Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pier Paolo Pasolini's Last Days Documented In Film

Director Pasolini at work creating art.
Previously playing at film festivals, today marks the official release date of the new film Pasolini in Italy. The film, written and directed by Abel Ferrara, chronicles the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini's final days before being brutally murdered. American actor Willem Dafoe plays the legendary Italian filmmaker. Among the legions of controversial movies that Pasolini released (Accattone, Salò, Teorema, etc.), there was a gem in the center of his career that featured renowned Greek opera soprano Maria Callas. The year was 1969 and the film was Medea. Based on the plot of the Euripides play, the Pasolini version featured the soprano as the protagonist in her only non-singing role. The plot for the film: "To
Acting Chops: Maria Callas in the title role
 of Medea film with Giuseppe Gentile as Jason.
win the kingdom his uncle took from his father, Jason must steal the golden fleece from the land of barbarians, where Medea is royalty and a powerful sorceress, where human sacrifice helps crops to grow. Medea sees Jason and swoons, then enlists her brother's aid to take the fleece. She then murders her brother and becomes Jason's lover. Back in Greece, the king keeps the throne, the fleece has no power, and Medea lives an exile's life, respected but feared, abandoned by Jason. When she learns he's to marry the king's daughter, Medea tames her emotions and sends gifts via her sons; then, loss overwhelms her and she unleashes a fire storm on the king, the bride, and Jason." The beginning of the Pasolini/Callas relationship was quite tepid: "Pasolini treated her with kid gloves from their first meeting in March 1969, one that followed on exchanges of letters and telephone calls. He spoke softly and they struck it off immediately. She had been known to snap unpleasantly about 'homosexuals and Marxists' (her friendships with both notwithstanding): Nothing unpleasant occurred. The production proceeded from the first day that summer with the calm of two professionals animated by mutual esteem, locked in their common task. Pasolini's
Dynamic Duo: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Maria
Callas at the Medea premiere in Paris.
plan was to present Medea through images, a film not directed to the obvious audience of Callas' opera fans. Besides, he did not like opera anyway. At eighteen he went to the Teatro Duse in Bologna and saw his first performance, an 'ugly' rendition of Il trovatore: 'I suffered such a shock that I never went to the opera again"; but after going with Ninetto to hear Giuseppe di Stefano in Rigoletto, in the open air at the Baths of Caracalla during the mid-sixties, 'From then on, I began to have a feeling and a love for opera. Nevertheless, he thought swooning over Callas singing 'Vissi d'arte' was so much ceccheria (approximately: queenery); Callas as the darling of homosexuals all over the world interested him not at all. He said, 'Here is a woman, in one sense the most modern of woman, but there lives in her an ancient woman - savage, mysterious, magical, with terrible inner conflicts.' Pasolini merged the real Callas, the Medea inside her but palpable to him, with the Medea of ancient myth, a personality quite as 'real' as the living opera legend before him. He noted: 'The barbarian deep inside [Callas], who emerged through her eyes, her shape, does not manifest itself directly, on the contrary, the surface is almost smooth. Overall, the ten years [Medea] passes at Corinth are a bit like the life of Callas. She came out of a peasant world, Greek, antique, and then had a bourgeois formation. Thus in a certain sense, I tried to concentrate in her character that which she is, in her total complexity.'" During the making of the film the two became good friends,
A Place in the Sun: Callas vacationing with Pasolini (and her poodles).
even vacationing together: "In the summer of 1970 he joined Callas on Tragonisi, an Aegean island in the Petalii group owned by Perry Embiricos - a great music lover, heir to one of the great Greek shipping fortunes. The part on vacation included Callas, [her confidante-assistant] Nadia Stancioff, one of Onassis' partners from his early whaling business and his wife: an odd ensemble. As he and Callas talked on the beach, Pasolini sketched her, continuing the series of portraits he had started during the filming of Medea the year before. He folded a paper into squares and drew her profile on each, using transparent glue and flowers for color. Stanciff says that he exclaimed, 'This is art in the making. Now it must dry in the sun for twenty-four hours. I shall make only three, and one will be for you.' One undated sheet, believed to be from the drawings series of 1969-1970, repeats the abstracted image of a profile or a mountain - just lines running from lower-left to upper-right in sixteen squares of a folded page. It is an image repetitive, automatic. At the bottom of this sheet, he penned, 'The world does not want me anymore and does not know it' (Il mondo non mi vuole più e non lo sa). Between 1969 and 1971 Pasolini made fourteen drawings of Callas in all: a first group in Cervignano del Friuli and five more in Greece. In Italy he worked at the dinner table, combining the red and white wine at hand, a bit of candle-wax, crushed flower petals. On the beach he took the materials he found there and worked his alchemy with them." [Source, SourceSource, Source, Source] Watch a trailer for the film Pasolini, and see world release dates, after the jump.

A private moment among friends: Pasolini and Callas on the beach in 1969.

Italy4 September 2014(Venice Film Festival)
Canada8 September 2014(Toronto International Film Festival)
France12 September 2014(Deauville Film Festival)
Spain21 September 2014(Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival)
Italy25 September 2014
USA2 October 2014(New York Film Festival)
South Korea5 October 2014(Busan International Film Festival)
UK10 October 2014(London Film Festival)

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