On Pier Paolo Pasolini

24Nov07

In today’s Times, in a continuing effort to never acknowledge the gay voice as a force in 20th-century art and literature, film critic AO Scott heaps high praise on the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini but never bothers to mention that he was gay: “Poet, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, Communist, Christian, moralist, pornographer, populist, artist,” Scott writes by way of introduction before he lays down his cards: “In an era when Italy produced a bumper crop of difficult, passionate artists, especially in the cinema, he may have been the most difficult of all, and arguably the most prodigiously talented.” Scott then goes on to describe a few of Pasolini’s better-known works, notably Mamma Roma — about a prostitute (played by the timeless Anna Magnani) trying to raise her teenage son in post-war Italy — and Salò, the adaptation of De Sade’s most notorious work. Scott hints at the idea of Pasolini’s orientation, telling us that he was murdered by a teenage hustler (wink wink) and that “for Pasolini, social drama always had a sexual component (wink wink).” He even compares him to Fassbinder (wink wink), but never once does he explicitly say that Pasolini was gay, or that this is an important lens through which to examine his work.

We are not here to tell you why this is negligent — though it is certainly our belief — but to encourage you to watch Mamma Roma and judge for yourself. You might say that there’s no gay sex in this movie, and that the topic of homosexuality is never once mentioned. Fine, but who but a gay man could have constructed (and here we’ll use Scott’s words): “Magnani’s incarnation of wounded, furious motherhood teetering on the edge of camp”? Who but a gay man would have lingered so lovingly over her son in the prison? Most of all, who but a gay man could have predicted the end of his life some fifteen years later, when he would be violently murdered and his killers allowed to walk by a society ambivalent about the loss of one more lecherous fag?

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