1950 – 1955
Pier Paolo Pasolini arrived at Rome station with his mother on 28 January 1950, aged twenty-eight. He had been banned from teaching in state schools and kicked out of the Communist Party after he was reported for obscene behaviour with adolescents at a country jamboree in Ramuscello in Friuli, his mother's native region. They left their home in Casarsa early in the morning, while his father was still asleep. At first Susanna took a job as a governess to bring in a little money, and Pasolini lodged temporarily with a family who were friends of his uncle in Piazza Costaguti in the heart of the city, in the old Ghetto only a stone's throw from the Tortoise Fountain with its glistening statues of naked young gods. Mother and son, with Pasolini's father who had joined them in the meantime, soon moved away from the heart of Rome and went to live in the poverty-stricken suburb of Ponte Mammolo, in a house "with no roof and no plaster" near the prison of Rebibbia. Recounting his early years in Rome, Pasolini tells us: "I lived the way a man in death row might live / always with that thought as though I were wearing it, / – dishonour, unemployment, poverty." It took him three hours by public transport to reach Ciampino, where he had finally found a job teaching in a private school for the meagre salary of twenty-seven thousand lire a month. His pupils included a certain Vincenzo Cerami, for whom he felt an instinctive liking and interest. Cerami was to become an author and a script writer in his own right, eventually working as Pasolini's assistant on The Hawks and the Sparrows.
Yet this period of poverty was to be lit up by the exhilarating sensation that "Rome is divine". He discovered the lumpenproletariat with its unique vocabulary and its violence and vibrancy in the city's suburban shanty towns. A young builder's painter, Sergio Citti, became his "talking dictionary" of Roman dialect. This unknown world was to be the primary source of inspiration for both his written work and his films for several years. After his cautious, furtive love life in Friuli, he discovered the freedom of spontaneous sexuality with the boys of Rome. In the company of Sandro Penna, a writer specialising in the description of passionate encounters with young men, he frequented the banks of the Tiber, a river which was to become one of the focal points of his symbolism and poetry. He continued to write furiously, winning several prizes for his poetry, which were to strengthen his belief that salvation would come from his literary work. He soon began to frequent authors whom he had only known from a distance until then: Giuseppe Ungaretti, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Giorgio Caproni, Giorgio Bassani...
1955 – 1960
With the publication of Ragazzi di Vita ("The Ragazzi") in 1955, Pasolini burst onto the intellectual and artistic life of Rome. He introduced Roman dialect and the slang of the petty thieves and prostitutes from the city's shanty towns into Italian literature, also starting to write screenplays for such film directors as Mario Soldati, Federico Fellini and Mauro Bolognini. What these film-makers needed from him was his knowledge of the life and language of Rome's lumpenproletariat, although the first script on which he worked – for Soldati's La donna del fiume (The River Girl) in 1954 – was not actually set in Rome. It was in this period of his life that Pasolini met Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante who were to become his closest, lifelong friends. He also met a young singer and actress called Laura Betti, who was to remain close to him for the rest of his life, acting in his films and plays and becoming a leading light in Rome's social life. Later on he was to describe her to Godard as his "non-carnal wife". His new source of income allowed him to buy his first car, a Fiat 600, and to quit the distant suburb of Rebibbia for the Monteverde neighbourhood, where he moved with his mother and father to a house in Via Fonteiana in 1954. Five years later he moved again to a flat in Via Carini, in the same neighbourhood, to a building in which Attilio Bertolucci, a poet of whose work he was extremely fond, also had an apartment where he lived with his family. Young Bernardo Bertolucci was to become Pasolini's pupil and subsequently also his assistant in Accattone (The Procurer), before directing his own first film at the age of twenty-one based on a script originally written by Pasolini for himself, entitled La commare secca (The Grim Reaper). Pasolini frequented Rome's vibrant heart, including Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo and Campo de' Fiori, where his new friends Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani, Federico Fellini and Laura Betti all lived. They would meet in the neighbourhood's cafés and restaurants, the focal point of intellectual life in Rome at the time. The city, in which he had arrived in the middle of a Jubilee Year, was also home to the Vatican. Pope Pius XII died in October 1958 after a pontificate lasting nineteen years. Shortly afterwards, Pasolini published a poem entitled A un papa (To a Pope) in which he accused the pope of remaining culpably passive towards the suffering of the poor. The poem caused a scandal and led to the closure of the magazine Officina which Pasolini had founded with Francesco Leonetti, Roberto Roversi and Franco Fortini in 1955. Pasolini's social life focused on the centre of Rome. He worked all day, but at night, as he was to write in 1960: "I spend most of my life outside the city boundaries, beyond the bus termini, as a bad Neo-Realist poet might cryptically put it. I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that I just cannot seem to get it right. I am talking about the physical facts of life, the sun, grass, youth. It is a habit even worse than cocaine, it costs me nothing, and there is a boundless, limitless supply of it, and I devour it, I devour it... I have no idea how this is all going to end...".
1961 – 1962
With Accattone (The Procurer, 1961) Pasolini the writer made his entry into the world of film as a director, doing so with enormous enthusiasm for this new medium which he called "the written language of reality", that reality which he loved with so passionately and which he sought to sanctify in every single scene. It was not easy to make the film after Fellini had rejected it on the grounds that he was not convinced by the trial shoots he had asked Pasolini to produce. Hurt, Pasolini travelled to India and Africa before finding another producer, which allowed him to begin filming in the spring of 1961. That trip was to lay the groundwork for his love of the Third World, a love which was to grow stronger with every passing year. When Pasolini began filming, he was totally unfamiliar with the technical aspects of film-making but he had a very clear idea (based on Early Renaissance art) of the style he wished his film to have. He effectively invented his own approach to the cinema in his very first film, marking his distance both from Neo-Realism and from the more recent Nouvelle Vague style. His Roman trilogy – Accattone (The Procurer), Mamma Roma and La ricotta (Curd Cheese) – was spawned by his love of the lumpenproletariat, the very same people whom he described and to whom he lent his voice in his early novels. The neighbourhoods of Testaccio, Pigneto, Tuscolano and the Parco degli Acquedotti were thus to make their poetic entry into Italian cinema. For his second film, Mamma Roma (1962), Pasolini cast Anna Magnani, Italian cinema's archetypical "Roman girl" thanks to the movies she had made with Roberto Rossellini and other directors in the capital city. The character she plays is a prostitute with a mother's big heart, who leaves the working class neighbourhood of Casal Bertone to move to the INA-Casa al Tuscolano area, built in 1961 thanks to the Fanfani law on council housing. Yet her very maternal desire to climb the social ladder for her son's sake was unable to save him from the cruel fate that awaited him. La Ricotta (Curd Cheese), filmed in late 1962, was the target of a spectacular trial for blasphemy. From then until the night he was murdered, Rome was to become for Pasolini a city of law courts and judges, a place in which fully thirty-three trials were to be held primarily with the intention of silencing his outspoken voice, the probing, critical and endlessly polemical voice of a firm and watchful conscience denouncing everything in Italy that stirred his indignation. It was on the set of La Ricotta that he met a shanty-town lad named Ninetto Davoli, a carpenter's apprentice who was to become the great love of his life and with whom he would find joy and happiness. From then on Ninetto never left his side, whether on his travels or in his films, perfect in his role as an innocent curly-haired guardian angel.
1963 – 1966
Pasolini finally had the means to buy a large apartment, "the house of my burial" as he was to describe it. He left the vibrant heart of Rome, moving in early 1963 to Via Eufrate 9 in the EUR, a tranquil residential neighbourhood built under the Fascist regime, with his mother, who took care of the garden, and his cousin Graziella Chiarcossi, now considered a full member of the family. Via Eufrate is next to the Basilica dei Santi Pietro e Paolo. From here one can admire the fine architecture of the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, a Fascist-era building reminiscent of De Chirico's Metaphysical painting and nicknamed the "square Colosseum". From this neighbourhood, which is built on a hill, one could also see the major construction work going on in the suburbs, and on a clear day one could even make out the beach at Ostia and the sea. The two main characters in Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows, 1965–6), played by Totò and Ninetto Davoli, wander around this suburban wasteland disfigured by the construction of motorways and new neighbourhoods, moving further and further away from the city centre to ramble aimlessly in what was left (in the mid-sixties) of the Roman countryside.
Rome was still the focal point of Pasolini's life, but he soon began to mark his distance from it, moving to southern Italy (which he chose as the location for his Gospel According to St. Matthew in 1964), to India which he visited in the course of a long journey with Moravia in 1961, and to Africa. He began to see the Third World as an alternative to provincial Italy, with which he was becoming thoroughly disenchanted, although Rome continued to be the place in which he could most fully express his "desperate vitality". In early 1963 he travelled to Yemen, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, and from March to November of that year he filmed Comizi d'amore (Love Meetings) on a subject that was still taboo in the country that hosted the Vatican. To make the film, he travelled the length and breadth of Italy in his car, microphone at the ready, interviewing the Italian people on their idea of sexuality. His travels took him from Milan to Palermo via Modena, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples and Catanzaro, because he wanted to capture the different attitudes to sex in the country's various regions and social classes. In 1977 Michel Foucault was to publish an essay in which he evinced immense interest in this attempt at an "Italian reality movie". After a location hunt in Palestine, which disappointed him, he spent a few days motoring around the south of Italy and successfully identified all of the locations he needed to film his Gospel According to St. Matthew. The film, dedicated to Pope John XXIII, caused a public outcry at the Venice Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize, while the Golden Lion for which he had been hoping went to Michelangelo Antonioni's Il deserto rosso (Red Desert). The Gospel According to St. Matthew was also shown in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. At that time the French capital was fast becoming a second centre of gravity for Pasolini's intellectual life. It is as though he felt the need to extend his dialogue to involve other interlocutors in addition to those of his native country, although he continued regularly to take issue with the latter in the printed press. In Paris Pasolini traded ideas and theories with the leading French thinkers of the time, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz and Jean-Luc Godard, from whom he was later to "borrow" actors Anne Wiazemsky and Jean-Pierre Léaud for Teorema (Theorem) and Porcile (Pigsty).
1966 – 1969
While eating at a restaurant one evening in March 1966, Pasolini collapsed in a pool of blood from a haemorrhage caused by an ulcer. Rushed to hospital, he was to spend a whole month convalescing at home, where he wrote the six tragedies in verse that make up virtually his entire output for the theatre. This marked the start of a period in which Pasolini fell completely out of love with Rome, with the way the city was changing and with what it represented in his eyes. He watched the devastating effect that the consumer society and television were having on the people he had loved so deeply when he first arrived in the city but who had now completely lost their innocence. He witnessed the destruction of the Roman lumpenproletariat culture that had been a major source of inspiration for such a large part of his writing and film-making career. He was to complain that the whole of Italy had become middle class, apart from Naples which never changes. He was deeply saddened by the death in 1967 of Totò, the source of much of the comic relief in his short films after Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows). He filmed Oedipus Rex in Morocco, apart from the prologue – unquestionably the most autobiographical sequence in his entire filmography – which he set in Lombardy to evoke his childhood in Friuli. This was followed by the events of 1968, which began in Italy well before the uprising of "Mai '68" in France. In a poem that created a huge stir – entitled Il PCI ai giovani!! (Let the Younger Generation Have the Italian Communist Party!!) – Pasolini stated that his sympathies lay with the policemen, mostly the sons of peasant farmers who had not been able to find any other kind of job, rather than with the bourgeois students born with silver spoons in their mouths. He confronted the young students in Turin with this provocational position, putting on a production of his play Orgia (Orgy) in the city with Laura Betti. The only light in his life in what was a moment of general disenchantment was his encounter with Maria Callas, to whom he gave the role of Medea in the film of the same name. He filmed the prologue in the lagoon of Grado, where he forged a unique relationship with the famous soprano based on an intense and loving friendship.
1971 – 1975
When Pasolini heard in 1971 that Ninetto Davoli was planning to get married, he became deeply depressed. From 1970 to 1974 he threw himself into the production of the Trilogy of Life in the vain hope that he would be able to use the cinema to recreate a legendary world in which he might rediscover the lost pagan innocence of the bodies he had loved when he first came to Rome. He filmed the Decameron in southern Italy, moving to England for the Canterbury Tales and to Egypt, Yemen, India, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Nepal for the Arabian Nights. On completing the trilogy, Pasolini realised just how deliberately he had been trying to flee the reality of "cultural genocide" and solemnly abjured the three films. He continued to live and work in Rome, yet he chose locations that were neither too near nor too far from the city to build two houses, the ideal homes for the man he had become. The first, near Viterbo, was the spectral home of a writer and painter (he had avidly taken up painting again in the meantime), resting amid the ruins of a medieval building, the tower of Chia, which he had discovered by chance while filming the scene of Christ's baptism in the Gospel According to St. Matthew, but which he only managed to buy in 1970. It personified his rejection of Rome and its changing lifestyle, representing an imaginary return to the Middle Ages and the countryside of his youth in Friuli. His second house was a house of friendship, which Moravia and he had built in the dunes of Sabaudia overlooking the sea. But he was to use it rarely, only moving in to spend the last summer of his life there, in 1975. The two major projects on which he worked in this final period of his life were Petrolio (Petrol), an ambitious magnum opus which was still unfinished when he died, and the film Salò. In Petrolio, a "total novel", Pasolini returned to dwell on his love for Rome and on how the city had changed over the past few decades. While working on Salò he received death threats, his negatives were stolen and he came under considerable political pressure. In the event, he was never to see the film released because his horribly mangled body was discovered in a field at the Idroscalo di Ostia on the morning of 2 November 1975. It still is not clear what exactly happened on that fateful night. Certainly no one any longer believes the version given in Giuseppe Pelosi's confession.