Everything Pasolini did, he did as a poet.
July 7, 2014 4:52 PM   Subscribe

But what was it, precisely, that Pasolini did? In 1970, five years before he was murdered on a beach near Rome, and about a decade after his first movie, Accattone, had made him notorious as a filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini sat down to write a preface to a new book of his selected poems.He called this little essay “To the New Reader,” and in it he wanted to explain to this new reader—who perhaps only knew him as a filmmaker, or novelist, or polemical essayist—why he was always, in fact, a poet. His first poem, he observed, was written when he was seven. His first collection had come out when he was twenty. The volume of selected poems was taken from three books: Gramsci’s Ashes, which appeared in 1957, when he was thirty-five; The Religion of My Time, from 1961; and Poem in the Shape of a Rose, which was published in 1964, the same year that his movie The Gospel According to St. Matthew came out. And so he had really made his films, he argued, “as a poet.” Not that a film and a poem were exactly equivalent, but still: “I think one can’t deny that a certain way of feeling something occurs in the same identical way when one is faced with some of my lines and some of my shots.”

Born in 1922, he began his career writing poetry in Friulian, his native language. Then he moved to Rome, where he wrote novels, this time exploring a dense Roman argot. And then came the movies of the ’60s and ’70s, including Mamma Roma, Teorema, and the trilogy of adaptations from Boccaccio, Chaucer, and the Arabian Nights, ending in his masterpiece of degradation, Salo. His atmosphere was constant scandal, and he added to that scandal with his essays in the high-end newspapers: small doses of acerbic thinking. But although he might have enjoyed using crazily various modes, he also had a certain style. In his movies, he loved fusing the hieratic with the everyday. And in his writing, too, he liked combining two things that don’t usually go together: a classical form or tone that could absorb its squalid subjects. His best poetry is a kind of diary written in long slabs and sequences—he called these poems poemetti, longer than a poesia, shorter than a poema—meditations on whatever he was thinking about, where the syntax is strung out along the terza-rima form (Dante’s meter!) in a papery festoon of thinking.
posted by whyareyouatriangle (14 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Also, here are three of his films, in full, on Youtube:

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Il Decameron

The Gospel According to St. Matthew
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 4:52 PM on July 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

I remember going to see "Medea" and after 15 minutes thinking it was so horrible I was going to walk out. But I didn't, and it was a good thing- I ended up loving it.
posted by acrasis at 5:00 PM on July 7, 2014

I've seen Salò, and, while the experience didn't make me happier, I think it made me a little wiser.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why the hell haven't I seen any of these movies what is wrong with me. Rectifying that immediately.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:56 PM on July 7, 2014

I made my friend watch Salo (because that's what I do to my friends, I make them watch terrible things). He was quiet for a few minutes, then murmured, "That was entirely too much poo."
posted by adipocere at 6:12 PM on July 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Edipo Re remains the most disturbing film I have ever seen. I'd sooner watch Family Circus hentai than subject myself to that again.
posted by duffell at 6:14 PM on July 7, 2014

I can't believe Salo is on youtube. I just can't.
posted by valkane at 6:16 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just putting in a plug for my favorite Pasolini film: Teorema. I ended up seeing on a whim because a guy in a bookstore saw me looking at a Pasolini book and said "Hey, you know there showing one of films tonight at the such-and-such-theater -- if you're interested in Pasolini, you owe it to yourself to check it out."

Holy moly, it knocked my socks off. It works on so many layers -- as a dark comedy, as a series of almost scientific character studies, as a puzzle, as an erotic film, as a metaphor for Marxist theory. It's not at all traumatizing like Salo (which I have yet to muster up the courage to watch) -- or at least I didn't find it traumatizing. It was just an utterly mesmerizing, transporting, and vexing experience.

At the screening, someone who knew and worked with Pasolini (a cinematographer, perhaps?) gave an introduction and a Q&A afterwords. The one thing he said that I've never forgotten is that Pasolini considered his politics, his sexuality, and his art to all be one in the same.
posted by treepour at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was looking at Teorema as a part of Terrence Stamp night. Sounds like that's a recommendation, then.
posted by adipocere at 6:46 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

'The Gospel According to St. Matthew' made the Vatican's list of films.

I think Pasolini could have done an interesting biopic of Caravaggio.
posted by ovvl at 7:05 PM on July 7, 2014

Metafilter: entirely too much poo.
posted by sammyo at 8:28 PM on July 7, 2014

Previously in the blue.

Since then, I have actually seen it again. I appreciate it a bit more now, it does tweak the audience a bit by blurring the lines between being a spectator and being a participant. Are you, the observer, just as guilty?

But if you don't want to see it, I respect that, too.

That was entirely too much poo.

If I remember correctly, there was a pastry guy on set whose job it was to whip up a special chocolate-and-hazelnut confection whenever they had to do one of "those scenes". (Now there's a movie trivia nugget to impress your film buff acquaintances...)
posted by gimonca at 8:44 PM on July 7, 2014

His atmosphere was constant scandal, and he added to that scandal with his essays in the high-end newspapers: small doses of acerbic thinking.

hmm, maybe to the atlantic mind, but all that can be explored in this wonderful documentary Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die.
posted by Substrata at 4:23 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed, treepour. Theorema is an extraordinary film.
posted by doctornemo at 10:05 AM on July 8, 2014

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