At the beginning of November 1975, Pasolini was killed on the beach of Ostia, a suburb of Rome. He was 53 years old. In the previous decade-and-a-half he directed some 13 feature-length films plus a number of documentaries and shorts, wrote novels (including the posthumously published Petrolio), poems and theater plays, and collaborated with a variety of newspapers, weeklies, magazines, writing on a formidably wide range of topics. He was, in short, a public intellectual, active in many different fields, and possibly, alongside Antonio Gramsci, the most important Italian thinker of the 20th century.

Forty years after Pasolini’s death, his life has been commemorated both in Italy and abroad, with retrospectives, expositions and conferences, as well as re-issued or new editions and translations of his books and films. Most notably, Abel Ferrara’s 2014 film Pasolini, starring Willem Dafoe, has prompted fresh discussion about the last days of his life. Indeed, speculations and new revelations about Pasolini’s controversial death have become a part of every anniversary. While his legacy is all but uncontested, his project (if we can even say there was a project in the first place), and the ways in which it relates to issues of art, politics, philosophy and social mores, is still under intense scrutiny.

For a long time, Pasolini has – in the English-speaking world at least – mostly been associated with the cinema. Both his film theory (in particular his essay on the “cinema of poetry”) and his filmmaking have thus received ample critical attention. Conversely, it is only recently that an English-language anthology containing a selection of his writings on politics and society has been released (In Danger, edited by the poet Jack Hirschman and published by City Lights), and most of his writings on these topics still remain unavailable in English. The articles in this Senses of Cinema dossier seek to deepen the links between Pasolini’s cinema and other aspects of his multifaceted life and career, as well as the socio-cultural and political world during the time in which he lived and worked.


Pier Paulo Pasolini

Pasolini filming in Africa

Pasolini’s travels to non-Western countries are discussed in two essays. Pieter Vanhove analyses the connection between Pasolini and the Non-Aligned Movement’s 1955 Bandung conference, especially through his “Appunti” films (Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana [Notes for an African Orestes, 1970] and Appunti per un film sull’India [Notes for a Film on India, 1968]) and his writing on the subcontinent (The Scent of India). Vanhove focuses on a theme in Pasolini’s life and carrier – his relationship with Third-Worldism and his actual encounter with subaltern masses from “developing” nations – which has garnered increasing levels of interest of late, and which will likely be the basis of fascinating future studies. At present, however, very little has been written about Pasolini’s time spent in Turkey. Ellen Patat and Cristiano Bedin make a case for discussing Medea – the film, starring Maria Callas in the titular role, which Pasolini shot in the Anatolian region – together with his poetry written during the same period, which, inspired by his surrounds, intersects with the film in complex and intriguing ways. In particular, Patat and Bedin focus on Pasolini’s portrayal of the Cappadocian landscape, as he continued his restless search  for a primitive environment distinct from that of contemporary Western societies.

Landscape in Pasolini’s films and poetry is also the subject of Eleonora Sartoni’s piece, in which the author intertwines Heidegger, Ian Chambers, and Pasolini’s works. While the focal point of Sartoni’s analysis is the film Mamma Roma (1962), and in particular the protagonist’s wanderings through the outer suburbs of Rome, her article expands beyond this film to take in Pasolini’s early poetic works and the phenomenon of post-war urbanisation occurring both in Rome itself and many other cities around the world. Heidegger is also a point of reference in Toni Hildebrandt’s paper, which focuses on the role of montage in Pasolini’s film theory and practice, especially La sequenza del fiore di carta (The Sequence of the Paper Flower, 1968). Among the article’s many philosophical references is Karel Kosik, a neo-Marxist Czech philosopher whose writings were quoted by Pasolini, and whose thinking formed a bridge between the Marxist tradition and the Heideggerian idea of Dasein as a form of “being towards death”.

Ana Delia Rogobete’s article can be seen as a heterodox eulogy of the footnote, focussing in particular on a recent short piece written by the French curator Pierre Bal Blanc for the catalogue of a major art exhibition at Venice, “When Attitudes Become Forms”. The author uses Pasolini, and the last film he made before his murder, Salò o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975), to discuss the legacy that the filmmaker bequeathed to the contemporary visual art world. Pasolini’s final film is also the main subject of Paolo Russo’s contribution. A layered essay touching on the work of Foucault, Deleuze, Metz and many others, Russo’s article surveys a number of different approaches to Salò, including porn studies, cognitivist approaches to cinema, and, perhaps most intriguingly, the question of viewer engagement in horror films.

Francesco Spampinato highlights the influence of Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings, 1963), a cinéma-vérité style documentary made by Pasolini in the early 1960s, on later television production in Italy. From here, he looks at a curious homage to Pasolini’s work, Francesco Vezzoli’s Comizi di non amore (2004), a 60-minute video which parodies the reality TV shows that presently dominate the Italian airwaves. Finally, Karen Raizen’s bibliographical essay offers an overview of the plethora of recent studies on Pasolini’s life, work and ideas. Raizen discusses the manner in which critical analysis of Pasolini’s work has evolved in the decades following his death, noting, for example, the numerous ways his notion of a “cinema of poetry” has been appropriated and re-adapted to fit different national and historical contexts.

While the axis around which this dossier rotates is unquestionably Pasolini’s relationship with the cinema, none of the articles we present here focus purely on his films and film theories. Furthermore, none of the texts in this dossier are only concerned with Pasolini. Rather, they all discuss the Italian author and filmmaker within a variety of frameworks, placing him in dialogue with disparate disciplines, movements and thinkers. This not only signals, once again, the rich inexhaustibility of Pasolini’s œuvre, with all the paradoxes and problems that accompany such an intellectually and artistically fertile figure. It also reflects the fluctuations of his fortunes both at home and abroad: we should note here that the contributors to this dossier are equally divided between Italians and non-Italians. There is no shortage of exegetical studies on Pasolini – although even now, 40 years after his death, the same can not be said about translations of his books and articles into English. New avenues, however, are always opening up, and one of the most significant threads weaving through the articles presented here is the diversity of contexts – geographical, artistic, cultural and historical – in which Pasolini worked. Truly, his œuvre can be considered a vast intertextual labyrinth, whose contours can be endlessly explored by those who are dedicated to understanding his life and work.

About The Author

Luca Peretti is a PhD candidate in the Department of Italian and in Film and Media Studies at Yale, where he studies Italian cinema and history. He collaborates with various newspapers and websites. Daniel Fairfax is a doctoral candidate in Film Studies and Comparative Literature at Yale University and book reviews editor at Senses of Cinema.

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