Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 10, 2022 8:14 am 
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PASOLINI 100, a day-long event 9/10/22 at San Francisco's historic Castro Theater


Film Schedule

10:30am: Pasolini
12:30pm: Mamma Roma
3:00pm: Accattone
6:00pm: Medea
8:00pm: La Roma di Pasolini Mezzanine VIP Reception
10:00pm: Salò or the 120 days of Sodom

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Italian poet, novelist, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975), on Saturday, September 10, 2022, at the historic Castro Theater the Italian Cultural Institute, Cinema Italia San Francisco, in collaboration with Artistic Soul Association under the auspices of the S.F. Consul General of Italy will celebrate the life and work by showing four Pasolini-directed and one Pasolini-related film. The event starts at 10 am with PASOLINI, a 2014 feature about the artist's last day of life by Abel Ferrara that is surprisingly good and that I described on its release as "formally elegant" and "both thought-provoking and touching." A 12:30 Pasolini's second feature, MAMMA ROMA will be shown; at 3:00 pm, comes his debut film, which Bertolucci (in a live comment that's essential viewing) called "the birth of cinema," ACCATTONE; and at 6 pm comes his recreation of Greek drama and myth featuring opera diva Maria Callas, MEDEA. Afterward, from 8 to 10 pm, Rudy of C’era una Volta restaurant will provide a Roman-style meal to a select few attendees of the event in the Castro mezzanine. You can taper off at 10 pm with Pasolini's dark final film SALÒ OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. Twelve hours of Pasolini homage!

About the series films. ACCATONE is Pasolni's 1961 first film, a raw, sad study of a dead-end Roman punk (played by non-actor Franco Citti, who was to be in seven more Pasolini films and many others, and also direct) who lacks even the wherewithal or the energy to be a pimp, though he will pimp any woman who becomes involved with him, and is mocked by his regular café terrace pals, also would-be pimps and do-nothings. Bertolucci said in ACCATTONE Pasolini was reinventing cinema, and that he returned to ACCATTONE in making his own films when in need of inspiration, as returning to the source.


One can contrast this crude but intense debut - which nonetheless was a great success with the public - with Fellini's sophomore effort the 1953 I VITELLONI, also about a group of do-nothings, but joyous, bourgeois ones who choose and have the means to enjoy their idleness; and in contrast Fellini's film is smooth, professional, and charming. After all, the only thing Fellini ever wanted to do was make films; Pasolini was first and foremost a poet and novelist, though it's the films that have guaranteed him lasting fame outside Italy.

Pasolini followed up the remarkable popular success of his the clearly post-neoreaist ACCATTONE with the more operatic, stridently tragic MAMMA ROMA, this time with the great star, Anna Magnani delivering an over-the-top virtuoso performance in the lead as the ex-prostitute who switches to selling vegetables in the Roman street market and tries to raise her already sixteen-year-old son Ettore (tall, baby-faced teenage find Ettore Garofolo, whom Pasolini and the camera adore), who goes bad and dies tragically, in a prison hospital bed posed to clearly evoke Mantegna's painting Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Everything about this film is operatic, the scenes are like arias, without clear links from one to the next. It doesn't make a great deal of sense but oh, does it grab you and the cry of pain for the poor and disadvantaged cuts to the heart even as it celebrates the young punks Pasolini was fatally attracted to. With this Bertolucci says in that interview Pasolini breaks out of the neorealist mode he was still working in with ACCATTONE into something wholly new and his own that nobody could follow.

Despite having had a lifelong love of the medium and worked on the films of others before doing his own, because of his originality and the brutality of his world view, Pasolini was to remain a rude, self-made and inimitable filmmaker, whose films never acquired the studio polish Fellini's had from the start but kept a memorable rough intensity that reflects Pasolini's bleak Marxist outlook and his love of the common people and detestation of the bourgeoisie. These are biases that motivated his career-long reliance on non-actors (using artful Italian studio dubbing of voices by pros). In working this way he drew on the tradition of the great postwar Italian "neorealismo" directors led by Rossellini and DeSica (from Rome, Open City to Miracle in Milan), whose "realism" was a skillful and uniquely Italian blend of the authenticity of non-actors with the professionalism of voices dubbed in the studio. This period, the Sixties, it's worth noting, was a time when the Italians were at the top of their game as filmmakers and directors like Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti and Bertolucci (who assisted Pasolini on ACCATTONE) were important to cinema worldwide. Great Italian film comedies were made as well as solemn and ambitious films like La Dolce Vita and L'Aventura. In the small world of Italian filmmaking, Primitive non-cinephile Pier Paolo, with his growing notoriety and popularity, had access.


His lasting roughness and amateurism didn't keep Pasolini from making great films. He went deeper than the neorealists into a world of wonderful found faces and tendency of the camera to linger on upon them. He also added elements of fantasy and tackled bold literary subjects like the Greek tragedies in Oedipus Rex and Medea and at the end famous story collections in the wonderful Decameron, Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights. The breathtaking boldness of tackling all these subjects is a mix of the passionate amateur and the poet. No one but Pasolini could have made his electrifying Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Peter Bradshaw has called it "A fierce magnesium flame of a movie." The Gospel is a neorealist recreation of the life of Jesus so direct and authentic it feels like you're transported back to the Holy Land at the time of Christ - a film widely acknowledged to be the only cinematic treatment of this subject that really matters. Pasolini's passion and boldness as a filmmaker are unique. Pasolini's use of music issimple and powerful too. While Fellini had found his own light but distinctive composer in Nino Rota, Pasolini was often satisfied with Bach's B Minor Mass or Vivaldi. But by 1968 for TEOREMA he had switched to Mozart's Requiem and engaged the services of Ennio Moricone. Whatever the score of the genre, one of his films was charged with offense to morality, but every one won release in court.

MEDEA came after TEOREMA and though focused on Greek tragedy and myth, pointed the way to Pasolini's freer and freer cinematic use of exotic locations and bizarre invented costumes and ugly-beautiful found faces. MEDEA features opera star Maria Callas - he needed a prima donna for the lead - traipsing around wearing Piero Tosi's elaborate, body-length necklaces, but not singing, or really talking much. Enjoy this film as a remarkable spectacle, with its multiple casually-tossed-off murders and mixture of fully robed women with a plethora of tan, handsome, bare-legged young men wandering in the strange volcanic landscape of Göreme Open Air Museum in Turkey. As I've commented before, Pasolini abandons the clarity and restraint of Euripides' tragedy in favor of a complicated spectacle that's awesome to look at but hard to follow. The desire is to capture, by pure invention, a primitive world rendered stranger by a sound track, reportedly chosen in collaboration Moravia's wife novelist Elsa Morante that combines Tibetan Buddhist chants, Iranian love songs, and Japanese Noh drama.


As for Pasolini's SALÒ, it's an allegory of the Italian Fascist era that borrows scenes from a work by the Marquis de Sade - a potent and singularly repugnant combination. It's surely the controversial gay, atheist, Catholic, Marxist retrograde Pasolini's most provocative film of all, as well as his last before Nov. 2, 1975 (depicted in Abel Ferrara's PASOLINI) when he was found brutally murdered at the age of 53 by a male hustler in a field near Ostia, the port of ancient Rome - a short time after completion of SALÒ and several weeks before the film's premiere in Paris. SALÒ is essential viewing for Pasolini completists, and one might say Pasolini needed to look into the dark heart of the fascist era. But it's so unpleasant I haven't yet been able to watch it all the way through. If you go to see it at the Castro, good luck, or, as the Italians say, In bocca al lupo!

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Director credits (IMDb)
2008 La rabbia di Pasolini (Documentary)
1975 Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
1974 Arabian Nights
1972 The Canterbury Tales
1972 12 dicembre (Documentary) (uncredited)
1971 The Decameron
1971 The Walls of Sana'a (Documentary short)
1970 Appunti per un romanzo sull'immondezza (Documentary)
1970 Notes Towards an African Orestes (Documentary)
1969 Medea
1969 Porcile
1969 Amore e rabbia (segment "La sequenza del fiore di carta")
1968 Teorema
1968 Appunti per un film sull'India (TV Movie documentary)
1968 Caprice Italian Style (segment "Che cosa sono le nuvole?")
1968 Che cosa sono le nuvole? (Short)
1967 Pasolini intervista: Ezra Pound (TV Short documentary) (uncredited)
1967 Oedipus Rex
1967 The Witches (segment "Terra vista dalla luna, La")
1966 The Hawks and the Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini)
1965 Sopralluoghi in Palestina per il vangelo secondo Matteo (Documentary)
1964 The Gospel According to St. Matthew ("L'evangelo secondo Matteo)
1964 Love Meetings (Documentary) (Comici d'amore_
1963 La rabbia (Documentary) (part one)
1963 Ro.Go.Pa.G. (segment "La ricotta")
1962 Mamma Roma
1961 Accattone

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