A multi-venue series highlights edgy filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini
With their unprecedented amounts of full nudity, offering up sexuality (and normal, imperfect bodies) as something simply natural rather than prurient, each portion of this "phallocentric" trio was instantly notorious. The films became his greatest commercial successes — though curiously he later abjured them, partly out of guilt that so many actors' "innocent bodies [had] been violated, manipulated, and enslaved by consumerist power." Who but Pasolini would be depressed by having hits?
That shift from comparative joie de vivre back to bleak commentary on social injustice resulted in unintended swansong Salò, a grueling depiction of classist sadism that usefully transfers the Marquis de Sade's infamous Bastille-written 1785 120 Days of Sodom to the bitter end of Italy's World War II-losing fascist era. While in the literary original aristocratic children were kidnapped to be abused by decadent church and secular power mongers, here it's pointedly spawn of the anti-fascist peasant underclass (all actors assuredly 18-or-plus to avoid prosecution).
The characters forced into ever-escalating sexual and violent degradations to survive, no mercy is spared. Salò remains banned in several countries, notably Asian and Middle Eastern ones. Its largely naked, helpless "young victim" cast (who apparently thoroughly enjoyed the filming, having no idea just how fucked up the material was) proved Pasolini's last instance of drafting nonprofessionals who struck his eye. As a showcase for such raw talent, it was second only to a film he'd made a decade earlier: 1964's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, a gritty, black-and-white riposte to the garish CinemaScope Biblical epics of the era. Ironically, that film by a Commie atheist fag remains one of the cinematic depictions of Christ most highly regarded by believers.
Nearly all these movies featured his favorite discoveries Davoli and Franco Citti, the former an endearing comic goofball, the latter a smoldering hunk usually cast as amoral evildoer. Both enjoyed long careers after their mentor died. Their very different types of screen charisma remain high among the delights that Pasolini's cinema offers today. Davoli will be on hand at the Castro and Roxie screenings. Given his guileless, antic persona in the films, it's a fair bet he'll be a riot in person. *
PIER PAOLO PASOLINI
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF
Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St, SF
Sept. 20-Oct. 31, $5.50-$9.50
Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.
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