Cinema and Media Studies Pier Paolo Pasolini
Tijana Mamula
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0081


Pier Paolo Pasolini (b. 1922–d. 1975) was one of the most important and innovative figures in postwar Italian culture, whose influence, both within Italy and internationally, has continued to grow in the decades since his death. Though his international reputation rests largely on the fame he achieved as a filmmaker in the 1960s and early 1970s, he was equally prolific as a poet, novelist, playwright, film theorist, and literary critic, and, particularly in the latter portion of his career, as a political commentator and controversial public intellectual. He was a national celebrity, despite his uncomfortable “scandalous” pronouncements, who was consistently published and broadcast in Italy’s major media outlets. This eclecticism is reflected as much in Pasolini’s aesthetics—centered on adaptation, analogy, and the reciprocal “contamination” of low and high culture—as in the themes persistently explored in his films and writings. An unorthodox Communist driven by a “desperate love for reality” and a lifelong interest in popular Italian culture (particularly dialectal poetry), Pasolini was also, for example, interested in early Renaissance painting, ancient Greek tragedy, and Baroque music. He wrote novels and made films about prostitution and criminality in the Roman borgate, staged tableaux vivants of Mannerist paintings in a tragicomedy about a starving extra hired to participate in a film about the Deposition, wrote a talking Marxist crow into a picaresque allegory starring Totò, transformed his location-scouting journeys into a series of documentaries about Africa and the Middle East, adapted the Bible, Sophocles, Euripides, the Decameron, the Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales, and, for his last film, transposed Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom to the Fascist Republic of Salò. Pasolini also a wrote a series of long-disparaged and now increasingly revalued essays on film theory, famously arguing for the conceptual analogy between death and editing and maintaining that cinema is “the written language of reality.” Much of the writing on Pasolini, which, like his own work, is staggering in volume, has been devoted to unraveling the relationships between his many and diverse sources, as well as considering his relevance as a uniquely perceptive and intransigent analyst of the radical transformation of Italian culture and society during the postwar period and the years of the economic miracle. The present article is primarily focused on scholarly discussions of Pasolini’s films and film theory, and for the most part excludes review articles and sources centered on other areas of his work. It also privileges writing available in English, although some of the most important and useful Italian texts, as well as several works in French and Spanish, have been included.


During his lifetime, Pasolini was at the center of numerous and often public controversies. His films, writings, and personal relationships caused him to stand thirty-three trials (for blasphemy, obscenity, contempt of religion, and corruption of minors, among other charges). The attention deriving from this was further exacerbated by his open homosexuality, his disputes with the Italian Communist Party, and later his tireless attacks (often expressed through newspaper articles and television appearances) against the politics of the Christian Democracy and the increasing spread of bourgeois values and neocapitalist myths throughout boom-era Italy. A number of biographies including Naldini 1989 and Betti 1977 reflect this interest in Pasolini’s public life and his conflicts with the legal system. Bellezza 1996 and Siciliano 1982 focus on the enigmas, the political implications and the interpretive significance of his still unsolved murder in 1975. Schwartz 2017, the only biography written in English, also provides detailed accounts of his childhood and personal life, and is particularly attentive to his work in film. De Ceccatty 2005 is an excellent French-language biography.

  • Bellezza, Dario. Il poeta assassinato: Una riflessione, un’ipotesi, una sfida sulla morte di Pier Paolo Pasolini. Venice: Marsilio, 1996.

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    A short, multifaceted reflection—at once essayistic and biographical—on the personal and political “truth” of Pasolini’s death, by an important contemporary Italian poet and personal friend of the director.

  • Betti, Laura, ed. Pasolini: Cronaca giudiziaria, persecuzione, morte. Milan: Garzanti, 1977.

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    An amply documented reconstruction of Pasolini’s public life, focusing primarily on his political activism and long-lasting conflicts with the Italian justice system. Includes a detailed history of Pasolini’s thirty-three trials (together with primary sources), and contributions by a number of his contemporaries, including an introductory essay by Alberto Moravia.

  • De Ceccatty, René. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Paris: Folio, 2005.

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    Among the best biographies of Pasolini, by one of France’s foremost scholars and translators of Italian literature.

  • Naldini, Nico. Pasolini, una vita. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1989.

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    An exhaustive record of Pasolini’s artistic activities and political struggles. Naldini was Pasolini’s cousin as well as the editor of his letters: the volume draws heavily both on the latter and on Naldini’s own memoirs.

  • Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini: Requiem. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

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    The only full-length biography of Pasolini written in English, originally published in 1992. Schwartz traces the entirety of Pasolini’s life and work in great detail, from a perspective largely focused on unearthing the contradictions inherent in his thought. The fully revised 2017 edition also contains a new afterword.

  • Siciliano, Enzo. Pasolini: A Biography. Translated by John Shepley. New York: Random House, 1982.

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    Originally published in Italian (Vita di Pasolini, 1978), this critical biography by Pasolini’s personal friend and fellow writer has since become a classic. The book is particularly focused on Pasolini’s late years, and on his uncomfortable, “scandalous” place within the Italian social and political landscape.

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