Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922 in Bologne – 1975 in Rome) was certainly the most controversial figure in the history of Italian cinema. The fact that he was savagely murdered spawned a cottage industry of "Who killed Pasolini?" articles, books, retrospectives, etc. that is still going on. With my comments here, I do not intend  to put in my two-cents' worth except to
say that beside being a film director, poet, writer, actor, journalist, novelist, play-wright, and, at his death, a major figure in European literature and cinema, he was an intellectual, a gadfly, and a political figure, almost born to antagonize people. And he was good at doing that. With his gift for polemics and taste for scandal, he was charged with blasphemy and obscenity many times and attacked by both the left and the right.

He said “It is only at our moment of death that our life, to that point undecipherable, ambiguous, suspended, acquires a meaning."  Enigmatic? Yes. Self-fulfilling death-wish? I don't know. One comment from colleague director Michelangelo Antonioni was that Pasolini had become “the victim of his own characters —a perfect tragedy foreseen in its different aspects —without knowing that one day it would end up overcoming him.” Another from colleague, Luchino Visconti: “I was not especially a friend of his, but I esteemed and admired him. His horrible death could happen only in a country like Italy, where violence is completely unchecked and free of every control.” That, of course, is its own cutting comment on that part of modern Italian society that Pasolini despised. Running through his movies is his mounting disgust with the modern world, one in which the richer get richer and the poor get poorer —maybe not a great discovery, but a world in which those who claim to be the benefactors of the "tired and poor" do nothing, not the church, not the political parties. No one.

I was in Naples when Pasolini was murdered, and I remember that my wife was shaken. I remember her saying not that she necessarily liked him but merely that she had seen him on TV and that he seemed like an "honest person".  He was certainly that. I have never seen or heard anyone say he was a fraud, a sham, or a weasel. He said what he thought and perhaps was less able to resolve his own contradictions
—(or less interested in resolving them?) than to embody them; that is, what you see is what you get because this is what I am. Up front, in your face. Always.

Pasolini  resurrected. This image is from my entry on Street Art.
It appeared in Rome in 2015.That is 40 years after Pasolini's death.
He is holding his own corpse and stepping out towards the viewer.
He remains controversial and compelling.
Before he was a controversial film maker, he was a poet and lived in Friuli up north and became adept in the Friulian dialect of Italian and proud of his poetry in that language. He had the wonderfully schismatic point of view that people should be allowed to speak the language they were born into! Imagine that! He saw Italy’s postwar boom as a blight, turning the masses into mindless consumers and erasing local cultures. Was that controversial? Yes. It still is. He wrote early novels, plays, political commentary and literary theory and was open to criticism and not afraid to say he was mistaken.

He found a position at Cinecittà, Italy's grand "Movie City" in Rome and then got into early feature films saying that films let you "write reality with reality." Accattone (1961) “Mamma Roma” (1962), with mainly nonprofessionals, followed the Italian neo-Realists, although I note that some neo-Realists featured established actors as well. He also used a variety of dialects in his movies. Even today, you run into problems with that. Linguistic regionalism threatens national unity, or so some people think.

Strange as it may seem, he often stuck up for cops, the real working class cops, who had to take on student activists, a bunch of "privileged mamma's boys running around the streets doing what their bourgeois fathers tell them to do." Before I forget, why would anyone object to the “The Gospel According to Matthew” (1964), a reverential portrait of a  revolutionary Jesus? Fine, he cast his own mother as the Virgin Mary. So what?! It is chapter and verse from the Gospel of Matthew.

In one of his last columns, published Oct. 18, 1975, he blamed television for “having ended the era of compassion and initiated
the era of hedonism... It is an era in which youth, presumptuous as well as frustrated by the stupidity and the inaccessibility of the models furnished to them by school and television, tend irreversibly to be either aggressive to the point of delinquency or passive
to the point of unhappiness,” he wrote. That is, we are failing them and no one cares. I think he cared.

Pasolini wrote and directed 18 feature films. It is the most important part of his work, but his poems, short stories, translations, novels --all that-- should not be overlooked.
The English Wikipedia list here is good. The Italian Wikipedia page list here is more orderly.

Pasolini's tomb is next his mother, Susanna's, in the cemetery of Casarsa, a town in the extreme north-east, about 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Trieste. It is Pasolini's beloved Friuli region. Casarsa has built its own cottage industry with a Pier Paolo Pasolini Studies Center on the premises of his mother's family residence,  the Casa Colussi-Pasolini.

And the Western Literary Canon? Make your own list (everyone else does). Start with Homer and list the people you should know at least a squeaky bit about if you want to have the Big C (couth). You'll have lots of names. Make sure this guy is on it. In quantity, scope, and quality, his life's work is staggering.

I am indebted to the unsigned obituary in the New York Times of Nov. 4, 1975. I am super-indebted to Carl Sandburg for saying,
"I'm a progressive. I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way."
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