Arnon Grunberg



On Pasolini - Nathaniel Rich in NYRB, in 2007:

‘The theories that soon emerged were passionate and wildly divergent. Many friends of Pasolini, including Oriana Fallaci, Italo Calvino, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the actress Laura Betti, believed that he had been murdered by members of the neofascist party, which had a long history of violently assaulting him. The official neofascist newspaper, meanwhile, wrote that Pasolini had been “killed by the Marxists” for increasingly “becoming a reactionary writer.” After all, despite identifying himself as a Communist, Pasolini had battled against many of the progressive reforms of the late 1960s, speaking out against the student rebellions of 1968, feminism, sexual permissiveness, and the legalization of abortion and divorce.’


‘Pier Paolo was named after his uncle, Carlo Alberto’s brother, an aspiring poet who had drowned at sea at the age of twenty. (Pasolini’s younger brother, Guido, also died at twenty, killed by Communist partisans near the end of World War II.) Siciliano describes Carlo as living “in a dream of military ideals, even after his discharge. He was the ‘officer’ in the family.” Repelled by his father’s authoritarianism, Pasolini grew particularly close to his mother, and spent his summers with her family in Casarsa.
Neither parent was particularly religious. Carlo Alberto attended church out of a sense of social duty, while Susanna rejected the Catholic Church as devoid of spirituality, but Pier Paolo showed an early fascination with the image of Christ. In a 1946 diary entry, he described a recurrent fantasy to imitate Christ in his sacrifice for other men and to be condemned and killed despite being innocent. I saw myself hanging on the cross, nailed up. My thighs were scantily wrapped by that light strip, and an immense crowd was watching me. My public martyrdom ended as a voluptuous image and slowly it emerged that I was nailed up completely naked.
As an adolescent, he suppressed the sexual and violent desires exhibited in this fantasy, but his identification with the suffering of Christ permeates his early poetry.’


‘June 1962, in the midst of his third trial for sexual assault, an agency called Stampa Internazionale distributed a psychological analysis of Pasolini, written by a professor at the University of Rome, to the editors in chief of every major newspaper. The report concluded that “Pasolini is an instinctual psychopath, he is a sexual deviant, a homophile in the most absolute sense of the word…a socially dangerous person.” If the subsequent newspaper headlines are to be believed, the Catholic nation was scandalized by this homosexual filmmaker who publicly declared his atheism.
It is no surprise, then, that Pasolini struggled to find an investor for his next project, a feature-length film about Jesus Christ called The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. In fact the film, Pasolini’s masterpiece, would never have been made were it not for the blessing of a most unlikely ally—the Catholic Church. Recent large-scale reforms at the Vatican, following the election of the liberal Pope John XXIII in 1958 and the creation of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, had encouraged the Church to look for new ways to spread its message.’


‘Salò (1975) is Pasolini’s adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, set in Salò, the town that served as the capital of Mussolini’s puppet government, which was reinstalled by the Nazis from 1943 to 1945. In Pasolini’s version, Sade’s four libertines are interchangeable fascist autocrats, who order the military to kidnap young boys and girls to bring to their palace. In their zealous pursuit of depravity, the libertines subject their victims to an increasingly horrific progression of sexual violations, from incest to rape to torture. There is a clear parallel here between the fanatical rigor of the libertines’ scheme and the brutal efficiency of totalitarianism. The film opens with the four fascist leaders devising an elaborate book of laws meant to govern their ritual orgies. “Everything is good when it’s excessive,” says one of the men in the film’s opening line.
Pasolini’s approach is just as cold as that of the libertines. The film progresses by mechanically rejecting one moral, social, or political convention after another. The joys of sensuality, of the human body—the subject of his “trilogy of life” films—are the first to be subverted. In the opening scenes, we see the naked bodies of beautiful young people lined up like cattle and prodded to determine their quality. Consensual heterosexual sex is punishable by loss of limb. Any act of religion is cause for execution. Even the sanctity of the dead is mocked. After the victims have been annihilated in a final horrifying torture sequence set in the palace courtyard, the camera moves back upstairs, where, in a moment of disconcerting beauty, two young fascist guards embrace each other and dance cheek to cheek.
Salò is not simply a condemnation of fascism. It is also a condemnation of the excesses of mass consumption (Pasolini claimed that the infamous coprophilia scene, in which the libertines and their slaves feast on a banquet of human excrement, was an attack on the fast food industry), of religion, of the rule of law, of bureaucracy, of sexual liberation, of sexual traditionalism, of free will, of totalitarianism, of life, of death. In many ways it is inconsistent with much of what he had written and said at earlier points in his career. But in its total iconoclasm and its inflamed provocation, it is the work that comes closest to revealing the driving force of Pasolini’s creative genius. He died three weeks before the film’s première.’

‘On the last day of his life, Pasolini was asked by a journalist why he fought battles against “so many things, institutions, persuasions, people, and powers.” Rejection, Pasolini replied, is the shaping force of society. “The saints, the hermits, the intellectuals… the ones that shaped history, are the people who said no. This refusal should not be small or sensible but large and total.” From all these refusals, we know what Pasolini stood against—political ideologies of all kinds, the complacency inherent in the established social order, the corruption of the institutions of church and state.’

Read the article here.

The church was looking for new ways to spread its message, why not by way of Pasolini.

Salò is a condemnation of almost everything.

If all saints, hermits and intellectuals said no is open for discussion.

But if you can say no by making a movie like Salò, one can only encourage the no.

Currently, I’m ten minutes away from Salò, I’m tempted to go into town and visit the museum, maybe there are remnants of Pasolini, if not of Mussolini.

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