Monday, November 2, 2015

On the 40th Anniversary of Pasolini's Death

Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a director whose work – in particular, his film Teorema -- has meant a lot to me as both as a person who learned to watch films intentionally largely on my own, and as a person whose political thinking required a heavy amount of mediation in the form of arts prior to engaging in any form of action.

I came to Pasolini through Teorema, which I heard of from a friend in relation to Takashi Miike, who remade the film (in a way, at least) as his own Visitor Q. I barely remember my own reaction to Q, in all the subsequent years of talking about it as a "shocking" film. Miike is, perhaps, for another day.

Pasolini seems, at least in what I see talked about, best remembered for his Salò, an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom which set it in the dying moments of fascist Italy. Pasolini may have been the only director in history who could adapt de Sade's novel in a way that would be remotely interesting. I remember it being only that, though, the one time I managed to see it.

Pasolini's other work – his Gospel According to St. Matthew, and Oedipus Rex, perhaps most of all – have stuck with me in moments, and in images and in particular textures of ambiguity and emptiness. It is his Teorema, though, that holds sway over my imagination, that continues to teach me how to see films and how to live in the world.

Teorema is a film about small, wide open spaces; a bourgeois mansion, a church garden, a factory floor. It is slow, but everyone runs everywhere, though they haven't very far to go. It begins with its ending, and nearly ends with the same; images of class struggle and revolutionary overthrow without the agents of history, being recuperated by the media. Teorema is a religious film, unafraid of abstractions, that cuts to the desert to stand in for sex and sets its bourgeois father there in climax, where the penitent servant performs miracles, and the son holds forth on theories of art that instrumentalize his own incompetence.

It is also a film that refuses that other kind of abstraction, that would remove it from the struggle of factory floors, even as it demands its own ambivalence to that struggle in its particularity.

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