The Cinema As Heresy, Or The Passion Of Pasolini: An Interview With Pier Paolo Pasolini – by Oswald Stack

Oswald Stack interviewed Pier Paolo Pasolini in Rome over a period of two weeks in 1968.

The following interview was conducted in Rome over a period of two weeks in 1968.

Oswald Stack: Could you tell me how your thinking about the Italian language as a medium has evolved as you have moved from poetry to novels and on to the cinema?

Pier Paolo Pasolini: First, I’d like to say that you can see my pasticheur nature in the cinema, as in other art forms—pasticheur by passion, that is, not by calculation. If you see a bit of one of my films, you can tell it’s mine from the tone. It’s not like with, say, Godard or Chaplin, who have invented a style which is completely their own. Mine is made up of various styles. You can always feel underneath my love for Dreyer, Mizoguchi, and Chaplin—and some of Tati. Basically, my nature hasn’t changed in the move from literature to cinema.
My ideas on the relationship between the Italian language and the cinema are much better expressed in my essays on the subject, but very simply let me say this: at first I thought the shift from literature to cinema involved simply a change of technique, as I have often changed techniques. Then gradually, as I worked in the cinema and got more and more into it, I came to understand that the cinema is not a literary technique; it is a language of its own. The first idea that came to me was that I had instinctively given up writing novels and then gradually given up poetry, too, as a protest against Italy and Italian society. I have several times said I would like to change nationality, give up Italian and take up another language; so I came to the idea that the language of the cinema is not a national language, it is a language I like to define as “transnational” (not “international,” because this is ambiguous) and “transclass”—i.e., a worker or a bourgeois, a Ghanaian or an American, when they use the language of the cinema all use a common system of signs. So at first I thought this was a protest against my society. Then gradually I realized it was even more complicated than that: the passion that had taken the form of a great love for literature and for life gradually stripped itself of the love for literature and turned to what it really was—a passion for life, for reality, for physical, sexual, objective, existential reality around me. This is my first and only great love and the cinema in a way forced me to turn to it and express only it.
How did this come about? By studying the cinema as a system of signs, I came to the conclusion that it is a non-conventional and non­symbolic language unlike the written or spoken language, and expresses reality not through symbols but via reality itself. If I have to express you, I express you through yourself; if I want to express that tree I express it through itself. The cinema is a language that expresses reality with reality. So the question is: what is the difference between the cinema and reality? Practically none. I realized that the cinema is a system of signs whose semiology corresponds to a possible semiology of the system of signs of reality itself. So the cinema forced me to remain always at the level of reality, right inside reality: when I make a film I am always in reality, among the trees and among people like yourself; there is no symbolic or conventional filter between me and reality, as there is in literature. So in practice the cinema was an explosion of my love for reality.

Stack: I’d like to go back and ask you how you started out in the cinema. You’ve said that you thought about making movies when you were a child, and then gave up the idea. What was the first film you saw—and did it make a strong impression?

Pasolini: Unfortunately, I can’t remember the first film I saw because I was too young. But I can tell you about my first relationship with the cinema, as I remember it, when I was five years old—which was a bit weird, and certainly had an erotic-sexual facet to it. I remember that I was looking at a publicity folder for a film showing a tiger tearing a man to pieces. Obviously the tiger was on top of the man, but for some unknown reason it seemed to me with my child’s imagination that the tiger had half- swallowed the man and the other half was still protruding out of its jaws. I terribly wanted to see the film; naturally my parents wouldn’t take me, which I bitterly regret to this day. So this image of the tiger eating the man, which is a masochistic and perhaps cannibalistic image, is the first thing that remained impressed on me. Though obviously I saw other movies at the time, I can’t remember them. Then when I was about seven or eight, and was living at Sacile, I used to go to a cinema run by some priests, and I can remember bits of some of the silent movies I saw there, and I can remember the transition to the talkies: the first talkie I ever saw was a war movie.
So much for my cinema pre-history. Then when I was in Bologna I joined a film club and saw some of the classics—all of Rene Clair, the first Renoirs, some Chaplin, and so on. That’s where my great love for the cinema started. I remember entering a local literary competition and writing a mad D’Annunzian piece, completely barbaric and sensual. Then the war interrupted everything. After the war came neorealism. I can remember going especially from Casarsa to Udine to see Bicycle Thieves, and above all Rome, Open City, which I saw up in Friuli, which was a real trauma that I still remember with emotion. But these films were only remote cultural objects for me while I was still living in the provinces, like the books and reviews I used to get sent to me. Then I came down to Rome, not thinking at all about going into the cinema, and when I wrote my first novel, Ragazzi di vita, some directors asked me to do scripts for them. The first was Mario Soldati, an early Sophia Loren piece called La donna del fume, which I did with Giorgio Bassani, who himself is also the author of several novels, including II giardino dei Finzi-Contini. Then there was Le notti di Cabiria with Fellini, and quite a lot of others, and so the desire to make films naturally came back to me.

Stack: You seem to have worked with directors with whom you have little in common, people like Bolognini, for example. You don’t seem to me to have much in common with Fellini, either. The person with whom you do share a great deal is obviously Rossellini, yet you never worked with him. Why is this?

Pasolini: Purely practical reasons. When I came to Rome I was completely broke. I didn’t have a job, and I spent a year in extreme poverty—some days I didn’t even have the money to go to the barber, for example, so you can see I was in the most dire poverty. Then I started teaching at a school at Ciampino, so I went to live at Ponte Mammolo, which is a slum right on the outskirts of Rome. I had to make a terribly long journey each day, and I earned only 27,000 lire (just over £16 at the time) a month. When my first novel came out I started to get a few royalties, but I still needed a job badly, so I became a scriptwriter. Obviously I couldn’t choose whom I was going to work with; it was the other way round. But I was very lucky, for I always had good people to work with. Although this was all commissioned work, I feel that some of the scripts (like La notte brava) are among the best literary works I have ever done: I’ve collected some of them in AH Dagli Occhi Azzurri.

Stack: What part did you have in Le notti di Cabiria?

Pasolini: I wrote all the low-life parts. As there were these kinds of characters in Ragazzi di vita, Fellini thought I knew that world, as indeed I did because I had lived out at Ponte Mammolo, where lots of pimps and petty thieves and whores lived; all of the setting, Cabiria’s relations with the other whores, and especially the episode about Divine Love were done by me—the story’s in All Dagli Occhi Azzurri. My main contribution was in the dialogue, which has been a bit lost because Fellini’s use of dialect is fairly different from mine. Basically, the first draft of the dialogue and at least half the episodes are mine.

Stack: You’ve worked quite a lot with Bassani: how did you meet?

Pasolini: We’re very close friends and we’ve worked together a lot. I first met him when he was running the review Botteghe Oscure. I went to see him professionally, and then we became great friends. I wrote for his review, and we both admire each other’s work.

Stack: Apart from the period when you were doing scripts for other directors, there is nothing to ask you about your collaborators, as you seem to be the complete auteur of all your own films. Did you feel very disappointed with what other directors did to your texts?

Pasolini: No, a director has the right to make these changes. But if I wanted to describe a certain milieu, certain faces and gestures that were transformed from how I’d imagined them, then, naturally, there was a gulf I wanted to bridge—apart from my long-standing desire to make movies. As for my own films, I never conceived of making a film that would be the work of a group. I’ve always thought of a film as the work of an author— not only the script and the direction, but the choice of sets and locations, the characters, even the clothes; I choose everything, not to mention the music. I have collaborators, like Danilo Donati, my costume designer; I have the first idea for a costume, but I wouldn’t know how to make the thing, so he does all that, extremely well, with excellent taste and zest.

Stack: I’d like to ask you a bit about how you work. Toto laid some stress on the fact that you shot everything in very short takes: is that your normal method?

Pasolini: Yes, I always shoot very short takes. Referring back to what I said earlier, this is the essential difference between me and the neorealists. The main feature of neorealism is the long take; the camera sits in one place and films a scene as it would be in real life, with people coming and going, talking to each other, looking at each other just as they would in real life. Whereas I myself never use a long take (or virtually never). I hate naturalness. I reconstruct everything. I never have somebody talking in a long shot away from the camera; I have to have him talking straight into the camera, so there is never a scene in any of my films where the camera is to one side and the characters are talking away among themselves. They are always in champ contre champ, or shot-reverse shot. So I shoot like that—each person says his bit and that’s it. I never do a whole scene all in one take.

Stack: This must have created difficulties with some actors. Surely some of them must have wanted to know what was happening.

Pasolini: Yes. It works easily with non-professionals, because they do everything I ask them to, and anyway it is easier for them to behave naturally. I must admit that professional actors get a bit traumatized because they are used to having to act. Besides—and this is rather important for defining my way of working—real life is full of nuances and actors like to be able to reproduce them. An actor’s great ambition is to start out weeping and then move very, very gradually through all the different stages of emotion to laughing. But I hate nuances and I hate naturalism, so an actor inevitably feels a bit disappointed working with me because I remove some of the basic elements of his craft, indeed the basic element—which is miming naturalness. So for Anna Magnani it was a major crisis to have to work with me. Toto argued a little and then gave in.
Silvana Mangano accepted immediately without the slightest discussion, and I think this method suited her, because she is a very fine actress.

Stack: You’ve acted a bit yourself—as the High Priest in Oedipus, and for Lizzani in II gobbo. How did that happen?

Pasolini: I’ve acted twice for Lizzani. He is an old friend of mine and I just couldn’t say no. I very much enjoyed it, and it was quite useful just to give me an idea of what a set was like—because I did the acting part in Il gobbo before I made Accattone. It was a bit of a holiday as well; I did a lot of reading. The other part was in a western Lizzani made recently, called Requiescant, where I played a Mexican priest on the side of the rebels.

Stack: Directors from different countries work in different ways. Do you yourself give all the actors the complete script?

Pasolini: When it exists, yes. But Theorem, for example, I shot almost without a script at all. Silvana Mangano saw it for the first time when the film was half finished. But in general I always give the actors the script out of politeness, though in fact I prefer to talk to each one about his or her role. No method is perfect because, as you know very well, if I say “sad” there are infinite gradations of sadness; if I say “egotistic” there are plenty of different ways to be egotistical. Basically I prefer to set everything up by talking to the actor and trying to define the part like that.

Stack: Do you tend to change the script much while you’re shooting?

Pasolini: No, in general the only changes are minor adaptations, either because of the setting or, more often, to the character when I see how he or she is working out in the part.

Stack: What about Franco Citti in Accattone—although you did not use his voice at all, did you fix what he was supposed to say with him before shooting?

Pasolini: Oh, yes. The whole script was written for him personally, even though he did not speak it. I wrote every line for him, and the script in the film is exactly as I wrote it, down to the last comma.

Stack: What about Orson Welles—was it difficult to direct him? Did the fact that he was both a great director and a great intellectual lead to de facto co-direction?

Pasolini: No, no, Welles is both an intellectual and an extremely intelligent person; he was a very obedient actor. I am just the same with Lizzani; I never open my mouth. I think directors understand this aspect of working better than anybody. It was really wonderful working with Orson Welles; in fact I tried very hard to get him for Theorem, but it was impossible. I’m thinking of trying to get him for St. Paul.

Stack: What about the American cinema? The last time I heard you talking about this—in an interview in Filmcritica in April-May of 1965—you were fairly enthusiastic about Cassavetes’ Shadows and about It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but you seemed not to be following the American cinema very closely: is this still the case?

Pasolini: I used to go a lot when I was younger, in fact until I started making films; since then I’ve been going much less. I’m not quite sure why this is. One factor certainly is that after a whole day working on a film I find it physically impossible to go back to the cinema; after hours and hours in front of a Moviola I just don’t feel like it. Then I get slightly panic- stricken when confronted with a film of mine that is finished, so much so that I don’t want to see my film or anyone else’s! Fellini doesn’t go to the cinema at all now, ever, and I can understand him, though I think it is a bit much never to go. Also I have become much more demanding: I can’t go to the cinema for entertainment any longer, just to enjoy myself at some American movie; I used to like doing that, but now I will only go if I’m guaranteed 90 per cent that the film is going to be really good—and that happens only about five or six times a year.

Stack: But do you still follow the work of directors you were interested in before—would you definitely go and see a new John Ford, for example?

Pasolini: Well, Ford is a bad example, because I don’t much like him. I don’t like the great epic American directors. I did like the American cinema very much when I was younger but I don’t like it now, though there are still some directors I would go and see if they made a new film. I don’t feel I have got very much from the American cinema except the myth of the cinema, which I’ll leave to Godard and the Cahiers du cinema crowd. Basically the real myth of the cinema came to me from the auteurs I mentioned earlier, from the silent cinema.

Stack: When you went to the cinema, whom did you follow?

Pasolini: Well, it was all a bit indistinct then, for I just went to see average American products; I think most of the directors I liked weren’t really American anyway: they were Europeans who had immigrated to America—people like Lang and Lubitsch. But I didn’t like the last big American productions just before the war, or the postwar stuff—say, by people like Kazan. I can sometimes admire them, but I don’t really like them.

Stack: You have mentioned the importance to you of Mizoguchi: do you follow the Japanese cinema as a whole?

Pasolini: Very few Japanese films come to Italy, unfortunately. I don’t like Kurosawa nearly as much as others do, but I like what I’ve seen of Kon Ichikawa—The Burmese Harp was a very fine film, and so was his film on the Olympics.

Stack: What about the general condition of the Italian cinema? In Uccellacci e uccellini you portray the death of neorealism, but can you see anything to take its place, or just chaos? Is there anybody in Italy you follow particularly?

Pasolini: The situation as I see it is extremely simple: Italian neorealism moved into France and England. It has not finished. The only place it is dead is in Italy. It has changed its nature and become a different cultural entity, but it has continued in France with Godard and in the new English cinema, which I don’t like at all (though I do like Godard). The odd thing is that after moving into France and England particularly via the myth of Rossellini, neorealism is appearing again in Italy with the younger directors: Bertolucci and Bellocchio are carrying on Italian neorealism filtered back via Godard and the English cinema.

Stack: One of the most surprising things about coming to Italy is that a lot of cinephiles here are very enthusiastic about all the English directors I myself can’t stand. Do you think this is a devious cultural response to the neorealist influence?

Pasolini: I think so. Even without doing a breakdown on a Moviola I think you can see the English cinema is very much influenced by neorealism. I was in England just a while ago and I saw half of Loach’s Poor Cow— even a child could see that it is a product of Italian neorealism, which here has simply moved into a different context.

Stack: Bertolucci of course started out as your assistant on Accattone.

Pasolini: Yes. Then later he made La commare secca, which I was originally going to do. When I made Accattone he knew nothing about the cinema at all; but then I have always avoided having professional assistants. Sometimes this can be a disadvantage, but I much prefer to work with someone who understands me and can give me moral support than to work with a professional. Recently, I’ve just started in the theater, and my first demand to the financial backers has been that I should not have to be subjected to the stench of the theater world, that there should be no professional assistants around.

Stack: If Bertolucci is one of the directors bringing neorealism back into the Italian cinema, how do you assess your influence on him?

Pasolini: I think more than being influenced by me, he reacted against me. I was rather like a father to him, so he reacted against me. In fact when he was shooting a scene he would think to himself, “How would Pier Paolo shoot this?” and so he would decide to shoot it a different way. Maybe I gave him something indefinable, but he was always able to tell the authentic from the inauthentic. I only had a very general influence on him, and as regards style he is completely different from me. His real master is Godard.

Stack: As you write, direct, choose the music, locations, and almost everything else for your films, there is not very much to ask you about the people you work with, but could you say something about Alfredo Bini and Sergio Citti?

Pasolini: Bini had confidence in me at a time when that was extremely hard: I knew nothing about the cinema, and he gave me carte blanche and let me work in peace. Sergio Citti has been a very valuable collaborator indeed, first on the dialogue of my novels and now on my movie scripts. I find it very easy to work with him, and he is extremely proficient at everything now.

Stack: All your editing is done by Nino Baragli, who seems to be your most permanent colleague.

Pasolini: Yes, this is the one case where I trust a professional. Baragli is a very practical person. He has made thousands of films. He is full of good sense, and he is a Roman, so he has a sense of irony, which is the reason I use him to keep a rein on some of my excesses. He is the voice of common sense. But even here I never let him do anything on his own. We always work together on the Moviola and he just performs the technical side of the editing, putting the bits together.

Stack: There is a very striking gap in general between cinema and cinema criticism. As you both make movies and write about cinema theory, could you, for example, produce a theoretical criticism of one of your own movies?

Pasolini: Yes, I think I could. I have in fact done a breakdown of certain films. In one of my texts, “La Lingua Scritta dell’Azione,” published in Nuovi Argomentri 2, new series (which was originally a talk at Pesaro), I’ve documented my argument with an analysis of some brief sequences from two films, one by Olmi (Il tempo si e fermato) and one by Bertolucci (Prima della rivoluzione). When I was giving the talk, I put them on a normal screen, but I did the original analysis on a Moviola. I did much the same thing with a Ford film (Gideon of Scotland) on a Moviola at the Centro Sperimentale during the student occupation of the school. This wasn’t an aesthetic breakdown; it was purely grammatical and syntactical. It was an attempt to establish by close study of the text, and not intuitively (naturally with intuition you can understand anything in just a few words), whether the film in question was written in the language of prose or the language of poetry—i.e., this was just a first step towards a stylistic examination. With literature all you have to do is open a page to see if the text is in prose or poetry, but with the cinema this is more difficult. But I think my analyses have shown that this can quite easily be done for the cinema, too, which, again, is an essential first step for any more thorough examination. The Ford picture turned out, as it were, to be in prose.

Stack: In “The Cinema of Poetry,” which is the only text of yours that has been translated into English as far as I know (in Cahiers du cinema in English, 6), you introduce the concept of dreamlikeness, which has been widely criticized. One of the criticisms is that it obscures the fact that when you make a film you in fact have much more control over the images used than when you write; you actually choose them yourself and your choice is open, whereas the drift of saying that something is dreamlike is to stress the spontaneity and lack of control in the process.

Pasolini: When I said the cinema is dreamlike, I didn’t mean anything very important; it was just something I said like that, rather casually. All I meant was that an image is more dreamlike than a word. Your dreams are cinematographic dreams, they are not literary dreams. Even a sound- image, say thunder booming in a cloudy sky, is somehow infinitely more mysterious than even the most poetic description a writer could give of it. A writer has to find oneiricity through a highly refined linguistic operation, while the cinema is much nearer to sounds physically; it doesn’t need any elaboration. All it needs is to produce a clouded sky with thunder and straight away you are close to the mystery and ambiguity of reality.

Stack: But dreams are usually very weak in films—Fellini’s dream sequences just aren’t like dreams at all.

Pasolini: That is simply because the cinema is already a dream. Fellini’s films are particularly dreamlike, deliberately: everything is seen as a kind of dream, a kind of dreamlike or surrealistic deformation, so, naturally, it is rather difficult to insert a dream into a movie that already has the characteristics of a dream. But take Bergman, who is much less dreamlike, perhaps more mysterious but less obviously dreamlike: as a result, the dream in Wild Strawberries is remarkable, and it comes very close to what dreams are really like.

Stack: You have quite rightly said that there was an enormous increase in interest in the cinema for a while when the cinema itself was badly on the decline—and you ascribe this to the fact that Marxism had become fashionable. I agree with the general proposition, but the explanation won’t do for a country like America, will it? Were you just thinking of Italy?

Pasolini: Yes, I think I was mainly concerned with Italy, and with Europe— auteurs ’ films. As long as Marxism was a living culture, with considerable weight in public life, some films by auteurs were valorized and thus found a way to be seen and distributed. But when Marxism was overtaken by events, it fell into a crisis and thus to some extent lost prestige, and since then films by auteurs have found much less support. So clearly this was something that concerned both Italy and Europe.

Stack: In “The Cinema of Poetry” you mention the importance of making the audience aware of the camera as a criterion of poetic cinema. There has been some confusion as to whether you meant that the cinema is naturally poetry and, if so, first, how has prose cinema—like the aforementioned Gideon of Scotland—managed on the whole to impose itself?; and, second, if the cinema is naturally poetry, in what way does making people aware of the camera determine whether or not it is poetry?

Pasolini: In my view the cinema is substantially and naturally poetic, for the reasons I have stated: because it is dreamlike, because it is close to dreams, because a cinematic sequence and a sequence of memory or of a dream—and not only that but things in themselves, in reality—are profoundly poetic: a tree photographed is poetic, a human face photographed is poetic because physicality is poetic in itself, because it is an apparition, because it is full of mystery, because it is full of ambiguity, because it is full of polyvalent meaning, because even a tree is a sign of a linguistic system. But who talks through a tree? God, or reality itself. Therefore the tree as a sign puts us in communication with a mysterious speaker. Therefore the cinema, by directly reproducing objects physically, is substantially if paradoxically poetic at the same time. This is one aspect of the problem, let’s say a pre-historic, almost pre-cinematographic one. After that we have the cinema as a historical fact, as a means of communication, and as such it too is beginning to develop into different subspecies, like all communications media. Just as literature has a language for prose and a language for poetry, so does the cinema. That’s what I was saying. In this case you must forget that the cinema is naturally poetic because it is a type of poetry, which, I repeat, is pre-historic, amorphous, unnatural. If you see a bit of the most banal western ever made or any old commercial film, if you look at it in a non-conventional way, even a film like that will reveal the dreamlike and poetic quality which exists physically and naturally in the cinema; but this is not the cinema of poetry. The cinema of poetry is the cinema that adopts a particular technique just as a poet adopts a particular technique when he writes verse. If you open a book of poetry, you can see the style immediately, the rhyme-scheme and all that: you see the language as an instrument, or you count the syllables in the verse. The equivalent of what you see in a text of poetry you can also find in a cinematic text, through the stylemes—i.e., through the camera movements and the montage. So to make films is to be a poet.

Stack: I’d like to move now to an in-depth discussion of your films themselves, such as the first one you directed, Accattone. Had Accattone been going round in your mind for a long time before you made it as a film—that is, was it conceived as a cinematic subject?

Pasolini: The idea of making a film and the idea of doing Accattone came together. Before that I’d written another piece for the cinema, La commare secca; but this project got blocked, and so I replaced it with Accattone, which seemed a better idea.

Stack: What do you mean it “got blocked”? It didn’t get financial backing?

Pasolini: No, I was supposed to do La commare secca, but then I changed my mind and wrote Accattone. Then Accattone ran into trouble (which I talk about in the preface to the published script of Accattone), but La commare secca would probably have run into the same difficulty. Simply put, I decided to replace La commare secca with Accattone.

Stack: Previously when you have talked about the shift from writing to making a movie—specifically, in Filmcritica 116 (January 1962) and Film Culture 24 (Spring 1962)—you said the only big change was the lack of metaphor in the cinema. Do you still think this is the biggest problem?

Pasolini: Well, I said that a bit carelessly. I didn’t know very much about the cinema, and it was a long time before I started all my linguistic research on the cinema. It was just a casual remark, but was intuitively fairly prophetic: Jakobson, followed by Barthes, has spoken of the cinema as a metonymic, as opposed to a metaphoric art. Metaphor is an essentially linguistic and literary figure of speech that is difficult to render in the cinema except in extremely rare cases—for example, if I wanted to represent happiness I could do it with birds flying in the sky. It wasn’t that I felt the difficulty of not being able to use metaphor; I was glad not to have to use it because, to repeat, the cinema represents reality with reality; it is metonymic and not metaphoric. Reality doesn’t need metaphors to express itself. If I want to express you I express you through yourself; I couldn’t use metaphors to express you. In the cinema it is as though reality expressed itself with itself, without metaphors, and without anything insipid and conventional and symbolic.

Stack: That comes through particularly in your treatment of the Franco Citti character in Accattone. How did you find him?

Pasolini: He was the brother of my oldest friend in Rome, Sergio Citti. I met Sergio Citti about a year after I got to Rome in 1950, and we became great friends. As I’ve noted, he helped me enormously on all my novels, and was like a living dictionary for me. I used to jot down notes at home and then I would go over and see Sergio to get him to check the jokes and the local slang of the Roman characters, in which he was extremely proficient. I’d known his brother Franco for years, ever since he was a small boy, and when I had to choose the people for Accattone I thought of him for the part immediately.

Stack: You have said the fact that you made Accattone during the Tambroni government (a Christian-Democratic coalition that depended on right­wing, including monarchist and fascist, support) influenced the way you ended the film. What did you mean by this?

Pasolini: The Tambroni government did not influence the film. I knew and cared nothing about Tambroni, who was a complete nonentity and could therefore not possibly have had the slightest influence on me. What I meant was that Accattone was a film that could emerge in Italy only at a certain cultural moment—i.e., when neorealism was dead. Neorealism was the expression in the cinema of the Resistance, of the rediscovery of Italy, with all our hopes for a new kind of society. This lasted until the late 1950s. After that neorealism died because Italy had changed: the establishment reconsolidated its position on petit bourgeois and clerical bases. So I said that Accattone is what it is (apart from the fact that it is what it is because I am made the way I am) for external cultural reasons, by which I meant not just the Tambroni episode, but the whole re­establishment of officialdom and hypocrisy. The Italian bourgeoisie, underwritten by the Catholic Church, had closed one cultural period, the age of neorealism.

Stack: You changed Citti’s voice, as previously discussed. Why?

Pasolini: Yes, I had him dubbed, but it was a mistake. At the time I was a bit unsure of myself. Later I had him dub himself and he was excellent—and I even got him to dub other Roman characters. Anyway it was, let’s say, a theoretical error. Paolo Ferraro, who dubbed him in Accattone, was extremely good and I think he added something to the character because dubbing, while altering a character, also makes him more mysterious; it enlarges him, if you will. I’m against filming in synchronization. There was a seminar at Amalfi recently, organized by Filmcritica, and it came out with a declaration in favor of synchronized sound, which I see I’ve unwittingly signed. But in fact I’m against synchronization because I think that dubbing enriches a character. Dubbing is part and parcel of my taste for pastiche; it raises a character out of the zone of naturalism. I believe deeply in reality, in realism, but I can’t stand naturalism.

Stack: So you’re not only for dubbing later, with an actor dubbing himself, you also like having the actor dubbed by another person’s voice?

Pasolini: Unfortunately, the situation is made rather difficult in Italy because of the dubbers. They’re not quite as awful as they are in France, where they really are execrable, but all the same the Italians are extremely conformist. What I often do is to “cross” two non-professionals—i.e., have a non-professional dubber dub a non-professional actor. I like elaborating character in this way, for I believe in the polyvalence of character. The main point, again, is that my love for reality is philosophical and reverential, but it is not naturalistic.

Stack: But actors depend for their identity on a number of factors, among which their voice can be crucial—Robert Mitchum or John Wayne, to take two prominent examples, could not exist without their voices.

Pasolini: That is true, but I’m not interested in actors. The only time I’m interested in an actor is when I use an actor to act an actor. For example, I never use extras in my films, because they are just hacks. Their faces are brutalized by living all their life at Cinecitta, surrounded by the whores who are always hanging around there. When I shot The Gospel According to St. Matthew, I went around and chose all the extras myself, one by one, from among the peasants and the people in the villages near where we were shooting. But when I made La Ricotta, where the characters are real extras, I used real extras. I’m only interested in an actor when he’s acting an actor; I’m not interested in him qua actor. The fact, as you say, that an actor may depend on his voice is something that interests me very little.

Stack: Do you mind what happens to your films when they go abroad? For example, in Spain, Christ in The Gospel was dubbed with a voice that completely changed his character. In the Italian version you gave Christ a rather hard voice that none of the foreign dubbings reproduced.

Pasolini: Far worse things than that happen in Spain. In a country where people are still garroted I can resign myself to the idea that my characters may be badly dubbed. All I can say is that I despise anybody who is responsible for doing things like that. Part of the dubbing in Spain I organized myself, but it was half done when I got there and it was horrible, so I tried to fix the other half as best I could. In civilized countries like England and America the film came out with sub-titles, which I prefer.

Stack: When you mentioned neorealism you defined it as the expression of the Resistance. I’d like you to expand on this, because I have just seen two of the films Rossellini made during the fascist period, La nave bianca and L’uomo della croce: stylistically, these are exactly the same as the films he made during the so-called neorealist period. Have you seen these films, and can you see any change in Rossellini’s style between the fascist period and the postwar period?

Pasolini: I agree that I did say neorealism is a product of the Resistance, and I stand by that remark. But, having said this, I must add that neorealism is still full of elements from the preceding period. I have often criticized neorealism—for example, in Officina. I remember criticizing neorealism for not having sufficient intellectual strength to transcend the culture that preceded it. I criticized it for being naturalistic, above all. Naturalism was a taste that went right back to the nineteenth century, to Verga, for instance. I also criticized neorealism for being crepuscolar—twilight-like or melancholy—which is a characteristic of Italian poetry from the early twentieth century, when some writers, as exemplified by Guido Gozzano, were reacting negatively to the modernization of modern life. I don’t know if there’s anything like it in England; in France there are people like Laforgue, who is related to the decadents. Then I also criticized neorealism for remaining subjective and lyricizing, which was another feature of the cultural epoch before the Resistance. So, neorealism is a cultural product of the Resistance in regard to its content and message, but stylistically it is still tied to pre-Resistance culture. Basically there is something rather hybrid about it. Anyway, if you think about other products of the European Resistance, much of the poetry is written in the same style as before the war—in the use of surrealist elements, for example. This hybridization is a phenomenon common to the whole of Europe, I think.
As for Rossellini, no, I haven’t seen the two films you mention. When they first came out I never had a chance to see them and now I’m not too keen to see them—it’s a bit because I’ve been too busy to see these pictures, and at bottom I just don’t want to see them.

Stack: To go back to Accattone, could you say something about the way you were influenced in this work by the three directors you have singled out: Dreyer, Mizoguchi, and Chaplin?

Pasolini: Well, I don’t know if you can really talk about direct influences. I don’t know if I was thinking about these auteurs when I was shooting the film; they are sources I referenced somewhat from the outside after I’d finished the film. When I was making it the only auteur I thought of directly was the Florentine painter Masaccio. When I’d finished Accattone I realized that some of my great loves had played a part in it. Why these three? Because they are all in their own way epic directors. Not epic in the Brechtian sense of the word; I mean epic in the more mythic sense—a natural epicness that pertains more to things, to facts, to characters, to the story, without Brecht’s air of detachment. I feel this mythic epicness in Dreyer and Mizoguchi and Chaplin: all three see things from a point of view that is absolute, essential, and in a certain way holy, reverential.

Stack: Have you ever thought much about the question of producing a religious film within a Protestant culture as compared with a Catholic one? I think some of the French critics, Roger Leenhardt in particular, have written about this with reference to Dreyer and Protestantism.

Pasolini: No, I haven’t studied this very much because it is a problem that can’t arise in Italy: there is no objective relationship between Catholicism and Protestantism in Italy; here it’s a purely abstract problem. This might be a real problem in England or Belgium, or even in France, but it’s a problem you can’t even think about in Italy.

Stack: When you talked about the shift from Accattone to Mamma Roma in an interview in Filmcritica (125) in September 1962, you said that the Anna Magnani character in Mamma Roma had petit bourgeois ideals, whereas the characters in Accattone were not even aware of the existence of petit bourgeois ideals and morality. But Accattone’s dream about his own death seems to me to be conceived very much along petit bourgeois lines, at least along the lines of the religious beliefs of the petite bourgeoisie.

Pasolini: I’m rather surprised you should say that, because I’ve never thought about the matter in this way. It seems to me that Accattone’s dream has the characteristics I mentioned earlier: it is epic-mythic- fantastic; and these aren’t typical characteristics of the petite bourgeoisie. Perhaps you are referring to the salvation of the soul, but this isn’t a bourgeois problem because the bourgeoisie hasn’t got a transcendental religion, except verbally; it’s only catechistic and liturgical, it isn’t real. The bourgeoisie has replaced the problem of the soul, which is transcendental, with the problem of conscience, which is a purely social and mundane thing. Accattone’s metaphysical projection of his own life into a world beyond is mythic and popular; it isn’t petit bourgeois, it’s pre­bourgeois. The petit bourgeois ideals I talked about in Mamma Roma were all petty, mundane ones like having a home, holding a job, keeping up appearances, owning a radio, and going to Mass on Sunday, whereas in Accattone I don’t think there’s anything petit bourgeois like that. The Catholicism in Accattone still retains the pre-bourgeois, pre-industrial, and therefore mythical features that are typical only of the people—in fact, the final sign of the Cross in the film is done wrong. Perhaps you didn’t notice this, but instead of touching their left shoulder and then the right, the characters touch the right shoulder first and then the left, just like the children who cross themselves while the funeral is going past and make the same mistake. The sign they make is not even a Christian sign; it’s just vaguely religious and protective. It certainly isn’t Catholic in the orthodox—and therefore bourgeois—sense of the word.

Stack: 1’d like to move on to Mamma Roma now and ask you about the conflict in the Anna Magnani character: the fact that she has petit bourgeois ideals but in fact can’t realize them—the futility of petit bourgeois morality, let us call it. And why did you choose Anna Magnani for the part, who is a professional actress?

Pasolini: Well, I’m rather proud of not making mistakes about the people I choose for my films, and—particularly in The Gospel According to St. Matthew—I feel I have always chosen well. The only mistake I’ve made is this one with Anna Magnani—though the mistake is not really because she is a professional actress. The fact is, if I’d got Anna Magnani to do a real petite bourgeoise, I would probably have got a good performance out of her; but the trouble is that I didn’t get her to do that, I got her to do a woman of the people with petit bourgeois aspirations. And Anna Magnani just isn’t like that. As I choose actors for what they are and not for what they pretend to be, I made a mistake about what the character really was; and although Anna Magnani made a moving effort to do what I asked of her, the character simply did not emerge. I wanted to bring out the ambiguity of sub-proletarian life with a petit bourgeois superstructure. But this didn’t happen, because Anna Magnani is a woman who was born and has lived as a petite bourgeoise and then as an actress, and so hasn’t got the necessary characteristics.

Stack: How did you find Ettore Garofolo?

Pasolini: That was a bit of luck. I knew his elder brother, who lived in Trastevere. I saw Ettore Garofolo when he was working as a waiter in a restaurant where I went for dinner one evening, Da Meo Patacca—exactly as I showed him in the film, carrying a bowl of fruit just like a figure in a Caravaggio painting. I wrote the script around him, without telling him about it, and then when it was finished I went over there and asked him if he’d like to do it.

Stack: Ettore’s death is taken from a real event here in Rome, isn’t it?

Pasolini: Yes, about a year before I did the script a young man called Marcello Elisei died in just that way.

Stack: Did the scene in the film—and the fact that somebody actually died like that in prison—have any effect in real life? Did people react?

Pasolini: Well, it had a bit of an effect, but not all that much, because you know things like that happen fairly often in Italy. Just yesterday I saw a high-ranking politician’s denunciation of the police in the newspapers. But such police methods are nothing new. The scene in question did have an effect, but only in the context of the film as a whole, not as an episode on its own.

Stack: The script that you’ve published in the volume All Dagli Occhi Azzurri is quite different from the script you used in the film—in fact several of the scripts you’ve published differ quite a lot from the ones you’ve used in your films: why is that?

Pasolini: The script of Accattone is almost identical; there’s just one episode missing that I had to cut because it was too long. In Uccellacci e uccellini, too, the script is almost the same—again, there’s only one episode missing, which I cut because it was too long but that I did shoot. So both these instances are the same, in the sense that I cut out a sequence because of its length. Mamma Roma is different. What happened is that the script was exactly as I shot it, and the changes in the published script I made two or three years after I shot the film, for literary reasons. When I read through the script later I didn’t like it—from a literary standpoint—so I changed it.

Stack: The critics who complained a lot about the music inAccattone seem to have digested the music in Mamma Roma without much trouble. Do you know why that was?

Pasolini: I’m not sure. I think what scandalized them in Accattone was the mixture of the violent Roman sub-proletariat with the music of Bach, whereas in Mamma Roma there is a different kind of combination that was less shocking—ordinary people who are trying to be petit bourgeois to the accompaniment of the music of Vivaldi, which is much more Italian and is based on popular music, so the contamination is not as violent and shocking.

Stack: There are two things that weren’t quite clear to me. One occurs when Franco Citti tells Ettore about his mother: is this supposed to demoralize him completely?

Pasolini: Yes, certainly. It gives him an absolute trauma, because he had not lived in a completely sub-proletarian world. I’ll give you an example: in a completely sub-proletarian world, a world without any bourgeois features, a sub-proletarian world almost in the sense of a concentration camp, when a boy finds out that his mother is a whore he gives her a gold watch so that she will make love with him. Perhaps this is a correct reaction in a sub­proletarian context. Whereas Ettore has been educated by his mother to have a certain petit bourgeois outlook; he’d been to school as a child and so finding out his mother was a prostitute gave him a trauma, just like any bourgeois boy finding out something bad about his mother. Therefore he has a collapse, a real crisis, which eventually takes him to his death.

Stack: The other thing is that Bruna does not quite seem to belong to the world of the sub-proletariat like the others.

Pasolini: You could contrast Stella in Accattone with Bruna in Mamma Roma. Stella is completely immersed in her sub-proletarian world of poverty, misery, and hunger. She lives in a real slum. Whereas if you remember, Bruna at a certain moment points out where she lives; when she’s going off with Ettore in the middle of the ruins, walking down that sort of huge ditch as they’re going off to make love, she says “look up there” and points to a large block of flats. Obviously there’s TV and radio and all that in this block of flats. Bruna does belong to the sub-proletariat in as much as there is no real proletariat in Rome to belong to because there is no industry, but it’s an upper sub-proletariat so to speak, a sub­proletariat at the moment when it is tending to become petit bourgeois and therefore perhaps fascist, conformist, etc. This is the sub-proletariat at the moment when it is no longer barricaded inside slums but is exposed to and influenced by the petite bourgeoisie and the ruling class through television, fashion, and so on. Bruna is sub-proletarian, then, but she has already been corrupted by petit bourgeois influences.

Stack: Death is stressed even more in Mamma Roma than in Accattone and it’s a subject you’ve talked about a good deal in connection with the irrational, particularly in Nuovi Argomenti 6 (new series).

Pasolini: Death does determine life, I feel that and I’ve written it, too, in one of my recent essays, where I compare death to montage. Once life is finished it acquires a sense, but up to that point it has not got a sense; its sense is suspended and therefore ambiguous. However, to be sincere, I must add that for me death is important only if it is not justified by reason, if it is not rationalized. For me death holds the maximum of epicness and myth. When I talk to you about my tendency towards the mythic and the epic—the sacred, if you will—I should say that this tendency can only be completely realized by the act of death, which seems to me the most mythic and epic act there is—all of this, however, at the level of pure irrationalism.

Stack: In an interview in Image et Son, Roland Barthes says that the cinema should not try to make sense but to suspend sense. Do you agree with that—is it something you’ve thought much about?

Pasolini: Yes, this is an old idea of mine, which I have expressed several times ingenuously and crudely when I’ve said that my films are not supposed to have a finished sense; they always end with a question, and I always intend them to remain suspended in this way. So this idea of Barthes’s, which I myself have talked about mostly in connection with Brecht, had already expressed itself—perhaps to some extent unconsciously—in my film style and aesthetic ideology.

Stack: You changed that style with Uccellacci e uccellini: initially, it was supposed to be what you called an “ideo-comic” film, but it didn’t exactly come out like that.

Pasolini: Well, I don’t know, perhaps it came out too much like that: too “ideo” and not “comic” enough (anyway, that was a formula I just invented for fun; it’s not a serious category). As for the change of style, I think I have a basic style that I will always have: there is a basic stylistic continuity from Accattone onwards through The Gospel According to St. Matthew, which is obviously part of my psychology and my pathology, which as you know is unchangeable. (Even Theorem, which I was going to shoot in a completely different way, has ended up with analogous features to my other films.) In Uccellacci e uccellini, I think the new element was that I tried to make it more cinema—there are almost no references to the figurative arts, and many more explicit references to other films. Uccellacci e uccellini is the product of a cinematographic rather than a figurative culture, unlike Accattone. It is about the end of neorealism as a kind of limbo, and it evokes the ghost of neorealism, particularly the beginning where two characters are living out their life without thinking about it—i.e., two typical heroes of neorealism, humble, humdrum, and unaware. All of the first part is an evocation of neorealism, though naturally an idealized neorealism. There are other bits like the clowns episode that are deliberately intended to evoke Fellini and Rossellini. Some critics accused me of being Fellinian in that episode, but they did not understand that it was a quotation from Fellini; in fact, immediately afterwards the crow talks to the two characters and says, “The age of Brecht and Rossellini is finished.” The whole episode was one long quotation.

Stack: You don’t think the critics got confused between what you were saying and what the crow was saying?

Pasolini: I don’t think so, because the crow is extremely autobiographical: there is almost total identification between me and the crow.

Stack: How did you handle the crow?

Pasolini: That crow was a really wild, mad beast and it nearly drove all the rest of us mad as well. Generally a director’s main worry in Italy is the sun, because the weather in Rome is very unreliable. But after the weather my biggest worry was this crow. The bits there are with it in the film I managed to pull together only by shooting again and again and then organizing the montage very carefully, but it was a terrible ordeal.

Stack: What about Toto? You took a chance using him, because he was already a famous comic actor in Italy, but also very much a typed actor. Do you think he was too much associated with a certain character in the Italian mind—though to an outsider he was fine?

Pasolini: I chose Toto for what he was—an actor, a recognizable type whom the public already knew. I didn’t want him to be anything but what he was. Poor Toto, he used to ask me very gently, almost like a child, if he could make a more serious film, and I used to have to say, “No, no, I just want you to be yourself.” The real Toto was in fact manipulated; he wasn’t a straightforward, ingenuous character like Franco Citti in Accattone. Toto was an actor who had been manipulated by himself and by other people into a type, but I used him precisely as that, as someone who was a type.
He was a strange mixture of credulousness and Neapolitan authenticity, on the one hand, and of a clown on the other—i.e., recognizable and neorealist yet also slightly absurd and surreal. That is why I chose him, and that is what he was, even in the worst films he made.

Stack: How did you find Ninetto Davoli?

Pasolini: I met him by chance when I was making La ricotta—he was there with a whole lot of other boys watching us make the film, and I noticed him at once because of his curly hair and his character, which later came out in my film. When I thought of doing Uccellacci e uccellini, I thought of him and Toto at once without the slightest hesitation. I gave him a tiny part as a shepherd boy in The Gospel According to St. Matthew, as a kind of screen test.

Stack: I thought it was strange that you chose a father-son relationship—which is not simply one of generations but also of family linearity—to illustrate a major ideological shift.

Pasolini: But Toto and Ninetto are a very normal father and son, for there is no great clash between them; they are perfectly in agreement with each other. They embody a type that perpetuates itself: Ninetto is like Toto; there is this combination of total humdrumness and the magical in both of them. There is no conflict of generations between them. The son is getting ready to be an ordinary man just as his father was, with some differences like the wearing of different clothes. He will probably go and work for Fiat, but whatever the different characteristics are, they will not establish a different consciousness in him; they will not become a cause for disagreement or rivalry with his father.

Stack: I don’t quite follow that—is this the thesis of the film or is it the thesis you are criticizing?

Pasolini: Toto and Ninetto are mankind, and as such both old and new. What they clash with are new historical situations, but as mankind they are not in contradiction with each other.

Stack: But take Togliatti’s death, for example, which plays a big part in the film—there is actual newsreel footage of Togliatti’s funeral cut into the film—this did not mark a great change in Italian life, as far as I can see.

Pasolini: No, in itself it did not, but it did symbolize a change. An historical epoch, the epoch of the Resistance, of great hopes for communism, of the class struggle, has finished. What we have now is the economic boom, the welfare state, and industrialization, which is using the South as a reserve of cheap manpower and even beginning to industrialize the South as well. There has been a real change that coincided more or less with Togliatti’s death. It was a pure coincidence chronologically, but it worked symbolically.

Stack: But in that context the generation break is surely what is most important, because the communism of the Resistance, together with anti­fascism in particular, is something that has been kept alive artificially by the older generation in the Party.

Pasolini: I agree: the feeling of the Resistance and the spirit of class struggle have rather outlived themselves, but this is something that involves the Central Committee and the leadership of the Communist Party, i.e., a particular group, whereas Toto and Ninetto represent the mass of Italians who are outside all that—the innocent Italians who are all around us, who are not involved in history, and who are just acquiring the very first iota of consciousness. That is when they encounter Marxism, in the shape of the crow.

Stack: But straight after Togliatti’s funeral they meet the girl by the roadside—i.e., once communism is finished (or this epoch is over), they immediately go off with a woman.

Pasolini: Well, no. The woman represents vitality. Things die and we feel grief, but then vitality comes back again—that’s what the woman represents. In fact, the story of Togliatti does not end there, because after they have been off with the woman there is the crow again. They perform an act of cannibalism, what Catholics call communion: they swallow the body of Togliatti (or of the Marxists) and assimilate it; after they have assimilated it they carry on along the road, so that even though you don’t know where the road is going, it is obvious that they have assimilated Marxism.

Stack: There is a certain ambiguity about this, for it is both destruction and consumption.

Pasolini: Yes, that’s what it’s meant to be. Just before the crow is eaten, he says, “Teachers are made to be eaten in salsa piccante ” They must be eaten and transcended, but if their teaching is of any value it remains inside us.

Stack: What about the first sequence, which you first tried to cut down and then finally removed altogether?

Pasolini: It was the most difficult. After I had cut it down, it was incomprehensible and so I just excised it altogether. I don’t want to produce something hermetic, something that is inaccessible to the public, because the public is not external to the film: it is internal to it, like rhyme. What decided the matter for me was Toto. In this episode he is a petit bourgeois who teaches an eagle how to become a petit bourgeois but ends up becoming an eagle himself: the rationalist, conformist, educated petit bourgeois ends up being caught by the eagle and flying away—i.e., religion wins out over rationalism, conformism, and education. But this didn’t work because Toto is not a petit bourgeois. His real personality came through and so there was something wrong about the whole episode, although superficially it may have looked all right. Toto was just not a petit bourgeois who would go around and teach good manners to other people.

Stack: I found this a very difficult film indeed, not comic at all, but sad and ideological.

Pasolini: That’s a personal impression on your part. I agree that the film is not very funny; it makes you think more than laugh. But when it was shown in Montreal and New York the audiences laughed a lot, to my great astonishment—unlike in Italy, where audiences were a bit disappointed, mainly because they went to see Toto and have their usual laugh, which they gradually realized they weren’t going to be able to do. Your reaction may be a bit subjective, though I agree that Uccellacci e uccellini is not a funny film.

Stack: You have said that “ideological irony” would be useful for analyzing Uccellacci e uccellini: were you making more reference here to the condition of the Italian cinema or to the condition of ideology and politics in Italy?

Pasolini: Both. In England or France or America people do not remember the Industrial Revolution and the transition in its wake to prosperity. In Italy this transition has just taken place. What took a century in England has virtually happened in twenty years here. This explosion, as it were, produced an ideological crisis that particularly threatened the position of Marxism, and coinciding with this there was a big cultural change here as well. That is what I was referring to with the term “ideological irony.”

Stack: Do you ever hold sneak previews?

Pasolini: They do exist in Italy, but I’ve never had one. They sometimes do sneak previews for commercial films—they put them on in towns that are supposed to represent the lowest common denominator of potential audiences. The only time I ever see one of my films with an audience is at a festival—Oedipus, for example, I saw complete for the first time only at Venice. I’ve never dared to go in and watch one of my films in a normal showing at a public cinema.

Stack: I’d like to go back to what you said before about neorealism. There are two issues I’d like to discuss further. One concerns Rossellini: the films he made under fascism are stylistically the same as those he made during his so-called neorealist period and the same as his later movies, right up to La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV, which is neorealist in the sense that Francesco, giullare di Dio is. For me Rossellini is a great—and homogeneous—director. The other issue or problem is the whole categorization of a period as “neorealist,” lumping together two people like Fellini and Rossellini whom I simply can’t consider on the same level, and that opinion is held by almost everybody I know in England. I can see that Uccellacci e uccellini is about aspects of Italian cinema, but I would like to understand more precisely your attitude toward Rossellini and neorealism.

Pasolini: The stylistic history of Rossellini is the stylistic history of Rossellini, and, as I have said before, there is a certain fatality in a person’s style. Rossellini has a consistent stylistic history, but it is not co­extensive with the history of neorealism: part of his history coincides with part of neorealism. The part of Rossellini that coincides with neorealism has some features in common with Fellini: a certain way of seeing things and people. The way these films are shot and edited together is different from the classical cinema that preceded both Fellini and Rossellini. Obviously Fellini and Rossellini are two absolutely different personalities, but the period each of them has in common with neorealism gives them something in common with each other. The bit of Uccellacci e uccellini you’ve just mentioned that evokes neorealism, evokes something typical of both part of Rossellini and part of Fellini: the acrobats, the kind of woman they turn to—all of that is fairly Fellinian, but it is also Rossellinian. Also, these two men share what I call “creatural realism,” which is a feature of neorealism typical of a film like Francesco, giullare di Dio: a humble person viewed in a somewhat comical way, where piety is mixed with irony. I think both Fellini and Rossellini have that. But on the whole, I agree with you: they are two directors who really have nothing to do with each other, but who chronologically share a common cultural period that coincides with the period of neorealism.

Stack: So when the crow says, “The age of Brecht and Rossellini is finished,” he didn’t mean that Rossellini is finished, just neorealism.

Pasolini: Yes, Rossellini was the master of neorealism and neorealism is finished. I meant that the age of social denunciation—of great ideological drama of the Brechtian kind, on the one hand, and lowly everyday drama of the neorealist kind, on the other—is finished.

Stack: One of the Italian critics defined your film as the first realist film in Italy. I think Uccellacci e uccellini is a realist film, but in very much the same way as, say, Francesco, giullare di Dio could be called realist—in fact, the part of Uccellacci e uccellini with the monks draws heavily on Rossellini’s film.

Pasolini: I love Rossellini, and I love him above all for Francesco, which is his finest film. Realism is such an ambiguous and loaded word that it is hard to agree on its meaning. I consider my own films realist compared with neorealist films. In neorealist films day-to-day reality is seen from a crepuscular, intimate, credulous, and above all naturalistic point of view. Not naturalistic in the classic sense—cruel, violent, and poetic as in Verga, or total as in Zola; in neorealism things are instead described with a certain detachment, with human warmth mixed with irony, characteristics that my own work does not have. Compared with neorealism, I think I have introduced a certain kind of realism into the cinema—but, I have to say, it would be rather difficult to define exactly what that realism is.

From Pasolini on Pasolini: interviews with Oswald Stack. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969


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