From the Pasolini Archives

Born on this day in 1922, Pier Paolo Pasolini was a profoundly radical artist whose work encompassed cinema, literature, theater, and painting. From the release of his first feature, the 1961 neorealist drama Accatone, to his untimely death in 1975, he courted controversy with uncompromising explorations of the sacred and the profane, fueled by his impressions of life as a passionate Marxist and a gay man. Today, we’re celebrating this enigmatic Italian master with a look back at some of the articles we’ve published on his films.

  • In his essay on Mamma Roma, Pasolini’s 1962 masterpiece about postwar life in Italy, Gary Indiana describes the director as “indefatigably productive, ingenious, exasperating, narcissistically didactic, slyly self-promoting, abject, generous, exploitative, devoted to the wretched of the earth with honest fervor and deluded romanticism.”
  • Legendary production designer Dante Ferretti—who worked with Pasolini on The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, and other films—talks about his experience collaborating with the director.
  • Examining The Decameron, Pasolini’s brilliant reimagining of the Boccaccio classic, Colin MacCabe writes that the director’s “engagement with these earlier times . . . was not any simple return to the past. His obsession was with finding a world outside of all the commodifications of capitalism, including, prominently, the bodily. By grafting the marginal modern (the Italian lumpen poor, the third world) onto medieval texts, Pasolini hoped to fashion an alternative to a present that he found ever more repellent.”
  • Check out these behind-the-scenes images from Pasolini’s joyous 1974 exploration of human sexuality Arabian Nights:
  • For The Canterbury Tales, Pasolini’s lusty 1972 take on Chaucer, the director created inserts for the on-screen text that updated the original Middle English with modern-day colloquialisms:
    • “I am struck by how absolutely contemporary the film seems,” writes Neil Bartlett on Pasolini’s most infamous film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom. “Because the promised Dantean structure of a descent through ever worsening circles of atrocity is never redeemed by a climax or crescendo, the film appears (despite its historical setting) to be taking place in an everlasting present tense. Within the locked confines of the villa, it seems, the atrocities will go on forever, and because of that, we, the viewers, are positioned not merely as witnesses to Salò but as its inhabitants.”
    • In a personal ode to Salò, one of French cinema’s great provocateurs, Catherine Breillat, writes that “Pasolini doesn’t come at you head-on; it’s more like embroidery, which can seem simple, unrelentingly repetitive.” For her, the film “makes the vector form of fiction burst into reality, a first vector for the image that enters us and a second, reciprocal one by which we project ourselves into the fiction.”

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