Researching the film Salo for an article in the summer edition of New Humanist (out now!) has sent me back to the films of Pasolini, in all their wonderful, exasperating glory. Pasolini is not a film maker of the mundane – his topics are meant to unsettle, his method of cinematography to provoke. He always argued that he was, first and formeost a poet – a point well made by Stephen Sarterelli in his terrific introduction to his The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini which came out last year through the University of Chicago Press – and that he chose film as a medium in order to reach the largest possible audience for his art.
It is a poet’s sensibility he brings to his film making. To take one powerful instance, in a key scene in his astonishing The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, he introduces a simple series of shots of Christ speaking words of the Gospel, and, by having the words spoken as emphatically and disjointedly as they are presented in Matthew, we feel both their force and their mystery. As a poet, Pasolini allows the disjunctures of the text to provide a sacred space, into which meaning rushes.
It is a point similar to the one made by Ricard Beard in his fine article on the power of the Gospels in the Guardian, here. As writers, so often the temptation is to overwrite, to fix meaning as precisely as possible. Sometimes this is necessary (insofar as it is ‘possible’). But art, including great writing, must press against this, and allow meaning to generate itself, and, sometimes contradict itself, if it is to have a chance at greatness.
Anyway, buy the New Humanist!