|Born:||March 5, 1922
|Died:||November 2 1975 (aged 53)
Ostia, Rome, Italy
|Occupation(s):||Novelist, poet, intellectual, film director, journalist, linguist, philosopher|
Pier Paolo Pasolini (March 5, 1922 – November 2, 1975) was an Italian poet, intellectual, film director, and writer.
Pasolini distinguished himself as a philosopher, linguist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, newspaper and magazine columnist, actor, painter and political figure. He demonstrated a unique and extraordinary cultural versatility, in the process becoming a highly controversial figure.
Pasolini's work focused on the underside of modern life, especially on changing sexual mores and the loss of religious certainty. An avowed atheist Pasolini's work nonetheless maintained a spiritual quality while denying any ultimate, transcendent truth.
Pasolini was born in Bologna, traditionally one of the most leftist of Italian cities. He was the son of a lieutenant of the Italian army, Carlo Alberto, who had become famous for saving Benito Mussolini's life, and an elementary school teacher, Susanna Colussi. His family moved to Conegliano in 1923 and, two years later, to Belluno, where another son, Guidalberto, was born. In 1926, however, Pasolini's father was arrested for gambling debts, and his mother moved to her family's house in Casarsa della Delizia, in the Friuli region.
Pasolini began writing poems at the age of seven, inspired by the natural beauty of Casarsa. One of his early influences was the work of Arthur Rimbaud. In 1933 his father was transferred to Cremona, and later to Scandiano and Reggio Emilia. Pasolini found it difficult to adapt to all these moves, though in the meantime he enlarged his poetry and literature readings (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, Coleridge, Novalis) and left behind the religious fervor of his early years. In the Reggio Emilia high school he met his first true friend, Luciano Serra. The two met again in Bologna, where Pasolini spent seven years while completing the high school: here he cultivated new passions, including soccer. With other friends, including Ermes Parini, Franco Farolfi, Elio Meli, he formed a group dedicated to literary discussions.
In 1939 he graduated and subsequently entered the Literature College of the University of Bologna, discovering new themes like philology and aesthetics of figurative arts. He also frequented the local cinema club. Pasolini always showed his friends a virile and strong exterior, totally hiding his interior travail: he even took part in the Fascist government's culture and sports competitions. In 1941, together with Francesco Leonetti, Roberto Roversi and others, he attempted to publish a poetry magazine, but the attempt failed due to paper shortages. Pasolini's poems of this period started to include fragments in Friulian language, which he had learned at his mother's side.
After the summer in Casarsa, in 1941 Pasolini published at his own expense a collection of poems in Friulian, Versi a Casarsa. The work was noted and appreciated by intellectuals and critics like Gianfranco Contini, Alfonso Gatto and Antonio Russi. His pictures had also been well received. Pasolini was chief editor of the Il Setaccio ("The Sieve") magazine, but was fired after conflicts with the director, who was aligned with the Fascist regime. A trip to Germany helped him also to discover the "provincial" status of Italian culture in that era. These experiences led Pasolini to rethink his opinion about the cultural politics of Fascism, and to switch gradually to a Communist perspective.
In 1942, the family took shelter in Casarsa, considered a more tranquil place to wait for the conclusion of the war. Here, for the first time, Pasolini had to face the erotic disquiet he had suppressed during his adolescent years. He wrote: "A continuous perturbation without images or words beats at my temples and obscures me."
In the weeks before the 8 September armistice, he was drafted in World War II, and subsequently imprisoned by the Germans. However, he managed to escape disguised as a peasant, and found his way to Casarsa. Here he joined a group of other young fans of the Friulian language who aimed to give Casarsa Friulian a status equal to that of the official dialect of the region, Udine. Starting from May 1944 they issued a magazine entitled Stroligùt di cà da l'aga. In the meantime, Casarsa suffered Allied bombardments and forced enrollments by the Italian Social Republic, as well as partisan activity. Pasolini tried to remain apart from these events, teaching, along with his mother, those students whom war rendered unable to reach the schools in Pordenone or Udine. He experienced his first homosexual love for one of his students, just when a Slovenian schoolgirl, Pina Kalč, was falling in love with Pasolini himself. This complicated emotional situation turned into a tragic one on February 12, 1945, when his brother Guido was killed in an ambush. Six days later the Friulian Language Academy (Academiuta di lenga furlana) was founded. In the same year Pasolini joined also the Association for the Autonomy of Friuli, and graduated with a final thesis about Giovanni Pascoli's works.
In 1946 a small poetry collection of Pasolini's, I Diarii ("The Diaries") was published by The Academiuta. In October he made a voyage to Rome, and the following May he began the so-called Quaderni Rossi, handwritten in old school exercise-books with red covers. In Italian he completed a drama, Il Cappellano, and another poetry collection, I Pianti ("The cries"), again published by the Academiuta.
On January 26, 1947, Pasolini wrote a controversial declaration for the front page of the newspaper Libertà: "In our opinion, we think that currently only Communism is able to provide a new culture." The controversy was partially due to the fact he was still not a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).
He was also planning to extend the work of the Academiuta to other Romance language literatures and knew the exiled Catalan poet, Carles Cardó. After his adherence to the PCI, he took part in several demonstrations and, in May 1949, attended the Peace Congress in Paris. Observing the struggles of workers and peasants, and watching the clashes of protesters with Italian police, he began to create his first novel.
However, in October of the same year, Pasolini was charged with the corruption of minors and obscene acts in public places. As a result, he was expelled by the Udine section of the Communist Party and lost the teaching job he had obtained the previous year in Valvasone. Living a difficult situation, in January 1950 Pasolini moved to Rome with his mother.
He later described this period of his life as a very difficult one. "I came to Rome from the Friulian countryside. Unemployed for many years; ignored by everybody; riven by the fear to be not as life needed to be." Instead of asking for help from other writers, Pasolini preferred to go his own way. He found a job as a worker in the Cinecittà studios, and sold his books in the 'bancarelle' ("sidewalk shops") of Rome. Finally, through the help of the Abruzzese-language poet Vittorio Clemente, he found a job as a teacher in Ciampino, a suburb of the capital.
In these years Pasolini transferred his Friulian countryside inspiration to Rome's suburbs, the infamous borgate where poor proletarian immigrants lived in often horrendous sanitary and social conditions.
In 1954, Pasolini, who now worked for the literature section of the Italian state radio, left his teaching job and moved to the Monteverde quarter, publishing La meglio gioventù, his first important collection of dialect poems. His first novel, Ragazzi di vita (English: Boys of Life ), was published in 1955. The work had great success, but was poorly received by the PCI establishment and, most importantly, by the Italian government, which even initiated a lawsuit against Pasolini and his editor, Garzanti.
Though totally exculpated of any charge, Pasolini became a favorite victim of insinuations, especially by the tabloid press.
In 1957, together with Sergio Citti, Pasolini collaborated on Federico Fellini's film Le Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria), writing dialogue for the Roman dialect parts. In 1960, he made his debut as an actor in Il gobbo.
His first film as director and screenwriter is Accattone of 1961, again set in Rome's marginal quarters. The movie again aroused controversy and scandal. In 1963, the episode "La ricotta," included in the collective movie RoGoPaG, was censored, and Pasolini was tried for offense to the Italian state.
During this period, Pasolini was frequently abroad: in 1961, with Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia in India (where he went again seven years later); in 1962 in Sudan and Kenya; in 1963, in Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Jordan, and Palestine (where he shot the documentary, Sopralluoghi in Palestina). In 1970, he traveled again to Africa to shoot the documentary, Appunti per un'Orestiade africana.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were the era of the so-called "student movement." Pasolini, though acknowledging the ideological motivations of the students, thought them "anthropologically middle-class" and, therefore destined to fail in their attempts at revolutionary change. He went so far as to state, regarding the Battle of Valle Giulia, which took place in Rome in March, 1968, that he sympathized with the police, as they were "children of the poor," while the young militants were exponents of what he called "left-wing fascism." His film of that year, Teorema, was shown at the annual Venice Film Festival in a hot political climate, as Pasolini had proclaimed that the festival would be managed by the directors themselves (see also Works section).
In 1970, Pasolini bought an old castle near Viterbo, several kilometers north of Rome, where he began to write his last novel, Petrolio, which was never finished. In 1972, he started to collaborate with the extreme-left association Lotta Continua, producing a documentary, 12 dicembre concerning the Piazza Fontana bombing. The following year, he began a collaboration for Italy's most renowned newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera.
At the beginning of 1975, Garzanti published a collection of critical essays, Scritti corsari ("Corsair Writings").
Pasolini was brutally murdered, run over several times with his own car, dying on November 2, 1975 on the beach at Ostia, near Rome, in a location typical of his novels.
Giuseppe Pelosi, a 17-year-old hustler, was arrested and confessed to murdering Pasolini. However, on May 7, 2005, he retracted his confession, which he said was made under the threat of violence to his family, and claimed that three strangers with southern Italian accents had committed the murder, insulting Pasolini as a "filthy communist."
Following Pelosi's retraction, the investigation into Pasolini's death was reopened, although the murder is still not completely explained. Contradictions in the declarations of Pelosi, a strange intervention by Italian secret services during the investigations, and some lack of coherence in related documents during the different parts of the judicial procedures brought some of Pasolini's friends (particularly actress Laura Betti, a close friend) to suspect that it had been a contract killing. The inefficiency of the investigations were exposed by his friend, Oriana Fallaci, writing in "Europeo" magazine. Many clues suggest that it was unlikely that Pelosi killed Pasolini alone.
In the months just before his death, Pasolini had met with a number of politicians, whom he made aware of his knowledge of certain important secrets.
Other evidence, uncovered in 2005, points to Pasolini having been murdered by an extortionist. Testimony by Pasolini's friend, Sergio Citti, indicates that some of the rolls of film from Salò had been stolen, and that Pasolini had been going to meet with the thieves after a visit to Stockholm, November 2, 1975.
Others report that, shortly before he was found dead in Ostia, outside Rome, he told them he knew he would be murdered by the mafia. It has also been suggested that Pasolini not only knew he was going to die, but in fact wanted to be killed and staged his death. Proponents of this theory include Pasolini's lifelong friend, painter and writer Giuseppe Zigaina. Zigaina claims that "Pasolini himself was the 'organizer' of his own death, which, conceived as a form of expression, was intended to give meaning to his entire oeuvre." Zigaina argues that Pasolini had been planning his death for many years and planted in his works clandestine codes that revealed when and how it would happen. Another of Pasolini's close friends, Alberto Moravia, has also found striking similarities between his death and his work. In 1977, Moravia wrote a book about the murder and in it said that he recognized the murder scene in Ostia from Pasolini's descriptions of similar landscapes in his two novels, Ragazzi di vita (The Ragazzi) and Una vita violenta (A Violent Life), and in an image from his first film Accattone. Pasolini had even shot footage of the site a year earlier, for use in his film Il fiore delle mille e una notte (A Thousand and One Nights). Unlike Zigaina, however, Moravia has written off these similarities as no more than poetic irony.
Despite the Roman police's reopening of the murder case following Pelosi's statement of May 2005, the judges charged with investigating it determined the new elements insufficient for them to continue the inquiry.
Pasolini was buried in Casarsa, in his beloved Friuli. In the grave, he wears the jersey of the Italian Showmen national team, a charity soccer team he founded, with others.
On the 30th anniversary of his death, a biographical cartoon, entitled Pasolini requiem (2005), was animated and directed by Mario Verger, with passages drawn from Mamma Roma, Uccellacci e uccellini, and La Terra vista dalla Luna. It ends with a description of the Ostia murder.
Pasolini's first novel, Ragazzi di vita (1955), dealt with the Roman lumpen proletariat. The resulting obscenity charges against him were the first of many instances where his art provoked legal problems, and again, with Accattone (1961), also about the Roman underworld, like-wise provoked moralistic conflict with conservatives, who demanded stricter censorship.
He then directed the black-and-white The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964). This film is widely hailed the best cinematic adaptation of the life of Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui). While filming it, Pasolini vowed to direct it from the "believer's point of view," but later, upon viewing the completed work, saw he had instead expressed his own beliefs.
In his 1966 film, Uccellacci e uccellini (Italian: Bad Birds and Little Birds; English: 'The Hawks and the Sparrows), a picaresque—and at the same time mystic—fable, he wanted the great Italian comedian Totò to work with one of his preferred "naif" actors, Ninetto Davoli. It was a unique opportunity for Totò to demonstrate that he was a great dramatic actor as well.
In Teorema (Theorem, 1968), starring Terence Stamp as a mysterious stranger, he depicted the sexual coming-apart of a bourgeois family (later repeated by François Ozon in Sitcom).
Later movies centered on sex-laden folklore, such as Il fiore delle mille e una notte (Arabian Nights, 1974), Boccaccio's Decameron (1971) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1972), on to the Trilogy of Life. His final work, the only one from the expected Trilogy of Death, Salò (1975), exceeded what most viewers could then stomach in its explicit scenes of intensely sadistic violence. Based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it continues to be his most controversial film; in May 2006, Time Out's Film Guide named it the Most Controversial Film of all time.
Pasolini, as a director, created a type of picaresque neorealism, showing a sad reality—hidden, but concrete—which many social and political forces had no interest in seeing in artistic work for public distribution. Mamma Roma (1962), featuring Anna Magnani and telling the story of a prostitute and her son, was an astonishing affront to the common morality of those times. His works, with their unequaled poetry applied to cruel realities, showing that such realities are less distant from us than we imagine, have made a major contribution to a change in the Italian psyche.
The director also promoted in his works the concept of "natural sacredness," the idea that the world is holy in and of itself, and does not need any spiritual essence or supernatural blessing to attain this state. Indeed, Pasolini was an avowed atheist.
General disapproval of Pasolini's work was perhaps primarily caused by his frequent focus on sexual mores and the contrast between what he presented and the behavior sanctioned by public opinion. While Pasolini's poetry, outside of Italy less well-known than his films, often deals with his same-sex love interests, this is not the only, or even main, theme: much of it also takes as a subject his highly revered mother. As a sensitive and extremely intelligent man, he also depicted certain corners of the contemporary reality as few other poets could do.
Pasolini generated heated public discussion with controversial analyses of public affairs. For instance, during the disorders of 1969, when the autonomist university students were carrying on a guerrilla-like uprising against the police in the streets of Rome and all the leftist forces declared their complete support for the students, describing the disorders as a civil fight of proletariat against the System, Pasolini, alone among the communists, declared that he was with the police; or, more precisely, with the policemen. He considered them true proletariat, sent to fight for a poor salary and for reasons which they could not understand, against pampered boys of their same age, because they had not had the fortune of being able to study, referring to poliziotti figli di proletari meridionali picchiati da figli di papà in vena di bravate, lit. policemen, sons of proletarian southerners, beaten up by daddy's boys in bragging mood). This ironic statement, however, did not stop him from contributing to the autonomist Lotta continua movement.
Pasolini was also an ardent critic of consumismo, i.e., consumerism, which he felt had rapidly destroyed Italian society in the late 1960s/early 1970s, particularly the class of the subproletariat, which he portrayed in Accattone, and to which he felt both sexually and artistically drawn. Pasolini observed that the kind of purity which he perceived in the pre-industrial popular culture was rapidly vanishing, a process that he named la scomparsa delle lucciole, lit. "the disappearance of glow-worms"), the animalistic joie de vivre of the boys being rapidly replaced with more bourgeois ambitions such as a house and a family. The coprophagia scenes in Salò were described by him as being a comment on the processed food industry.
Not only economic globalization but also the cultural domination of the North of Italy (around Milan) over other regions, especially the South, primarily through the power of TV, angered him. He opposed the gradual disappearance of Italian dialects by writing some of his poetry in Friulian, the regional language of the region where he spent his childhood.
Pasolini's films won awards at the Berlin Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Italian National Syndicate for Film Journalists, Jussi Awards, Kinema Junpo Awards, International Catholic Film Office and New York Film Critics Circle.
"If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief." (1966)
"The mark which has dominated all my work is this longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn't lessen but augments this love of life." (Interview in documentary, late 1960s)
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