Friday, November 30, 2007

Patti Smith and Vincenzo Cerami on Pasolini at NYU

I was lucky enough to attend a round table discussion on Pasolini's work at NYU last night. Some incomplete notes with rough quotes... Link to festival here.

Vincenzo Cerami emphasized the creative process in his remarks. He was a powerful speaker and even with simultaneous english translation his vim came through.

Cerami on Pasolini's creative process: "Everything I have said until now is WRONG." Repeat.

"Pasolini used myth to tell his stories because using contemporary images would be too ugly" (He used the word "BRUTO" which of course sounds better to these anglophone ears.)

A story of the nearly blind comedian Toto being fed his lines by Cerami and seemingly mangling them when asked to repeat them... Cerami realized that he was being played by the comedian as Toto riffed & sought the right note for his improvisation. "Comedians don't like scripts, they like the setup and the idea." Also he noted Pasolini's choice of a comedian regarded as low-brow for his films, characterizing the archetype of the comedian as "a non-psychological, metaphysical character." cf. Laurel and Hardy appearing to have wives in one comedy and then dressing as wives in the next.

Patti Smith graciously and patiently listened to the others speak and then, in that voice familiar from her records spoke like the oracle. WOW.

"Pasolini gave me permission to use the whole palette of mediums to create" (music, poetry, photography). She compared him in this regard to Ginsberg among others.

She recounted her being raised in the austere confines of Jehovah's Witnesses* and wishing she could be a Catholic because "they had all the great art and ritual", but then "by the time I was 12 I was disillusioned and declared my existence and my independence" She got laughs of recognition over the 12 year old line and then linked this emancipation to the opening lines of Gloria on Horses "Jesus died for somebody's sins/but not mine". Flash to her post 1977 accident and her discovery of Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew. She found his near documentary style to uncover "Jesus the revolutionary", scraping away the "man-made artifice" of the church and "reconsecrating Jesus as a friend" to her.

Smith then told a story of hearing Warhol say that he liked the "shit, literal shit" in Pasolini's Salo. And when asked what he thought of Pasolini's film said, "it's really funny."

Finally she recounted hearing of Robert Mapplethorpe's death and the synchronicity of randomly opening up a book of Pasolini's and reading "It isn't that the dead do not speak, it's that we have forgotten how to listen." and how that helped her cope with the loss of her friend and confidente because when she learned to be quiet, his voice started talking to her and did not stop.

Smith also reinforced this last statement on Pasolini's use of Maria Callas in Medea, that having her remain silent throughout the film left the viewer in a state of having experienced a powerful opera.

Pasolini's short film Ricotta was then screened and it was funny, profane and nailed it. (So to speak.)

*Patti's entrance immediately reminded me of Lester Bangs' essay "Stagger Lee Was a Woman". Bangs was also raised as a J.W.