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

Happy Birthday, Marilyn, Piccola Sorellina; Colombella D’Oro

Marilyn Monroe – 1/6/26 – 5/8/62

This beautiful passage on Marilyn Monroe (see below), comes from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s political-poetic film essay, La Rabbia. The film is made up of documentary footage showing, predominantly, scenes of revolution, political protest, nuclear testing and liberation. The section on Marilyn comes about two-thirds of the way through as a breathtaking juxtaposition reflecting on the fragility of innocent beauty in the face of a violent world. For a film that centres on the political tribulations of the world’s underclass, the section on the Hollywood legend remains none-the-less tragic, offering all the romance and poignancy of a woman held in the eyes of the world – more alone than when she was unknown – who passed into mythology and symbolism. The film – which is unavailable on DVD – was made in 1963, one year after Marilyn’s death.

And after that, as a bit of a pick-me-up (!), here’s Marilyn singing Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (hum the song to yourself):

Marilyn and some of her (too few) birthdays:

Del mondo antico e del mondo futuro

era rimasta solo la bellezza, e tu,

povera sorellina minore,

quella che corre dietro i fratelli più grandi,

e ride e piange con loro, per imitarli,

tu sorellina più piccola,

quella bellezza l’avevi addosso umilmente,

e la tua anima di figlia di piccola gente,

non ha mai saputo di averla,

perché altrimenti non sarebbe stata bellezza.

Il mondo te l’ha insegnata,

cosi la tua bellezza divenne sua.

Del pauroso mondo antico e del pauroso mondo futuro

era rimasta sola la bellezza, e tu

te la sei portata dietro come un sorriso obbediente.

L’obbedienza richiede troppe lacrime inghiottite,

il darsi agli altri, troppi allegri sguardi

che chiedono la loro pietà! Così

ti sei portata via la tua bellezza.

Sparì come un pulviscolo d’oro.

Dello stupido mondo antico

e del feroce mondo futuro

era rimasta una bellezza che non si vergognava

di alludere ai piccoli seni di sorellina,

al piccolo ventre così facilmente nudo.

E per questo era bellezza, la stessa

che hanno le dolci ragazze del tuo mondo…

le figlie dei commercianti

vincitrici ai concorsi a Miami o a Londra.

Sparì come una colombella d’oro.

Il mondo te l’ha insegnata,

e cosi la tua bellezza non fu più bellezza.

Ma tu continuavi a essere bambina,

sciocca come l’antichità, crudele come il futuro,

e fra te e la tua bellezza posseduta dal Potere

si mise tutta la stupidità e la crudeltà del presente.

La portavi sempre dietro come un sorriso tra le lacrime,

impudica per passività, indecente per obbedienza.

Sparì come una bianca colomba d’oro.

La tua bellezza sopravvissuta dal mondo antico,

richiesta dal mondo futuro, posseduta

dal mondo presente, divenne un male mortale.

Ora i fratelli maggiori, finalmente, si voltano,

smettono per un momento i loro maledetti giochi,

escono dalla loro inesorabile distrazione,

e si chiedono: “E’ possibile che Marilyn,

la piccola Marilyn, ci abbia indicato la strada?”

Ora sei tu,

quella che non conta nulla, poverina, col suo sorriso,

sei la prima oltre le porte del mondo

abbandonato al suo destino di morte.

– Pasolini.

(The English translation for the above poem is in the clip from La Rabbia, the film from which it is taken).

posted by Dixie Turner

Debut Double: New To Our Shelves (Old Films We Should Have Had Before But Didn’t):

Accattone (1961)

The debut film of poet, journalist and political activist, Pier Paolo Pasolini, centres around the situation of a young pimp who lives a hand to mouth existence on the margins of society. When his prize prostitute is arrested, his existence begins to unravel as he is forced to confront his life. Accatone is one of the most powerful and important films of Italian cinema. It also offered a young Bernardo Bertolucci his first experience (as production assistant) in the film-making process. Cert. 15. Italian with English subs.

Trailer : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZZX4G_iTNg (in Italian only)

Greek Pete (2009)

The feature debut of Director Andrew Haigh (Weekend) is a docu-drama that blurs the line between fact and fiction and reveals the actual life experiences of a group of young men whose stories are rarely told. The film centres on Pete who arrives in London hoping to boost his trade as an escort. Cert. 18

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3KVNR0Y6FI