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The Ultimate Guide To Film, Video and Entertainment In New York City


Pasolini: Tribute To A Poet-Populist-Pornographer

[img_assist|nid=7786|title=Pier Paolo Pasolini|desc=|link=node|align=center|width=550|height=800] 

Monday, December 3-------Pier Paolo Pasolini, a son of privilege who was a lifelong Communist, a poet who some called a pornographer, a moralist and a sensualist rolled up in one astonishing filmmaking talent, has been the subject of a retrospective salute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The program, called PIER PAOLO PASOLINI: POET OF ASHES is a mixed media salute of film, staged readings, music concerts and other presentations. At the heart of the celebration of this vital and controversial Renaissance man is an 11-film program called HERETICAL EPIPHANIES, which began screenings last week at the Walter Reade Theater. The entire series has been organized by the Italian Cultural Institute of New York and Fondazione Aida in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna, Fondazione Cinema per Roma and Fondazione Musica per Roma.

[img_assist|nid=7783|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=108|height=150]In his film career, Pasolini ran the gamut between the Italian neo-realism tradition of the Italian postwar period to reductionist religious parables to intensely violent and disturbing morality tales. His most sensationalistic film SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), an adaptation of the novel by the Marquis de Sade set in the fading days of the Mussolini dictatorship, was a  true scandal of its times and remains one of the most visceral and disturbing meditations on the abuses of power ever recorded on film. I remember seeing it on its initial release and the images remain imprinted in my memory as a hedonistic and sadistic expression of sexual excess and human cruelty. These excesses were also part of the filmmaker's personal out and proud homosexual who dabbled in sadomasochism and anonymous sex with "rough trade" hustlers. His murder by a street prostitute just a few weeks after the opening of SALO only added to the sensationalism of the film's content.[img_assist|nid=7785|title=|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=106|height=150]

Pasolini was already an accomplished poet and writer when he made his noveau neo-realist debut in 1960 with ACCATONE, set in the borgate, or shanty-towns, on the outskirts of Rome in which Pasolini once lived. Following a pimp through his half-hearted attempts to find a job, the film was a celebration of the borgate’s amorality and a mix of the sacred and the profane. Though Pasolini was censored and tried for indecency after the film’s release, he marched forward with a series of films that were at once courageous and divisive. In 1961, he teamed with the great Italian actress Anna Magnani, who played a sympathetic prostitute in MAMMA ROMA. In LA RICOTTA (1963), he worked with one of his inspirations, the then-disgraced former enfant terrible Orson Welles.

He switched gears the following year with the minimalist and intensely personal THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (1964), with its traces of homoerotica and self-flagellation. Was the film one that the Church could celebrate and use as a religious tool, or was there a subversive element that the sly artist cunningly put between the lines? That controversy followed the film, but did not prevent it  from winning the Office Catholique International du Cinéma (OCIC) prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Although born an aristocrat, Pasolini was a lifelong follower of Karl Marx, and his social critique was always seasoned with his political viewpoint. In THE HAWKS AND THE SPAROWS (1966), he tells the tail of a pair of travelers who are visited by a talking crow who weaves an allegorical medieval story about missionaries charged to convert the title birds to Christianity. By the late 1960s, the filmmaker was telling stories (TEOREMA, 1968, and PIGPEN, 1969) that included a heady mix of murder, cannibalism and bestiality to offer a provocative indictment of contemorary class struggle and internecine politics.

[img_assist|nid=7784|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=103|height=150]But nothing prepared the public or the critical establishment for what ultimately became his final film, SALO (1975). In the waning days of Mussolini's reign, four noblemen round up a collection of young people and subject them to a variety of humiliations. It was immediately withdrawn from release under charges of obscenity and banned virtually everywhere. It made its American debut at the New York Film Festival in 1977, and had a checkered career during its US run, where it was being pulled from screens and then reinstated in cities across the country.

The film series ends tomorrow evening with the US Premiere of ACCATONE IN JAZZ, a musical homage to Pasolini, which features two of Italy’s most renowned jazz musicians—Roberto Gatto on drums and Danilo Rea on piano—with one of Italy’s leading actors, Valerio Mastandrea, reciting passages from the director’s script. Produced for the first time at Roccella Jazz in 2003, the performance has toured some of Italy’s most important theater venues and brings together the word, the visual and the aural qualities of one of film's most provocative stylists.  For more information, visit:

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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