Late on the evening of November 1st, 1975, they battered him so hard over the head with a wooden plank that his veins were ripped out. The well-trained, 53-year-old Pier Paolo Pasolini fought back against his four assailants, but when two of them held him down while a third kicked him hard in the groin, he passed out. Out there, in the suburbs by the seaside, they got back in the car and drove over him several times – his body beaten to a pulp, his heart stopped. They threatened to kill the young man with whom Pasolini had an erotic rendezvous, if he revealed the truth. He shouldered the blame and the subsequent prison sentence.

“Class is also an aesthetic theme in his reality-tale of contemporary history”

Pasolini had been a source of irritation to Italy’s elite for several decades, as a columnist, critical poet and filmmaker. Driven by a deep-seated anger, he directed his criticism at the ruling class and the stranglehold of conformity. Pasolini’s life ended when he was at his most productive – he had just finished Salò, or 120 days of Sodom.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini

So why am I writing about him now? Well, the new film, Pasolini’s Rage 1)Pier Paolo Pasolini: corpie luoghi. M.Mancini, G.Perrella, Theorema, 1981. (La Rabbia di Pasolini), has been screened at several recent film festivals, like Visions du Réel in Nyon. The film was originally made in 1963, as a collection of newsreel footage accompanied by commentary, spanning the decade that had just passed. At the time, it was juxtaposed with a similar film by the director Giovanni Guareschi, which depicted the man-in-the- street’s popular views on society. However, Pasolini withdrew from the project upon discovering the extent of Guareschi’s vulgarity. Now, Pasolini’s work is re-issued, with Guareschi replaced by more of Pasolini’s work from that time, in part II, as well as additional interviews and reviews.

Pasolini typically comments and takes notes. Interestingly his other documentary films are also made in the form of “notes” on films [see Tarantino’s article at page 50]. I too am inspired to take notes sitting in the dark room in Nyon. Pasolini’s “news bulletin” is impressive – it is virtually a poetic verdict or a political essay on his era. But is there anything useful to be learned from this almost sixty years down the line?

The answer is yes, because impressively, Pasolini is so insightful in passing judgment on and making predictions about his age that such observations could easily be applied to our times. He unveils the ‘machinations’ of the powers that be, for example the Korean War:

“When war breaks out, whose fault is it? [It is] the fault of the poor people, naturally. God punishes Sodoms with rags, Gomorrahs with destitution, the curse of down-and-out love. The rich also die, naturally. But for something. And this “something” is the fury that makes the world its own opposite, a scorching ruin, a bottomless darkness. … Little Koreans, you were alive too. Neglected, because we the rich don’t know about poverty. Neglected, because we the rich don’t know about poverty. And our excuse is that it’s far away, as if distance cures evil. You maddened humble ants, millions of small corpses.”

The anguished voice accompanies images of terror-stricken soldiers, dead bodies, battlefields. I completely forget about the other films I was supposed to see this evening. I am spellbound by these comments from the 1960s, for example the release of the Italian prisoners of war:

“Ah, voice without any hope, voice of the powerful world, voice of hypocrisy which does not even have the modesty to hide its own pitiless indifference.” Pasolini is enraged by and laments high- level politics’ acts of war, but is also similarly affected by commercialisation: “ The fascist petty bourgeoisie is ready for European unity.”

Pier Paolo Pasolini

“Pasolini is close”, I note enthusiastically, as I listen to the ironic commentary on newsreel footage from the end of the Second World War. He explains the media’s portrayal of happiness, holidays and leisure time as long overdue. He points out that the dream of staying home in blissful comfort has been achieved, thanks to television: “Finally a touch of genuine satisfaction. Voice of insincerity, voice of falsehood!” rough TV, the bourgeoisie were able to speak with “… a humiliating irony for every ideal, the voice which sets jokes to tragedy – millions of candidates for the death of the soul.”

Pasolini’s somewhat pleading voice has a thin overtone. After all, this was the man who was brutally murdered, the man many people could no longer tolerate.

The prose poems over the images are reminiscent of a time gone by, of what was mystical or respectable in life. Is Pasolini the last man standing against the nihilistic wave that has swept far across Europe – just as Nietzsche once predicted it would? Or a resounding cry from a world in which there was a distinct difference between good and evil, quality and mediocrity, reflection and reflex?

Pasolini’s Italian commentary continues to reach me through the English subtitles. Like through the newsreel footage from Hungary, 1956:

“A storm of death strikes a people asking for freedom and respect for the human individual. Counterrevolution has burst forth, the bourgeoisie brothers do not forgive. … You, cry with contempt, anger, hatred: ‘long live freedom!’ In Roma, in Paris. Freedom has become sorrow. ‘Nero futuro de Parice.’”

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References   [ + ]

1. Pier Paolo Pasolini: corpie luoghi. M.Mancini, G.Perrella, Theorema, 1981.