An ongoing investigation into the sentimental properties of reproduced experiences by artist and writer Michele Manfellotto

words by Michele Manfellotto

“Si vvo’ un terno sicuro, Titta mia, Senti com’hai da fane”
Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, Devozzione pe vvince ar lotto, 1830

The third part of TOUCHABLES owes its title to a phrase by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose writings on film theory (especially those collected in Heretical Empiricism, 1972) directly inform my investigation – that is, inspire it, constitute its premise and determine its method.
According to Pasolini (NERO #28), the language of film reaches the spectator in a way analogous to a fragment of reality: in order to understand a piece of cinema the senses and the intellect do more or less the same things needed to read a scene of real life. 
More precisely, for Pasolini the logic of the cinematic tale replicates the mode of narrative proper to memory and to dream, and communicates by way of figures that, while derived from reality, operate like syntheses of more complex situations and concepts.
If Pasolini was right, then there must also exist, parallel to biographical and historical memory, a secondary memory that every individual develops throughout constant exposure to the flux of the audiovisual: a store of shared imaginaries whose only variables are of a wholly sentimental nature.
This is a conclusion which Pasolini himself, in some way, had already arrived at. But he too, especially towards the end of his life, saw in the diffusion of mass culture the triumph of industrial capitalism and the end of history. 
Shortly after Heretical Empiricism, Pasolini published “Contro i capelli lunghi” (“Against Long Hair,” Corriere della Sera, January 7, 1973), an editorial that examined the hippie aesthetic as a language and described its evolution. From an initial encounter with two European hippies (whose long hair represented, prior to 1968, a symbolic repudiation of bourgeois ethics) to the image of two young Persians (for whom, several years later, that same usage became an opposing sign, indicating familiarity with Western costumes and thus social status), Pasolini traced the semiotic corruption of the hippie phenomenon, whose rebelliousness had become progressively generic, ambiguous, potentially reactionary.
The theory delineated by Pasolini condemned the disintegration of meanings, whose legibility could not but be overturned by the “hooligan iconicity” of non-verbal languages: starting with the televisual medium responsible for educating the masses to consume.
It was to Iran – where he had seen, in the hair of two students, the sign of the tragic cultural subjugation that inspired the first “scritto corsaro” (republished posthumously under the title “Il ‘discorso’ dei capelli” [“The ‘discourse’ of hair”], precisely in Scritti corsari, 1975) – that Pasolini went to shoot Arabian Nights.
Based on the famous anthology, the film closed his trilogy “of life” or “of joyous sex” (together with Decameron, 1971, and The Canterbury Tales, 1972), which celebrated the greatness of taboo-free sex, the natural absolute, through the representation of the primary object of the author’s love: namely, “lower-class corporeality.”
But who was Pier Paolo Pasolini?
In the first instance he was a poet and a writer – but he was also a philologist, linguist, critic, journalist, screenwriter, director, playwright, actor, visual artist, and, in the most authentic sense of the term, a performer.
He was born in Bologna in 1922, the son of a Fascist official and a Friulian teacher of peasant origins. He spent long periods of time in Friuli, and traveled much of Italy due to his father’s occupation. He completed high school in Bologna and then enrolled at the city’s University, where he studied art history with Roberto Longhi and wrote his first literary experiments. During the war he took refuge in Friuli and wrote poetry in the Friulian dialect, his mother’s native tongue.
In February 1945 his younger brother Guido died in Porzûs, in a massacre that saw the killing of seventeen partisans – socialist and Catholic – by hand of other, communist, partisans. The death scarred Pasolini’s family and the brother became a ghost that he would never free himself from. 
The war over, Pasolini became a teacher. He joined the Communist Party (to which Guido’s killers still belonged), published poetry in Friulian and, importantly, realized he was homosexual. In 1949 he was accused of the corruption of a minor (he had been having a relationship with one of his students), expelled from the Party and dismissed from his post at the school. 
He escaped to Rome with his mother and lived in poverty for years, until, in 1955, he published Ragazzi di vita, his first successful novel. Linguistically experimental (the Romanesco dialect is used expressionistically, not mimetically), extreme in its contents (it was the first work to deal with the poverty of the lumpenproletariat without circumventing themes such as male prostitution), Ragazzi di vita was criticized and accused of being pornography. But it was defended by other writers (even Ungaretti wrote a letter to the judge) and understood by the public, which didn’t decline to buy it.
In the years following, Pasolini published all kinds of writings (an anthology of popular Italian poetry, which he dedicated to his dead brother; his own poetry collection, Le ceneri di Gramsci, likewise severely criticized by the very communists that it addressed), worked with Fellini on The Nights of Cabiria (specifically, as a linguistic consultant for the dialogues in Romanesco), and in 1959 wrote La notte brava, a film directed by Mauro Bolognini, which was set in the borgate and stood as a kind of prologue to Pasolini’s own early cinema.
In that same year he published Una vita violenta, his second Roman novel. Although inferior to the first (Pasolini even came to disown its conclusion, defining it the outcome of self-censorship), Una vita violenta was just as successful, tying its author still more closely to the obscure lower-class world that it recounted: a world that capitalism itself had cut off from history and that, for this very reason, had been ignored even by neorealism. 
The Roman borgate were at that time a locus of fatal poverty, a real ghetto. Pasolini had lived in it by necessity (in Rebibbia, where a new prison would be built in 1972, and in Monteverde Vecchio, which is now a bourgeois neighborhood), and had become infatuated with it, rediscovering in the lumpenproletariat of Rome the innocence he had loved in the Friulian peasants: a light and innate naturalness, uncorrupted by history, perhaps similar to the eternal purity of that prematurely deceased brother, an impossible term of comparison and Pier Paolo’s dark half. 
That purity bore the shape of the youth of the borgate, for whom Pasolini was always avid. But he didn’t limit himself to buying the boys who prostituted themselves in return for some meager pay and a dinner at the trattoria: more importantly, he frequented them as a destitute among destitutes (and with him, another great unlucky poet, Sandro Penna), learned their language and understood its necessity, the painful reason for the acumen of that ever so cynical humanity. 
The first real friend he made in the borgate was a man called Sergio Citti, a house painter. Pasolini met him in 1951 and often referred to him as his “living lexicon”: Citti taught Pasolini the contemporary slang and the dialect of the old Rome, and collaborated with him on the Roman works, as well as on all the subsequent ones. Twenty years later, Sergio Citti would go on to direct his own film, written by Pasolini (Ostia, 1970, touching and visionary), and subsequently to establish himself as an author in his own right. 
The study of the living dialect – broadened by a parallel philological research into the work of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, the poet of nineteenth-century Rome – allowed Pasolini to individuate within its verbal inventiveness the final resource of an oppressed population (oppressed by kings, emperors, popes, dictators, from time immemorial), which finds its identity precisely by discovering itself capable of fully understanding the imposed languages: and thus of wielding them, altering them, distorting them into one, utterly idiosyncratic, language of its own. 
The seventeenth Olympic games took place in Rome in the summer of 1960; that fall Pierre Restany presented, at Gian Tommaso Liverani’s gallery, the five artists of Roma 60: Angeli, Festa, Lo Savio, Schifano, Uncini. At Cannes, Fellini won the Palme d’Or for La dolce vita, prompting a worldwide diffusion of his idea of the Eternal City: exaggerated, impious, indulgent. 
The following year, working with roughly fifty million lire (La dolce vita had cost ten times as much) and with no technical background (which is precisely what discouraged Fellini himself from producing the film), Pasolini made Accattone. His actors were non-professionals and the role of the protagonist was played by Franco, Sergio Citti’s brother. 
Released in 1961, Accattone too ended up being criticized and denounced, and finally censored and pulled from the theaters. The fact remains that Pasolini’s work surpassed neorealism in a direction opposite to that pursued by Fellini, both in an ideological sense (Pasolini, like Calvino, had labeled La dolce vita as “Catholic”), and in a formal one: his work defined its own cinematic practice, which, breaking the rules of the genre, affirmed itself as pure intellectual operation, as artistic gesture.
Luis Buñuel had done something similar ten years earlier with Los olvidados (1950), a hallucinatory tale of juvenile delinquency set in the suburbs of Mexico City that Pasolini’s film seems, at times, to emulate. In Buñuel’s work too the realistic material bears an expressive function and is not closed upon itself, but instead requires an unconscious element to complete it: both films feature a dream sequence (and a direct reference to the Oedipus myth, another prominent Pasolinian obsession), and both directors seem to appropriate this in a poetic rather than a psychoanalytic sense. 
At any rate, Italy had never seen anything similar, and the legal issues stemming from Accattone made Pasolini well known to the popular media. The magazines published photographs: the borgata, its shacks seemingly drowning in the muddy aftermath of a storm, and the poet, dressed like a schoolteacher, playing soccer with a bunch of barefoot kids. 
Images of this kind soon became common and Pasolini began (slowly of course, but perhaps precisely from that the moment when saw himself in the paper) to understand that he possessed another important artistic medium: his own persona, which would increasingly offer a mirror image of his work, exasperating it, and would eventually transform itself into the incarnated metaphor of his own aesthetic vision. 
The first sign, it seems to me, were the glasses, which he hadn’t previously worn. Pasolini may have been shortsighted, but the glasses (oversized sunglasses, or prescription glasses with tinted lenses) became an indispensable accessory, the dramatic frame of his eyes. 
The legal persecution (of which much would be written following his death) and the continuous attacks of the printed media turned Pier Paolo Pasolini into a recognizable, public figure. 
In 1961 he was accused of armed robbery of a gas station. Il Tempo, which published the story, had found a production still of Carlo Lizzani’s Il gobbo (1960) that showed Pasolini, a supporting actor in the film, holding a machine gun. The newspaper added a picturesque detail: the poet’s gun was loaded with golden bullets. 
Obviously, he was acquitted; but it’s safe to say that every single one of Pasolini’s works was subject to censorship and every one of his declarations an object of scandal. His polemical temperament never destroyed the respect that many intellectuals had for him (wonderful, in this respect, Attraverso Pasolini, 1993, by poet and critic Franco Fortini, who spent his whole life arguing with him in admiration), yet Pasolini was widely hated. 
Catholic Italy couldn’t process his open homosexuality and even for the communists, who never accepted him for that very reason, Pasolini was always a source of embarrassment. 
After Mamma Roma (1962, starring Anna Magnani and much appreciated at the Venice festival), the short film La ricotta (part of the omnibus Ro.Go.Pa.G. made with Rossellini, Godard and Gregoretti, 1963) cost him another trial, this time for public defamation of the state religion, and he was initially sentenced to prison. The following year, 1964, the communist intellectuals, from Sciascià to Fortini, leashed out at The Gospel According to Matthew: the film wasn’t even understood in France, and in Paris the only person who stood by him was Sartre. 
In the role of Christ Pasolini cast Enrique Irazoqui, a nineteen-year-old immigrant from Franco’s Spain who had come to Italy to seek refuge amongst the antifascists: he said the boy reminded him of the Messiah as painted by El Greco, or of the characters of Goya. 
It appears therefore that he chose a face, but he had started from an opposing premise: Pasolini had initially wanted a poet to play Christ. Evtusenko, one of the few Russian intellectuals allowed to travel abroad, very close to the Soviet regime but always critical of it from an often controversial position that Pasolini doubtlessly appreciated; Kerouac, author of On the Road; or Ginsberg, the foremost poet of the Beat generation, he too a communist and a homosexual, whose masterpiece Howl, 1956, had been tried for obscenity. 
Ginsberg’s work was published in Italy precisely in 1964, in the inspired translation of Fernanda Pivano, who invented – as she had done for Kerouac – her own forcefully expressionist language, which substituted the often untranslatable original by equivalence. 
I can’t say exactly when Pasolini might have read Ginsberg: two years later he would meet the poet in person, in New York, whilst observing the pacifist movement with participatory curiosity and finding in the vitality of the beatniks an alternative to the hypocritically austere behavior of the Italian communists. 
Giving the part of Christ to a poet: an idea not dissimilar, perhaps, to that which Pasolini had had when he invited Orson Welles to act in La ricotta. It was easy to recognize the man behind The War of the Worlds, the Hollywood Marxist, in the role of the American director who, in the nothingness of a Roman periphery, stages the tragicomic contemporary crucifixion recounted in the film. Which is why Pasolini specifically wanted Welles: he knew that his audience (for the most part intellectual and bourgeois) would recognize the historical person beyond the character, and that the collective idea of this person would enter into tension with his mask. It’s not, therefore, the real Orson Welles that emerges from the cinematic fiction, but rather a simplification of him. The actor’s body functions like an icon, evoking not only Welles’ biography but also his artistic experience: the two interpenetrate, they become confused, they offer themselves to the spectator like a single fragment of matter, which, altogether functional to the poetics of the work, is enriched with ulterior meanings when the character reads Pasolini’s own lines. 
The two intellectuals become identified, completing each other’s visions, and the figure of the one becomes superimposed over the figure of the other. 
The glasses remain an almost literal image of this superimposition: when the moment comes to read his poem, Welles dons a pair almost identical to that worn by Pasolini.
The poem comes from the collection Poesia in forma di rosa, which wouldn’t be published until the following year: the copy of Mamma Roma that Welles reads from should therefore be understood as a self-citation. 
At this point, Pasolini appears to express a desire to set up an explicit continuity between his various works, all of them treated in a spontaneously interdisciplinary light: the established genres (from poetry to cinema to the figurative arts) are used as self-contained languages, whose specific systems of communication are required by the author in order to reach the public on a shared basis.
Thus the color tableaux vivants in La ricotta – the rest of which is in black and white – that stage the paintings of the Mannerists (Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo), as well as the accelerated sequences that recall silent comedies: both of these reveal a vision that negates any hypothesis of realism, of an imitation of the real, while the Romanesco dialect, further disembodied by the dubbing method, is again used in an expressionist sense. Nevertheless, the surreal elements never bear anything of the baroque.
To inscribe one’s own experience within a tradition, so that it might describe itself from within, as it takes shape; to tie each work to the next in a flux that sheds ambiguity over the historical role of the author, who identifies with what he creates: it was precisely Jack Kerouac who thought of something along these lines, intending to reunite his main novels into one long fragment (it was to be titled The Duluoz Legend, but Kerouac never finished it), whose characters (all inspired by real individuals and referred to by various pseudonyms) would have grown up, gotten old and died, just like they did in the author’s real life – which would thus be restored in the form of a human drama and the lyric diary of a cultural experience.
Pasolini too was always inclined to create his own poetic universe, in which recuperations and returns were the rule and the continuous updating of the same set of themes entailed a contemplation of programmatic declarations, veritable manifestos, retractions. 
All the same, it may be in his relationship to the screen that Pasolini matured a need, increasingly insistent over the years, for self-representation, pushing him to construct an image of himself that was as coherent as possible with his poetics – with the painful intellectualism that it seemed to impose ever more rigidly – all the way to the collapse of the private, and then to death. 
In La ricotta, Pasolini gave himself the face of Orson Welles, and thus proved himself already master, in 1963, of a narrative technique based entirely on the use of icons: ahead of the contemporary Nouvelle Vague, but also of Quentin Tarantino, or of the previously cited Back to the Future (NERO #29) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (NERO #28). 
Conscious of being an icon himself, he also made use of his own persona. In later years he would come to use his voice (which would likewise become unmistakable), and he would step onto the other side of the camera; he would “throw his body into the fight.” But in La ricotta all that appears of Pasolini are the glasses, the instantaneously legible synthesis of his intellectual and historical identity. 
Associated to the copy of Mamma Roma, the glasses immediately appear reminiscent of Pasolini’s own, allowing his image to be discerned within that of Orson Welles, at least by an educated viewer. 

It is in fact with his glasses on that the public was used to seeing him wandering around the borgate: and Pasolini was equally well-known to the lumpenproletariat from which he drew inspiration and which, in its turn, saw him as bourgeois, communist, homosexual. These, therefore, are some of the possible characteristics that Pasolini would have wanted, more or less declaredly, to attribute to his Christ in The Gospel According to Matthew. And had Ginsberg really interpreted Jesus, it’s likely that the son of god would have had something of Pasolini in him. 
Instead, he chose a young unknown. Better still, an antifascist, a partisan: a boy, like his brother.
So the Catholic press was wrong, I think, when with tepid sarcasm it pointed out the author’s identification with the Messiah as the weak point of The Gospel. In this film, where his own mother played the part of the Virgin Mary, Pasolini didn’t dare as much: instead, I would argue, he refrained from putting himself on the cross precisely out of shame for the memory of his brother, to whom he ultimately ceded the main role. 
His double, which death had rendered an untouched notion of purity, must in fact have seemed unreachable: body of an originary wound, Pier Paolo looked for him in his lovers, glimpsed him in the faces that his cinema strove to fix with desperate coldness. Knowing that he couldn’t be like his brother, perhaps he wanted to possess him, to kill him again. So it was the sacrifice of a boy that closed The Gospel According to Matthew, in line with a poetic already expressed by Pasolini in Accattone and Mamma Roma. 
The scene in which Magnani’s son (played by the adolescent Ettore Garofalo, a waiter in real life) dies tied to a hospital bed is modeled on the famous Lamentation of Dead Christ by Mantegna: similarly, it is Bach’s Matthäus Passion (purposely placed alongside blues and other popular music) that marks the protagonist’s way of the cross in The Gospel, just as it does in Accattone. 
Before moving further, I’d like to clarify that it is not my intention here to examine Pasolinian themes, at least not in detail, nor to attempt an exhaustive biography of the intellectual, the man. I prefer instead to continue with this experiment, which I consider as my own private portrait of the icon: a description of what I know of Pier Paolo Pasolini, or, more precisely, the description of my own entirely personal synthesis. 
That synthesis is a single figure, which includes in itself the individual, his work, and the mythology that society has constructed around his monumental legacy. Yet another simplification, therefore, but one that nonetheless transcends the historical person and appears like pure cultural matter: elastic, malleable, and therefore susceptible to transformations and interpretations – whose necessity, it seems to me, is always of a sentimental nature. 
In short, I would like to recount an idea of Pier Paolo Pasolini that has matured within my intimate relation to the icon; that my personality has molded to respond to my needs, occasionally at the limits of aesthetic exaggeration and always according to a process of combination with other cultural materials that, in their altogether subjective juxtaposition, give shape to the concatenation of influences that my identity has formed itself around. 
The present version of the life and work of Pasolini should therefore be understood as the product of a personal mythology: in short, one of the many syntheses that give body to my private symbolic system, to which I turn daily in order to decipher reality. 
The aim of my experiment, or of my portrait, is to overturn the meaning of this synthesis: to make use of the store of information that I have accumulated on Pasolini in order to hypothesize a different character, and in particular a different outcome to his biography. Retracing his intellectual career in an entirely arbitrary way, I want to hazard a parallel present where Pier Paolo Pasolini hasn’t died. 
Had he escaped his tragic end (and we will see, later on, the circumstances under which he was killed in 1975), Pasolini would have once again had to measure himself against his own apocalyptic prognoses. He would have had to overcome them, directly facing the “anthropological mutation” that, from the sixties onwards, he warned his contemporaries about: and in all probability he would have assumed it within himself, he would have given it body, as he had always done with all of his myriad contradictions. 
After assailing personalities, the mutation that Pasolini was afraid of would assail bodies too: those loved by the people, including his own. 
Slowly, industrial capitalism would mold society according to modes and values blindly identical for everyone, in the name of an equal and voluntary submission to a consumerist economy: an impersonal, amoral and therefore naturally fickle system, whose emanations would become increasingly ambiguous. 
Pasolini was immediately conscious of this and he surmised in television the principle vehicle of an acculturation that, in Italy at least, would go on to destroy an entire patrimony, sweeping away centenary traditions and decreeing the extinction of the regional dialects in favor of a technical language modeled on the dynamic communication of a new species of petit-bourgeois, invariably faithful to the dogma of a purposeless hedonism. 
Over time this vision grew darker, yet still the opposition between “the limitation of history and the immensity of the peasant world” – this was the title of an open letter to Italo Calvino published in Scritti corsari, part of a polemic that Pasolini’s death left unresolved – in other words, the dichotomy between the categories of modern and archaic, openly inspired the research documented in Sopralluoghi in Palestina, the film that traces the preparation of The Gospel According to Matthew. Intent on rediscovering the backdrop of a primitive religiousness, Pasolini traveled to Jordan, Galilee and Syria. He saw the skyscrapers in Nazareth and became convinced that the state of Israel, a territory disfigured by technological development and war, no longer bore any trace of antiquity, if not in the faces of the poor, identical to those of the lumpenproletariat anywhere else in the world. So he abandoned his search for an intact landscape, and reconstructed his Holy Land in southern Italy. 
The timeless scenery of the Sassi di Matera (the city’s historical center, dug into the rock itself beginning in Paleolithic times and abandoned in the fifties) completed Pasolini’s idea of a prehistoric Christianity: a naked religiosity, severely creational, stylized in the physicality of the actors – peasants and fisherman from the area – whose role was lifted verbatim from the Gospel. 
I’m again reminded of Buñuel, who in 1933 made Las Hurdes, or Tierra sin pan, an experiment halfway between documentary and surrealism in which the anthropological fact (the ancient misery of a land effectively stuck in the Middle Ages) is expressed with such visual violence that it becomes alienating, brutally metaphorical – as in certain films by Werner Herzog (one above all: the radical Even Dwarves Started Small, 1970), or in those by his Hollywood progeny Harmony Korine (cited, together with Larry Clark, in NERO #29).
In The Gospel According to Matthew the realistic material is likewise rendered with crude truthfulness: nonetheless, abstracted from its historical dimension it surpasses its nature as simple filmic document and assumes an archetypal value, like those scenes in La ricotta that depict the abjection of the protagonist gone mad with hunger. 
The expressive aridity of The Gospel therefore passes through Pasolini’s reflections in Sopralluoghi in Palestina, a film that occasionally strikes me as prefiguring a kind of sensitivity that will later be interpreted precisely by Herzog. As in the latter’s documentaries, the investigation here molds itself around the images; that is, the analysis is applied exclusively to what the eye sees, and the cinema guides the author’s introspection along the lines of a merciless empiricism – one that foresees the registration of a potential failure, whether intellectual or human. 
Pasolini is often on screen in Sopralluoghi in Palestina. He appears dressed in white, almost always without glasses: but he didn’t shoot the film, nor did he edit it; he limited himself to improvising the commentary while he watched the film being screened (and it’s significant that in order to compose the soundtrack to Shadows in 1959, Charles Mingus did more or less the same thing).
Bach returns (albeit as mere background), but above all it is the poet’s voice (from this point on as characteristic as, again, Herzog’s own would be) that emerges as extreme signifying element and sustains the entire cinematic operation. The presence of Pasolini – a weak figure in an unrecognizable historical landscape – is lost in the whiteness of the long shots, as though the cameraman had just barely managed to catch him: the voice (added later and again disembodied, like an instrument) transforms the poet’s uncertain silhouette into the metaphor of his own implacable vision, and affirms the necessary incompletion of a film that is, in the first instance, intellectual document. 
A cruelty seems to subtend this behavior, of a kind similar to that which La ricotta openly expresses, in that scene where the workers prepare to film the crucifixion. The register is grotesque, yet the scene shows exactly how the extras impersonating the slaves are effectively treated like real slaves: in other words, with the excuse of the staging, the fiction replicates in reality the very violence that it aims to represent. 
Which is exactly what happened when Herzog flew to Peru to shoot Fitzcarraldo: the scene where the protagonist has his men transport a three-hundred-ton boat to the top of a hill was made without special effects, and it was Herzog himself who talked the troops into risking their lives (this is documented by Les Blank in Burden of Dreams, 1982). 
A further shift in the film’s register (the ethnographic parenthesis in the Jewish kibbutz) confirms that in 1963 Pasolini already treated audiovisual media as a superior linguistic synthesis, conscious that the meaning of an image is completed only when it encounters the spectator. 
That same year, Andy Warhol undertook his first cinematic experiments (Sleep and the Haircut series, amongst others, date to 1963), Frederick Wiseman produced Shirley Clarke’s The Cool World, and Italian theaters saw the release of Visconti’s The Leopard and Fellini’s 8½
Likewise dating to 1963 is Pasolini’s contribution to La rabbia (a film in two parts: the producer gave the second half to the Catholic Giovannino Guareschi), which was entirely composed of archival footage: this too was denounced and almost immediately pulled from the cinemas by court order. 
What became censored, therefore, was a work of editing, of which Pasolini hadn’t filmed so much as a single frame: and it may have been immediately clear that La rabbia’s subversive charge of was, in the first place, expressed in its form. 
Pasolini treated the original documents (newsreels and films taken from various archives) in a Dadaistic spirit: they were offered to the composition in all their semiotic nudity, free to be reinterpreted simply by virtue of a brand new combination. 
The nearly abstract atomic explosions which open the film and return in the finale; the hypnotic sound of the likembé accompanying the last images of Patrice Lumumba, who is humiliated before being executed; the infinite victims of the war, which the editing abstracts from news reporting and gives back in a ferocious grain, anticipating an aesthetic that will be dear to punk and hardcore. 
But it’s above all the intense portrait of Marilyn that, placed against a similar backdrop, appears to prefigure much later cultural experiences.
The movie star appears like a symbolic victim of the society of the spectacle: Pasolini annexes her to his lyric vision of the lower-class world and transforms her into a synthesis that assumes a foundational value, a mythological depth. It seems to be the same poetic that had been applied to the characters of The Gospel; at any rate, it mirrors that expressed just a year earlier by Warhol in his first Marilyn diptych. 
Albeit from differing viewpoints, both works in fact declare the suppleness of icons understood as pure cultural matter. But if Warhol seems to opt for the negation of any context, Pasolini gives a sadly precise historical perspective to his portrait of Marilyn, transforming it into the body of yet another sacrifice.
A possible continuation of this kind of stance might be found almost thirty years later, in 1990, when Sonic Youth (included in NERO #29) entered into their first contract with a major record label. 
Signed to the newborn DGM (subsidiary of Geffen Records, which would contribute not a little to transforming so-called alternative rock into a commercial genre), Sonic Youth adopted the communication proper to the industry and interpreted it in their own way: they had the album art designed by Raymond Pettibon (and it was the Goo illustration that made him really famous) and challenged MTV with two absolutely revolutionary music videos.
The video for the first single, “Kool Thing,” stemmed from an interview with LL Kool J that Kim Gordon, the band’s singer and bassist, had done for Spin magazine. Disturbed by the rapper’s shameless sexism, Kim Gordon took her revenge, deconstructing the entire African-American imaginary and offering her own version of it. 
The director Tamra Davis (who had worked for Easy-E’s Ruthless Records the year before) staged a polished caricature of the Black Panthers (the shot of the militant lasciviously caressing his lips is magnificent), of go-go dancers, of boombox and tennis shoe fetishes. In “Kool Thing” even New York looks less like itself than like the futuristic metropolis of “21st Century Boy” (Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s unforgettable success, produced by Giorgio Moroder in 1986): a pre-digital Babylon where the audiovisual represents a new state of nature in which even the sickest desires are satisfied. 
It was Chuck D, Public Enemy’s ideologue, who loaned his voice to Sonic Youth’s piece, and paraphrased himself, provocatively asking: Fear of a female planet?
While Kathleen Hannah was founding Bikini Kill and opening the way for the riot grrrls, in Olympia, Washington, even Sonic Youth assumed a practically feminist position: their criticism of society, conducted from the women’s point of view, condemned the commodification of bodies that was supported, in the first instance, by the entertainment industry. 
The linguistic operation performed by Tamra Davis and Kim Gordon recalls the very reflections that Pasolini dedicated to – for example – the commercial derivations of jazz: the big band (the musicians are white) that performs, again in La rabbia, against the backdrop of what seems to be that last grotesque image of Las Vegas that closes Martin Scorsese’s Casino, 1995; the choice to break up the sequence by inserting in it the photograph of an unknown soldier holding a human skull produces a visual combination worthy of the Dead Kennedys (they too encountered in NERO #29). 
But it is a different female icon that Sonic Youth erected to symbol of their problematic encounter with the market: Karen Carpenter, drummer and vocalist of The Carpenters, killed by anorexia in 1982. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” traces her sad trajectory in the first person – namely, from the point of view of the dead pop star – and the video, conceived together with artist Tony Oursler, rewrites the idea of rock opera from a perspective inverse to that suggested by Pete Townshend’s Tommy in 1969. 
The next chapter of TOUCHABLES will therefore confront “Tunic” in detail, in an attempt to establish other possible poetic equivalences, whether hypothetical or declared, between Pier Paolo Pasolini and his readers: through the perception that these readers have had of the poet, we will try to imagine how, if in fact he had stayed alive, his unique sensibility might have interpreted contemporary society, in the search for new instruments of knowledge and new liberations. 
It seems right then to conclude this third part by dedicating the final lines of “Tunic” to all the gentle victims of what James Brown rightly called a man’s world: “Keep the love lights glowing, Little girl’s got the blues.”

(to be continued)

Michele Manfellotto (Rome, 1977) is an artist and writer. His work confronts the intimate dimension of shared mythologies, and the construction of collective memory induced by the audiovisual.