1. "That bastard is dead"
Marcello Elisei, 19, dies at 3 a.m, alone like a dog chained up in an abandoned house. He dies after a day and a night of screams, supplications, wails, left with neither food nor water, tied by the wrists and ankles to a table in a cell of the Regina Coeli prison. He has bronchial pneumonia, he is in a state of shock, the cell is gelid. The ropes block his blood circulation. From a nearby cell, another inmate — neofascist Paolo Signorelli — hears the young man shouting for a long time, then wheezing, asking for water, and finally silence. The next morning, he asks what happened. "That bastard is dead," a prison guard replies. The date is November 29, 1959.
Marcello Elisei was serving a four years and seven months sentence for stealing car tyres. He had showcased signs of mental disorder. The clearest of signs: he had swallowed nails, then removed through stomach pumping; the previous day he had banged his head several times on the wall, in an attempt to kill himself. Doctors in prison had accused him of "simulating". The guards had dragged him forcefully and tied him to that table.
On December 15, prison warden Carmelo Scalia resigns, officially for health reasons. Apart from this, no one would pay for Elisei's death. Inquiries and trials would exonerate all the investigated parties.
Reading about the event, Pier Paolo Pasolini is shocked. "I don't know how I could have written an article on this horrible death," he says in the magazine Noi donne dated December 27, 1959. "But it is certainly an episode I will include in one of the stories I have in mind, or maybe even in the novel Il rio della grana." An unfinished novel, then included in the collection Ali dagli occhi azzurri (1965). Were I to write an investigation, he adds, "I would be absolutely ruthless with those responsible: from the guards to the warden. And I wouldn't forget to mention the responsibility of our rulers."
The solitary agony and death of Marcello Elisei would run deep in Pasolini, and would inspire the ending of Mamma Roma (1962). But in 1959 Pasolini is not yet a filmmaker. He is 37 years old, he has written collections of poetry, screenplays, and two novels that have caused uproar: Ragazzi di vita and Una vita violenta. He has already gone through arrests, charges, and trials. The prime minister's cabinet was directly involved in Ragazzi di vita's censorship. Nevertheless, this is nothing compared to the fascist stalking, police and judicial mobbing, and media lynching the man is about to endure.
In the collective book Pasolini: judicial report, persecution, death (1977), Stefano Rodotà summarises the issue in one sentence: "Pasolini remained uninterruptedly in the hand of judges from 1960 to 1975." And beyond, actually. Post mortem. Rodotà talks about a "single trial," a long chain of investigations and hearings that dragged Pasolini in courtrooms countless times, even several times a day, through humiliations and oppression, while the press outside insulted him, mocked him, lynched him.
2. Free journalism
"We are obviously in agreement against the police institution."
The man who writes this verse in June 1968 has already gone through four arrests, 16 charges and eleven trials, in addition to three assaults by neofascists (all dismissed by judges) and a police search of his apartment, to look for firearms. "As soon as I'll have a bit of time", he writes in an unpublished note, "I'll publish a white paper on a dozen of judicial sentences against me: without comments. It will be one of the most comical books published in Italy. But now things aren't comical anymore. They are tragic, because they aren't anymore about the persecution of a scapegoat [...]: now it's about a vast, deep, and calculated endeavour of repression, to which the most reactionary part of the judicial system has zealously dedicated itself...". And more: "I have spent about fifteen millions in lawyers, to defend myself in absurd and purely political trials."
Nowadays it's hard, almost impossible to understand the extent of the persecution endured by Pasolini for fifteen years. A strategy of lynching and of mystifications, an exhibition launched in 2005 and set up again recently in the Sala Borsa of Bologna, barely offers us distant echoes. It can only be this way, for to understand we would have to descend into the abyss — as was done by Franco Grattarola, author in 2005 of Pasolini. Una vita violentata ("Pasolini. A molested life") — and recall the series of media drubbings. We would have to confront an unimaginable and filthy homophobia. Ponder upon a whole rotten corpus of articles, as dense as a big bowl of dung and worms.
Amongst the daily newspapers, Il Tempo is the most noteworthy, but it is the right-wing periodic press that torments Pasolini in thuggish and uninterrupted fashion. Illustrated magazines such as Lo Specchio and Il Borghese enthusiastically devote themselves to their mission, with reporters and writers tailing the victim, provoking him, hitting him on each occasion, with titles like "The arse beats to the left" and an unmistakable style inherited today by Libero — to mention only one of those rags.
In the pages of Il Borghese, the most egregious slanderers are musical critic Piero Buscaroli and future author and TV director Pier Francesco Pingitore, founder of Il Bagaglino. Other insults come from writer Giovannino Guareschi and, in one occasion, from film critic Gian Luigi Rondi. Yet the queen of anti-pasolinism is undoubtedly Gianna Preda, a pseudonym for Maria Giovanna Pazzagli Predassi (1922-1981), who would then go on to cofound — you've guessed it — Il Bagaglino.
Celebrated to this day in a right-wing blog as "the lady of free journalism," "above the pack," "neither a moralist nor an obscurantist," and so on and so forth, Preda nurtures against Pasolini a true homophobic, erotophobic and — ça va sans dire — ideological obsession. She often refers to the author/filmmaker as "la Pasolina." For homosexuals, described as shady conspirators, she coins the term "pasolinidi." She goes on for years — even after PPP's death — writing things like this:
With undiminished cockiness, [Pasolini] has continued to confuse the issues of the backside with those of antifascism [...] A secret alliance [...] has contributed to making the 'capsized' the biggest and steadiest party in Italy; a party that always ends up – through its most eminent representatives – leading or serving the Pci [Communist Party] [...] The 'capsized' smells what is convenient to him and whom he needs to rely on, in order to not be confronted by public opinion over his vice [...] And so a new myth is born [...] The left-wing press will take care of [celebrating it], managing to portray as heroism what is in fact the secret fear of this or that 'capsized'. [...] Therefore, if we will have new clashes with Marxists [...] before covering our chests we should make sure to cover our butt cheeks...
The "Boffo method" [slanderous media attacks to delegitimize a public figure] has a long history. And so do the various conspiracy theories on evil "gender theory."
Gianna Preda's equivalent on Lo Specchio is writer and former Salo' republican Giose Rimanelli, hidden behind the nom de plume A.G. Solari. As would be expected, frenzied attacks on Pasolini also come from Il Secolo d'Italia, although a slier and more influent enterprise of character assassination is seen in the mass nationalist-conservative press, such as Oggi or Gente.
It goes a lot further, unfortunately. Pasolini seems to be the litmus test revealing the worse. In 1968, filmmaker Sergio Leone, interviewed by Il Borghese, feels an urge to comment this way the controversies surrounding Teorema: "I am convinced that many films on homosexuality have contributed in making perfectly normal and legitimate this abnormal form of relationship". Homophobic quips are even found in the Manifesto: "[Pasolini's] thesis, once reduced to the bone (the sacrum), is very clear..." (January 21, 1975). As Tullio De Mauro wrote:
Black spurts also end up polluting relatively far away waters. Verbal language is not only about what we say and hear. It is about the things that surround what is said and heard, within our common memory. The unspoken weighs heavily next to the spoken, it defines our appreciation and understanding of it. He who reads the article "Pasolini blesses nudists" in l'Espresso of February 18, 1968, with a photograph of a naked young man riding a cello, finds himself taken by the effects of the fascist black spurts, whether he likes it or not, and whether the editors of the radical-socialist weekly want it or not.
It is a vast campaign aiming at enabling, or rather instigating not merely police and judicial actions, but also physical assaults by fascists. Fascists who would never be touched by judges, and who would eventually end up in various investigations on the "strategy of tension", such as Serafino Di Luia, Flavio Campo, and Paolo Pecoriello.
On February 13, 1964, in front of the Casa dello Studente in Rome, a Fiat 600 tries to run over a group of Pasolini's friends who were defending him from a fascist attack. The person driving the car is Adriano Romualdi, disciple of Julius Evola and son of Pino Romualdi, member of parliament and president of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Msi). Whilst the event is detailed in every Pasolini biography, it is nowhere to be found in Romualdi's Wikipedia page.
Pasolini does not press charges, neither for the media slander nor for the physical aggressions. It is a pondered-upon decision: he doesn't want to lower himself to his persecutors' level. Furthermore, were he to press charges, he would only increase the already inordinate amount of time spent in courtrooms.
3. How come?
Why such a persecution? Because he was homosexual? He was certainly not the only one amongst artists and writers. Because he was homosexual and communist? Yes, but this isn't enough either. Because he was homosexual, communist, and expressed himself openly against the bourgeoisie, government, Christian Democracy, fascists, judges, and police? Yes, this is enough. It would have been enough anywhere, let alone in Italy and in that Italy.
As Alberto Moravia wrote, Pasolini scandalised that "Italian bourgeoisie that had created within four centuries two of the most conservative movements in Europe, namely counter-reformation and fascism."
Italian bourgeoisie has taken its revenge, and still does in devious ways. That nonsense about how "Pasolini sided with the police," repeated by today's fascists, conformists, and fake anti-conformists, comes on the heels of the revenge of yesterday's fascists, conformists and fake anti-conformists.
Even the posthumous portrayal of Pasolini — simplified, flattened, polished and reduced to a cardboard cutout — is also part of that revenge.
4. "They cannot lie forever"
Fernando Tambroni, who had already been interior minister then treasury minister, becomes in March 1960 prime minister of a Christian-Democratic government. This executive is formed thanks to Msi votes in parliament. Barely fifteen years after the liberation, a neofascist force is getting close to government. Protests and unrests spark throughout the country. On July 30, protesters in the tens of thousand clash with the police in Genova, a city of workers and of Resistance chosen by the Msi to hold its congress. On July 7, police forces shoot at a trade union march in Reggio Emilia, killing five people. On July 19, Tambroni resigns.
The magazine Vie nuove — in which Pasolini holds a column to interact with readers — instantly produces a disk on the Reggio Emilia slaughter. It is a recording of the shooting. In the Vie nuove of August 20, 1960, Pasolini comments: "What strikes [...] is the organised and mechanic coldness of the police firing: shot after shot, rattling after rattling, unstoppable, like a game, almost with the distracted delight of fun."
These are the days of Eichmann's trial, and Pasolini connects the two stories:
He used to kill like this, with that cold and expected detachment, with that demented dissociation. The police's justifications [...] will probably be similar to those we already know...They will also evoke orders, duty, etc. [...] Italian police...almost configures itself like an occupying foreign army, settled in the heart of Italy. How to fight against this power and its army? [...] We have a powerful weapon for struggle: the force of reason, with the coherence as well as moral and physical resistance it gives us. It is with it that we have to fight, without losing a single beat, without retreating. Our enemies are as week critically and rationally as they are strong police-wise: they cannot lie forever.
In 1961 Pasolini makes his first film, Accattone. In a country where people read very little, cinema is potentially more dangerous than literature. The bourgeois disapprobation, censorship, and repression targeting Pasolini's films (all of them) would be incommensurably greater than for his books and articles. And if one of those films evokes Marcello Elisei's death...
In 1962, the ending of Mamma Roma — a film that unleashes a wave of fascist violence and is immediately banned — features Ettore, a febrile young man dying in jail, crying and calling for his mother, tied up to a bed in his underwear. "Help, help, why did you put me here? I can't take it anymore, I swear, I can't take it anymore...I'm behaving now...Mamma, I'm so cold...I'm not well...Mamma!...Mamma, I'm dying...I've been here all night...I can't take it anymore."
On August 31, 1962, lieutenant-colonel Giulio Fabi, commander of the Venezia carabinieri, reports Mamma Roma for obscenity and adds: "We note that the author and director Pasolini as well as one of the actors, Citti, are known to have had previous convictions at the Rome court." Amongst those who follow and appreciate Pasolini, the hypothesis is that it was the film's ending which rattled the police.
From there onwards, Pasolini is hit by a violent wave of censorship and repression, unheard of for any other Italian artists.
5. "Destroy Power"
This is the sense of the adverb "obviously," used by Pasolini to reinforce a premise that is important to him. It is of course obvious that PPP is against the police institution.
The next verse is even more obvious: "But try to pick on the judges, and you'll see!" Those judges that have persecuted Pasolini so much, continue and would continue to persecute him, even after death.
It is from this position that in the poem "Il Pci ai giovani" [The Communist Party to the youth] he lays on the page a bunch of "ugly verses" — his definition — in a confused reflection, which soon derails and becomes a rant, an anti-bourgeois tirade. As he would write shortly after: "I am too traumatised by the bourgeoisie, and my hatred for it is by now pathologic."
Albeit formally poor and lacking substantial focus, after having read all of this tirade (the entirety of it, not just the 4-5 extrapolated verses brandished like clubs by some henchmen) one cannot conclude that "Pasolini was with the police."
Pasolini describes the policemen who faced the students at Valle Giulia as "humiliated by the loss of their human quality / for their policemen one." The police institution dehumanises. Therefore the students — "those thousand or two thousand youngsters my brothers / who operate in Trento or in Torino, / in Pavia or Pisa, / In Florence and also a bit in Rome" — are "on the side of reason", and the police "in the wrong." If this is not understood, one cannot capture Pasolini's paradoxical intent. The paradox helps him underscore that true revolution will not be achieved by students, because they are children of bourgeois. At the most they'll be able to start a generational "civil war," within the bourgeoisie. Revolution, says Pasolini, can only be done by workers, whose arses will never be kissed by the bourgeois press, in the way it is doing with the students — according to Pasolini's hyperbole. Workers are the real threat for capitalist power, which is why they will suffer the heaviest police repression; "The policemen will limit itself to taking a few punches in an occupied factory?" he asks rhetorically. It is thus precisely there that the students should be, if they want to be revolutionary: among workers. "Masters are made by occupying Factories / not universities." Above all, students have to take up "the only truly dangerous tool / to fight against [their] fathers: / that is communism." Pasolini exhorts them to seize the Pci, a party that has as "theoric objective" the "destruction of Power" (the extinction of the State that Marx defines as the final objective of class struggle and socialism), but that has ended up in shameful hands, the hands of "double-breasted gentlemen", "bourgeois peers of your stupid fathers." To occupy Pci federations, explains Pasolini, would help the party "to at least destroy the bourgeois elements it holds."
This exhortation is found throughout the second part of the piece, yet — unsurprisingly — it is never mentioned. I know, your head's spinning. They had told you that "Il Pci ai giovani" praised police repression. You heard verses of this poem quoted by public prosecutors while they were asking for heavy sentences against No Tav protestors. You heard them in the mouth of Belpietro. You read them in the communiqués of [police unions] Sap and Coisp...
6. An infamous mantra
"Il Pci ai giovani" was immediately attacked, and not only by the students it criticised. Franco Fortini showered Pasolini with insults. Beyond the mountain of insults, the criticisms were on point. Pasolini tried to explain himself, trying to not renege on the paradox. Those verses were "ugly" because they had not been enough "on their own to express what the author [wanted] to express." Those verses were "split," meaning ironic, auto-ironic. He talked of "boutade," of a "captatio malevolantiae", but he never backed down from the point he had chosen to make: an invitation for students to "make the only remaining possible choice [...] in favour of what is not bourgeois."
However, by then the damage was already done, and would keep on coming back for the next forty years, to the delight of "post-fascists," company unions, TV talking heads, know-it-all pundits, Pavlovian commentators.
Every time social struggles ignite and police intervene to repress them, the "infamous mantra" on Pasolini supporting the police and their batons reappears. That mantra has supported every resort to police violence. Bludgeonings, tear gas shot in faces, toxic fumes, the killing of Carlo Giuliani, the irruption at the Diaz school in Genova, corporate solidarity for the murderers of Federico Aldovandri, etc. Every now and then, sentences taken out of context on "daddy's boys" protestors and proletarian policemen are used against precarious workers, evicted people, or populations that fight against the devastation of their territory.
I however suspect that the mantra has imposed itself only from the 90s onwards, along with some "appropriations" of Pasolini's thought. In the 1968-75 period, it is obvious that no ruler, no supporter of order ever understood these verses as apologetic towards repression. One just needs to look at how the relationship between Pasolini, the police, and the judiciary system went on, as opposed to his subsequent relationship with the student movement and the extra-parliamentary left.
7. "Anti-national propaganda"
In August 1968, two months after the controversy around "Il Pci ai giovani," Pasolini takes part in the protest against the Venice Film Festival, occupies the cinema palace at the Lido, withstands the police's clearing out, and is charged yet another time. He would be tried along with other film directors, on account of "disturbing other people's pacific possession of property." He is acquitted in October 1969.
In the magazine Tempo of September 21, 1968, Pasolini's column — "Chaos" — contains a "Letter to the Prime Minister," who in those days was Giovanni Leone, not yet President of the Republic, and not yet impeached. The writer accuses the head of government for the repression in Venice. Those who believe Pasolini was against '68 and against the protestors would be struck by this excerpt (the italic is mine):
In '44-'45 and in '68, albeit partially, the Italian people has understood the meaning — maybe only at a pragmatic level — of self-management and decentralisation, and has violently lived through a demand for real democracy, even if undefined. The Resistance and the Student Movement are the Italian people's only two democratic-revolutionary experience. All around there is silence and desert: political apathy, state degeneration, horrible Savoyard, Borbonic, and Papal traditions.
Leone replies convolutedly. Pasolini holds his ground and in the issue of October 5, 1968, he reiterates: "I was there that night, and I saw police violence with my own eyes."
Two months later, in the issue dated December 21, 1968, Pasolini comments on yet another police killing — two labourers riddled with bullets in Avola, Sicily — and voices his support for the Pci's proposal to disarm the police:
Disarming the police means indeed creating the objective conditions for an immediate change in the psychology of the policeman. A disarmed policeman is a different policeman. It would lead to the sudden collapse of that "false idea of himself" ascribed to him by Power, which has programmed him like a robot.
In one of the columns, found by Gian Carlo Ferretti, Pasolini replies to one Romana Grandi, a right-wing reader who has sent a Msi-Dn tract filled with insults against him and other intellectuals: "You could at least make a small effort, given that you keep repeating that you are a worker: have you not noticed that those beaten by the police are the workers (and the students who fight at the side of workers)?"
Autumn '69 — known as "hot autumn" — is a season of important struggles and workers victories. As a response, a bomb explodes on December 12 in Piazza Fontana, Milan. Like clockwork, a campaign is kicked off to fabricate the involvement of anarchists or leftist and worker movements. On December 15, Giuseppe Pinelli dies. On December 16, Rai 1's newscast correspondent, Bruno Vespa, tells millions of people that "Pietro Valpreda is the culprit, one of those guilty of Milano's carnage." The anarchist Valpreda becomes the monster.
Pasolini, Moravia, Maraini, Asor Rosa and other intellectuals sign a call "against the repressive surge." In the issue of Il Borghese dated December 28, 1969, Alberto Giovannini doesn't miss his chance and writes:
Apart from Valpreda, who is used to not only turning his back to the hated bourgeoisie but also to the young boys he so loves, there are many other 'transvestites' and 'faggots' among the arrested; and this cannot let P.P. Pasolini indifferent, as he is most certainly the spiritual father of all the capsized of Italy, only because this thankless nature [...] has not allowed him to be their mother.
In the issue of Tempo of January 10, 1970, Pasolini speaks directly to social-democratic MP Mauro Ferri, and writes:
The extremism of minority and extra-parliamentary leftist groups has in no way brought about the Piazza Fontana carnage (it is heinous to even think that): it has brought about the greatest victory for metalworkers. Before the actions of Potere Operaio and of other minority groups outside the parties, trade unions were sleeping.
For two months, starting on March 1, 1971, Pasolini acts as the editor of Lotta Continua's publication, knowing he risks being investigated, indicted and tried for the paper's contents. That happens on October 18 of that same year, on account of having "instigated militaries to disobey orders [...], carried out anti-national propaganda, for the subversion of the State-sanctioned economic and social orders and for publically instigating to commit crimes." Maximum sentence in the penal code: 15 years of imprisonment. Witnesses for the prosecution: officers, petty officers, public security agents, and carabinieri.
After this indictment, Rai blocks the airing of Enzo Biagi's television programme, dismissing any kind of presumption of innocence. Today it's one of Pasolini's most famous television appearances, but many don't know it was censored and was only aired after his death, five years after the recording.
Meanwhile, members of the police are at the forefront to demand — and most often obtain — the requisition of Pasolini's work. In Bari, inspector of police Santoro emphasises the "horrifying" obscenity of the film Decameron. In Ancona, a complaint is filed against the same film by forestry inspector Lorenzo Mannozzi Torini, a "pioneer of truffle cultivation" according to Wikipedia.
Definitely worn out but certainly not intimidated, Pasolini finances and shoots with Lotta Continua's cinema collective a investigative documentary on Piazza Fontana and on the state of struggles in Italy. With a screenplay by Giovanni Bonfanti and Goffredo Fofi, the documentary, named "December 12", comes out in 1972 with a caption: "from an idea by Pier Paolo Pasolini."
Once more in November 1973, when his relationship with Lotta Continua is tense and about to break, Pasolini says: "Lotta Continua kids are extremists, yes, maybe fanatic and insolently boorish from a cultural point of view, but they push their luck and that is precisely why I think they deserve to be supported. We must want too much in order to obtain a little.
8. "Our old acquaintances"
The last phase of his life, "corsair" and "Lutheran", is characterised by the renewed and relentless demand for a great indictment of Christian Democracy, of its rulers and mandarins, of the accomplices to their policies.
After "Il Pci ai giovani," a few other Pasolini one-liners from the 1974-75 period are constantly taken out of context and subject to instrumental readings.
For example, paradoxes such as the "fascism of antifascists" are extrapolated to defend gatherings of the far right, without mentioning that Pasolini used the expression to attack the hypocrisy of all the parties in power, which — he says in an interview of June 1975 — "will keep on setting up other assassinations and other carnages, and therefore fabricating fascist hired guns; they will thus create an antifascist tension to recapture their antifascist virginity, and to steal votes from thieves; however, they will maintain in the meantime the impunity of fascist gangs, which they could get rid of in a day, if they wanted."
What is left without context? A handful of images — fireflies, the end of peasants' world, hippies' homologated bodies — reduced to clichés and rendered harmless. What remains is the "technicised myth" of a light and lactose-free pseudoPasolini, fed by that same dominant culture that persecuted Pasolini, by the journalistic heirs of his slanderers and by the political heirs of those who attacked him in the streets.
On October 8, 1975, in the pages of Il Corriere della Sera, Pasolini comments on Rai's airing of Accatone. He explains that his debut film presented two continuity phenomena between the fascist and Christian-democratic regimes: "Firstly, the underclass' segregation in a marginality where everything was different; secondly, ruthless, criminal, incontestable police violence.
With regards to the first phenomenon, Pasolini writes, consumerist society has even "integrated" and homologated the underclass, their habits, their bodies. Therefore, the world depicted in Accattone is forever gone.
Little time has gone by, but those parts of Rome have changed. Pasolini passes through them and behind every crossing, behind every building, behind every youth shack he sees — through a slightly bewildered juxtaposition — what the crossing, the building and those youngsters were. Every thing seems the same, but the emotional tone is altered, the base note is unrecognisable. For a powerful psycho-geographic account of this duplicity, see Merda's stroll in Petrolio, Notes 71-74a.
What does Pasolini however say about the second continuity phenomenon between fascist regime and Christian-democratic regime? "On this point we all agree immediately," he writes, and knows he's being incendiary. He is addressing Il Corriere della Sera readers, all of them probably do not agree with the description of police violence as "ruthless" and "criminal."
But the author is adamantine: "Too many words are useless. Part of the police is still like this." A reference to Spanish police follows, Franquist regime's guardia civil. It is an incomprehensible reference today, if one doesn't know what was happening in Spain at the time. This is a L'Unità title dated October 4, 1975: "Torture in Madrid. / It has systematically been used by Franquist police on no less than 250 Basques. — The conclusion of an Amnesty International investigation — Ghastly testimonials."
The excerpt is short, but not perfunctory. It shows us yet another bewildered "double world." Through fascist police in Madrid and Barcelona, writes Pasolini, we see our own police, "our old acquaintances in all of their squallid splendor."
9. The smiling man
Three weeks later, in the night between the 1st and 2nd of November, Pasolini's body lies in Ostia's mud, thrashed, reduced to a single blood-soaked rag.
Now, to conclude, I borrow Roberto Chiesi's words:
If you go through the horrible photographs of Pasolini's corpse's discovery, there is one, maybe the most horrible, which shows the tortured body, surrounded by some investigators and policemen on their knees. There is a policemen sitting next to Pasolini's corpse, he smiles. The photo shows it unmistakably: it is a scornful smile, a disdainful smile. This image can be taken as a sample of a worse Italy, one we should refuse, condensed in that black and white image, published at the time on many newspapers' front pages.
Pasolini continued to be against the police, the police continued to be against Pasolini.