March 5, 1922 – Pier Paolo Pasolini:
“I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.”
Pasolini has the dubious distinction of being one of only three great filmmakers that I can recall who was murdered. Americans William Desmond Taylor (1872-1922) and Thomas Ince (1882-1924) both were killed under situations murky and still unsolved. Taylor was found dead in his apartment, shot in the back. It has long been suspected that starlet Mary Miles Minter, still in her teens, and her mother were behind his demise. Ince was a guest on a weekend yachting excursion hosted by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. It seems that one of the guests, Charlie Chaplin, was having an affair with Hearst’s mistress, the beautiful, talented Marion Davies. Hearst, seething with jealousy, loaded a pistol and attempted to kill Chaplin, only to accidentally shoot Ince instead. Both cases have never been solved to satisfaction. Pasolini’s murder also continues to confound.
Pasolini’s killing was most probably an assassination by the Mafia at the request of someone in the Italian Right-Wing who loathed the openly gay, Marxist, atheist, and extremely popular artist/poet /actor/writer/ cinematographer/composer/political theorist filmmaker. In the the late 1940s and 1950s, Pasolini was a dedicated Communist. The Communists claimed he was killed by the Fascists, who had staged the encounter with the hustler to discredit him. Intellectuals find a politically motivated death less disturbing than sexual violence.
In November 1975, shortly after the release of his controversial final feature film Salò, Pasolini was run over several times by his own car. His killer has never been found, though he had made so many enemies because of his political views and his connections to the Rome underworld that nearly everybody in the city was a suspect. Pasolini had picked up a teenage hustler that evening. The young grifter was arrested, but later recanted his confession, claiming that three men with Southern Italian accents killed Pasolini. Details of the crime make it quite impossible to have been the work of just one person. At the time of his demise, Pasolini had 25 films to his credit.
The erotic films Trilogy Of Life, three bawdy adaptations of medieval works (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights) which celebrate the primal sensation of the sexual act, made him famous in the 1970s, and portrayed a world of sexual innocence, paralleling his own longing for an uncomplicated life:
” …with bands of twenty-year-old youths who laugh with their innocent male voices and take no notice of the world around them, continuing along their lives, filling the night with their shouts.”
His films, such as the mystical Teorema (1968), were complemented by his many controversial articles advocating political and religious reform. A large volume of his homoerotic poetry, including a cycle written for Ninetto Davoli the hot actor who appeared in his films, has never been published. Pasolini had many brief encounters in the suburban movie houses of Rome, on building sites, and regularly along the via del Tritone
I saw Pasolini’s most famous film at the Film Forum in New York City in 1976. If you wish to see it, don’t do so on a full stomach. It is the most nauseating work of art I have ever seen. Salò, known in the USA as The 120 Days Of Sodom is an updating of the Marquis de Sade‘s 1780 novel, setting the story to the final days of Mussolini‘s depraved inner circle.
In his poetry, journalism, novels and films, Pasolini championed the poor and disenfranchised of post-war Italy, mingling intellectual Leftist views with his fierce Franciscan-style Catholicism.
His best film, The Gospel According To Matthew (1964), was dedicated to John Paul XXIII, the first Pope to connect Catholicism with Marxism. Pasolini pointedly omitted the word “Saint” from the title. It was shot in the lunar landscape of Italy’s Basilicata region, where the completely crazed Mel Gibson filmed his own lurid Jesus extravaganza, The Passion Of The Christ (2004).
Pasolini graduated from Bologna University in 1943, after which he moved with his parents to a small town in Fruili near the Yugoslavian border. The great wine region of Fruili was the birthplace of Pasolini’s mother, who played the Mary in The Gospel According To Matthew.
In 1949, Pasolini was charged with “corruption of minors and obscene acts in a public place”, leading to his being kicked out of the Italian Communist party. I know how he must have felt. I’ve been asked to leave a party on occasion. Pasolin was a transgressor. His teaching career when political enemies outed him, leading to his trial for seducing three teenage boys, expulsion from the Communist Party. I can relate, I know how it feels to told to leave a party. His life on the sexual fringes in Rome is portrayed in his early novels Ragazzi di Vita (1955) and Una Vita Violenta (1959)
He relocated to Rome with his mother in tow. Post-war Rome was a rough place with gangs of tough young men ruling the city at night. The street violence found its way into Pasolini’s film versions of the Greek Myths Oedipus Rex (1967) and Medea (1970), which starred the great soprano Maria Callas in her only film role, albeit with no singing.
The 1960s brought American style with jeans and rock music to Rome. This was the backdrop for Mamma Roma (1962), with Mamma played by Anna Magnani as a streetwalker determined to provide for her pretty teenage son. With enough money, she promises him, they can move into a respectable neighborhood. But, the son sinks deeper into the city’s thieving underworld.
I was mesmerized by his film Teorema where an angelic, and way too handsome Terence Stamp seduces everyone in a bourgeois Milanese household: the religious maid, the icy mother, the homely daughter, the closeted son, even the powerful father.
Compared to the dreamlike films of Federico Fellini or the modernistic ennui of Michelangelo Antonioni, his blend of poetry and politics, myth and history, passion and ideology, is harder to define yet equally impossible to ignore.
If you are brave (remember that Pasolini’s films were made to outrage), also check out: The Hawks And The Sparrows (1966), The Decameron (1971), and his happiest, hippiest film, Canterbury Tales (1972), with plenty of nudity, sex, and slapstick.
Near the end of his life, Pasolini lived in an opulent apartment in the best neighborhood in Rome. He bought a Maserati and an Alfa Romeo. yet to the press, he dismissed the poor as having lost their innocence to consumerism.
I am not certain that I have ever really grasped the meanings of the films of Pasolini. But, I applied myself and gave them a real try. Yet, it was his own life that really held my interest, not the work. I often feel like such a dummy; I can’t hammer a nail, I can’t cook, I can’t reload a stapler, but at a cocktail party I am able to spout off about stuff like this.
“It is only at our moment of death that our life, to that point undecipherable, ambiguous, suspended, acquires a meaning.”Pasolini