); Porcile(Pigsty; Pigpen) (+ sc); Medea (+ sc)
Il decameron (The Decameron) (+ sc, role as Giotto)
12 dicembre (co-d, sc); I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales) (+ sc, role)
Il fiore delle mille e una notte (A Thousand and One Nights)(+ sc)
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodome (Salo—The 120 Days of Sodom) (+ co-sc)
La donna del fiume (co-sc)
Il prigioniero della montagna (co-sc)
Le notti di Cabiria (Fellini) (co-sc)
Marisa la civetta (Bolognini) (co-sc)
Giovanni Mariti (Bolognini) (co-sc)
La notte brava (Bolognini) (co-sc)
La canta delle marane (sc); Morte di un amico (co-sc); Il bell' Antonio (Bolognini) (co-sc); La giornata balorda (Bolognini)(co-sc); La lunga notte del '43 (co-sc); Il carro armato dell '8 settembre (co-sc); Il gobbo (role)
La ragazza in vetrina (co-sc)
La commare secca (Bertolucci) (sc)
Storie scellerate (co-sc)
By PASOLINI: books—
Poesie e Casarsa, Bologna, 1942.
Dov'è la mia patria, Casarsa, 1949.
I parlanti, Rome, 1951.
Tal cour di un frut, Tricesimo, 1953.
Del "diario" (1945–47), Caltanissetta, 1954.
Il canto popolare, Milan, 1954.
La meglio gioventù, Florence, 1954.
Ragazzi di vita, Milan, 1955; published as The Ragazzi, New York, 1968.
L'usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica, Milan, 1958.
Una vita violenta, Milan, 1959.
Donne di Roma, Milan, 1960.
Passione e ideologia (1948–1958), Milan, 1960.
Roma 1950, diario, Milan, 1960.
Sonetto primaverile (1953), Milan, 1960.
Accattone, Rome, 1961.
Il sogno di una cosa, Milan, 1962.
La violenza, with drawings by Attardi and others, Rome, 1962; published as A Violent Life, New York, 1968.
L'odore dell'India, Milan, 1962.
Mamma Roma, Milan, 1962.
Il vantone di Plauto, Milan, 1963.
Il vangelo secondo Matteo, Milan, 1964.
Alì degli occhi azzurri, Milan, 1965.
Poesie dimenticate, Udine, 1965.
Uccellacci e uccellini, Milan, 1965.
Edipo re, Milan, 1967; published as Oedipus Rex, London, 1971.
Teorema, Milan, 1968.
Pasolini on Pasolini, interviews by Oswald Stack, London, 1969.
Medea, Milan, 1970.
Poesie, Milan, 1970.
Empirismo eretico, Milan, 1972.
Calderón, Milan, 1973.
Il padre selvaggio, Turin, 1975.
La divina Mimesis, Turin, 1975.
La nuova gioventù, Turin, 1975.
Scritti corsari, Milan, 1975.
Trilogia della vita, edited by Giorgio Gattei, Bologna, 1975.
I turcs tal Friùl, Udine, 1976.
L'arte del Romanino e il nostro tempo, Brescia, 1976.
Lettere agli amici (1941–1945), Milan, 1976.
L'Experience hérétique: langue et cinéma, Paris, 1976.
"Volgar" eloquio, edited by A. Piromalli and D. Scarfoglio, Naples, 1976.
Affabulazione, Pilade, Milan, 1977.
Le belle bandiere: dialoghi 1960–65, Rome, 1977.
San Paolo, Turin, 1977.
I disegni, 1941–1975, Milan, 1978.
Poems, edited by Norman Macafee and Luciano Martinengo, New York, 1982.
Lettere, 1940–1954: Con una cronologia della vita e delle opere, edited by Nico Naldini, Turin, 1986.
Lettere, 1955–1975: Con una cronologia della vita e delle opere, edited by Nico Naldini, Turin, 1988.
By PASOLINI: articles—
"Intellectualism . . . and the Teds," in Films and Filming (London), January 1961.
"Cinematic and Literary Stylistic Figures," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1962.
"Pier Paolo Pasolini: An Epical-Religious View of the World," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1965.
Interview with James Blue, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1965.
"Pasolini—A Conversation in Rome," with John Bragin, in FilmCulture (New York), Fall 1966.
Interview in Interviews with Film Directors, edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.
"Montage et sémiologie selon Pasolini," in Cinéma (Paris), March 1972.
"Pasolini Today," an interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Take One (Montreal), September 1974.
"The Scenario as a Structure Designed to Become Another Structure," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 2, no. 1, 1978.
"Toto," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1979.
Brang, H., S. Beltrami, and P.P. Pasolini, "Leidenschaft und Trauer. Pasolini als Filmkritiker. San Paolo," Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), special section, vol 16., March 1988.
Giavarini, L., and P.P. Pasolini, "Pasolini, la parole ininterrompue," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1992.
On PASOLINI: books—
Gervais, Marc, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Paris, 1973.
Taylor, John, Directors and Directions, New York, 1975.
Siciliano, Enzo, Vita di Pasolini, Milan, 1978.
Bertini, Antonio, Teoria e tecnica del film in Pasolini, Rome, 1979.
Snyder, Stephen, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Boston, 1980.
Bellezza, Dario, Morte di Pasolini, Milan, 1981.
Bergala, Alain, and Jean Narboni, editors, Pasolini cinéaste, Paris, 1981.
Gerard, Fabien S., Pasolini: ou, Le mythe de la barbarie, Brussels, 1981.
Boarini, Vittorio, and others, Da Accattone a Salo: 120 scritti sulcinema di Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bologna, 1982.
Siciliano, Enzo, Pasolini: A Biography, New York, 1982.
De Giusti, Luciano, I film di Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rome, 1983.
Carotenuto, Aldo, L'autunno della conscienza: Ricerche psicologichesu Pier Paolo Pasolini, Turin, 1985.
Michalczyk, John J., The Italian Political Filmmakers, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.
Schweitzer, Otto, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Mit Selbstzeugnissen undBilddokumenten, Hamburg, 1986.
Klimke, Cristoph, Kraft der Vergangenheit: Zu Motiven der Filmevon Pier Paolo Pasolini, Frankfurt, 1988.
Greene, Naomi, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy, Princeton, New Jersey, 1990.
Schwartz, Barth David, Pasolini Requiem, New York, 1992.
Maurizio, Viano, A Certain Realism: Toward a Use of Pasolini'sFilm Theory and Practice, Berkeley, California, 1993.
Rumble, Patrick, and Bart Testa, Pier Paolo Pasolini: ContemporaryPerspectives, Toronto, 1993.
Murri, Serafino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rome, 1994.
Peterson, Thomas E., The Paraphase of an Imaginary Dialogue: ThePoetics and Poetry of Pier Pasolini, New York, 1994.
Moscati, Italo, Pasolini e il teorema del sesso: 1968, dalla Mostra delcinema al sequestro : un anno vissuto nello scandalo, Milan, 1995.
On PASOLINI: articles—
Lane, John, "Pasolini's Road to Calvary," in Films and Filming (London), March 1963.
Hitchens, Gordon, "Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Art of Directing," in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1965.
Bragin, John, "Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poetry as a Compensation," in Film Society Review (New York), January, February, and March 1969.
Macdonald, Susan, "Pasolini: Rebellion, Art, and a New Society," in Screen (London), May/June 1969.
Armes, Roy, "Pasolini," in Films and Filming (London), June 1971.
Prono, F., "La Religione del suo tempo in Pier Paolo Paslini," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), January/February 1972.
Bachmann, Gideon, "Pasolini in Persia: The Shooting of 1001Nights," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1973/74.
Di Giammatteo, F., editor of special issue "Lo Scandalo Pasolini," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), vol. 37, no. 1–4, 1976.
Barthes, Roland, "Sade-Pasolini," in Le Monde (Paris), 16 June 1976.
"Pier Paolo Pasolini Issues" of Etudes Cinématographiques (Paris), no. 109–111, 1976, and no. 112–114, 1977.
Escobar, R., "Pasolini e la dialettica dell'irrealizzabile," in Biancoe Nero (Rome), July/September 1983.
MacBean, J.R., "Between Kitsch and Fascism: Notes on Fassbinder, Pasolini, Homosexual Politics, the Exotic . . . ," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 4, 1984.
Greene, N., "Reading Pasolini Today," in Quarterly Review of FilmStudies (New York), Spring 1984.
Neupert, Richard, "A Cannibal's Text: Alternation and Embedding in Pasolini's Pigsty," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), vol. 12, no. 3, 1988.
Joubert-Laurencin, H., "Portraits: Paolini-Freud, ou les chevilles qui enflent," in CinéAction (Toronto), January 1989.
Svenstedt, C.-H., and others, "Pasolini var samtida," in Chaplin (Stockholm), special section, vol. 32, 1990.
Cappabianca, A., "Pasolini: oltre l'urbano," in Filmcritica (Montepoulciano, Italy), vol. 42, June 1991.
Bruno, G., "Heresies: The Body of Pasolini's Semiotics," in CinemaJournal (Austin), vol. 30, Spring 1991.
Joubert-Laurencin, H., "1965–1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini, la divine théorie," in CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), July 1991.
Orr, C., "The Politics of Film Form: Observations on Pasolini's Theory and Practice," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Winter 1991.
Lapinski, Stan, "Il cinema di Pier Paolo Pasolini," in Skrien (Amsterdam), October-November 1993.
Filmihulu (Helsiniki), special section, no. 2, 1993.
Beylot, Pierre, "Pasolini, du réalisme au mythe," in CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), January 1994.
Rohdie, Sam, "Pasolini, le populisme et le néoréalisme," in CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), January 1994.
Gili, Jean A., "L'histoire du soldat," in Positif (Paris), December 1995.
Ciné-Bulles (Montreal), vol. 14, no. 4, Winter 1995.
Williama, Bruce, "A Transit to Significance: Poetic Discourse in Chantal Akerman's Toute une Nuit," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 23, July 1995.
Loiselle, Marie-Claude, "Poétique du montage," in 24 Images (Montreal), Summer 1995.
Mariniello, Silvestra, "La Résistance su corps dans l'image cinématographique: La mort, le myther et la sexualité dans le cinéma de Pasolini," in Cinémas (Montreal), vol. 7, no. 1–2, Autumn 1996
* * *
Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, novelist, philosopher, and filmmaker, came of age during the reign of Italian fascism, and his art is inextricably bound to his politics. Pasolini's films, like those of his early apprentice Bernardo Bertolucci, began under the influence of neorealism. He also did early scriptwriting with Bolognini and Fellini. Besides these roots in neorealism, Pasolini's works show a unique blend of linguistic theory and Italian Marxism. But Pasolini began transcending the neorealist tradition even in his first film, Accattone (which means "beggar").
The relationship between Pasolini's literary work and his films has often been observed, and indeed Pasolini himself noted in an introduction to a paperback selection of his poetry that "I made all these films as a poet." Pasolini was a great champion of modern linguistic theory and often pointed to Roland Barthes and Erich Auerbach in discussing the films many years before semiotics and structuralism became fashionable. His theories on the semiotics of cinema centered on the idea that film was a kind of "real poetry" because it expressed reality with reality itself and not with other semiotic codes, signs, or systems.
Pasolini's interest in linguistics can also be traced to his first book of poetry, Poems of Casarsa, which is written in his native Friuli dialect. This early interest in native nationalism and agrarian culture is also a central element in Pasolini's politics. His first major poem, "The Ashes of Gramsci" (1954), pays tribute to Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who founded the Italian Communist party. It created an uproar unknown in Italy since the time of D'Annunzio's poetry and was read by artists, politicians, and the general public.
The ideas of Gramsci coincided with Pasolini's own feelings, especially concerning that part of the working class known as the sub-proletariat, which Pasolini described as a prehistorical, pre-Christian, and pre-bourgeois phenomenon, one which occurs for him in the South of Italy (the Sud) and in the Third World.
This concern with "the little homelands," the indigenous cultures of specific regions, is a theme linking all of Pasolini's films, from Accattone to his final black vision, Salò. These marginal classes, known as cafoni (hicks or hillbillies), are among the main characters in Pasolini's novels Ragazzi de vita (1955) and A Violent Life (1959), and appear as protagonists in many of his films, notably Accattone, Mamma Roma, Hawks and Sparrows, and The Gospel according to Saint Matthew. To quote Pasolini: "My view of the world is always at bottom of an epical-religious nature: therefore even, in fact above all, in misery-ridden characters, characters who live outside of a historical consciousness, these epical-religious elements play a very important part."
In Accattone and The Gospel, images of official culture are juxtaposed against those of a more humble origin. The pimp of Accattone and the Christ of The Gospel are similar figures. When Accattone is killed at the end of the film, a fellow thief is seen crossing himself in a strange backward way, it is Pasolini's indictment of how Christianity has "contaminated" the subproletarian world of Rome. Marxism is never far away in The Gospel; it is evident, for instance, in the scene where Satan, dressed as a priest, tempts Christ. In The Gospel, Pasolini has put his special brand of Marxism even into camera angles and has, not ironically, created one of the most moving and literal interpretations of the story of Christ. A recurrent motif in Pasolini's filmmaking, and especially prominent in Accattone and The Gospel, is the treatment of individual camera shots as autonomous units; the cinematic equivalent of the poetic image. It should also be noted that The Gospel according to Saint Matthew was filmed entirely in southern Italy.
In the 1960s Pasolini's films became more concerned with ideology and myth, while continuing to develop his epical-religious theories. Oedipus Rex (which has never been distributed in the United States) and Medea reaffirm Pasolini's attachment to the marginal and pre-industrial peasant cultures. These two films indict capitalism as well as communism for the destruction of these cultures, and the creation of a world which has lost its sense of myth.
In Teorema ("theorem" in Italian), which is perhaps Pasolini's most experimental film, a mysterious stranger visits a typical middle-class family, sexually seduces mother, father, daughter, and son, and destroys them. The peasant maid is the only character who is transformed because she is still attuned to the numinous quality of life which the middle class has lost. Pasolini has said about this film: "A member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong."
Pigpen, which shares with Teorema the sulphurous volcanic location of Mount Etna, is a double film. The first half is the story or parable of a fifteenth-century cult of cannibals and their eventual destruction by the church. The second half concerns two former Nazis-turned-industrialists in a black comedy of rank perversion. It is the film closest in spirit to the dark vision of Salò. In the 1970s Pasolini turned against his elite international audience of intellectuals and film buffs and embraced the mass market with his "Trilogy of Life": Decameron, Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights. The Decameron was his first major European box-office hit, due mainly to its explicit sexual content. All three films are a celebration of Pasolini's philosophy of "the ontology of reality, whose naked symbol is sex." Pasolini, an avowed homosexual, in Decameron, and especially Arabian Nights, celebrates the triumph of female heterosexuality as the epitome of the life principle. Pasolini himself appears in two of these films, most memorably in the Decameron as Giotto's best pupil, who on completion of a fresco for a small town cathedral says, "Why produce a work of art, when it's so much better just to dream about it."
As a result of his growing political pessimism Pasolini disowned the "Trilogy" and rejected most of its ideas. His final film, Salò, is an utterly clinical examination of the nature of fascism, which for Pasolini is synonymous with consumerism. Using a classical, unmoving camera, Pasolini explores the ultimate in human perversions in a static, repressive style. Salò, almost impossible to watch, is one of the most horrifying and beautiful visions ever created on film. Pasolini's tragic, if not ironic, death in 1975 ended a visionary career that almost certainly would have continued to evolve.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo
BORN: 1922, Bologna, Italy
DIED: 1975, Ostia, Italy
GENRE: Fiction, nonfiction, drama
Poesie a Casarsa (1942)
The Ragazzi (1955)
A Violent Life (1958)
Pier Paolo Pasolini is best known throughout the world primarily for his films, many of which are based on literary works, such as The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. In his native Italy, however, Pasolini is recognized as a complex artist: a celebrated novelist, poet, and critic as well as a filmmaker. As one of the most influential and controversial writers of his generation, Pasolini produced both literary and cinematic art that reflects his empathy for the poor, his religious conviction, and his involvement in nonconformist politics.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Child of Casarsa Pasolini was born March 5, 1922, in Bologna, Italy. His childhood and early adult experiences in the poverty-stricken village of Casarsa, located in the province of Friuli, forever linked him to the poor, inspiring sympathies that would later emerge in his writing. In addition to the plight of the people there, Pasolini was influenced by the dialect spoken in that region, as evidenced by his early poetry.
In 1937, Pasolini attended the University of Bologna, where he studied art history and literature and began publishing articles in Architrave, a student politico-literary journal. At his own expense, he published his first collection of poetry, Poesie a Casarsa, in 1942. These poems reveal a deep love for the Friulian language, landscape, and peasants that had so shaped his childhood.
Political Affiliations Pasolini grew up at a time when Fascismwas theruleoflaw in Italy. Fascism is characterized by intense nationalism over other interests—including individual rights—as well as a strong military state and an authoritarian leader, who controls the government with little opposition by a legislature or parliament. In Italy, this leader was Benito Mussolini, who ultimately joined Hitler and his Nazi forces as part of the Axis Powers during World War II. Pasolini was drafted as a reluctant soldier during this time.
Relieved of his duties after only a week of military service in 1943, Pasolini fell under the influence of the ideas of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the leading voice of Italian communism at the time.communism emphasizes the importance of workers's rights and the sharing of wealth and resources among productive members of society. From 1943 to 1949, while teaching at a public school, Pasolini dedicated himself to intellectual and artistic pursuits, writing and publishing poetry in the Friulian dialect with the hope of creating a literature accessible to the poor. Pasolini's writing became his form of protest and resistance against Nazism and Fascism, as well as a rejection of the official language of Italy, which he believed had been created by and for the bourgeoisie. In 1949, after being arrested for his involvement in a homosexual relationship, Pasolini lost his teaching position and was expelled from the Italian Communist Party. Seeking to escape the scandal, Pasolini and his mother moved to Rome, where he became immersed in the city's slum life, all the while documenting the depravity of that lifestyle in poetry and such novels as A Violent Life.
In 1957's The Ashes of Gramsci, Pasolini returned to ideological debate. After being inspired by a visit to the grave of Gramsci, Pasolini wrote a meditation of passion and ideology that neither embraces nor challenges Marxism: While he accepted the rational arguments of Gramsci, Pasolini was tormented by his simultaneous attraction to and revulsion for the world around him. Instead of coming to a resolution, Pasolini establishes a tension between the movements of history and individual desire.
Filmmaker In addition to writing—especially scriptwriting—Pasolini worked as an actor in the 1950s and, in 1961, made his debut as a director with the film Accatonne, an adaption of his novel AViolent Life. For the next fourteen years, he made films in which he combined his socialist sensibilities with a profound, nondenominational spirituality. Most always controversial, his movies were often anti-Catholic and sexually explicit, and he was officially accused of blasphemy by the Catholic Church in 1962. As a director, he was known for constantly changing his style and artistic approach, using nonprofessional actors, avoiding many industry standards, and choosing his subject matter from classical legends, tragedies, political diatribes, and other unconventional sources.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Pasolini's famous contemporaries include:
Akio Morita (1921–1999): Morita founded Sony, the Japanese electronics company that built the first transistor radio, the Walkman portable cassette player, and the 3.5-inch floppy disk.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008): In 1945, this English science-fiction author, most famous for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, predicted worldwide communication using satellites.
Robert Redford (1931–): An Oscar-winning director as well as a legendary actor, Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute, an organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent filmmakers.
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997): Ginsberg, author of the notorious Howl, and Other Poems was an American Beat poet, a group of writers who detested middle-class values.
Terence Rattigan (1911–1977): The successful comedies by this English playwright are based on actual people and incidents.
John Bowen (1924–): The work of this British novelist and playwright is noted for its complex and ambivalent human motives and behavior.
Mysterious Murder Murdered by a young male prostitute, Pasolini was found on the morning of November 2, 1975, in the seaside resort of Ostia. Accounts of his death differ: Some sources say Pasolini was hit in the head with a board and then run over repeatedly with his own car; others say he was bludgeoned to death. Some people even believe that the killer was an assassin sent by one of Pasolini's political enemies.
Works in Literary Context
Without a doubt, Pasolini's work was most inspired by the time he spent among the poverty stricken in Casarsa and in the slums of Rome. Stylistically, his poetry shows inspiration from several poets, including Giovanni Pascoli, the subject of Pasolini's thesis, and Eugenio Montale. Many of the poems in Poesie a Casarsa, Pasolini's earliest volume, are written in the terza rima form—a three-line stanza with the rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, etc.—invented by Dante in his Divine Comedy.
The Language of Art and Politics Suggests writer Tony D'Arpino, “Pier Paolo Pasolini, poet, novelist, philosopher, and filmmaker, came of age during the reign of Italian fascism, and his art is inextricably bound to his politics.” This opinion unites much of Pasolin's work, as he often employs his social and cultural ideologies as poetic inspiration and the basis for a new mythology. He resisted the “unreal, functional, unpoetic languages of the bourgeoisie,” as Sam Rohdie notes, “the languages of reason, of modern society, of capitalism, of exploitation, of politics.” Instead, Rohdie says, Pasolini attempted to capture the language of “the earthly real.” Pasolini challenged what he called “practical politics” with collages composed of what he viewed as true world realities: “language, gestures, faces, bodies.” In a sense, Pasolini looked toward a “primitive world,” at the same time addressing the artifice of the “bourgeois world.”
Slang in The Ragazzi Based on Pasolini's experiences in the Roman slums, the highly controversial novel The Ragazzi tells the story of a group of young people whose poverty has driven them to a life of violence, crime, and indiscriminate sex. Pasolini, rejecting the formal official language of Italy, uses crude, obscene Roman street slang to create a shocking picture of Italian youth. In fact, although it avoids overt political implications, The Ragazzi is regarded as an indirect comment on the Italian establishment as a whole. Because of his harsh, explicit language, Pasolini angered many groups and was charged with obscenity, of which he was acquitted.
Works in Critical Context
Critical reaction to Pasolini's work usually extends beyond its value as literature or film because of its inclination toward political and religious thought. Over the course of his career, his explorations of communism, Catholicism, and class struggles alternately pleased and angered conservatives and liberals alike. According to an essay by Joseph P. Consoli in Gay and Lesbian Literature, actor Stefano Casi said that “Pasolini was first a thinker, and then an artist,” that despite the many genres in which Pasolini worked, “in reality only one definition can render with precision the area of cultural diligence attended to by Pasolini: intellectual.” As a result, scholars look beyond the story itself for meanings and messages, often citing them as evidence for his position for or against a particular theory, practice, or political system.
Poetry Most critics agree that Pasolini's greatest contribution to literature is the creation of a “civic” poetry, verse that conveys the rational argument of a civilized mind. Intellectuals have considered Pasolini an “organic intellectual,” a term first used by Gramsci to designate a militant intellectual who personally identified with the working class. Still, Pasolini's poetry is viewed by some as eluding historically established classification. While the intimate candor of Pasolini's poetry has been praised by some critics, others have found fault in his failure to resolve his internal struggles in his work, along with his inclination toward egocentrism and martyrdom.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
One theme that recurs in Pier Paolo Pasolini's work is the belief that innocence is being corrupted by capitalism. Especially in the years after World War II, intellectuals have explored this idea in both fiction and nonfiction works. Listed below are examples of books that address materialism and innocence in capitalist societies:
The Pearl (1945), a novella by John Steinbeck. As Kino, the main character in this novel, seeks wealth and status via the pearl, he becomes a savage criminal, personifying the way ambition and greed destroy innocence in a materialistic, capitalistic society.
Fighting Evil: Unsung Heroes in the Novels of Graham Greene (1997), nonfiction by Haim Gordon. This book offers a discussion of the evils of capitalism in the works of Graham Greene and the thought of Thomas Hobbes.
The Innocent (1990), a novel by Ian McEwan. Concerned with the postwar struggle between the political philosophies of communism and capitalism, this novel is also about deception, aggression, and the loss of innocence.
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (2004), a film by Chuan Lu. This film, based on a true story about Tibetan volunteers attempting to stop poachers from hunting endangered antelope, depicts the lure of capitalist influence in remote areas and shows how ideals can be affected by desperate circumstances.
Adapting Oedipus Rex In Pasolini's version, Oedipus Rex (1967) takes on the image of the Everyman and appeals to the ordinary person. Pasolini uses only the basic elements of the mythical hero and hones in on Oedipus's sense of alienation and fear. Pasolini's Oedipus lives in the 1930s, with a lower middle class Italian family. He unifies, as Kostas Myrsiades offered, “the ancient myth and Pasolini's own childhood,” plus “the psychological relationship between Oedipus and all men who as children have rivaled their fathers for their mother's affections.” Audrène Eloit in Language Film Quarterly went further, calling the work a “palimpsest,” which points to the layers of mythical retellings and adaptations of the Oedipus story originally written by Sophocles. Eloit also claims the film “turns into a map of the soul, a translation of the works of Freud and his successors,” and thematically focuses on the debate between free will and fate in the context of psychoanalysis. Vincent Canby of the New York Times suggests the film “contains somewhat more Pasolini than Sophocles” and praises the “modern, semi-autobiographical sequences” where the myth and author intersect. Most critics found the movie visually stunning and honored it with several awards, including the Best Foreign Language Film at the Kinema Jumpo Awards.
Responses to Literature
- Some scholars believe that Pasolini's poetry was influenced by both Dante and American poets. Read a selection of Pasolini's poetry. Write an essay describing what evidence you find of such influences.
- Pasolini achieved fame in Italy with novels based on his experiences in the Roman slums and his impressions of urban poverty. Compile a list of five or more authors today who write about life in undesirable conditions. What genres do these works encompass? Do you think fiction or nonfiction is a more effective vehicle for describing such conditions?
- Biographers often write about the innocence with which Pasolini viewed the world. However, his works, filled with obscenities and acts of violence, do not convey such an outlook. With a group of your classmates, discuss how you can reconcile Pasolini's worldview with his works. Why do you think an optimist in his real life would create such controversial films and literature?
Malinowski, Sharon, ed. Gay and Lesbian Literature. Detroit: St. James, 1994.
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