The Lost Pasolini Interview

Pier Paolo Pasolini

On October 30, 1975, three days before he was murdered, Pier Paolo Pasolini was in Stockholm to present what was to be his last film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, to Swedish critics. A roundtable discussion was recorded with the intent of turning it into a radio broadcast but news of the filmmaker's death oddly resulted in the withholding of the recording rather than, as would surely happen today, an immediate publication. Eventually, the recording was lost, but as Eric Loret and Robert Maggiori tell the story in Libération, Pasolini's Swedish translator, Carl Henrik Svenstedt, a passionate archivist, recently discovered his own private copy. In December, the Italian newsweekly L'espresso posted the audio recording and published an Italian transcript. Here, for the first time, is an English translation. After a couple of informal questions, the roundtable officially opens with "Ladies and gentlemen…"

What do you know about Swedish cinema?

I know Bergman, like all other Italian intellectuals. I don't know anyone else. I've heard the names of other Swedish filmmakers but I don't know their films.

Never seen them?

Never. Rome is a terrible city. There are independent cinemas but the occasions to watch them are very rare.

You don't have independent cinemas in Rome?

We do, just a couple. It's not like Paris.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Pasolini is here to present his new film. He just finished it and it's about Sodom…

I think this is the first time I've made a film for which the original idea wasn't mine. The film was proposed to Sergio Citti and as usual I was helping him to write the screenplay. As we went along, Citti began losing interest in the film while I was more and more in love with it, especially since I had the idea to set the film in '45, during the last days of the Republic of Salo. Citti started thinking about another script and abandoned the project all together. And given that I was in love with this project, I completed it. Being based on De Sade, this film revolves around the representation of sex. But this aspect has changed in relation to my last three films that I call "the trilogy of life": The Decameron, Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights. In this new film, sex is nothing but an allegory of the commodification of bodies at the hands of power. I think that consumerism manipulates and violates bodies as much as Nazism did. My film represents this sinister coincidence between Nazism and consumerism. Well, I don't know if audiences will grasp this since the film presents itself in rather enigmatic way, almost like a miracle play, where the sacred word retains its Latin meaning of "cursed."

Why did you choose the year 1945 for your film?

I wanted to represent the end of a world, past glory days. It was a poetic choice—I could have set it in '38, in '39 or '37, but it would've been less poetic.

What's poetic about that period?

Decadence and twilight are inherently poetic. Had I set it in the heyday of Nazism, it would've been an intolerable movie. To know that all this took place in the last days and that it would soon be over gives the spectator a sense of relief. Substantially this is a film about "true anarchy," that is, the anarchy of power.

You are a poet and a filmmaker. Is there a relation between these two roles?

As far as I'm concerned, there is a profound unity between the two of them. It's as if I were a bilingual writer.

What is the title of your new film?

The title is Salò, the name of a town by the Garda Lake, which was the capital of the Fascist Republic. It's a multipurpose title. There is an ambiguity to it: the complete title will be Salò and the 120 days of Sodom. Anyway, there is no historical reconstruction of that era, no truly historical relation: there are no Mussolini portraits; no one does the Roman salute. It's all given.

How do you fund your films? Are they commercially successful?

The funding process is the normal one. I have a producer.

You don't have problems?

I don't have problems since only Porcile and Medea were commercial flops. All the others did well at the box office. Accattone was the crucial one. It didn't do super well, but good enough for a beginner. Ever since then, I haven't had any problems.

Do you work totally within the commercial system?

Yes, totally.

Does this mean that one can make very personal and very poetic films within the "system"?

Yes, in Italy is possible. I'm not the only one. Fellini, for example, does it too.

You and Fellini are very established directors. Is it the same for a 25-year-old filmmaker?

It's hard for young people, but that applies to all professions. A young doctor, for instance, struggles as much. In most instances, directors like myself help young ones to get started, like I did with Bernardo Bertolucci. Perhaps Bergman, if he had faith in some young director, could help him/her to make a movie.

Since you have the possibility to make movies within the "system," how do you choose your themes? Do you enjoy the same freedom you have when writing poetry or you need to keep the audience in mind? Isn't it a problem?

This is neither a moral, political nor a practical problem. It is an aesthetic one insofar as it concerns the metrics and the prosody of a film that in turn influence the readability and "simplicity" of it. Let me be clearer: let's take into consideration the extreme case of an avant-garde film, an "illegible" one as Philippe Sollers would say, and a literary text of the same kind. Well, between the two of them the film is definitely more legible. There is a higher grade of simplicity and readability that is inherent to the cinematographic technique itself.

Is it possible in Italy to keep making movies if you're not commercially successful?

It can happen that, in spite of not being successful, one can try again as long as failure is strictly commercial and the film has a certain quality.

Have you bid farewell to the realism of your first features for good?

I don't agree with this. After 15 years in Italy, they finally showed Accattone on TV. We realized it is not a realist film at all. It's a dream, it's an oneiric movie.

Didn't they consider it a realistic film in Italy?

Yes, but it was a misunderstanding. When I made it, I knew I was doing a very lyrical film, not oneiric as it now seems, but deeply lyrical. I used that soundtrack and shot it in a certain way for a reason. Then what happened was that the realistic world I drew inspiration from for Accattone disappeared; it is no longer there, so the film is a dream of that world.

Mamma Roma is realist…

Mamma Roma is more realistic than Accattone, maybe. I should watch it again. It is less accomplished, less beautiful and that's because it is less dream-like.

What is your training in cinema?

I've got none. I've trained by watching films, starting with two great and precise passions, Charlie Chaplin and Kenzo Mizoguchi [sic]. They are the two poles within which everything happens in my films. In fact, my movies are a mix of what stylists call "comic" and "sublime," intended here as stylistic categories. Even in Oedipus Rex, which is supposed to be a highly stylistic and sublime work, the comic aspect sneaks in. In fact, I have always seen reality in cinema as a comic element. But we have to be careful to not attribute too ordinary a meaning to the term "comic."

You have been and still are a writer. How did you decide to make movies?

It's a long story. When I was a boy, 18 or 19 years old, for a while I wanted to be a director. Then the war came along and abolished any hope and possibility. I found myself in a series of circumstances: I published my first novel, Ragazzi di Vita, which was rather successful in Italy, and subsequently, I was asked to work on screenplays. When I shot Accattone, it was the first time I laid my hands on a movie camera. I hadn't even ever taken a photograph. To this day, I cannot take good pictures.

Where do you see yourself in the future? More in cinema or literature?

At the moment I'm thinking about making a couple of more films and then to dedicate myself completely to literature again.

Are you being honest?

In this precise moment I am. I hope to be honest.

Is the act of shooting a movie tiresome? It seems, though, that in Italy it is more pleasant. Do Italians have more fun?

I have lot of fun. It's a marvelous game. It is very tiresome, especially for me being a cameraman, too, having to carry the camera all the time. So it's a muscular effort too, but it's still great fun.

How is your crew? Are there loads of people?

No, it's as small as possible.

Do you always shoot in 35mm?

Yes, always in 35mm.

Does it take a long time to learn?

You learn everything in 15 minutes.

You prefer non-professional actors. How do you work? Do you look for a setting and then choose the people?

No, it's not exactly like this. If my film is set in a working class environment, I choose ordinary working men and women, non-professional actors, since I believe it's impossible for a middle-class actor to pretend to be a peasant or a factory worker. It would sound false in an intolerable way. But if I make a film set in a bourgeois milieu, since I cannot ask a lawyer or an engineer to act for me, then I pick professional actors. Naturally, I'm referring to Italy, how it was ten years ago. If I were in Sweden, I would probably always use actors since there is no difference anymore between a middle class and a working class man there. I'm talking about physical differences; in Italy, there is the same difference between the middle and working class as there is between a white and a black man.

In your last film, there are no religious elements, is that right?

I'm not sure there were not religious elements in my last films. In Arabian Nights, for example, there is a religious tone throughout the film. There wasn't any denominational religiosity, any straight religious theme, but a mystical and irrational situation was there for sure. The "Ninetto" episode, which is the central part of the film…

Have you taken part in a dialogue between Marxists and Catholics in Italy?

There are no more Marxists and Catholics in Italy—there are no more Catholics in Italy.

Can you explain the situation to us then?

In Italy, there was a revolution, and it was the first one in its history, while other capitalist countries have had at least four or five revolutions which have unified the [respective] countries. I'm thinking of the monarchic unification, the Lutheran Reformation, the French Revolution and the first industrial revolution. Italy instead had its first one with the second industrial revolution, namely consumerism, and that has radically changed Italian culture in anthropological terms. Before that, the difference between the middle and the working class was as marked as that between two races. Now it's almost vanished. And the culture that has been destroyed the most is the rural one, that is, the peasants. So the Vatican does not have this mass of Catholic peasants behind it anymore. Churches are empty; seminaries, too. If you come to Rome, you don't see clerical students walking the streets anymore, and in the last two elections, the secular vote has triumphed. Marxists, too, have been anthropologically changed by the consumer revolution. They live differently, have a different lifestyle, different cultural models and their ideology changed as well.

Are they Marxists and consumerists at the same time?

There is this contradiction—all those who consider themselves either Marxists or Communists are consumerists, too. Even the Italian Communist Party has accepted this development.

When you refer to Marxists, are you referring to the Communist Party or other factions?

Whatever. Communists, Socialists, hardliners. For example, Italian hardliners plant bombs and then watch TV in the evening.

Does a society divided into classes still exist?

Classes are still there but—and this is the Italian peculiarity—the class struggle is on the economic level and not on a cultural one anymore. Between a middle and a working class man the difference is economic, not cultural anymore.

What about the neo-fascist movement?

Fascism is over since it rested upon God, family, homeland and the army, which are now meaningless words. There are no more Italians who get emotional in front of the flag.

There is a general decay of Italian society today, isn't that true?

I consider consumerism a worse fascism than that the classical one, because clerical-fascism did not transform Italians. It did not get into them. It was totalitarian but not totalizing. I'll give you an example: fascism has tried for twenty years to eliminate dialects and it didn't succeed. Consumerism, which, on the contrary, pretends to be safeguarding dialects, is destroying them.

Do you think there is a certain balance between these different forces?

There is a chaotic balance.

Where does this chaos come from?

It's the Italian "growth" crisis. Italy swiftly passed from being an underdeveloped to a developed country. And it all happened within five, six or seven years. It's like taking a poor family and turning them into billionaires. They would lose their identity. Italians are going through a period in which their identity is being lost. All the other countries instead are either already developed and have gradually begun to [lose their identities] in the past two centuries or are like the Third World, pre-developed.

Be Tiresia. Make a prophecy. Is there hope for the future?

I should be Cassandra rather than Tiresia. I asked two Swedish guys I was talking to today whether they felt closer to a humanist or a technological civilization. They replied, rather sadly, that they feel like they're the first generation after about thirty generations that's any different from what has come before. To wrap up, everything I've said here represents my own views. If you speak with other Italians, they will tell you, "Oh, that crazy man, Pasolini."


Translated by:

@CLF_Project

Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an "open reputation" informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent cinephiles, transmedial terrorists, aesthetic dynamyters and random deviants. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands whose films have rarely been unseen.

Responses

8 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • johnsonisjohnson

    Genius man.

  • Bobby Wise

    Great interview. Maybe one day I’ll try to work through Pasolini’s cinema. I only saw “Teorema” and it was rough sledding for me.

  • ZED

    Thank you for posting this interview, it is invaluable. Artist as seer.

  • Daniel Humphrey

    This is such an important “find.” A real treasure trove of info for Pasolini scholars and enthusiasts.

  • mauricio arango

    Everybody should see some of his recorded interviews and TV debates on Youtube. His words still resonate in today’s world.

  • maria serena pasinetti

    thank you very much for posting it. I’m Italian and proud of a man like Pasolini.

  • Dan

    Bellisima intervista con Pasolini! Grazie mille!

    The great poet of Italian cinema who never gets enough praise.

  • Checkpoint Charlie

    8 months go by and somehow I never see this posting? Better late than never, Pasolini is not forgotten.

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