Pasolini was what you might call a film theorist. Or anyway, that's what he called himself. No, more important film theorists came before and after him. Lars Von Trier, Peter Greenaway, Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Paul Schrader to a certain, oft facile extent and certainly Tarkovski. Maybe Masahiro Shinoda. None of them is a perfect example, but if you've seen enough of their work you get my meaning. It deserves some more thought.

Film theorists, as Pasolini would like us to believe, are not people who concern themselves with plot specifics or reasonable character archs, but directors who manipulate both for the sake of proposing something greater. Teorema, the first movie where this was put into practice for the first time in 1968. It stars Terrence Stamp as a gorgeous divine force who seduces an entire family, even the maid, and then leaves. Their reactions are all different but it is only the maid, the sole member of the working class, who actually benefits from their encounter. Pasolini never said whether or not Stamp was supposed to be god or satan but it hardly matters. He is of some other realm and wields a great and terrible power. His desire to be a theoretical filmmaker was really part of a greater identity crisis that stemmed from a deep hatred of himself and the world that created him. He felt it desperately unfair that he was destined to be a wealthy artist while millions were poor and died. That's why his films were initially neo-realist in nature, he wanted to show the world what poverty and religion were doing to the people of slumland Italy. Prostitutes and hustlers were his people and he pitted them against priests, the law and the idle rich. Religious idolatry was another specialty of his. He wasn't satisfied telling the truth, so he left that behind and began his quest for spiritual satisfaction. He failed by his own admission. He did however get the wheels in the head turning like with his notions of theory. And so something else emerges - film as an idea rather than entertainment. Which is fittingly an Italian notion as they also pioneered the practice of making entertainments that weren't entertaining. Anyone who says they enjoy Late Night Trains, is, I'm afraid, lying. Teorema doesn't seem designed by someone out to assault you with aesthetics, yet its beauty comes through anyway, rather like a Bunuel gutted for speed. He uses shorthand like Terence Stamp and volcanic landscapes. You could mistake it for entertainment or surrealism, but it's something more and less. It's been covered many times since, because it is in essence, the perfect arthouse idea. The consequences of the visitor on each member of the family is where your new artists (Joe Swanberg, Takashi Miike) get to add their new coat of paint. In rejecting conventional narrative, and even his usual mise-en-scene, he created a whole new way to frame ideas. The world caught on eventually, but by then Pasolini was dead, killed by the very people he had set out to glorify, a rebuke to his own theory, having tried to walk among another class and failing to change them, only those who were his peers - other artists. Roberto Saviano quotes him in his book, the impossibly gripping Gomorrah, and it's clear that though many of us will forever be touched by his idealism, masked as it may have been behind mountains of anger, they may never save the people he wished, or touch the people who need it most.

No comments: