Pier Paolo Pasolini

b. March 15, 1922, Bologna, Italy
d. November 1, 1975, Ostia (Rome), Italy

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Outside Italy Pasolini is usually remembered as one of the most significant of the directors who emerged in the second wave of Italian postwar cinema in the early 1960s but, within Italy itself, Pasolini was always much more than just a distinctive and innovative filmmaker. By the time he came to make his first film, Accattone, in 1961, he had already published numerous collections of poetry, two highly-acclaimed novels, had collaborated widely in cultural-literary journals and firmly established himself as one of Italy’s leading writer-intellectuals. In the 15 years that followed, before being brutally murdered in 1975 — and always inspired by what he himself called “a desperate vitality” and a “love of Reality” — he made a dozen feature films and half a dozen shorts, wrote, translated and sometimes directed theatrical works, published several further collections of poetry, two volumes of critical essays, painted some 40 canvases and, through his numerous articles in journals and his caustic columns in daily newspapers, became the loudest dissenting voice in Italian political and cultural debate. Intensely passionate and iconoclastic, often paradoxical and contradictory, Pasolini was almost certainly, as Zygmunt Baranski has written in a recent critical reappraisal, Italy’s major post-war intellectual. (1)

Born in Bologna in 1922, the year that Fascism came to power, Pasolini spent his early years in various small towns of Northern Italy as the family followed the father, an infantry officer with fascist leanings, in his military postings. Pasolini’s sympathies, however, would always remain with his mother, a schoolteacher who cultivated a love of poetry and who transmitted this devotion to her son. In the mid-1930s the family returned to Bologna where Pasolini finished his schooling and enrolled in the University. During this time he also spent long periods in his mother’s native Northern region of Casarsa, falling in love with its peasant culture and beginning to write poetry in its distinctive dialect. At Bologna University he majored in literature but also studied art history with the renowned art-historian Roberto Longhi, an experience that would later profoundly influence the visual style of his earlier films. At the end of the war, which had claimed the life of his younger brother, Pasolini and his mother settled at Casarsa where he worked as a schoolteacher while also being active in cultural-literary circles and becoming secretary of the local branch of the PCI (the Italian Communist Party). In 1949, however, he was accused of homosexual activity with students and immediately suspended from his teaching and expelled from the Party. Profoundly disillusioned, he moved to Rome with his mother and settled in one of the borgate or shanty-towns at the margins of the city. Here, while eking out a living from a variety of odd jobs, he became fascinated with the sub-proletarian and petty-criminal life going on around him, and began to write about it. However, Ragazzi di vita, his first full-length novel dealing with the world of the borgate, published in 1955, saw him officially charged with offences to public decency. He was eventually exonerated, in part due to the strong support of many of the leading intellectuals and writers, but this would be only the first of many times that Pasolini and his “scandalous” work would be subjected to official censure and harassment. In fact, from this point until his brutal murder in 1975, Pasolini would continue to play the role of Italy’s most notorious intellectual provocateur (intellettuale scomodo), with his books, films and ideas consistently generating controversy and with Pasolini himself often ending up in court. On the positive side, however, his graphic depiction of the Roman underworld brought an increasing number of offers of scriptwriting from established Italian directors like Mauro Bolognini and Federico Fellini so that Pasolini’s move to cinema became almost a foregone conclusion.

The Films

As an established poet and writer, Pasolini came to embrace cinema above all as an alternative form of self-expression, equal in potential to writing itself. In fact, in the film theory that he would develop from the mid-1960s onward, Pasolini would characterise cinema precisely as a writing with reality, a writing that would yield what he called a “cinema of poetry” the more the filmmaker was able to stylistically manipulate it for the purposes of self-expression. (2) But self-expression, for Pasolini, was never merely a matter of aesthetics but always opened onto the social and political. In fact perhaps more than any other artist-intellectual in recent Italian history, Pasolini felt completely and personally co-opted by the massive social, economic and cultural developments that were profoundly transforming Italy during this time so that his films, as with everything else he wrote or said, became always, at some level, personal responses to, and ways of intervening in, that reality. His cinema was thus always to be a blend of the lyrical and the political, the poetic and the ideological, passion and analysis.

Pasolini on location, Accattone

Not surprisingly, Pasolini’s first films centred on the same petty-criminal underworld of the Roman borgate that he had explored previously in his novels. His earliest film, Accattone, made in 1960, with another young poet, Bernardo Bertolucci, as assistant-director, made a virtue of his inexperience behind the camera and, in a sense, invented its own cinematic language to present the harsh reality of the borgate. However, despite certain superficial similarities with classic neorealism (use of non-professional actors, on-location shooting, etc), the film was ultimately less a denunciation of the existence of the borgate, as such, than — in a typical Pasolinian way — a celebration of their radical otherness to the culture of consumer capitalism that was rapidly replacing traditional values in Italy in the wake of the “economic miracle” and which, for Pasolini, represented a social and cultural degradation. Significantly, the central character of the film, a pimp named Vittorio, actually prefers to be called accattone (pimp) as a badge of honour and his desultory, half-hearted attempts at a normal job all end in failure. The film ends with Accattone dying in a motorcycle crash while trying to evade arrest for a smalltime robbery, his last words being “Ah, now I’m fine”. The film’s sympathetic attitude to its amoral characters immediately caused a scandal, as did Pasolini’s first use of his technique of “contamination”, in particular that insistent commingling of the sacred and the profane that would characterise his cinema from then on. So a violent street-brawl between Accattone and his ex-brother-in-law is glossed by the strains of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and a wealth of biblical and Christological references in the film ultimately works to make the low-life Accattone into a sort of negative Christ figure (he dies, in fact, between two thieves, one of whom makes the reverse sign of the Cross over him). And the film also clearly displays the distinctive use of the camera and the frontal visual style that would become characteristic of Pasolini’s early period, with the camera often panning slowly over the young, delinquent faces of pimps and petty thieves with the same care as an eye moving over the faces in a fresco by Masaccio or Pier della Francesca. Such a positive portrayal of pimps and layabouts immediately drew censure from the authorities who originally sought to ban the film outright and eventually only allowed its release under what was effectively an R rating.

Mamma Roma
, made the following year with Anna Magnani in the lead role, was a similar exploration of the world of the Roman borgate and was, as Pasolini later admitted, the only time that he actually repeated himself. For the sake and future of her teenage son, Ettore, Mamma Roma makes a determined attempt to extract herself from a life of prostitution in the borgate, but she is fatefully drawn back to it and, at the end of the film Ettore, like Accattone, dies as the result of an attempted petty theft. Again mixing the sacred and the profane, Ettore is in the final sequence photographed in clear reminiscence of Mantegna’s Dead Christ, articulating once again Pasolini’s vision of the borgate as a world at the margins of bourgeois history and culture but one which, for that very reason, still retained an aura of tragedy and a violence connected to the sacred. In what was now becoming a pattern, Mamma Roma, too, attracted official censure for “offending against the common sense of decency” and was only released after lengthy legal proceedings.

On the set of La ricotta

By this stage, however, Pasolini’s reputation as a filmmaker had been firmly established and his third film, La ricotta, was an episode he was invited to contribute in 1963 to a compendium film titled, rather unimaginatively, RoGoPaG (from the initials of the four directors concenerned: Rossellini, Godard, Pasolini and Gregoretti). Under-rated at the time, La ricotta is now rightly regarded as something of a minor masterpiece of Pasolini’s cinema, in some ways a summing up of the borgate period wrapped up within a metacinematic reflection. The story is simple: Stracci, a poor devil from the borgate (his name actually means “Rags”), is working as an extra on a film about the life of Christ, being made on the backlots of Cinecittà, mostly for the sake of the free lunch. Forced to share his first meal with his family, he wilily scrounges a second which he hides in a cave when he’s called back onto the set. On returning he finds that this too has been eaten, by the pet dog of the leading actress. Fortunately he’s able to sell the dog to a passerby for enough money to buy a huge amount of ricotta which he then gobbles down before the assembled cast and crew in a sort of comic beggar’s banquet. Called back onto the set to be one of the thieves crucified with Christ, he suffers fatal indigestion and ironically really dies on his cross at the very moment of the filming of the Crucifixion. This both repeats and refines the interplay between the sacred and the profane in Pasolini’s two previous films but the real charm here is that Stracci’s pathetic tragicomedy is presented within the interstices of a film-within-the-film, the film of the Passion that the unnamed director, significantly played by Orson Welles, is trying to make but which is stalled due to the director’s apparent obsession with recreating two classic Mannerist paintings of the deposition of Christ (paintings that, ironically, Pasolini recreates quite meticulously and in brilliant colour). During a break in the botched attempts to film the paintings, the director is asked a number of questions by a toady reporter from a Roman daily to which he responds, clearly as Pasolini’s alter-ego. Especially telling is the director’s answer to the question: “What do you think about the Italian people?” Answer: “The most illiterate populace and the most ignorant bourgeoisie in Europe”. The film as a whole and certainly the figure of the director were something of a playful self-parody but most of the irony and self-reflexiveness of the film was lost on the authorities who interpreted Stracci’s death on the cross from indigestion as an “an outrage against the established religion”. Pasolini was consequently tried for the offence and received a three-month suspended sentence, even if this was later quashed on appeal and the film eventually allowed to be released with significant cuts. In the process Pasolini went to a great deal of trouble to explain that he hadn’t meant to lampoon the Christ story – far from it – but his definitive answer to the charges really came in 1964 when he made Il Vangelo secondo Matteo.

The project for a film of the Gospel actually went back to 1962 but Pasolini was only able to put the film into production in 1963 after having visited the Holy Land (and also recorded his somewhat disappointed visit in the documentary, Sopralluoghi in Palestina). When he came to it, radical as always, Pasolini began by throwing out the entire tradition of pietistic representation sedimented in the gospel film genre and starting from scratch. Risking fragmentation and incoherence, he adopted a variety of expressive strategies and a multiplicity of often contrasting styles to create a socially-committed, quasi-Marxist version of the Gospel preached by a harsh and uncompromising Christ who was in many ways a revolutionary and a provocateur not unlike Pasolini himself. (3) In an interview with Oswald Stack at the time Pasolini admitted that “Catholics come out of the film feeling a bit shaken up, feeling that I have made Christ bad. He’s not bad in fact, he’s just full of contradictions”. (4) As usual, however, a Pasolini film ignited polemics; this time the work was praised by international Catholic organizations like the OCIC (Office Catholique International du Cinéma) which awarded it its Venice prize but was severely attacked by left-wing critics who accused it of pietism and hagiography. In spite of all the controversy, or perhaps in part because of it, the film did bring Pasolini his first international recognition.

Before filming the Gospel, however, Pasolini had taken the unusual step of actually making a documentary film on Italians’ attitude to sex. Entitled Comizi d’amore (1964) the film consisted largely of Pasolini himself travelling from the North to the South of Italy, asking pertinent questions about sexual habits, homosexuality, divorce and abortion of Italians of all ages, gender and social class. At several stages in the film writer Alberto Moravia and psychoanalist Cesare Musatti were invited to comment on the answers given to these provocative questions and on what it said about Italy as a whole. The film remains an interesting document and testifies to Pasolini’s great “love of Reality” even if, ultimately, the question of whether it had uncovered the “real” Italy was left unanswered. (5) Yet if Comizi d’amore suggested that Italy was still, in many ways, both backward and fragmented, the country had certainly changed, and for what Pasolini thought was the worse. Pasolini’s long-held faith in the possibility of a Marxist-style revolution guided by Gramscian “organic” intellectuals had by now begun to falter, and the first signs of this ideological crisis surfaced in the genial Uccellacci e uccellini (1966).

Footage of Palmiro Togliatti's funeral as seen in Uccellacci

A fractured fairy-tale with touches of Brecht and Bunuel, intermixing Chaplin and silent comedy with Neapolitan farce, Uccellacci is both picaresque adventure and filmic essay. Pasolini himself called it an “ideo-comedy”. A father and his son, played by veteran Italian comic actor, Totò, and Ninetto Davoli, walk along a road at the outskirts of Rome. They are soon joined by a Talking Crow who hails from the Land of Ideology, born of Father Doubt and Mother Consciousness. As they travel, the Crow, like a true left intellectual, continues to ask questions, make weighty pronouncements and provide a running socio-political commentary. At one stage, as a sort of pedagogical example, he recounts the medieval story of Brother Ciccillo and Brother Ninetto, sent by St. Francis to preach God’s message of love to the Hawks and the Sparrows. After much effort the brothers manage to learn the language of the birds and succeed in preaching the message of universal love to both groups individually. In the end, however, when they come into contact with each other, the Hawks still continue to prey on the Sparrows. The moral of the story might be, as St. Francis says when they report it to him, “one needs to change the World”, but is that still possible? Having appeared in the medieval fable, Totò and Ninetto are returned to their present journey along the road where, after several other encounters, they witness the funeral of PCI leader, Palmiro Togliatti (presented using documentary footage). Soon after, however, having grown tired of the Crow’s incessant commentary, they unceremoniously kill and eat it, and walk off into the distance. A fitting but open-ended conclusion, perhaps, which seems to bear out the sense of the epigraph with which the film opens (and which purports to be the gist of an interview between Edgar Snow and Mao Tse-tung): “Dove va l’umanità? Boh.” (Where is humanity heading? Who the heck knows?).

Pasolini would use Totò and Ninetto again for two other charming short fables, La terra vista dalla luna (1966) and Che sono le nuvole? (1967) but at this point, with the intellectual’s guiding role in any possible social revolution in severe question and with the borgate themselves rapidly becoming colonised by an ethos of consumerism and mass culture, Pasolini shifted his focus backwards to a mythic time and place when ritual and a sense of the sacred still held sway. The result was Edipo re, a remarkable adaptation of Sophocles’ great tragedy which was brilliant in its creation of a promordial, archaic and a-historical mythopoetic setting, completely outside the recognizable iconography of ancient Greek culture (the film was, in fact, mostly shot in Morocco). But the film was also remarkable in the way it succeeded in adapting Sophocles’ tragedy both objectively (most of the text was actually conserved) and subjectively, to express Pasolini’s own oedipal conflict with his father. A prologue and an epilogue set respectively in 1922 and in postwar Bologna serve to relate the Oedipus myth both to modern times and to Pasolini himself, thus effectively creating what Pasolini himself called a “kind of completely metaphoric – and therefore mythicised – autobiography”. (6)

Pasolini would return to this mythic setting in his adaptation of Medea in 1969 where he would use the tragic and ill-fated relationship between Medea and Jason to express the clash between an archaic culture based on magic and a sense of sacred violence, and its inevitable destruction at the hands of a modernising, rationalistic culture. For Pasolini this clash was still going on, in Italy in the inarrestible destruction of traditional peasant culture by the spread of neocapitalist consumerism and in the world at large in the exploitation of the Third World. Thus, around this time, throwing down the gauntlet to the all-conquering consumer ethos which he so despised, Pasolini consciously set out to make a number of “difficult” films that would remain “unconsumable” and “indigestible” for the great mass of Italians and accessible only to a cultural èlite.

The first of these consciously “difficult” films was Teorema (1968) which Pasolini had already published as a novel. In the film an enigmatic, handsome stranger, played by Terence Stamp, introduces himself into the home of a bourgeois Milanese family and proceeds over a short period to physically and emotionally seduce all of them, including the maid. Then, as abruptly and mysteriously as he arrived, he departs, leaving all of them to cope with the existential void that he has opened up in their previously complacent existence. Pasolini himself said that the film was allegory for the irruption of a sense of authenticity into the lives of an alienated bourgeoisie and predictably all four members of the bourgeois family (father, mother, daughter and son) deteriorate into states approaching madness although Emilia, the maid, returns to her peasant village and, after a period of penitence, performs a number of miracles and achieves sainthood. The film ends with the haunting image of the father, having given away his factory to the workers and having taken off all his clothes, running naked and screaming through a biblical desert landscape. The film’s powerful indictment of the sterility of contemporary bourgeois values was immediately recognised by no less than the jury of the OCIC (Office Catholique Internationale du Cinéma) which awarded it its prize at Venice. This decision, however, was immediately and violently contested by the rest of the Catholic authorities who soon had the film withdrawn and its author formally charged with obscenity. Pasolini was before the courts for two years before the charges were finally dismissed and the film formally released in 1970. By this time, however, he had already gone on to make what is probably his most “indigestible” film before Salò (1975).


Porcile (1969) represents the apex of Pasolini’s “difficult” period, a difficulty that here probably derives, at least in part, from Pasolini’s own very mixed response to the student uprisings of 1968. Comic and horrific at the same time, Porcile tells two separate stories simultaneously through alternating montage. In one story, set on the barren slopes of a volcano, a young man leads a feral existence, carrying out acts of unmitigated savagery which include murder and cannibalism. Gradually he’s joined by a number of other people who form a small group around him and which continues to prey on people passing through the area until a trap is set up by the soldiers from a nearby village. The group is caught and the men are condemned to death. While one becomes contrite and kneels to kiss the crucifix, the original leader is unrepentant and before dying shouts repeatedly: “I’ve killed my father; I’ve eaten human flesh; I tremble with joy”. The second story, its polar opposite in a way, is set in contemporary Germany and revolves around Julian, the son of the powerful industrialist, Herr Klotz. Julian has a secret which he won’t divulge but which is preventing him from either going to a student demonstration in Berlin with his fiance Ida or joining his father’s business. It turns out that Julian’s secret is that he likes to have sex with the pigs. The secret is discovered by Klotz’ competitor, Herr Herditze, an ex-Nazi criminal, who attempts to blackmail Klotz with it. Klotz attempts to counter-blackmail by threatening to reveal Herditze’ past. Eventually, as true capitalists, the two decide to join forces rather than fight each other but as they celebrate their future partnership news is brought in that Julian has been eaten by the pigs. On being reassured that not a trace of the boy remains, the two men agree to just keep silent. In attempting to throw light on this dark allegory, Pasolini himself claimed to identify with both the young men, saying that the ultimate message of the film was that all societies devour their own children, therefore an a-political anarchism would be the only viable political stand. It’s difficult to believe that Pasolini was really advocating a complete abandonment of politics at this time since his Appunti per an Oresteaide Africana (1970) — a sort of travel documentary on Africa but in reality a sort of critical history of that country’s yoke under colonialism — shows him still passionately interested in at least the politics of the Third World.

Nevertheless Pasolini’s next films would be the three elegant literary adaptations of Il Decameron (1971), I racconti di Canterbury (1972) and Il fiore delle mille e una notte (1974), which he would group together under the title of the “Trilogy of Life” and which he would originally characterise as his most “non-political” films. Lavish in their costumes and settings and splendidly-photographed, with non-professionals chosen, as in the borgate days, for their stunningly-expressive faces and powerful screen presences, these were thoroughly “consumable” films and in fact provided Pasolini with his greatest ever commercial success. Later on, contrary as ever, Pasolini would suggest that, in another way, these were also his “most political” films, the politics here being not ideological but sexual, there in the erotic, sexually-energised human body which was being everywhere celebrated in these films and which Pasolini claimed was the only site to have yet escaped domination by consumer capitalism. However, the runaway commercial success and popularity of the films, coupled with the hundreds of soft-porn imitations which were allowed to flood the market in their wake, forced Pasolini to rethink the extent to which the sexualised human body could have been said to have escaped being colonised by consumerism, the result of this rethinking being a public “abjuration” of the Trilogy, printed as the introduction to the published screenplays.

But the most thorough abjuration of the Trilogy of Life was undoubtedly Pasolini’s next and final film, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma.. The film was released (and then, predictably, immediately withdrawn under charges of obscenity) only two weeks after Pasolini’s brutal murder at the hands of a young male prostitute, and the gruesome murder of its author inevitably came to colour interpretations of the film itself. It is certainly Pasolini’s most difficult and most claustrophobic film, its cold crystalline cinematic precision — a correlate of its relentless logic and its implacable representational cruelty — making it something of an anomaly among Pasolini’s usually more loosely structured expressionistic films. Yet in essence, as a tighly-constructured but transparent allegory, it’s a return to the style of films like Porcile and Teorema, with the Sadean text and the reference to Fascism functioning as the pretext for an uncompromising representation of the unbridled exercise of Power over bodies, effectively of bodies commodified and reduced to things. If in the Trilogy Pasolini had, naively perhaps, celebrated bodies and sex as indices of a profound vitality and touchstones of authenticity here, in the most total reversal, bodies become mere sites for the inarrestible imposition of power, for what Pasolini himself called Power’s own anarchy.

The unmitigated bleakness and nihilism of this vision is clearly a far cry not only from the celebration of the body in the Trilogy but also from the possibility of an outside to dominant power in the borgate films or an elsewhere to neocapitalist consumerism expressed in the adaptation of the Greek plays. Yet this utter desperation and lack of hope represented Pasolini’s response to what he saw as a corrupted and degraded Italian reality around him in the mid-1970s. As he was making Salò, in fact, Pasolini was also calling from his column in the Corriere della sera for the arrest and trial of all the major Italian Christian Democrat politians for their part in Italy’s degradation. More difficult to ascertain, however, is the question of how far this nihilistic and depairing vision, expressed so uncompromisingly in this final film, may have contributed to Pasolini’s own death. Leaving aside whether or not he was killed as part of a conspiracy, did he, perhaps, after months of filming those atrocious scenes, go out that night in November seeking his own death? But perhaps this is to phrase the question wrongly since Death was ever present in Pasolini’s cinema: most of the figures in Pasolini’s films live against Death and eventually succumb to it. Accattone dies, Ettore dies, Stracci dies, Julian dies eaten by pigs and Christ, of course, also dies. And Death even found a place in Pasolini’s film theory. In an interview around the time of Edipo re Pasolini suggested that:

Cinema is identical to life, because each one of us has a virtual and invisible camera which follows us from when we’re born to when we die. In reality cinema is an infinite film sequence-shot. Each individual film interrupts and rearranges this infinite sequence-shot and thus creates meaning, which is what happens to us when we die. It is only at our moment of death that our life, to that point undecipherable, ambiguous, suspended, acquires a meaning. Montage thus plays the same role in cinema as death does in life. (7)

Apart from the extraordinary achievement of individual films, then, this may be the ultimate fascination that Pasolini and his cinema still retain for us: not only a provocative, heretical, scandalous cinema that proposes both Marxism and a sense of the sacred, both revolution and a return to myth but also and above all a complete coincidence between Cinema and Life, Art and Reality.

Pier Paolo Pasolini


Accattone (1961)

Mamma Roma (1962)

La ricotta (1963) short, 35 mins; episode of compilation-film, RoGoPaG

La rabbia (Rage) (1963) short, 53 mins

Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings) (1964)

Sopralluoghi in Palestina (1964) short, documentary, 52 mins

Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) (1964)

Uccellacci e uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows) (1966)

La terra vista dalla luna (The Earth Seen From the Moon) (1967) short, 31 mins; episode of compilation-film, Le Streghe (Witches)

Edipo re (Oedipus) (1967)

Che cosa sono le nuvole (What are Clouds?) (1968) short, 22 mins; episode of Capriccio all’italiana

Teorema (1968)

Appunti per un film sull’India (Notes for a Film on India) (1969) short, 35 mins

La sequenza del fiore di carta (The Sequence of the Paper Flower) (1969) short, 11 mins; episode of compilation-film, Amore e rabbia (Love and Anger)

Porcile (Pigsty) (1969)

Il Decameron

Appunti per un’Orestiade africana (Notes for an African Oresteia) (1970) 63 mins

Medea (1969)

Il Decameron (The Decameron) (1971)

Le mura di Sana’a (The Walls of Sana’a ) (1971) short, documentary, 13 mins; broadcast on RAI TV in 1971; first theatrical showing 1974

I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales) (1972)

Il fiore delle mille e una notte (The Thousand and One Nights) (1974) also known as The Arabian Nights

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò or the Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom) (1975)

Films about Pasolini:

Pasolini, un delitto italiano (1995) Dir: Marco Tullio Giordana; also known as Who Killed Pasolini?, feature film on the death of Pasolini

Pasolini enragè (1966) Dir: Jean-André Fieschi; TV documentary in series Cinéma de notre temps

Wie de Waarheid Zegt Moet Dood (1981) Dir: Philo Bregstein; also known as Whoever tells the Truth Shall Die, Dutch documentary on the life and death of Pasolini

Select Bibliography

Zygmunt Baranski (ed.), Pasolini Old and New: Surveys and Studies, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1999

Luciano De Giusti, I film di Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rome, Gremese, 1983

Naomi Greene, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy, Princeton University Press, 1990

Gary Indiana, Salò or the Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, London, BFI, 2000

John J. Michalczyk, “Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Epical-Religious Cinema of Political Sexuality”, The Italian Political Filmmakers, London and Toronto, Associated University Presses, 1986

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, trans. Ben Lawton and Kate L. Barnett, Indiana University Press, Bloomington,1988; translation of Empirismo eretico, Garzanti, Milan, 1972

Mark Rappaport, “The Autobiography of Pasolini”, Film Quarterly, vol 56, no. 1, Fall 2002

Angelo Restivo, The Cinema of Economic Miracles: Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art Film, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2002

Sam Rohdie, The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1996

Patrick Rumble, Allegories of Contamination: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1996

Enzo Siciliano, Pasolini: A Biography, introduced by Paul Bailey, translated from the Italian by John Shepley, London: Bloomsbury, 1987

Oswald Stack, Pasolini on Pasolini, London, Thames and Hudson/The British Film Institute, 1969

Maurizio Viano, A Certain Realism: Making Use of Pasolini’s Film Theory and Practice , Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Salò: 15 years of Vision by Alberto Pezzotta

In the Extreme: Pasolini’s Salò by Bill Mousoullis

The Canterbury Tales by Gino Moliterno

Accatone by Gino Moliterno

Web Resources

Compiled by Albert Fung

Paolo Pasolini and his mother

Film Directors – Articles on the Internet
Links to many articles. Just scroll down.

Life and Works of Pier Paolo Pasolini
Italian website dedicated to Pasolini. The biography is available in English.

Paolo Pasolini
Contains information on his films, books and links to related sites.

Quo Vadis? The Cinema and the Fate of Paolo Pasolini
Curious site.

Click here to search for Paolo Pasolini DVDs, videos and books at


  1. Zygmunt Baranski (ed.), Pasolini Old and New: Surveys and Studies, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1999, p. 15
  2. For Pasolini’s theoretical writings on the cinema see Heretical Empirism. Pasolini’s film theory has been widely discussed but perhaps the best concise critical outline in English is Christopher Wagstaff’s essay, “Reality into Poetry: Pasolini’s Film Theory”, in Zygmunt Baranski, op.cit., pp. 185-207. The best and most illuminating short treatment in Italian is undoubtedly Roberto De Gaetano, “Pasolino teorico”, Bianco e Nero, 6/2000, pp. 5-21.
  3. Pasolini chose Enrique Irazoqui, a left-wing Spanish student who had come to interview him, to play the part of Christ. Ironically, Irazoqui was officially harassed when he returned to Spain for having acted in a “Marxist” film.
  4. Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack, London: Thames and Hudson/The BFI, 1969, p. 87
  5. or an extensive and illuminating discussion of this “minor” film in the context of Pasolini’s other films see Angelo Restivo, The Cinema of Economic Miracles: Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art film, Durnham and London: Duke University Press, 2002. Significantly, after years of neglect, the film recently received a public screening in Rome as part of a 4 day cultural event titled “Poetiche della Realtà: Visioni Italiane fra Arti e Culture” (Complesso di San Michele, 4-7 November 2002). It was shown together with Comizi d’Amore 2000, a documentary by Bruno Bignoni which attempted to repeat Pasolini’s survey by asking the same questions of Italians in the year 2000.
  6. Pasolini on Pasolini, p. 120
  7. Pasolini, “Ora tutto è chiaro, voluto, non imposto dal destino”, Cineforum 68 October 1967, p. 609, but see also Wagstaff’s discussion of Pasolini’s film theory, art. cit.

About The Author

Gino Moliterno is Convenor of Film Studies at the Australian National University (Canberra). He is also General Editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Contemporary Italian Culture, and has recently authored the Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema for Scarecrow Press (2008).