The Artist's Life And The Meaning Of Death

Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of the most influential and controversial filmmakers of the 20th century. His brutal murder left an intellectual space in western culture that has not been filled since.
Pasolini on the set of the film Accattone in Rome, 1961.

On November 23, 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last movie premiered at the Paris Film Festival, and immediately garnered a reputation as the most gruelling, and least watchable, motion picture entertainment of all time. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, took the lubricious catalogue of torture and depravity lovingly detailed in the Marquis de Sade’s infamous 1785 novel and transposed it to Mussolini’s Italy, where a group of eminent libertines confines a group of teenagers in a villa and subjects them to... well, here are some ‘highlights’ from the film’s Wikipedia page: “Three-way intercourse... eating his faeces with a spoon... the President leaves to masturbate... branding, hanging, scalping, burning.” “Literally nauseous,” read one review; Mary Poppins, this clearly wasn’t. Pasolini wasn’t around to see the film’s unveiling or the appalled reaction; his mutilated body had been found in a vacant lot in Ostia, a suburb of Rome, three weeks before. The assumed killer was a 17-year-old hustler that the 53-year-old had apparently cruised. People were quick to attribute a death wish to Pasolini, which Salò made abundantly, lip-smackingly manifest (“He has become the victim of his own characters,” opined his fellow director Michelangelo Antonioni). But while he was disgusted with the direction post-war Italy had taken — he saw the country’s boom as an irreversible blight, turning the masses into mindless consumers and creating a slavish monoculture — Pasolini was no nihilist. In fact, he’d spent his life wriggling free of any -isms that would claim him for their own.


Stuart Husband


June 2023


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