Pasolini – Again (Nobody Else Can Stop Talking About Him, So Why Should We…?)

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If you’re not already talking about Pasolini, then why not? EVERYONE else is. If you’re not already familiar with his work, now is the time to fix that. For those of you who are unaware of it, the BFI is hosting a 2 month Pasolini season spanning all of March and April, showing the poet-journalist-political activist-filmmaker’s key and lesser-known works. There’s a lot to come, but some you may have already missed – in fact, some of his work they seem to be showing a thousand times (like Gospel According to Matthew and Theorem) and some, just once or twice. Which is a shame, as films like Accatone and Mamma Roma, La Ricotta and La Rabbia – being perhaps amongst his least talked about films – are some of his finest, his most moving and his most accessible. Anyway, in true Video City form, we have a section in our shop dedicated to the poet himself, in which you will find the following treasures:

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Accattone (1961)  – Pasolini’s first film follows small-time pimp, Accattone (played by long-time Pasolini colaborator, Franco Citti – in fact, Pasolini often used the same actors throughout most of his films) as he tries to keep his life together following his prostitute being sent to jail. Trivia:  A very young Bernardo Bertolucci – who was the younger brother of one of Pasolini’s friends – was a production assistant on this film.

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The always-incredible Anna Magnani gives the performance of her life – a performance you’ll never forget – in Mamma Roma (1962) playing a prostitute trying to find a better life for her son after leaving her pimp and moving to the suburbs of Rome.

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La Ricotta (1963 – segment from Ro.Go.Pa.G.)

Orson Welles plays the film director in this satire of Christian charity set in a film within a film. Pasolini shot this short at the same time as he was making the Gospel According to Matthew. The Catholic church found it sufficiently offensive to have Pasolini arrested and sentenced to 4 months in prison for his depiction of the Passion as represented by the starving extra dying on the cross from indigestion having eaten at last, but excessively. Trivia: just spotted this the other day – production inspector on the film is listed as Antonio Negri…!

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The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)

Review by Rob Munday.

To coincide with their forthcoming Pier Paolo Pasolini season the BFI are releasing a new restoration of The Gospel According to Matthew. Previously known in the west as The Gospel According to Saint Matthew the correction is in keeping with the Italian title and gives a better reflection of the film itself. For this is a rare beast among Biblical adaptations rejecting the customary pomp and circumstance in its search for an unadorned truth.

The story is that of Christ from birth to the cross, but what is startling is the straightforward approach and refusal to bend to the conventions of traditional drama. This results in a picture of a divine life communicated through pure cinema rather than the babblings of one bearded bloke in an overblown panto. No cinemascope, no Technicolor, no film stars, no pretence – Pasolini was a poet first and shows how simplicity can resonate.

Shot with non-actors on location it may be said that the approach is that of documentary yet the framing is vigorous. The faces are brilliant – worn, alive, soulful and celebrated through the frequent front-on close-ups and 1.66:1 aspect ratio. There is also a bold and striking use of music ranging from the classical ‘St Matthew’s Passion’ by JS Bach (later used by Scorsese in Casino) to the modern ‘Gloria’ by Missa Luba and the soulful guitar of Blind Willie Johnson. What unites these disparate tunes is pure emotion. The same pieces recur and become important refrains giving us a sense of the journey taken by Christ and the exultation he inspires.

In Pasolini’s eyes Christ is less a purely religious leader and more a radical imploring those around him to fight the good fight. He does preach and there are long tracts of sermonising yet Pasolini avoids any sense of being lectured. In one sequence Christ speaks in close-up directly to us and between his declarations Pasolini brilliantly jump-cuts. From day to night and from sun to wind to rain Christ remains steadfast, the climatic forces adding power to each successive
statement. The way miracles are dealt with is also fresh and invigorating. Who needs CGI when you have the power of the cut?

Pasolini was a non-believer but he saw the poetry in the Gospels and in translating them he chose not to add exposition or compress but to simply present them on-screen with clarity and grace. The Gospel According to Matthew may not make you believe in the power of God but it will make you believe in the power of Cinema.

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Hawks and Sparrows (1966), starring Italian comic actor, Toto and Pasolini’s own lover, Ninetto Davoli, this bizarre comedy follows a father and son as they drift down an Italian road where they encounter a Marxist crow… Watch out for the opening credits, which instead of being shown, are sung…

If you speak Italian or French – this is an interview between Pasolini and Ninetto Davoli in which Davoli quizzes Pasolini on some of his films (it’s pretty adorable – for instance, when Pasolini begins to talk about the third world and asks Davoli if he knows what that is, and Davoli admits that he doesn’t – which, of course, Pasolini already knows and teases him about… adorable!)

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Oedipus Rex (1967) – that story.

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Teorema (1968), starring Terence Stamp as the mysterious stranger who seduces, one by one, an entire household leaving their lives utterly transformed.

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Pigsty (1969) – “I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy.”

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Medea (1969) – the only feature film Maria Callas ever made, this is the story of Jason and the fleece – and Medea, the powerful sorceress who falls in love with Jason with devastating consequences.

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The Decameron (1971) – based on 9 stories from Bocaccio‘s masterpiece. First in his Trilogy of Life series, based on masterpieces of medieval literature.

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The Canterbury Tales (1972) – based on Chaucer and the second in Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life series. Thieves and unabashed wenches galore. Amusing trailer…

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Arabian Nights (1974) – tragedy and romance based on the middle eastern erotic tales, given the Pasolini treatment (see above) and the third and final part of his Trilogy of Life.

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Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (1974) is easily the most notorious film Pasolini ever made and was immediately banned all over the place, and in fact remains banned in some countries to this day. It was also the last film he ever made, as he was assassinated in 1975, shortly before the film’s release. The film, based on the book by the Marquis de Sade and following a structure inspired by Dante’s Inferno, explores themes of political corruption and sadism, as well as sexuality, perversion, pornography and facism. Considered as one of the most shocking, disturbing and frightening films ever made – one to be treasured.

posted by Dixie Turner

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