By Jean Marie Carey

Poet, translator, painter, novelist, actor, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was born 5 March 1922 in Bologna. Though Pasolini’s biography is often refracted through its salacious details – his last movie, 1975’s notorious and frequently banned Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a brutal adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s catalog of humiliation and torture, was released just weeks before the director was murdered in a suburb of Rome – Pasolini’s talents and political commitments exceeded his flair for polemics and scandal.

A lapsed Roman Catholic who maintained a moralistic theological worldview and a lifelong Marxist who was expelled from the Communist Party for being gay, Pasolini addressed his contradictions in his prolific cinematic and literary output, engaging directly with ideas about “spectacular authorship,” critiques of the media, and awareness of how reception creates new forms of meaning along with the development of poststructuralist thought in the 1960s. Pasolini shared some of postmodernism’s main concerns — defining how intellectuals can take action against power and avoid being co-opted by it.

Pasolini also wrote numerous stage works – including I Turcs tal Friúl (The Turks in Friuli), in 1944 in Friulian dialect, to commemorate his brother killed in the Resistance, and Nel 46! (1946)an exercise in allegory and abstract argumentation. In 1960, he translated Aeschylus’ Oresteia, but his desire to reinterpret Greek myth was more amply demonstrated by such films as Oedipus (1967) and Medea (1970). Ancient Greece provides the setting for Pylades, one of the six tragedies he wrote in 1966. His Manifesto for a New Theatre (1968) advocated a theatre of the word and of ideas.

Pasolini also painted, took photos, and made sketches of set designs and costumes.

Reference: Joseph Farrell. “Pasolini, Pier Paolo.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Pier Paolo Pasolini c. 1953. Photo ©Herbert List / Magnum Photos.

Self-Portrait, 1947. Gabinetto scientifico letterario G.P. Vieusseux, Florence.

Accattone, film still showing Franco Citti and Franca Pasut at the edge of the city, 1961. Artists Rights Society, New York, Rome, © 2008.

Teorema, 1968. Artists Rights Society, New York, Rome, © 2008.

Boy, 1943. Oil on cellophane. Gabinetto scientifico letterario G.P. Vieusseux, Florence.

Landscape near Casarsa, 1944. Artists Rights Society, New York, Rome, © 2008.

Further Reading: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Walter Siti. Stories from the City of God: Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966. New York: Handsel Books, 2003. 

Gian Maria Annovi. Pier Paolo Pasolini: Performing authorship. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. 

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