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Pasolini, Pier Paolo (1922-1975)  

Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of the great Marxist homosexual artists of our time. As such, he met trouble throughout his career as both a writer and a filmmaker. His sexuality--or rather, that he was not closeted about it--consistently offended not only the Roman Catholic orthodoxy of post-war Italy but also the Marxist establishment. His Marxism offended Catholics, while his interest in Christian culture irritated Communists.

Rather than feeling despondent, Pasolini thrived on the controversy he stirred wherever he turned. His was a dialectical genius that did not create work out of thin air: It depended on a process of provocation and response.

Born in Bologna in 1922, Pasolini was brought up in his mother's birthplace in rural Friuli. There, when he was sixteen, one of his teachers introduced him to the works of Arthur Rimbaud; his response was to begin to see poetry's potential for cultural opposition to Fascism, not to mention its capacity to give voice to sexual unorthodoxy.

Pasolini's own first poems, written in Friulian dialect, were published in 1942 and well received. During the war, he started working as a teacher in a local school. Even though his brother Guido had been shot by Communist partisans in 1945, Pasolini soon joined the regional branch of the Party.

On September 30, 1949, he met up with three local boys and went into the bushes with them. The outcome of this uncomplicated--and not isolated--event was that he was subsequently arrested for "corruption of minors and obscene acts in a public place." He was immediately suspended from his job and expelled from the Communist Party.

His notebooks and diaries from this period--Atti impuri and Amado mio--as well as the novel that he drafted at this time but published later, Il sogno di una cosa (1962; A Dream of Something, 1988), capture the atmosphere of the region and the era in their representations of the political activities and loves--homo- and heterosexual--of Friulian boys.

Most of Pasolini's fiction and much of his poetry is shaped by his fascination with the lives of subproletarian youths, first in Friuli and then in the sprawling outskirts of Rome. His political stances were, likewise, often based on what he knew of the lives of the "ragazzi di vita."

Largely as a result of the 1949 scandal, Pasolini moved to Rome early in 1950. He soon began writing about the Roman boys, many of them the kinds of hustlers and small-time crooks whose company both frightened and delighted him and whom he would later give bit-parts in his films.

Stories from this period appear in Ali dagli occhi azzuri (1965; selections in Roman Nights, 1986). Both of his major novels appeared during this same burst of activity: Ragazzi di vita (1955; The Ragazzi, 1968) and Una vita violenta (1959; A Violent Life, 1968). The former caused a scandal on the grounds of its supposed obscenity; both scandalized commentators on the left who were unused to such unsentimental, neo-realist representations of the working class.

Pasolini's celebrations of young masculinity in all its cruelty, scatology, and eroticism were clearly out of step with the idealizing mythologies that emanated from both the Vatican and Moscow.

As Pasolini was gradually drawn into the intellectual community of Rome in the 1950s, he inevitably met and began to collaborate with some of the new-wave Italian filmmakers as well as writers. From working on screenplays, he soon graduated to directing his own films. The first, Accattone, appeared in 1961. Although he went on writing for the rest of his life, he devoted more and more attention to the cinema.

Occasionally, both processes were combined: Teorema, for instance, appeared simultaneously as both film and novel (1968; Theorem, 1992). The film provoked another obscenity scandal in its account of a young male guest who systematically bewitches and seduces all the members of a bourgeois family, female and male alike.

As a filmmaker, Pasolini had a particularly literary talent. Certainly, many of his greatest films are adaptations of written texts, from the "proletarian" account of The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964), through the "Trilogy of Life" based on The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), and The Arabian Nights (1973), to his extraordinary last film Salo (1975), in which he set the dying days of Italian Fascism in a graphic version of the Marquis de Sade's pornographic divine comedy, The 120 Days of Sodom.

Even the most popular of these works have a strong thematic continuity with Pasolini's poetry and his critical and theoretical writings. The intensity of his erotic interests informs them all.

Despite his reputation for sexual radicalism, Pasolini's attitudes were in many respects downright reactionary, led by nostalgia. He regretted the increasing independence of young Italian girls on the grounds that, once they ceased to be confined to their family homes in a state of purdah, boys would become less available for homosexual encounters.

He opposed both contraception and abortion because they, too, facilitated heterosexual relations among the young and undermined the traditional Italian tolerance of casual sexual encounters between unmarried young men. It may be that in his admiration for Saint Paul as a writer-revolutionary, Pasolini allowed himself to be too readily persuaded by Pauline misogyny.

Although there are plenty of conspiracy theories to argue otherwise, Pasolini was murdered in 1975 by a hustler he had picked up at Rome's central station and driven out to the beach at Ostia.

[In 2005, following the recantation of the confession by the man convicted of Pasolini's murder 30 years previously, Italian officials opened a new investigation into Pasolini's death, raising anew the possibility that he may have been assassinated.]

Gregory Woods


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A drawing of Pier Paolo Pasolini.
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Ireland, Doug. "Restoring Pasolini: Thirty Years Later, New Questions Arise about Who Murdered the Italian Cultural Giant." LA Weekly (August 5-11, 2005):

Rohdie, Sam. The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini Requiem. New York: Pantheon, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Woods, Gregory  
    Entry Title: Pasolini, Pier Paolo  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 13, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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