Pier Paolo Pasolini (March 5, 1922 - November 2, 1975) was a gay Italian poet, film director, and writer, who, in his films about the socially outcast and rebellious, frequently used amateur actors.
He was born in Bologna, traditionally the most left-wing of Italian cities, to the son of a soldier who became famous for having saved Mussolini's life.
Writing his first poems at age seven, his works were first published when he was 19. Very young, Pasolini would have belonged to the communist clubs of his town.
He was drafted in World War II, later imprisoned by the Germans, but managed to escape. After the war, he joined the Communist party, but was expelled two years later on the grounds of his homosexuality, which he publicly declared on many occasions. At the time, a public declaration of being gay could cause scandal among leftists as well. All the same, his world view remained essentially communist throughout his life.
His first novel, Ragazzi di Vita (1955), dealt with male prostitutes, pimps, and thieves, resulting in obscenity charges against him, the first of many instances where his art caused him legal problems.
Accattone! (1961), his first movie, also about the Roman underworld, likewise brought him into conflict with conservatives, who demanded stricter censorship.
Strangely, supported by the Catholic Church, he directed the black-and-white The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964), widely hailed the best cinematic adaptation of the life of Jesus, performed by Enrique Irazoqui. While making the film, Pasolini vowed to direct it from the "believer's point of view," but later, upon viewing the completed work, realized that he had expressed his own beliefs instead.
In Theorem (1968), starring Terence Stamp as a mysterious stranger, he depicted the sexual coming-apart of a bourgeois family (later to be repeated by Francois Ozon in Sitcom).
Later movies centered on sex-laden folklore, such as Arabian Nights (1974) and Boccaccio's The Decameron (1970).
His final work, SalÚ (1975), because of its scenes of intensely sado-masochistic graphic violence that went far beyond what most movie-goers could stomach at the time, continues to be his most controversial one. It was based on the novel by the Marquis de Sade.
In one of his last films, Uccellacci ed Uccellini, a sort of picaresque - and at the same time mystic - fable, he wanted the great Italian comedian TotÚ, to work with one of his preferred "naif" actors, Ninetto Davoli. It was a unique chance he gave TotÚ (the only one he received) to demonstrate that he was a great dramatic actor.
Pasolini, as a director, created a sort of second neorealism, which deeply and constantly touched picaresque tones, showing a sad reality - hidden, but real, concrete - which many social and political lobbies had no interest in seeing brought to light. Mamma Roma, with an extraordinary Anna Magnani, the story of a prostitute and his son, is an astonishing punch in the stomach for the common morality of those times. The doubt that Pasolini often inserted in his works, that such realities are less distant from us than we imagine, is one of his major contributions to a change in the Italian psyche, and an unrepeated example of poetry applied to cruel realities.
The director also promoted the concept of "natural sacredness" in his works, the concept that the world is holy in and of itself, and does not need any spiritual essence or supernatural blessing to attain this state. Indeed, Pasolini was an avowed atheist.
The contrast between public opinion and what Pasolini was able to show, focused on sexual moralism, was perhaps what made him encounter general disapproval and effectively he was perhaps the man who most suffered cultural discrimination for his homosexuality.
Pasolini's poetry, lesser known outside of Italy, often deals with his highly revered mother and his same-sex love interests, but this is not the main and only theme. As a sensible and extremely intelligent man, he depicted certain corners of the contemporary reality as very few other poets were able to do.
In politics too, or better, in the social debate, Pasolini was able to create scandal and debate with some assertions that were as much unheard as, at the same time, true: during the disorders of 1969, when university students were acting in a guerrilla-like fashion against the police in the streets of Rome, all the leftist forces declared their complete support for the students, and described the disorders as a civil fight of proletarians against the system. Pasolini, instead, alone among the communists, declared that he was with the police or, to be precise, with the policemen, the real proletarians who were sent to fight against boys of their same age for a poor salary and reasons which they could not understand because they had not had the luck of being able to study.
Pasolini was murdered brutally by Pino Pelosi, a hustler, by being run over several times with his own car at the beach of Ostia near Rome.
His murder is still now not completely explained: some contradictions in the declarations of Pelosi, a strange intervention by Italian secret services during the investigations, and some a lack of coherence of related documents during the different parts of the judicial procedures, brought some of Pasolini's friends (actress Laura Betti, a close friend, particularly) to suspect that this murder had somehow been commissioned. It is true, indeed, that Pasolini, in the months just before his death, had seen many politicians, telling them that he was aware of certain crucial secrets.
"If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief." (1966)