The Wexner Center for the Arts is taking visitors on a cinematic journey through Italy this winter, presented in an extensive retrospective film series featuring the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Known for films such as “Salò” and “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” Pasolini began his directing career in 1961.
“For a variety of reasons, I think if a person is interested in film, (Pasolini) is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers,” said David Filipi, director of Film/Video at the Wexner Center and organizer of the film series. “A lot of people regularly say that he was the most influential cultural figure in Italy in the post-war era … and that there has never been a person with as much influence as him.”
Filipi said he was inspired to model the Wexner Center film series after a 2012 Pasolini retrospective presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“There’s never been a Pasolini retrospective in Columbus like the one that was in New York a (couple) years ago,” Filipi said. “It was kind of the perfect opportunity to approach the different Italian organizations that were involved (in previous retrospectives) and to say, ‘We’d like to bring this series to Columbus.’”
In this retrospective, Pasolini’s films are slated to be shown in newly restored 35 mm prints, according to the Wexner Center website.
“(The retrospective) is a big deal and (we) are taking advantage of the fact that there are all of these new prints … it just seems like the perfect thing to bring to Ohio State,” Filipi said.
In addition to his filmmaking, Pasolini is well-known as an influential literary and cultural figure in Italian history.
“One thing that people in the U.S. might not fully appreciate is that as important of a filmmaker that Pasolini was, he is much better known as a poet,” Filipi said. “He had this incredible career and was an influential poet, a playwright, a social critic, an activist and a filmmaker.”
The diversity of Pasolini’s professional portfolio is further explored in two discussions sponsored by the Wexner Center. Two film scholars, Derek Duncan and Louis-Georges Schwartz, are scheduled to examine the aspects of Pasolini’s work that continue to have an impact on our society today.
“Pasolini is such an interesting figure that doing a presentation of his films really benefits from having some context,” Filipi said. “I think that there are so many different ways that you can look at his body of work … and having a couple of people come in and focus on a couple of the areas with a little bit more specificity will enhance people’s appreciation of his work.”
The retrospective is also set to examine the lasting impact of the artist’s distinctive personal philosophies.
“There’s no one in Italy who hasn’t heard of Pier Paolo Pasolini,” said Dana Renga, assistant professor of Italian at OSU. “Especially in Italy, he embodies a really conflicted set of beliefs. He was a Marxist, a Catholic and he was gay, three things that (traditionally) do not correspond well with each other.”
Renga explained that Pasolini’s personal beliefs permeated his cinematic work and lifestyle, causing him to be seen as a political and social icon.
“(Pasolini is) thought of as this really contested figure and people cling to him as one of the last bastions of hope of protest in Italy,” Renga said. “Pasolini still embodies the cry for some sort of awareness on the part of the every person to wake up and look around and see how incredibly messed up and corrupt the system is.”
Pasolini’s high-profile career and personal life ended suddenly with his murder in 1975. The circumstances surrounding the 53-year-old filmmaker’s death are still questioned, Renga added.
“His death is still highly contested,” Renga said. “Especially in terms of Italian politics and Italian culture and Italian society, (Pasolini’s death) is a hotbed of conspiracy, of misunderstanding and conflict.”
Yet Pasolini’s legacy continues to live on, providing inspiration for many of today’s prominent Italian filmmakers.
“A lot of Italy’s most popular directors now keep coming back to Pasolini,” Renga said. “Pasolini haunts contemporary Italian cinema. People are constantly bringing him up. He is kind of a director that no one can leave behind.”
Renga said Pasolini’s distinctive style will offer a different cinematic experience to visitors of the retrospective.
“In some senses, I am very curious as to how the Columbus crowd is going to welcome his films,” Renga said. “(But if) you love Italian cinema and if you love directors that love to linger in the moment, then I think (you will) really have fun with him.”
Despite the many differences between Pasolini’s films and the box-office-topping movies of Hollywood today, Renga is confident that the retrospective will provide visitors with a meaningful viewing experience.
“You are not going to leave unaffected,” Renga said. “Some people will be like ‘What in the world did I just see?’ but there definitely will be something to talk about afterwards, I promise.”
The Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective is set to begin with a double feature presentation of “Hawks and Sparrows” and “Porcile” Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Theater. Tickets for this event cost $6 for students, seniors and members and $8 for all other adults. The film series is scheduled to conclude Feb. 25.
All of Pasolini’s films featured in the retrospective are set to be presented in Italian with English subtitles. More information and ticket pricing can be found on the Wexner Center website.
An earlier version of this article referred to the Pasolini retrospective as an exhibition, when it is in fact a film series. In addition, this updated version has corrected a typo to reflect that the retrospective is set to begin with a double feature of “Hawks and Sparrows” and “Porcile.”