Caught at the Castro: Pasolini Retrospective and Ferrara Prospective

Amelia - Cinema Italia San Francisco
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Henry Etzkowitz

Cinema Italia San Francisco honored renown Italian filmmaker, Pier Paulo Pasolini with Five films and a reception from 10:30am to past midnight, Saturday 10 September. In case you missed the chance to view the renowned filmmaker full screen, follow up events at the Berkeley Art Museum offer a second chance, this October.

Abel Ferrara Portrait in his house in Rome, Italia

The motivating force to drive from Palo Alto to the Castro, risking a parking violation at a reserve space blanked out for the weekend, was the opening film by American Filmmaker Abel Ferrara, channeling the masters themes in a joyous spirit. Whereas Pasolini was bitter and dystopian; Ferrara was optimistic and utopian. The crowning scene of his flick, a joyous orgy in which gays and lesbians come together for a day of public copulation to produce the next generation would warm the heart of a right to lifer. The counterpart scenes of Sodom show a Fascist leadership group, with Nazi support, degrade, demean, dehumanize, rape, torture and eventually kill young men and women whom they have taken hostage in a villa to fulfill their sexual fantasies, wiping out evidence that the event took place.


Pasolini’s is a low trust world, whether it is Medea, burning her children alive, violating confidence placed in her to stay an extra day or a small-time pimp prostituting his girlfriend; it all ends badly. The era of “lettera 22” the early post war manual typewriter that figures in Fererara’s Pasolini was a difficult one to retain humanity under pressure. Passolini’s genius was to show through attempts of valiant characters like Mama Roma, an ex-prostitute turned vegetable stall operator that the poor and their offspring are always in danger of being thrust back into the criminal world that they tried to break free. In Pasolini’s depiction, failure is inevitable. The Italian tragedy, like the Greek tragedy shows foredoomed characters struggling against their destiny in the suburban slums of early post war Rome.

Medea Year : 1969 Italy Director : Pier Paolo Pasolini Maria Callas. Image

Ferrara’s palette is also dark, with the exception of the procreation orgy that burst into vivid color, channeling early career training in porno, the on the job training of a director who missed film school. Collective joy overcomes the successive one-on-one brutalization scenes in Pasolini’s Sodom. Ferrara is the Night and Day reverse image of the master. Abel’s senior project film at SUNY Purchase, where I initially reviewed his work, roped in by skeptical yet supportive Dean John Howard, to lend support. The political science project, depicting nighttime robbery of a local gas station, ably captured its small-time crooks in action.


Ferrara’s homage to Pasolini last days, a linear representation of the master, turning on its head a negative world descending ever deeper into the depths of Dante’s inferno with a filmic performance that skirts the depths of despair while acknowledging them. While a faculty member at the Arts liberal arts school, where Abel pursued film-making though a political science degree, I had hypothesized that arts-leaning liberal arts students might in their careers produce even more interesting and significant work than their more narrowly trained conservatory counterparts.


Amelia Antonnuci, Founder and Program director and her team and their Italian government and local sponsors supporters, post-covid, renewed a series with an 11 th program in a run, typically honoring long-term anniversaries like Pasolini’s 100. The consortia might be encouraged to complement centenaries with events retrospecting living artists, whose oeuvre rarely receives a curatorial overview. May we see a Ferraro event, bringing the work of an offbeat cult director into sharper focus. Interviewed by the New York Times and covered by the New Yorker, Ferrara’ corpus is still relatively unknown. A Half-day might be a viable alternative for to consider as a boost to relative unknowns.

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