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.
A rare and brief interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini on the set of his notorious film version of De Sade’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. As ever, Pasolini’s is uncompromising in his views of film-making and politics, which are still relevant today.
There is a lot of sex in it (Salò), rather towards Sado-Masochism, which has a very specific function - that is to reduce the human body to a saleable commodity. It represents what power does to the human being, to the human body.
All my films start from a formal idea, which I feel I must do. It is an idea I have of the kind of film it must be. It cannot be expressed in words, you either understand it or you don’t. When I make a film, it because I suddenly have an inspiration about the form of that particular subject must take. That is the essence of the film.
As I shoot this film, I already have it edited in my mind. Therefore, I expect a greater professional ability from my actors. So, this film I’m using 4 or 5 professional actors. But even the ones I have collected from the streets, I use them almost as if they were professional actors. The lines have to be said properly, the way they were written, and all in one take. They must have the correct facial expression from the beginning to the end of the shot, etc etc.
My need to make this film also came from the fact I particularly hate the leaders of the day. Each one of us hates with particular vehemence the powers to which he is forced to submit. So, I hate the powers of today. It is a power that manipulates people just as it did at the time of Himmler or Hitler.
I don’t think the young people of today will understand this film. I have no illusions about my ability to influence young people. It is impossible to create a cultural relationship with them, because they are living with totally new values, with which the old values cannot be compared.
I don’t believe we shall ever again have any form of society in which men will be free. One should not hope for it. One should not hope for anything. Hope is invented by politicians to keep the electorate happy.
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.
Before the artist Ming Wong re-located to Berlin in 2007, he decided to learn German by immersing himself in the country’s culture. The result was a 10-minute performance tape, where Ming learnt the lingo from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, loosely autobiographical film, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.
Believing that one of the best ways to get insight into a foreign culture is through the films of that country, the artist has adopted one of his favourite German films as his guide, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) by Fassbinder, about a successful but arrogant fashion designer in her mid-thirties, who falls into despair when she loses the woman she loves.
Putting himself in the mould of German actress Margit Carstensen in the role of Petra Von Kant - for which she won several awards - the artist attempts to articulate himself through as wide a range of emotions as displayed by the actress in the climactic scene from the film, where our tragic lovesick anti-heroine goes through a hysterical disintegration.
With this work the artist rehearses going through the motions and emotions and articulating the words for situations that he believes he may encounter when he moves to Berlin as a post-35-year-old, single, gay, ethnic-minority mid-career artist - i.e. feeling bitter, desperate, or washed up. („Ich bin im Arsch”)
With these tools, he will be armed with the right words and modes of expressions to communicate his feelings effectively to his potential German compatriots.
Since then, Singapore’s foremost artist Wong has continued with his examination of “the performative veneers of language and identity, through his own World Cinema,” going on to use Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life to question ethnicity and identity.
Life of Imitation was commissioned by the National Arts Council for the Singapore pavilion in the 53rd Venice Biennale. Re-staged at SAM with a new design and additional works, it will thereafter tour other cities.
Re-inventing a Hollywood drama on racial identity by Douglas Sirk, the film — set up with two screens showing the same film simultaneously — evokes a peculiar sense in the viewer.
The film’s main protagonist are a black mother and her mixed race daughter who denies her mixed origins and pretends she is white. Initially denying her visiting mother an intimate meeting, she eventually breaks down in her mother’s arms.
Through the powerful images and execution of concept, Wong also attempts to erase the different ethnicities by having three male actors from three ethnic groups in Singapore take turns playing the black mother and her mixed-race daughter, with the identity of each actor changing after each shoot.
This year, he re-visualized, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema in the work called, Devo Partire, Domani (I Must Leave, Tomorrow). The title is taken from one of the few lines spoken by Terence Stamp in the film, whose arrival into the home of an upper class Milanese family, alters their lives.
Produced by Napoli Teatro Festival Italia 2010 and Singapore Biennale 2011, Devo Partire. Domani is a 5-channel video installation inspired by the cult arthouse 1968 Italian film ‘Teorema’ by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In this work the artist plays every character of a bourgeois Italian household which goes through an identity crisis after the visitation of a mysterious Stranger.
Ming Wong has adapted the story to contemporary times and to the setting of Naples. Entirely filmed on location, the work makes extensive use of the Neopolitan landscape - including the Scampia drug ghetto, the failed industrial desert of Bagnoli, the volcano of Vesuvius, the archeological museum and the vibrant streets of Naples – to offset the attempts by the Singapore-born artist to pass off as archetypal Italian characters inhabiting these genuine spaces. Ghosts of the past revisit their lives; statues of Gods come alive. Visions of an apocalyptic future, references to Italian cinema and cinema history enter the picture, recalling not just Pasolini’s work but also his persona and legacy.