Pier Paolo Pasolini said his first films were inspired by Antonio Gramsci, the founder and one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party.
To Pasolini, Gramsci was the ‘greatest Marxist theoretician in all Italy,’ who wanted popular art to be aimed at an “ideal people.”
But by the 1960s, this “ideal people” had been turned by capitalism into consumers—a culture of mass consumption, where works of art and politics had little or no value.
It was then that Pasolini instinctively rejected the idea of making films for mass consumption, and instead opted for a more personal and political film-making.
Based on Montaigne’s idea that ‘one does not really know a person until he has died,’ Philo Bregstein’s documentary Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die—A Film About Pier Paolo Pasolini offers a fascinating look at the life, artistic ambitions and political vision of the poet, writer and controversial film director.
Federico Fellini had been working on his 12th feature film Casanova. It had been a difficult experience. Filming had taken over a year to complete, and Fellini had spent in excess of $10m, using up 3 producers. He claimed he hated his leading star, Donald Sutherland. There had been union disputes, and the negative had been “kidnapped” and returned. Then the Vatican declared one of Fellini’s previous films “obscene”. But the great master was unfazed by all of this.
‘I’m sorry if I disappoint you by not describing the tears in my eyes, my role as the victim, the artist forced to sacrifice his own integrity and purity,’ Fellini explained in an interview with the BBC in 1976.
‘I’ve never compromised. But then I’ve always been lucky.
‘On the occasions that I could be reproached for compromising, was directly attributable to my own laziness, because I was in love, or I wanted to finish the film. Or, simply because I was fed-up by it.
‘I don’t think absolute liberty is necessarily a good thing for people creatively. As far as I, or people like me are concerned.
‘Being Italian, I have a particular type of psychology: I am an artist who is conditioned to the idea of delivering his work to All.
‘The Popes in the 14th and the 15th century, or the great Lords of days gone by, they always used to commission painters or writers to create a madrigal or a crucifixion for them. It’s this necessity of an obligation - a contract - it’s an authority that forces you to work.’
For Casanova that authority was the American film company. Fellini may have had control over the designs, the sets, the costumes, the cast, the script, and the direction, but ultimately Fellini was answerable to his producers. This was partly why he had chosen to work with Donald Sutherland.
‘Well, in Casanova,’ said Fellini, ‘There was a precise plan for a certain type of character. Because the film is an American film - made by an Italian crew for a major American company. My contractual position is that the producer made me make the film in English.’
Fellini made Sutherland have his head partially shaved, his eyebrows removed and his teeth “cut” by 2mm. A false nose, chin and eyebrows were then added. Sutherland had to rethink how best to interpret Casanova’s experience in terms of 18th century expression.
Fellini wanted authenticity, and he knew his film would cause outrage from the prudes and hypocrites of his homeland, who had already burnt copies of The Last Tango in Paris on the streets of Rome.
‘You’ve got a real moralistic tyranny in Italy,’ Fellini said. ‘It is fast coming to the point where people are being told how to make love, how to dress, how to shave, how to look at a woman. I feel completely bewildered and confused. Clearly what’s going on in our country is a real mess. I cannot honestly see how we are going to extricate ourselves.
‘The Italians are like confused children. They’ve had a thousand years of Catholic up-bringing which has left us uncertain in our context of life. We are incapable, apparently, of making personal judgments because we have always asked other people. We ask our fathers, the teacher, police, the ministry, priests, the Pope. We have always asked others to give their opinion for us, without ever having to judge for ourselves individually.’
This is where Anna Magnani broke away from 2 German soldiers, ran and threw herself down on the streets. The man is explaining the making of a film, rather than some historical event. It comes at the start of a short documentary on Italian Neo-Realism, from 1973. She even hurt her knee, he adds almost proudly. A woman’s voice joins in, Aldo Fabrizi was there too. It’s almost religious, a celluloid Stations of the Cross, there should be nuns selling small statuettes of movie cameras, and T-shirts with Magnani’s face miraculously transposed onto 100% cotton.
The man and the woman were recalling scenes from Roberto Rosselini’s film Rome, Open City, when it was filmed in their neighborhood. Rossellini along with Vittorio De Sica were pioneers of Neo Realism. Their films brought a dynamism in form, that was countered by the self-reflection of their content that put Italian cinema at the center of the post-war world. Here was launched the careers of Rossellini, Fellini, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Visconti, Zavattini and De Sica, who described the post war years as a beautiful time - “Beautiful for artists, but ugly for Italians.”
Right after the war, passions were so strong right after the War that they really pushed us, they forced towards this kind of film truth. And this truth was transfigured by poetry, and lyricism. It was because of if its lyricism that Neo-Realism so captured the world. Because there was poetry in our reality.
Films like De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, Rosselini’s Rome, Open City, and Visconti’s Ossessione presented a new and dynamic way of presenting the world, which went on to influence movements such as Nouvelle Vague and directors as different as Martin Scorsese and Derek Jarman. Neo Realist films dealt with difficulties faced everyday by the working class; stories were rooted in the reality of a war ruined Italy; there were no simplistic morality tales, issues were complex, and often open-ended; actors mixed with non-actors; stylistically the films were loose, fluid, often documentary-like. However, their content did not please some Italians, who thought Neo-Realism only highlighted the bad things about Italy, which they feared might make Italians seem to be just thieves and bums.
This was not how the directors like Bernardo Bertolucci saw it:
“Realism doesn’t mean showing real things, but showing how things really are. It was this definition by Brecht that critically challenged Italian Neo-Realism. Not Rossilini though. Rossilini is the only one in Neo-Realism who didn’t just show us things, didn’t just try to be a realist, but gave us an idea of things. He wasn’t interested in the appearance of things, but in the idea behind the things. Even the idea behind the idea.”
“The most important characteristic, and the most important innovation, of what is called neorealism, it seems to me, is to have realised that the necessity of the story was only an unconscious way of disguising a human defeat, and that the kind of imagination it involved was simply a technique of superimposing dead formulas over living social facts. Now it has been perceived that reality is hugely rich, that to be able to look directly at it is enough; and that the artist’s task is not to make people moved or indignant at metaphorical situations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to be moved and indignant too) on what they and others are doing, on the real things, exactly as they are.”
For Pier Paolo Pasolini Neo-Realism was intensely political:
“It stood for the first act of critical, political consciousness that Italy had experienced. Italy up to that point had no history, no unified history as a nation, only a history as many divided little peoples, divided little countries, and with a great gap between north and south. And then the last 20 years have been a history of Fascism - the history of an aberrational unity. It was only with the Resistance that Italian history began.
“First of all, Neo-Realism meant the rediscovery of Italy. A first look at Italy without rhetoric, without lies, and there was a sense of pleasure in the self-discovery, even pleasure in denouncing one’s own short-comings, this was common to everything.
“The other common quality was its Marxist character. All Neo-Realist works were founded on the idea that the future would be better, or else [there would be] revolution.”
These quotes are taken form the documentary Neo Realism (1973) which can be viewed here, and contains interviews with De Sica, Fellini, Pasolini, and Bertolucci, amongst others.
Trailers for Pasolini’s ‘Accattone’ and Rossellini’s ‘The Bicycle Thief’, after the jump…
It’s nearly 36 years since Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in horrific circumstances, on a beach near Rome, in November 2 1975. The story went Pasolini had been killed while trolling. The 17-year-old hustler, who originally admitted his killing, retracted his confession in May 2005, claiming 3 people, with “southern accents” had killed Pasolini, calling him a “dirty communist”.
Later, an investigation into new evidence, which suggested Pasolini had been murdered over a blackmail plot involving stolen reels of his film Salo - 120 days of Sodom, proved inconclusive, and his grim and brutal murder remains unsolved.
Pasolini was a “Marxist, mystic, Catholic and atheist”, a poet and novelist who wrote over 25 novels and half-a-dozen volumes of poetry.
Pasolini was also one of the most important, radical and influential film-makers of the twentieth century, whose life and works as author, poet and film-maker are ripe for rediscovery.
In this short documentary, we see Pasolini the film-maker, the man of singular vision behind the films Accatone, Mamma Roma, The Gospel According to Matthew, Oedipus Rex, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
Pasolini was an auteur, as he explains:
My films are the work of an author with a very singular individual characteristics. I’ve never wanted to make a conclusive statement, I’ve always posed various problems and left them open to consideration…The cinema is an explosion of my love for reality. I have never conceived of making film that would be the work of a group, I have always thought of film as the work of an author, not only the script and the direction, but the choice of sets and locations, the characters, even the clothes - I choose everything.
Pier Paolo Pasolini - A Film Maker’s Life (1971) is a fine introductory film to Pasolini, the man and his work, though it ignores his sexuality and its importance to his life. With contributions from Alberto Moravia, Franco Citti, and Pasolini, himself, who discusses his background, his politics, film-making, and revolution.
In my post about Rockets the other day, I mentioned the Italian TV program Stryx. Here’s some more bizarro music performance clips from the show, in its own particular late 70s batshit/fierce style. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore! According to Wikipedia:
Stryx thematically referred to Hell, devils and underworld. The scenography featured elements resembling Middle Ages-like gloomy castles and caves… The show caused many controversies in more conservative societies, mainly because of its devilish theme and referring to underworld as well as exposing nudity. Due to numerous protests the show was taken off the broadcast and the production of following episodes was cancelled.
So in these videos, all of which are worth watching, we get two huge gay disco icons in the one clip (Amanda Lear & Grace Jones), Patty Pravo giving Gaga a run for her Illuminati wage packet, Mia Martini getting burnt at the stake in a fabulous glittery dress, and some more of those amazing Rockets. My favourite clip is Gal Costa performing “Relance” - it’s quite subdued for Stryx (apart from the dozen or so extras who are lying still at the front of the stage) but is carried by Costa’s no bullshit performance and the incredible gypsy funk of the track itself. But first let’s start with Grace and Amanda:
Grace Jones (introduced by Amanda Lear) - Fame
After the jump, more Grace Jones, Amanda Lear, Patty Pravo, Gal Costa, Mia Martini and Rockets…
Vogue Italia‘s Mariuccia Casadio provides some details:
A man of few words, this fascinating former actor who still takes care of his appearance first filmed the settings for his film “Missoni”: mostly locations near bodies of water in the Sumirago countryside and part of Rosita and Ottavio’s garden. For the indoor sequences, he built a set in the Council Room of the Sumirago Town Hall, a basement room with a vaulted ceiling. The mood of the film and the poses and movements of Margherita, Jennifer, Angela, Rosita, Ottavio, Ottavio Jr. and all other [Missoni] family members are reminiscent of Sergei Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates”, a 1968 film that inspired Anger to create his Chinese box-style storyboard.
Do yourself a favor and go full-screen with this one. And if you’re unfortunate enough to not be familiar with Anger, do yourself another favor and click one or both of the links below. You’ll be glad you did.
One of the true tests of innovative sequential/evolving visual art is whether it hits you as a fantastic story that a little kid could describe…”Then the van had eyes and then it ate the worm…” This thing does it.
Although the anonymous, hyper-proficient Bologna-based artist Blu has nothing near the global profile of Banksy, s/he’s shown and worked in as many regions, including the wall at the West Bank. S/he’s also been able to work stop-motion animation into his/her ouvre, and the ten-minute video below is the latest fruit.
It seems absolutely relentless and almost epic in its scope. Enjoy.