Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pasolini the unforgotten

I am always surprised at discovering how a quintessential Roman figure keeps being celebrated in the most unlikely places. The French seem to have a passion for him, but Americans in the know have a place for him too.

This is a recent multilingual exhibition made about him in Paris: The Poetics of Margins. Here is the infographic:

I could elect him as a saint protector for this blog, together with Francesca Woodman, Both were Romans for a time, who created powerful, unconventional visuals. I might have met both, and instead I am left to weep their early disappearance.

When he was alive I didn't have  much passion for PPP (as he was known). He was part of the literary Clan Moravia which was acting as interdiction on all young writers. Their style was later to be known as 'Neorealismo'.

PPP had risen to fame with the long poem 'Gramsci's ashes'.
It was a lament over Gramsci, the Italian Communist Party founder, buried next to Shelley at the 'Englishmen Cemetery', the non-Catholic one in Testaccio.

"It’s not like May, this impure air

that darkens the foreign garden

already dark, then blinds it with light

with blinding clarity… this sky

of foam, above the pale yellow eaves

that in enormous semicircles veil

the bends of the Tiber, the deep blue

mountains of Latium… Spilling a mortal

peace, estranged from our destinies,

between the ancient walls, autumnal

May. In this the grey of the world,

the end of the decade in which appears

among ruins the profound, ingenuous

effort to restore life over;

the silence, rotten and barren…"

Translated from the Italian by Michelle Cliff, full text

 It was a cumbersome poem, of difficult interpretation, which brought down my young libertarian hopes, by reminding me the bleak defeat that fascism had imposed on the proletarian masses. Gramsci had indeed been killed in prison.

A kinder, more liberated approach to Pasolini's psyche I had through his movies.

'Teorema'  seemed more in the Surrealist Fellini style. An angel arrives in a bourgeois Milan family, and by going to bed with each of its members destroys the bourgeois nexus that kept them together. I still remember the levitation scene of the servant on the roof of a farm, who thus attains saint status in her peasant community.

Pasolini, originally a teacher from poor Friuli, had a direct understanding of the underprivileged classes. In the 1968 uprisings he took sides with the proletarian policemen against the affluent students, which they didn't take kindly. 

His other films, like those inspired by 'Decameron' and 'Fiore della Mille e ulna Notte' he showed the irreverent proletarian sexual  behavior of the origins. As many Italians I didn't like his half manifest homosexuality then, not suspecting that our intolerant attitudes would bring him finally to a violent death.

I also saw him coming out one Summer from a turreted villa in High Latium in an off road with Moravia,  and deduced that he had become rich, while preaching compassion for the poor. At the time he also was touring Africa documenting primitive peasant communities  that he couldn't find anymore in Italy. The mud buildings of Yemen offered him some uncanny surrealist footage.

Yes, he had become part of the intelligentsia of the left, but it is also when he released his two more brutal attacks to the Italian bourgeoisie: 'Salò or the 120 days of Sodom', a fiction about the orgies of the last days of the Fascists,  and  'Petrolio' a novel about the murderous corruption in the Italian oil establishment, which had brought down various governments.

In the end PPP  was savagely beaten and killed by one of his lovers at the Ostia idroscalo (harbor). Many think that various people must  have been involved, and that it was a vengeance against 'Petrolio'.

He came back to my memory very naturally as I was shooting that part of town where the river Tiber runs towards the Sea through the dilapidated Industrial area of Rome. There one still finds wild boys and gipsies sleeping by the river, and I documented the area before it gets gentrified. It's a dead land where many proletarian ghosts of the past come forth.

My wine seller who was a mechanic at Alfa Romeo in the fifties, used to do test runs along the river at full speed. And because of that he had seven fiancées at the same time, if you believe him :)

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