Italian director, screen writer, essayist,
poet, critic and novelist, was murdered violently in 1975.
Pasolini is best known outside Italy for his films, many of
which were based on literary sources - The Gospel According
to Saint Matthew, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales. Pasolini
referred himself as a 'Catholic Marxist' and often used shocking
juxtapositions of imagery to expose the vapidity of values
in modern society. His friend, the writer Alberto Moravia,
considered him "the major Italian poet" of the second
half of the 20th centrury.
"In neorealistic film, day-to-day reality
is seen from crepuscular, intimistic, credulous, and above
all naturalistic point of view... In neorealism, things are
described with a certain detachment, with human warmth, mixed
with irony - characteristics which I do not have. Compared
with neorealism, I think I have introduced a certain realism,
but it would be hard to define it exactly." (from Pasolini
on Pasolini by Oswald Stack, 1970)
Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna, traditionally the
most left-wing of Italian cities. Pasolini's father was a
non-commissioned officer, moving from one garrison to another.
His family originated from Fruili, a region in the North-Eastern
part of Italy where a local language, Friulano, Rhaeto-Romanic
dialect, dominated. Later Pasolini adopted as his way of expression
the crude language of the Roman suburbs. Most of his childhood
Pasolini spent at Casarsa della Delizia, his mother's birthplace
northeast of Venice. During this period he became deeply involved
with the dialect of the region.
I was twenty, not even - eighteen,
nineteen... and I had been alive for a century,
a whole lifetime
consumed by the pain of the fact
that I would never be able to give my love
if not to my hand, or to the grass of ditches
or maybe to the earth of an unguarded tomb...
Twenty and, with its human history and its cycle
of poetry, a life had ended.
(from 'A Desperate Vitality', trans. by Pasquale Verdecchio)
In 1937 Pasolini returned to his native city and studied art
history and literature at the University of Bologna. He published
articles in Architrave, the politico-literary monthly of the
students, and began writing poems in Friulian. Pasolini's
first collection of poems, POESIA A CASARSA, which he printed
at his own expense, appeared in 1942. It reflected his intense
love for 'maternal tongue', Friulian landscape, and its peasants.
The poems also showed his knowledge of the poetry of Giovanni
Pascoli, on whom he later wrote his thesis, and Eugenio Montale.
Pasolini's early Italian poems, L'USIGNOLO DELLA CHIESA CATTOLICA,
date from this period but appeared in 1958.
Pasolini joined the Communist Party as a young
man - in his works he often explored ideological problems,
but his relationship with Communism was questioning - like
later the attitude towards him by his party members. The mutual
schism led to his expelling from the party for alleged homosexuality.
However, Pasolini regarded himself as a Communist to the end
of his life.
From 1943 to 1949 Pasolini worked as a teacher
in almost total obscurity. His essay on Pascoli and Montale,
showing his skills in close textual analysis, appeared in
1947 in the Bolognese review Convivum. An essay on Giuseppe
Ungaretti, written in the years 1958-51, was later included
in PASSIONE E IDEOLOGIA (1960). In 1949 Pasolini moved with
his mother to Rome, where he wrote poems and novels of slum
life. The first two parts of a projected trilogy, RAGAZZI
DI VITA (1955, The Ragazzi), composed in a mixture of Italian
and Roman dialect, and UNA VITA VIOLENTA (1959, A Violent
Life), established Pasolini's reputation as a major writer.
In these works he depicted with neorealistic approach subproletarian
life and the awakening of social awareness. Both novels were
translated in the 1960s into English. Tommaso, the protagomist
in A Violent Life, is a homosexual, who with his friends lives
in a world without hope. After being released from a prison,
he gets an opportunity to change his purposeless existence.
"But this novel is a great deal more than the sum of
its political ideas. It is not devitalized by or dependent
on Marxist philosophy. Tommaso's story has its own profound
and cumulative power; his world boils with life created by
Pasolini's relentless use of dialogue and vivid detail."
(Anne Rice in The New York Times, November 3, 1985)
During his career Pasolini published nearly
ten collections of poems. Many critics, such as Alberto Moravia,
considered him one of the most important contemporary poets
in Italy, who gave voice to the post-war generation. With
Moravia Pasolini travelled in the 1960s in Africa, making
preparations for a film about 'black Oedipus', but the idea
was never realized. He also built with Moravia a house in
Sabaudia. According to Moravia, Pasolini honestly believed
that the lowest proletariat would save the world with all
of its freshness, uncorruptness, and originality. "Pasolini
was, in his own way, a follower of Rousseau," Moravia
wrote in Vita di Moravia (1990).
In LE CENERI DI GRAMSCI (1957) Pasolini returned
to ideological debate. He took as his starting point the theories
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), a political leader and the cofounder
of the Italian Communist Party, who spent in fascist prisons
the last ten years of his life. Pasolini accepted the rational
arguments of Gramsci, but was tormented by his attraction
and revulsion for the world he observed.
In addition to writing scripts, Pasolini worked
in the 1950s as an actor. In 1961 Pasolini made his debut
as a director. His first film, ACCATONE, a re-working of his
own novel A Violent Life, centered on the life of a pimp in
Rome. Franco Citti, the then amateur actor, played the eponymous
hero. The theme of prostitution continued in Pasolini's homage
to Anna Magnani, MAMMA ROMA (1962), which portrayed Rome's
underworld realistically. Magnani played a prostitute who
has to go back on her profession.
International fame Pasolini gained in the
mid-1960s. IL VANGELO SECONDO MATTEO (1964), a straightforward
re-telling of the New Testament story, was based on words
and scenes from St Matthew's Gospel. The Catholic Church helped
to finance the film and it received the Special Jurt Prize
at the Venice Film Festival. Two years before Pasolini had
been accused of blasphemy over his satirical sketch in RoGoPaG
(1963), a film directed by Rosselini, Godard, Pasolini and
Gregoretti. However, Pasolini once said: "For years I
thought that an addressee for my 'confessions' and 'testimony'
existed. Only now do I realize that he does not exist."
IL DECAMERONE (1971), THE CANTEBURY TALES (1973) and IL FIORE
DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE (1973) were based on medieval tales
and celebrated the world of simpe joys and sexuality. EDIPE
RE (1967) was an adaptation of an ancient text of Sophocles.
TEOREMA (1968) was a dissection of the bourgeois family. Using
non-professional actors with professionals, Pasolini attempted
to combine realism with revolutionary concepts, sex, violence,
and sadism. With the gay liberation movement the community
of homosexual novelists grew internationally, and along with
Pasolini from it emerged such writers as Christopher Bram,
James Purdy, Allan Hollinghurst, José Lezema Lima,
Reinaldo Arenas, and Yukio Mishima.
In the 1960s Pasolini's interest in language
drew him to semiotics, although his concern with dialect marked
his work from the first collections of poems. One of these
early influences was the modern novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda,
whose experimental novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana,
written in a mixture of Italian, Roman, Venetian, and Neopolitan
dialects, appeared in a Florentine review 1946.
Pasolini has presented his approach to cinema
in a number of essays. His opposition to the liberalization
of abortion law and criticism of the radical students made
him unpopular on the left. From PORCILE (1969) Pasolini's
films became increasingly controversial. His last film, SALÒ
O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA, set in the last years of WW II
in Italy, linked fascism and sadism. The film was banned virtually
Pasolini's creative productivity did not stop
in films. He wrote several tragedies in verse and published
in 1971 a new collection of poetry, TRASUMANAR E ORGANIZZAR.
In 1972 his critical writings were collected and published
under the title EMPIRISMO ERETICO (Heretical Empiricism).
He also contributed to the Milanese newspaper Corriere della
sera. On morning of 2 November, 1975, his body was discovered
on waste ground near seaside resort of Ostia. A young male
prostitute was tried and convicted for the murder in 1976.
Pasolini's massive unfinished novel, PETROLIO, was published