May 09, 2005


UPDATE Augst 10, 2005: The post below has been superceded by new developments. For the latest on the reopening of the Pasolini murder case, go directly to my article, "Restoring Pasolini," by clicking here.

There is explosive news from Rome that could alter public perceptions of Italy's greatest post-World War II intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini -- the investigation into his 1975 murder, long the subject of controversy, has been officially reopened by Rome police after the man convicted of his murder renounced his earlier confession, the BBC reports today.

Although known in the United States primarily as an influential film-maker -- for such films as Accatone, Teorama, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Mamma Roma, and Medea -- Pasolini was a poet, novelist, playwright, translator, literary critic, newspaper columnist in the left press, and the author of some 53 books (only a handful of which have been translated into English, unfortunately). He was also an accomplished painter. (See self-portrait below)


The official version of Pasolini's murder has long been challenged. In that version, Pasolini was killed by a 17-year-old hustler after Pasolini picked up the boy, took him to a deserted lot near the beaches of Ostia, and tried to sodomize him with a large piece of wood -- this was the story the hustler, Pino Pelosi, told the police in his confession. Now, in an interview on Saturday with Rai 3 public television, Pelosi (nicknamed "Pino the Frog") has said the murder was, in fact, committed by a gang of three people.

Pasolini was a committed, if iconoclastic and idiosyncratic, left-winger, with a lifelong love-hate relationship with the Italian Communist Party, from which he was expelled for homosexuality. He had the same sort of love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church, which detested Pasolini for his open homosexuality-- something in which he was ahead of his times, and which was often the subject of a significant portion of his written and cinematic work. In everything he did, Pasolini broke stereotypes, the traditional boundaries of culture and ideology, and the straightjacket of cultural and literary norms and conventions.

Pasolini was a life-long anti-fascist, who -- as a teenager -- was arrested by the Nazis in 1943 and later escaped from a German prison camp. Because he was not simply a left-winger but also unashamedly gay, and of incomparable influence with young people, Pasolini was deeply hated by the Italian right and the Church. The idea that Pasolini's death was a political murder has long had great currency in Italy, ever since Oriana Fallaci --then a respected international journalist, before in her dotage she passed over into racist, anti-Arab diatribes -- published an investigation into Pasolini's death that challenged the official version. Many significant Italian intellectuals have never accepted the official version of Pasolini's death -- among them, Italo Calvino. Some years ago, when I was a Fellow at the New York Institute for Humanities, and Calvino was visiting the Institute to give a seminar, I had a long talk with Calvino and his formidable wife about Pasolini's murder while I was squiring them around New York City's avant-garde nightclubs. Both Calvinos, who were great friends of "PPP" as he was often known, were convinced that the police version of the murder and the so-called "confession" were trumped up to conceal a deeply political crime. The Italian police in the mid-'70s were riddled with ultra-rightists and neo-fascists, and Italian police and security services then have been implicated (by subsequent revelations and official investigations) in a large number of crimes -- including the staging of bombings (notably at Bologna's railroad station) that caused massive death -- which were falsely attributed to ultra-left groups. It makes a lot of sense that the official version of Pasolini's murder was simply another ultra-right/police conspiracy to discredit the left -- and one of its most popular and influential intellectuals. And the supposed assassin, Pelosi, had extensive family ties to fascist political groups.

There are many flaws in the so-called "confession" of Pelosi, which was contradicted by much of the forensic and physical evidence at the crime scene (some of these flaws are related extensively in the (slightly homophobic) biography of Pasolini by Enzo Siciliano), which also mentions Pelosi's familial fascist links. But even a writer as sympathetic to Pasolini as an American biographer, Barth David Schwartz, buys into the notion of an S&M adventure gone bad as the cause of Pasolini's death. Pelosi's recantation throws that version into the ashcan of history.

In an interview with the Italian news agency AGI, the lawyer for Pasolini's family said on Saturday of Pelosi's renunciation of his confession: ""I had always though it. Pasolini died grinded and pounded, and not because he was run over by a car. He died because his back was squashed by the right wheel of the vehicle, but the body had several large bruises because he was hit by blunt objects. Pelosi did not have a trace of blood on him, besides the one on his forehead which he received in the attack that on November 2, 1975, he suffered by some people who immobilized him on the fence of a football pitch. Pelosi does not offer accurate data on these people [whom he says were the real assassins], but the magistracy's task is that of investigating the issue."

The lawyer, Nino Marazzita, went on to add: "Pasolini bothered a lot of people. And yet those who investigated at the time decided not to verify the political homicide or racist path. And if Pelosi decided to speak after all these years it is because the threats to which he was subject could hit his family. Now he is alone: his parents are dead and he is afraid of nothing. I will do everything I can to start defensive investigations that support the magistracy's investigations."

I have for many years been an admirer of Pasolini's writings, particularly his poetry (like his magnificent, epic political-sexual poem, The Ashes of Gramsci). While I was living in France -- where most of Pasolini's books are available in translation -- I stumbled across a collection of Pasolini's columns for a left-wing newspaper that was stunning. In those "interactive" columns (long before the Internet made such things banal), Pasolini engaged in dialogue with his readers, and the moving letters to him from working-class people and trade unionists -- with Pasolini's responses to them -- are testimony to the influence of this great writer and film-maker well beyond intellectual circles. And they also suggest why it was considered important for the Italian right, then in power, to get rid of him.

It may be difficult, after three decades, to unravel all the truth about how Pasolini died. At the very least, however, a revision of the version in Pelosi's so-called "confession" -- which now appears indisputably to have been trumped up with coaching from the police and security services -- would alter forever the interpretation (not to say dismissal) of Pasolini's work by sneering hetero critics. I'll keep you posted as this story develops.

Posted by Direland at 01:16 PM | Permalink


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About Falacci and her development of a hatred of things arab...

A have a book of her interviews around somewhere that I read many moons ago in which she cryptically, yet clearly, explained what is obviously the root cause of her becoming such a reactionary. Apparently, Muammar Gadhaffi had had some man she loved killed (so she says); and in the book she talked about her conflicted interview with him -- not long after -- where she described barely being able to control murderous impulses for revenge as she sat with striking distance of him.

Quite a bizarre little passage, as I remember; and I think this goes a long way into explaining that.

And I'm incredibly glad you're delving into Pasolini's death. This stuff has been bugging me for many years. I hate fascisti getting away with anything. Such a talent, gone before his time, as have so many wonderful people at the hands of venal idiots.

Posted by: Comandante Gringo | May 31, 2005 2:44:34 AM

Don't forget Pasolini's fine little novella, TEOREMA (THEOREM), which he later adapted into a stunning, lyrical film starring the young and gorgeous Terence Stamp. A powerful critique of the bourgeoisie, it is one of Pasolini's best and most accessible films, and contains almost no dialogue whatsoever, as well as dream-like images that might have appeared in films by Buñuel or Fellini. TEOREMA was published in Britain in 1992 as THEOREM, by Quartet Books, translated by Stuart Hood. I found a copy on the remainder table at St. Marks Bookshop a few years ago.

Also Kathy Acker played with Pier Pasolini's texts in several of her books.

He was an extraordinary figure, despite his problematic stances. PETROLIO, which he left unfinished, is one of my favorite texts.

There's a list of publications on this page, including a listing of works published in the United States: http://www.pasolini.net/english02_pubblicazioni.htm

Posted by: John_K | May 10, 2005 7:52:24 PM

Sorry to get off topic, Doug, but have you any comments about John Kerry's latest asshole panderings to the right regarding gay marriage? I know, I know: What is there to say that doesn't speak perfectly adequately for itself? But I was really hoping to see you tear into Kerry for this latest round of backstabbing...

Posted by: John D. | May 10, 2005 2:11:38 PM

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