May 12, 2005


UPDATE AUGUST 10, 2005: The post below has been superceded by later developments.  For an up-to-date exploration of the re-opening of the Pasolini murder case, go directly to my article, "Restorying Pasolini," by clicking here.

It's rather stunning how there has been zero coverage in the mainstream Stateside press (except for a truncated UPI dispatch) about the re-opening of the investigation into the murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini Psolini_1 since the fellow who served only seven years in jail for the murder -- the hustler Pino "The Frog" Pelosi -- recanted his 1975 confession on Italian television last week. You can take your pick in deciding whether this silence is simply nombriliste American provincialism, cultural homophobia, or a combination of the two. It's too soon for any definitive investigative results 30 years after the murder, but Rome's left-wing mayor, Walter Veltroni, appears to be encouraging a more profound probe.

A friend of mine (an American who used to be married to an Italian Senator from Marco Panella's Radical Party) wrote to me yesterday from Rome:

"No certainty here in Rome as of Wednesday that the Pasolini murder was specifically political, in the sense of an intentionally prepared assassination whose motive was to punish Pasolini for his politics, unwelcome to both right and left mainstreamers.

"On TV Pelosi said that the three thugs saw the two having sex and then gave Pasolini a severe beating; Pelosi, age 17, panicked, raced into the car and ran over poor Pasolini. Of course the three may well have been Fascists as well as voyeurs. Everybody was highly politicized in those years, and the violent kids gravitated to the far right and hung out together in certain notorious bars and cafes, as we know very well, and little punishment squads were the norm in Rome, including in the “periferia”.

"We personally had serious death threats from the far right so don’t think I am defending them. (The far left was also violent, but in a very different, less scattershot way.)

"Pasolini’s oldest friends, who have always maintained there were several people involved, are trying to speak personally with Pelosi to find out if he knows more; Pelosi says he will meet with them but also says he knows no more than he said on TV. 

"This may be similar to the peeping-tom impromptu punishment squad, working for kicks, which murdered a couple in Bella Toscana with the so-called Banda della Merenda (Pacciani case). In that case there was also a suspicion of Satanism, never proved. The accomplices were never caught, and the dreadful Pacciani, who took the rap (and was surely guilty but not alone) is dead."

Rome friend may or may not be right in her suggestion that the murder was only a vicious gay-bashing. But for me, the most significant thing in these new developments is Pelosi's renunciation of the sordid version of the killing he gave in his original confession of an S&M adventure gone bad--that he killed PPP after the prolific writer-filmmaker tried to sodomize him with a piece of wood. As my former Village Voice colleague Gary Indiana -- who wrote a study of Pasolini's scandal-making film, Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom -- remarked awhile back in an interesting interview on that film, "Pasolini's murder and this particular film were so readily linked, and eclipsed the rest of Pasolini's work, in a certain journalistic kind of discussion. Salò is a satire of consumer society and perfectly consistent with Pasolini's other films and his polemical writings. What he saw as an extreme spiritual crisis in modern society demanded this particular form, and these extremely unnerving images."

The "eclipse of the rest of Pasolini's work" by the Pelosi version of the murder, of which Gary speaks, is most recently confirmed in a book I just finished reading that is a current best-seller in France: La Mauvaise Vie, a sexual autobiography by Frederic Mitterrand (photo Frederick_mitterand right -- a well-known French television personality, now director of programming for the international francophone channel TV5, and nephew of the late French president). In this book, Mitterrand -- a self-loathing homosexual who has always detested the gay liberation movement -- confesses in detail his life-long addiction to paying for sex. And over several self-pitying pages, Mitterrand uses the Pelosi confession's version of Pasolini's murder to suggest (as have so many others) that Pasolini sought his own death by intentionally flirting with danger, while comparing himself to Pasolini.

As an aside, I didn't care for the book. Always a spoiled upper-class brat, a show-biz snob, and a fawning courtier of deposed European royalty, Frederic Mitterrand -- who dishonored his family name two electons (which is how he got the directorship of TV5) -- sees his life as a cinematic opera, as the critic Pierre Assouline has suggested. F.M. once made a film version of Madame Butterfly, transposed to Tunisia. I found La Mauvaise Vie to be a pretentious, narcissistic wail in which FM portrays himself as a gay Madame Butterfly, eternally deserted by (or deserting) those he loves. It all might have been of more lasting interest had Frederic Mitterrand examined the causes -- social, cultural, familial -- of his sexual self-hate. Alas, the word "homophobia" does not seem to be in his vocabulary. He contents himself with describing, over and over, how much he detests himself, all the while recounting the games the jeunesse doree of the French monied classes play from Marbella and the Riviera to Morocco, Rome, and Greece -- topped off by endless paens to female film stars he's known slightly, if at all. It's all a bit too precious for my taste, and filled with deeply reactionary attitudes and poses. A froggie friend of mine cracked, "What is this pleurnicheuse (a female cry-baby) whining about? He was always well-off enough to buy all the gigolos he wanted!" Or, as a New York street queen would say, "Puh-lease!" Give me any day the infinitely better-writte, elegantly scatological sexual memoir that old Nazi-loving anti-Semite, the French writer Marcel Jouhandeau (photo Jouhandeau left), wrote in his 80s, Pages egarees (Editions Pauvert, 1980) recounting his nocturnal adventures with the "gigs" -- it's much more stylish (and hilarious to boot.) A further footnote on F.Mitterrand: Le Canard Enchaine recently reported that French government accountants were appalled, on examining the books at TV5, at the huge amount of taxpayers' money spent on five-star hotels and restaurants and first-class plane tickets by the ever-voyaging Frederic Mitterrand and his flunkies, leaving infinitely less money for production of new shows than should have been the case. And, F.M. has close and remunerative ties to the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali, for whom he served as a sort of unofficial "minister of culture" -- and whose despotic regime he promoted on TV5 in an uncritical "24 hours in Tunisia" special. So, are you reaching for the Kleenex for poor little rich kid Frederic? I doubt it....

In any case,  back to Pasolini: Pelosi's recantation last week means that this sort of nonsense is no longer possible. Whether the murder turns out in the end to have been political (as so many serious Italian intellectuals have long believed) or whether my Rome friend is right and it was just another banal gay-bashing, it's now clear that PPP was just out for a good screw, not chasing the Grim Reaper with "Kill me! Kill me!" in his soul. And that revision of history may, in time, lead to Pasolini finding his proper place in Western culture as one of the 20th century's most valuable, unique, ground-breaking, and multi-talented figures. (By the way, my earlier post on this subject is now enhanced with a reproduction of one of Pasolini's paintings, a self-portrait in color and in oil -- as is this post with his own pencil drawing, above -- and you can see more images of PPP's canvasses, revealing his accomplishments with brush and palette, by clicking here.)

THE FRENCH REFERENDUM ON THE NEW EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION, to be held May 29, is the subject of two new articles out today. I've already given the reasons why I hope the No wins that referendum in a long post. Now, in an article in the newest English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique entitled "Eurosceptics Unite," Bernard Cassen -- the founder of ATTAC -- argues that "in countries where a leaden consensus has stifled any debate, or free market economics is simply not on the agenda," many "hope that a no vote on 29 May will create a political vacuum, provoking discussion all over Europe of the many other forms that integration might take. They are giving a proxy vote to the French. And for once they are in agreement with Blair, who would like another country, preferably France, to stop ratification. That way he would not need to hold the referendum, planned for the end of 2006, which almost all commentators consider he is bound to lose."

And openDemocracy.net has a piece with a similar view by Frank Vibert. As the latest polls this week in France show the No and the Yes on the new European Constitution a dead heat, Vibert argues intelligently that "The French may not vote 'no'. In that case the honour may fall to the Dutch or the British. Far from a disaster or “the end of Europe”, a “no” vote can provide a valuable opportunity for a rethink. When that rethink has taken place, a revised treaty needs to do what the constitutional treaty does not do. It needs to provide a basis for economic and social renewal in the EU, shedding what does not work and putting clearer focus on what does work, to reshape the institutional framework on the basis of democratic principles rather than inter-institutional job sharing and to set out a vision for Europe’s democratising role in the world in conjunction with its allies."

Finally, Danielle Mitterand -- the widow of the late president, who was always more left-wing than her husband -- gave an interview last night on France2 public television appealing for a No vote on the European Constitution, arguing that it would "institutionalize the dictatorship of the market." She's right, you know...


The indispensable, London-based international labor news service LabourStart has mounted a campaign to free three jailed Eritrean trade unionists affiliated with the IUF (International Union of Food Workers), including the head of the local CocaCola union. Reports indicate that they are being held in a secret security prison in Asmara.

The LabourStart campaign has been so effective, reports its director, Eric Lee, that "Thousands of messages have been pouring in -- at one point, we were hitting 200 messages per hour.  Many of those messages have been re-sent by fax to Eritrean embassies around the world, prompting one official in the Oslo embassy to phone up LabourStart and demand that we stop sending."

As LabourStart notes, "Eritrea has become increasingly repressive under single-party rule, and the government is using the ongoing conflict with Ethiopia to sow paranoia and further tighten its grip on power. According to Amnesty International (which has also urged action in support of the three imprisoned union leaders), 'Human rights violations continue in Eritrea on a massive scale. Thousands of government critics and political opponents – many of them prisoners of conscience who have not used or advocated violence - are detained in secret. Some have been held for several years. None has been taken to court, charged or tried. In some cases, panels of military and police officers have reportedly handed down prison sentences in secret proceedings that flout basic standards of fair trial. Detainees are not informed of the accusations made against them, have no right to defend themselves or be legally represented, and have no recourse to an independent judiciary to challenge abuses of their fundamental rights.' Amnesty says that the use of torture has become 'systematic'."  You can help free the jailed trade unionists with a couple of mouse clicks -- send a message by clicking here.

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