Dear Pier Paolo Pasolini,
You were born a hundred years ago. There are exhibitions about you, and retrospectives, in many cities. Such anniversaries often fold people into convention, safe heritage. But are you foldable?
I think not. Your films and writing are still splintered. They still punch in the stomach. There are seven ways in which you’ve punched me in the stomach:
In The Search for Locations for the Gospel of St Matthew, your commentary is in the present tense. You say things like “This place”, “I see.” It feels like you improvised it in the edit suite. Did you? I had not seen this done before. The freshness, the surprise, really influenced my filmmaking.
Compared to the smooth flow of Visconti’s cinema, your shots and cuts look as if they’ve been made with a hacksaw. Close ups in Accattone and Mamma Roma crash in. You don’t build up to them. The acting is un-polished. As a young filmmaker, I thought I had to make smooth, elegant work. You showed me that I was wrong.
Terence Stamp’s crotch
In Teorema, as you know, Stamp is a kind of angel whose arrival in a bourgeois family disrupts everything. You show us a close up of his crotch. He’s reading Rimbaud’s poetry. Cigarette ash falls on this thigh. A sexual shot? A stomach punch? The shot reminds me of the still lives of the painter Georgio Morandi, but I’m sure you would hate that comparison, because he was rather right-wing.
You were a master of this. I saw a recent show in Bologna—Folgorazioni Figurative—which revealed again how the paintings of Italians Pontormo, Giotto and Piero Della Fancesca, and even the prints of Andy Warhol, influenced your compositions, your colour schemes, the way you placed bodies in the frame.
I saw all your films in the late 1980s, as the Years of Lead in Italy were coming to an end. You spotted the growing consumerism, and were enraged by its malaise, from the start. You could see how everything was getting a price tag, including class and bodies. Your rage, your complete rejection and commoditisation, excited me and scared me. What if you were right?
You were 53 when you were murdered. That night on the beach, did the boy act alone? (I hesitate to tell you that I made a short film imagining what he said that night.) There’s a photo of your body—red, black, brown, like a Roualt painting. I didn’t want to see that picture but it’s on something called the internet—a global image bank, a tower of Babel.
You used the word stupendous a lot. In your great poem ‘Diario’, you write “the stupendous monotony of the mystery”. That phrase is often in my head as I ride the dissonance of everyday life. So much is under-imagined, but your work is of greater amplitude.
You punched me, Pier Paolo. You winded me, woke me up, fucked with my imagination, and sense of what is acceptable and sacred. A few years ago, after I thought that I’d seen everything of your boldness, I read your unfinished novel Petrolio and I was angered and aroused and punched again. And then I saw its original manuscript in Bologna, and touched it. You are close.