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Pier Paolo Pasolini's La ricotta: the power of cinepoiesis.

The association of the terms "cinema" and "poetry" initially seems to be a strange combination, apparently a combination of contradictory realities, an oxymoron. Why should one bring together two media that are so profoundly different: cinema, an audio-visual medium, and poetry, a verbal one? The interaction between distinct media usually cooperates in creating hybrid forms of art: verbal, audible, and visual modes intermingle to shape heterogeneous works, and the power of the image is a central element in most of these interactions. (1)

When one thinks of poetry, the first idea that comes to mind is something abstract, while on the contrary when one thinks of cinema, one thinks of concrete and visible images. But, abstract, emblematic images proliferate all over the world, and often their message goes beyond the signs that can be seen on the surface. Paradigmatic images are used by various media in order to stimulate public attention, using emblematic force and visual impact. The first form of written communication happened indeed through images, pictorial signs, which then became ideographic signs, with which the world interacts still today. (2) This analysis will examine the power of images as a theoretical concept, and as a practice in the exemplary case of Pier Paolo Pasolini's short film La ricotta (1963).

But where is poetry in the images? It is in images that speak beyond their visual signs and evoke abstract connotations on a subjective level. Before it expresses itself in words, in fact, memory evokes images, facts, colors, lights, faces, especially when interconnected with feelings. It is also true that often images evoked from the net of memory are fragmentary and deformed, but it is their indefinite nature that allows viewers to see beyond their immediately visual limits. (3) In the nineteenth century, Giacomo Leopardi elaborated enlightened considerations on double vision in his Zibaldone. This famous passage perhaps summarizes the secret of poetic creation:
   All'uomo sensibile e immaginoso, che viva, come io sono vissuto
   gran tempo, sentendo di continuo ed immaginando, il mondo e gli
   oggetti sono in certo modo doppi. Egli vedra cogli occhi una torre,
   una campagna; udra cogli orecchi un suono d'una campana; e nel
   tempo stesso coll'immaginazione vedra un'altra torre, un'altra
   campagna, udra un altro suono. In questo secondo genere di obbietti
   sta tutto il bello e il piacevole delle cose. Trista quella vita
   (ed e pur tale la vita comunemente) che non vede, non ode, non
   sente se non che oggetti semplici, quelli soli di cui gli occhi,
   gli orecchi e gli altri sentimenti ricevono la sensazione. (4418) (4)

In this double vision, then, lies the secret of the power of poetry in the written world, and Leopardi's ideas are relevant in the contemporary landscape. Exemplary is writer Vittorio Magrelli's poetic of vision, according to which the poet's eye is the only instrument needed to make sense of the world. (5) Magrelli's poetry is both the subject and the object of its own representation, and the poet describes himself as a pencil used to transcribe the enigmatic images impressed in his mind:
   Sto rifacendo la punta al pensiero,
   come se il filo fosse logoro
   e il segno divenuto opaco.
   Gli occhi si consumano come matite
   e la sera disegnano sul cervello
   figure appena sgrossate e confuse.
   Le immagini oscillano e il tratto si fa incerto,
   gli oggetti si nascondono:
   e come se parlassero per enigmi continui
   ed ogni sguardo obbligasse
   la mente a tradurre.
   La miopia si fa quindi poesia,
   dovendosi avvicinare al mondo
   per separarlo dalla luce.
   Anche il tempo subisce questo rallentamento:
   i gesti si perdono, i saluti non vengono colti.
   Uunica cosa che si profila nitida
   e la prodigiosa difficolta della visione.
   (Poesie, 37) (6)

The mind is thus at the core of images, and if speaks through enigmas. It is the place from which eyes draw impressions, "roughly sketched and confused," as in an out-of-focus shot, and a myopic vision takes form when reaching for a connection with the world. The resulting difficulty of vision, paradoxically, is what grants a more profound understanding of "the real," since it allows the subject to engage in a new mode of investigating the images in depth.

The same process can be conveyed in cinematic images of a "cinema of poetry." However, today's world seems to remain a prose-filled one, a world where it appears that we are invaded by the necessity to tell, to recount ourselves. We create narratives that explain our lives, while at the same time we let ourselves be explained by them, as evident in the numerous reality shows that dominate the television medium. (7) Moreover few people read poetry anymore, and even fewer watch cinema of poetry. Nevertheless, we are witnessing a recent overcrowding of poetry in the Italian literary landscape. In an essay in the journal Tirature, critic Francesco Bona tries to analyze why in Italy today there are so many new poets who produce and publish a lot of poems, while on the other hand the number of readers decline. According to Bona the reason behind this phenomenon lies in the improvised way the public meets poetry, which explains the increasing number of new poets that remain mostly unknown. (8) If is here, in this contemporary literary landscape, that cinema of poetry tries to find its own space, submitting the industrial apparatus to the poetic stimulus of the reality of the senses. Cinema of poetry has been able to give life to films that the public hears, sees, and perceives as poetry.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was and will always be primarily a poet despite his heterogeneous and copious oevre produced over his relatively short lifetime, including fiction, critical and theoretical writings, public lectures, short films, films and film scripts, is perhaps the most important theorist of the idea that cinema can stretch beyond the apparent limits of the objectivity of things, thus destabilizing the more central point of view of narrative-based films. In Empirismo Eretico (1972), the volume that collects his thoughts on language, literature and cinema, Pasolini analyzes cinematographic language and explains how it is founded in visual signs, for which he coins a neologism: "im-signs." Unlike linguistic "linsigns," these "im-signs" are not recorded in any kind of dictionary (Empirismo, 167). (9) The "im-signs," whether pictorial or actual events, sounds, or emotions, come directly from the infinite, chaotic world of memory and dreams, and they reveal an intimate form of communication with the self and between the author and the viewers, while they simultaneously depict the multifaceted complexity of "the real." As Pasolini explains:

Gli archetipi linguistici degli im-segni sono le immagini della memoria e del sogno, ossia immagini di "comunicazione con se stessi" (e di comunicazione solo indiretta con gli altri, in quanto l'imagine che l'altro ha di una cosa di cul io gli parlo, e un riferimento comune): quegli archetipi pongono dunque una base diretta di "soggettivita" agli "im-segni", e quindi un'appartenenza di massima al mondo della poeticita: si che la tendenza del linguaggio cinematografico dovrebbe essere una tendenza espressivamente soggettivo-lirica. (Empirismo, 173) (10)

According to Pasolini, a "cinema of poetry" avails itself of the power of "im-signs" that function as metaphors, metaphors that make up for the absence of an abstract conceptual lexicon of images. Such a "cinema of poetry" is dominated by a "free indirect subjective," the cinematic compromise between free indirect speech and interior monologue, and could end the dominance of prose in cinema. The filmmaker thus uses the dominant psychological state of "a sick protagonist," he explains, "someone who is not normal, so as to make a continuous mimesis, which would allow the author an anomalous and provocatory stylistic freedom" (Empiricism, 183). This sense of the illness of the main character, who therefore offers an alternate prospective from the dominant one, is one of the attributes Pasolini seeks to underline. If the eye behind the camera is able to merge in mimesis with the protagonist's mind and be guided by its irrational thoughts, subjective visions, interior feelings, it will gain the power to disrupt the linear logic of a prose cinema, and thus begin to unveil an alternate vision of the real. (11)

A "cinema of poetry" depends more on the power of images rather than on that of spoken words. Directors focus on the language of images, concrete because they reproduce the real, but at the same time irrational because they come from the infinite world of possibilities, showing the subjective points of view of characters or authors. (12) Cinematic images thus allow viewers to look beyond the immediately perceptible pictures, to go beyond the logos, opening themselves to subjective interpretations, and giving way to moments of pure form and rhythm. Such images focalize the attention of the viewers while detaching it from the narrative of events. (13) In this way, "cinema of poetry" depicts the subjective metaphysical connection between images and "the real," once they have been liberated from the codified structures of the contemporary world. It calls instead for a personal "agnition" on the part of the viewers, unique because it is based on personal relations with memories, experiences, and things. (14) The poetry of cinema thus multiplies points of view, allowing viewers to see beyond the real and to act upon it.

In Time-Image, Deleuze recognizes Pasolini's merit in envisaging a "cinema di poesia" as the bearer of what he thinks is the more "genuine" nature of cinema:
   Pasolini, for his part, drew out the consequences of this new
   situation in what he called 'cinema of poetry', in contrast to the
   so-called cinema of prose. In the cinema of poetry, the distinction
   between what the character saw subjectively and what the camera saw
   objectively vanished, not in favour of one or the other, but
   because the camera assumed a subjective presence, acquired an
   internal vision, which entered into a relation of simulation
   ('mimesis') with the character's way of seeing. It is here.., that
   Pasolini discovered how to go beyond the two elements of the
   traditional story, the objective, indirect story from the camera's
   point of view, and the subjective, direct story from the
   character's point of view, to achieve the very special form of a
   'free indirect discourse'. Of a 'free, indirect subjective'. (148)

Deleuze believes that the visionary, "onirisign," dream-images, develop into the inner motor of time-image film, since "they project the sensory-motor situation to infinity, sometimes by ensuring the constant metamorphosis of the situation, sometimes by replacing the action of characters within a movement of world" (Cinema 2 273). It is in dreams, in fact, that the human brain works constantly and destroys organic relations. These create a complex assemblage from newly created images, which result in new cognitive connections that are added to one another and constitute the "primal work of intelligence" that represents the creative principle. (15)

Both Pasolini and Deleuze, therefore, are confident that, rather than representing facts and situations, a contemporary cinema of poetry should aim to create "im-signs" able to evoke sensations and emotions, presenting infinite meanings and possibilities. According to this definition the cineaste becomes a new poet who speaks through images created, and uses them to give a form to infinite irrational possible worlds. This characteristic of the poet and the filmmaker is rooted in the origin of the word "poetry." Poiesis derives from the Greek poeio ([TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII.], which means "to create," "to make." The poietis (or poet) is the one who creates; the poiesis (or poesy) is the act of creation; and the poiema (or poem) is the object created. Poetic works have been brought into being, produced, and poetry is therefore a force that originates artificial forms of being that come into an interaction with physis ([TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII.]), nature. Works of a poietis should thus be considered original creations that do not necessarily depend upon mimetic representations of nature.

Pasolini, who undoubtedly deserved the title of "militant poet" given his continued social commitment to contemporary Italian political problems, (16) exerted the active power of language on social reality in his poems, opposing the most lively forms of dialectal expressions to the rigidly codified "italiano medio." (17) The author himself explained that:

[...] la poesia--non e a sua volta che una nuova forma d'azione: se, nel momento in cui il lettore l'ascolta o la legge, insomma la percepisce, la libera di nuovo dalla convenzione linguistica e la ricrea come dinamica di sentimenti, di affetti, di passioni, di idee: la riduce a entita audiovisiva, cioe riproduzione della realta, azione--e cosi il cerchio si chiude." (Empirismo, 206) (18)

The auteur Pasolini was moreover able to apply the same process to cinema, and his poiesis in fact functioned as an active force both in his writings and in his films.

Pasolini's short film La ricotta is exemplary of such a creative act, a cinepoiesis which activates the power of poetry. (19) In this cinematic poem, the power of poetry performs the impossible: it brings the dead Stracci--the protagonist of the film--to life, specifically via his death captured by the eye of Pasolini's camera and that of a cynical fictional director. The following analysis of Pasolini's episode will demonstrate how the author's use of paintings, color, poetry, the poetic camera engaged in the representation of im-signs, and a free indirect subjective, allows the author to use poetry as a tool to speak about and act upon reality.

Stracci is a poor man who literally works to eat, and struggles to upgrade his state from a hungry man to that of a sated one. Cast as an extra in a film representing the Passion of the Christ (fictionally directed by Orson Welles, who plays himself), the poor man gives his lunch to his hungry family. He manages to secure another lunch for himself, but just when he is about to eat it, the director calls him to film a scene. In the meantime, the leading actor's dog eats the poor man's lunch. The resourceful Stracci, though, manages to sell the offending animal to a journalist, and with the money earned buys a piece of ricotta cheese, which he runs to eat, hidden safely in a cave. When he is finally able to devour a piece of bread with some ricotta, a grotesque show starts: "The Stracci-Show," captured in fast motion by Pasolini's camera which emphasizes its atrocity. All the insensitive colleagues who had witnessed and derided his hunger appear in the cave one by one and impenitently throw food at him, so that the man devours impossible quantities as onlookers ridicule him. He then dies, tragicomically, on the cross where he was supposed to play the good thief: Stracci suffers his own real Passion, captured by Welles' camera in real time. Orson Welles' final words are a spectacular epitaph that encapsulates Pasolini's take on death as a means to define existence: "Povero Stracci. Morire. Era l'unico mezzo che aveva per ricordarci che anche lui era vivo." (20) The powerful impact of this final verdict is even greater if read in the light of Pasolini's initial epigraph. The film in fact opens with a declaration in the director's own voice:
   Non e difficile prevedere, per questo mio racconto, dei giudizi
   interessati, ambigui, scandalizzati. Ebbene, io voglio qui
   dichiarare che, comunque si prenda "La ricotta," la storia della
   Passione--che indirettamente la ricotta evoca--e per me la piu
   grande che sia mai accaduta, e i Testi che la raccontano i piu
   sublimi che siano mai stati scritti. (21)

Passion, in its etymological meaning of both mental and physical suffering--linked to the Latin word patis--is indeed what goes on before and behind the camera: while Pasolini's camera captures Stracci's tragedy, Welles's fictional camera attempts to capture Christ's Passion. The film opens with Stracci's black and white figure filling the screen, and it is immediately clear that the director will proceed in depicting events according to a 'free indirect subjective" embodying his point of view. Stracci struggles to satisfy elemental needs, ridiculed by his satisfied companions, as his passion is consumed in black and white images. On the other hand, Welles, the cynical director within the film, who can be considered a caricature of Pasolini himself, does not realize what is happening with his troupe and remains in his chair, directing from a distance. (22) Pasolini wanted Orson Welles to play himself, relying on his reputation as a director that, as critic Maurizio Viano stated, "worked within and yet against the productive machinery" (105). The cynical director, completely detached from what happens around him, explicitly critiques the conventional intellectual mode of reasoning, and at the same time levels a stinging blow at the bare cinema of narrative. Pasolini's poetic camera unmasks the superficial facade of reality, while also creating a new possible world in which Stracci's sacrifice actually affirms his existence, elevating him to the status of representative of all of humanity.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's cinematographic goal, in fact, as he expresses on more than one occasion, is to reveal "the real" beyond the surface. Cinema, according to him, speaks with the language of reality, and this quality grants it the ability to act on, make sense of, and create reality. In this regard, critic Maurizio Viano refers to Pasolini's ideological pragmatism as "subjactivity:" reality is what must be made sense of, and as such it "must always comprise the subject who is called to make sense of it. [...] then, [it] is not the discovery of a meaning that is already there, but an activity whereby the subject modifies the real in accordance with his/her passions: subjactivity" (45). (23)

Pasolini's passion for reality was a driving force in all his work, especially his cinema, which was his main commitment for fifteen years. He considered cinema to be the "written language of reality:" "Il cinema non evoca la realta," he stated, "come la lingua letteraria; non copia la realta, come la pittura; non mima la realta, come il teatro. Il cinema riproduce la realta: immagine e suono! Riproducendo la realta, che cosa fa il cinema? Il cinema esprime la realta con la realta" (Empirismo, 135). (24) This passion drove Pasolini to cinema, which, unlike literature, permitted him to immerse himself in reality itself, as he admits in an interview with Oswald Stack: "When I make a film I am always in reality, among the trees and among people like yourself; there is no symbolic or conventional filter between me and reality, as there is in literature. So in practice the cinema was an explosion of my love for reality" (29). And poetry of cinema which permits alternate perceptions of "the real" becomes a tool to act upon it.

But how does this happen? What are the technical devices and thematic references that perform the "miracle" of acting on the real, at the point of bringing the dead Stracci to life? A more in-depth analysis of the film helps to get to the base of these questions. Immediately following the festive opening credits, the first image to be seen is a close-up of Stracci's face as he lies down, feverish. (25) From the very beginning, the film suggests that the man is already dead. This opening shot shows his pain in all its magnitude, in contrast with his coworkers who, on the contrary, embody a cheerful and carefree version of life. They seem to live an alternate life, which does not allow them to recognize the authenticity of Stracci's tragedy: they mock him and ignore his pain as the camera continuously cuts from Stracci's figure to that of the other actors and crew members. The sequence is shot with what it first appears to be a typical shot-reverse shot technique: shot A of the subject looking (Stracci), shot B of the object seen (the other companions), and a closing repetition of shot A of the subject looking. However, in this case, the men are not really the object of Stracci's gaze, as they are back to back. On the contrary, the men make a futile address to the public. A following indirect subjective shot serves to merge the director's point of view with that of the protagonist, thus displaying different perspectives from which to make sense of and create reality. Even though the other actors and crew members are apparently speaking to Stracci and mocking his unnatural hunger, they do not look at each other while speaking; on the contrary, they all address the viewers and ask for their understanding. Pasolini's poetic camera thus makes an appeal to viewers for an alternate vision of reality. (26)

The short film is in fact created through contradictory images and ideas that negate and affirm themselves at the same time. The poem "Io sono la forza del passato" that Orson Welles reads directly from Pasolini's book Mamma Roma in fact highlights life's contradictions: irrational passion and rational ideology.
   Io sono una forza del Passato.
   Solo nella tradizione e il mio amore.
   Vengo dai ruderi, dalle Chiese,
   dalle pale d'altare, dai borghi
   dimenticati sugli Appennini o le Prealpi,
   dove sono vissuti i fratelli.
   Giro per la Tuscolana come un pazzo,
   per l'Appia come un cane senza padrone.
   O guardo i crepuscoli, le mattine
   su Roma, sulla Ciociaria, sul mondo,
   come i primi atti della Dopostoria,
   cui io assisto, per privilegio d'anagrafe,
   dall'orlo estremo di qualche eta
   sepolta. Mostruoso e chi e nato
   dalle viscere di una donna morta.
   E io, feto adulto, mi aggiro
   piu moderno d'ogni moderno
   a cercare i fratelli che non sono piu.
   (160) (27)

This autobiographical reference to Pasolini's poetic production is an important interpretative key for the film. Like Pasolini, Stracci is a "force of the Past" as he attempts to influence his destiny, but ultimately he is certain to fail. He, like this "force of the past" is rooted in "tradition," in the "ruins," from whence he comes. The personified oxymoron "adult fetus," who wanders among the ruins of the present reality "to look for brothers who are no more," points to an emblematic image that highlights the film's poetic message. Stracci is in the hopeless position of the "fetus" who cannot act, but who suffers from the awareness granted by adulthood. Viewers, via the process of identification invoked at the beginning, thus find themselves trapped in the same desperation. (28)

The poem's evocation of death is underlined by many other contradictions embedded in the film. The festive music of the soundtrack clashes with the tragedy of the events portrayed. The obviously fictional Story of the Passion filmed by Orson Welles, who employs unrealistic techniques to attract public attention, is opposed to the real passion of Stracci, as his suffering goes unnoticed. The sophisticated yet empty ideology of the director is opposed to the tangible pain of Stracci who loudly asks for something to eat. Welles' static, monumental status is opposed to the frenetic activity of the workers who dance in a state of permanent celebration. The plastic representation of death of the paintings of the Italian Mannerist painters Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo is opposed to the atrocious reality of Stracci's death. (29)

The images of the film being shot instead intrude with Technicolor art in the black and white real-life passion. These scenes, carefully composed by Pasolini to recall the originals by Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, are real pictures in motion. Both show the deposition of Christ from the cross, but differ in its representation. Their juxtaposition directs the viewers' attention to the different ways the scene is represented: while the filmic representation of Rosso Fiorentino's painting emphasizes more passionate, theatrical and strident colors, yet static, on the notes of the dramatic performance of Jacopone da Todi's "Laude della Madonna de Paradiso" by the main actress, the representation of Pontormo's picture on the contrary relies more on the dynamic depiction of the figures in the drama. Viewers are thus invited to think not about the facts shown, but rather about the modes of representation used by the two painters, and on another level, the two film directors and their subjective vision of the paintings. (30) Both paintings function as strong poetic im-signs which offer an occasion to reflect on the film's meaning, while the narrative line of the film pauses. Pasolini's camera dwells on each actor's expression, exposing his or her human essence, whereas Orson Welles' efforts aim to represent a plain "manieristic composition of reality" (Ferrero 44). Pasolini's cinema, thus, which strives to speak with the language of reality, clashes with the artificiality of Welles' representation. These im-signs, ekphrastic in their evocation of a pictorial discourse and already present in the mind of the author, are then reflected in the viewers' eyes. Viewers can thus activate their "net of memories" and open a dialogue with the filmic object, empathizing with it. In these terms the ekphrastic representation of the story of the Passion of the Christ, thus emphasized, becomes the artificial counterpart for Stracci's real life story.

The plasticity of the film's "im-signs" illuminates by contrast the lively and dynamic passion of Stracci, who is truly starving for something to eat. His drama is then captured in fast motion in the film's final phase: the grotesque "Stracci Shows." Pasolini's poetic camera shows Stracci's voracity in fast motion, focalizing viewers' attention on the grotesqueness of the situation. Viewers are thus overwhelmed, not only by this unpleasant scene, but also by the inevitable outcome of the man's struggle, and empathize with him. Rhythm as pure form is the central element of this scene: the camera focuses on the mode of the action--fast motion--rather than on the actual action of eating. "Cinema of poetry" often takes its time to pause, producing moments of pure form that can be completely detached from film content. (31) This scene is an exemplar representation of a poetic moment of pure form.

Every element of the film converges on the central idea of the inevitability of death, and as an allegory of life, La ricotta sheds some light on the transcendent meaning of death. Death is for Stracci a means through which he can affirm his existence, and thus keep his essence alive: his senseless life, ignored by everyone, acquires meaning only when it is completed, in death. "E dunque assolutamente necessario morire," Pasolini explains in Empirismo Eretico: (32)

perche, finche siamo vivi, manchiamo di senso, e il linguaggio della nostra vita (con cui ci esprimiamo, e a cui dunque attribuiamo la massima importanza) e intraducibile: un caos di possibilita, una ricerca di relazioni e di significati senza una soluzione di continuita. La morte compie un fulmineo montaggio della nostra vita: ossia sceglie i suoi momenti veramente significativi (e non piu ormai modificabili da altri possibili momenti contrari o incoerenti), e li mette in successione, facendo del nostro presente, infinito, instabile e incerto, e dunque linguisticamente non descrivibile, un passato chiaro, stabile, certo, e dunque linguisticamente ben descrivibile (nell'ambito appunto di una Semiologia Generale). Solo grazie alla morte, la nostra vita ci serve ad esprimerci. (Empirismo 241) (33)

Reality, then, expresses itself in the language of actions, but actions as such acquire significance only when they are completed. In the same way, humans' actions become meaningful only upon completion, which is possible only with death. (34)

With the cinematic poiesis of La ricotta Pasolini is thus able to create a possible world where Stracci's sacrifice serves to transcend his existence. Like life, films as works of art must transcend themselves in order to disclose their meaning and become mirrors for viewers' transcendence. Poetry of cinema is then the instrument, or act, of self consciousness and self reflexivity, offers a mirror to look beyond the limits of the world, or, to use Viano's expression, a real means for an act of "subjactivity." The only way to prevail over life's tragedy, Pasolini seems to say, is living it, surrendering oneself to it aesthetically, and poetically. This is what Stracci does with his last show, while dying on the cross in front of everyone, it is what Pasolini achieves through the poetry of cinema in La ricotta, and this is what viewers are asked to empathize with. This poetry stands for the medium's abstract power and concision; and this "miracle" performed demonstrates Pasolini's reason for crafting a cinema that uses the positive power of poetry to counteract the negative domain of the artificiality of a prosaic world which is not able to go beyond the immediately perceptible reality.

It is important to remember that the poetic nature of cinema is universal, since it is inherent in the language of images and reality through which the filmic medium speaks. However, only a "cinema of poetry" emphasizes such a poetic force. (35) Every cinematic production can potentially give a way to moments of pure form, can speak through "im-signs," and can use "free indirect subjectives." In so doing, it is able to open a new mode of looking, thus disclosing the difficulty of vision, and need to delve into the profundity of the images. The poetry in the cinema of Pasolini (but also that of other authors, such as Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and also the more recent and relatively unknown Franco Piavoli) interrogates this depth of gaze and of visuality in general. It seeks fo present viewers with a form that evokes the subjectivity and multiplicity suggested in the visual act itself. The enduring bond between poetry and cinema complicates the function of the cinematic medium, whose subject and object is the public gaze, in its double capacity of looking through an image, beyond the limits of the world, while simultaneously reflecting on itself. (36)

Pier Paolo Pasolini reveals that cinema can go beyond the visible, and in so doing it enhances the viewers' perceptions of "the real" and "the self." This analysis is restricted to only one of his works, exemplary of what cinema can accomplish. He is a poietis that fully engages in developing a cinepoiesis, who seeks to make of it his artistic mission. Numerous other authors have similarly engaged the language of poetry. I have already mentioned artists such as Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Franco Piavoli, but others are also worth mentioning: Roberto Rossellini, Pupi Avati, Carlo Mazzacurati, Ermanno Olmi, Carlo Piccioni, among others. They all demonstrate that the cinematic art can surpass the visible. Perhaps Franco Piavoli's belief that cinema will sooner or later become a tangible medium is extreme. Yet it seems certain that, going beyond the logic of a "cinema of narrative" is a first step to more deeply entering both image and reality, thus reaching results of surprising critical resonance for both cinema and poetry. It is thanks to this process, and through a "cinema of poetry" that Pasolini finds an aesthetic resolution for his contradictions. Poetry, both in written form and in cinematographic works, becomes a tool with which to decipher the symbolic representations of a complex reality. "Cinema of poetry" is thus able to open a dialogue between author, text, and viewers, and cinematic authors, like poietes, bring to life multiple possible worlds.

The issues raised in an analysis of a "cinema of poetry" might also be used to focus on a complementary phenomenon, the cinematic effects of poetry, exploring visual poetry as a creative process of linguistic vitality. I hope that my analysis of "cinema of poetry" helps to formulate new hypotheses about the interactions between cinema and poetry, visual images and poetic words. Many Italian poietes made of "visibility" the core of their poetic search, as, for example, the already cited Valerio Magrelli, but also Eugenio Montale, Andrea Zanzotto and Cosimo Ortesta, just to name a few. How do they develop the movement from word to image, and what are the concerns at the base of their scopic investigation? Both cinema and poetry use images in their complexity, as mirrors to look beyond the limits of the world, and at the same time to reflect on the gaze as a subject and object of its reflection, as a tool to reach self consciousness and self reflexivity. How do cinema and poetry deepen the readers' and viewers' perception of reality? Deepening the analysis of the bond that strictly links cinema and poetry will help understand new correspondences between these media, keeping the vital dialogue which unites them alive.


University of Maryland


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Ferrero, Adelio. Il cinema di Pier Paolo Pasolini. Venezia: Marsilio Ed. 1977.

Flaxman, Gregory Ed. The Brain is the Screen. Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000.

Hagsum, Jean. The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray. Chicago: UP, 1958.

Keating, Patrick. "Pasolini, Croce, and the Cinema of Poetry." Scope, June 2001.

Leopardi, Giacomo. Zibaldone di Pensieri. Ed. G. Parcella. Milano: Garzanti, 1991.

Magrelli, Vittorio. Poesie (1980-1992) e Altre Poesie. Torino: Einaudi, 1996.

--. Vedersi Vedersi. Modelli e Circuiti Visivi nell'opera di Paul Valery. Torino: Einaudi 2002.

Marcus, Millicent. Filmmaking by the Book: ltalian Cinema and Literary Adaptation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

Micciche, Lino. Cinema italiano: gli anni '60 e oltre. Venezia: Marsilio Ed. 2002

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Empirismo eretico. Milano: Garzanti, 2000.

--. Heretical Empiricism. Ed. Louise K Barnett. Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1988.

--. Mamma Roma. Milano: Rizzoli, 1962.

--. La Ricotta (1964).

Praz, Mario. Il giardino dei sensi: studi sul Manierismo e sul Barocco. Milano: Mondatori, 1975.

Stack, Oswald. Pasolini on Pasolini. Bloomington and London: Indiana UP, 1969.

Steiner, Wendy. The Colors of Rhetoric. Chicago: UP, 1982.

Viano, Maurizio. A Certain Realism. Making Use of Pasolini's Film Theory and Practice. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Volponi, Paolo et al. Pier Paolo Pasolini nel dibattito culturale contemporaneo. Alessandria: Amministrazione provinciale di Pavia, 1977.


(1) The bibliography that counts studies on the relation between films and books, narrative and pictures, narrative and music, poetry and music, just to naine a few, is infinite. It is problematical to choose exemplary works. I can only suggest here a series of examples: Mario Praz, Mneosyne: The Parallel between Literature and the Visual Arts (Princeton: UP, 1969); Jean Hagsum, The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray (Chicago: UP, 1958); Wendy Steiner, The Colors of Rhetoric (Chicago: UP, 1982); Millicent Marcus, Filmmaking by the Book: Italian Cinema and Literary Adaptation (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993).

(2) The first form of written communication appeared in the Mesopotamic area, in the IV Millennium BC.

(3) For a deeper analysis of how the net of memory works in relation to words and images, see Lina Bolzoni's La rete delle immagini. Predicazione in volgare dalle origini a a Bernardino da Siena (Torino: Einaudi, 2002).

(4) "For the sensitive and imaginative man, who lives, as I have lived for a long time, continuously feeling and imagining, the world and the objects are, in a certain sense, double. He will see with his eyes a tower, the country, will hear with his ears the sound of a bell, and at the same time with his imagination he will see another tower, another country, will hear another sound. In this second type of objects stand all the beauty and pleasure of things. Sad is that life (and such is life commonly) which does not see, does not hear, does not feel if not simple objects, only those of which the eyes, the ears and the other sentiments feel the first sensation." (my translation).

(5) Valerio Magrelli (1957-) is one of the most illustrious personalities of contemporary Italian literature. He is a poet, a literary and cinematographic critic, and professor of French Literature at the University of Cassino. He has already received multiple international accolades, his works have been translated into various languages, and most notably, at the young age of 35, Magrelli published an opera omnia: Poesie (1980-1992) e Altre Poesie, (1996) which collects his first three poetic works, and establishes his poetic authority and his interest in the visual aspects of poetry. The gaze is the central theme of Ora serrata retinae, his first collection, which impresses each poem with a peculiar multiplicity of perspectives, while being a scopic and meta-scopic quest.

(6) I am sharpening my thought,/as if the thread were worn away/and the sign become opaque./Eyes are consumed like pencils/and in the evening they draw on the brain/roughly sketched and confused images./Images swing and the stroke becomes insecure,/and objects hide:/as if they were constantly speaking through enigmas,/and every sight were obliging/the mind to translate./Miopia becomes then poetry,/having to approach the world/in order to separate it from the light/time, also, undergoes this slowing down:/gestures are lost, greetings not understood./The only thing that stands out clearly/is the prodigious difficulty of vision./(my translation).

(7) The contemporary television landscape flourish with examples of "reality shows" that follow the pattern of Big Brother, where what happens on the screen asks to be viewed as an authentic document of real life, while on the other hand "reality" is constructed by the television narrative of the events shown.

(8) This phenomenon is carefully analyzed by Federico Bona, in "Le riviste: il paradosso di chi scrive senza leggere" Tirature: I Poeti fra Noi. Le Forme della Poesia nell'Eta della Prosa (Milano: Mondadori, 2002. pag. 54-60).

(9) According to semiotic theory, the "linsigns" delineate the words per se in the complex communicative system of linguistic signs.

(10) "[...] the linguistic archetypes of the im-signs are the images of our memories and our dreams, that is, images of "communication with ourselves" (and of only indirect communication with others in that the image that the other person has of a thing of which I speak to him is a reference we have in common). Those archetypes thus lay a direct base of "subjectivity" for the im-signs, which consequently belong in the highest degree to the world of poetry. Thus the tendency of film language should be expressively subjective and lyrical." (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 173).

(11) In a more conventional "cinema of prose," on the contrary, narrative im poses an order which superintends the film's signification, and which develops a sequential logic of events and of straightforward meanings, as classical Hollywood cinema exemplifies. A classical "cinema of narrative" or "cinema of prose" is based on the conventional centrality of the narrator, of the characters and the spectator. Such a structured center allows the director to compose a film, giving the plot, or the time and the space of narration, an organized structure. (In this regard, see Sandro Bernardi's Il paesaggio nel cinema italiano, Venezia: Marsilio, 2002). Transgressions from the predominant prose form may result in different outcomes, not necessarily poetic. Italian neorealism, for example, differentiates itself from the purely logical and illustrative proceedings proper of a "cinema of narrative," as it aimed to create a narrative structure different from that of Hollywood films, using repetitions and modules that disrupt the linear sequence of events, as theorist Gilles Deleuze explained. "Cinema of poetry," indeed, carries the heredity of neorealism, but differs from the earlier cinematic tradition in its engagement of a new language of poetry, rather than the poetic lyricism inherent in traditional neorealist films.

(12) The most straightforward examples of a "cinema of prose" are the classical Hollywood films.

(13) As I will demonstrate, moments of pure form in cinema of poetry happen when the camera is focused on the cinematic technique, its rhythm and montage, more that on the narrative of the events.

(14) I use the term "agnition" in its philological meaning. "Agnition" comes from the Latin verb agnoscere, which means sudden recognition, identification. Subjective and surprising recognitions happen when viewers operate their mental net of knowledge and come to interact with filmic images.

(15) It is evident how in this idea Deleuze's thought resembles that of the Surrealists. However, as explained by Gregg Lambert in "Cinema and the Outside," there is an essential divergence: "when the form of the dream itself is mistaken for this principle, as it was the solution offered by surrealism, making the form of the dream represent the power of this principle, then we lose the principle by enclosing it within the image of the dream--that is, by subordinating the principle under its image, or representation" (Flaxman, 286).

(16) Many critics emphasized Pasolini's poetry as "poetry of action." See, for example, Benedetti's book on Pasolini contro Calvino (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1998), which opposes Pasolini's attitude as "performativo" to that of Calvino as "constativo" (129); and Maurizio Viano's A Certain Realism (Berkeley: U of California P, 1993), which identifies Pasolini's attitude towards "the real."

(17) See "Nuove questioni linguistiche" in Empirismo eretico: "Cosi che se io dovessi descrivere in modo sintetico e vivace l'italiano, direi che si tratta di una lingua non, o imperfettamente, nazionale, che copre un corpo storico-sociale frammentario, sia in senso verticale (le diacronie storiche, la sua formazione a strati), sia in senso estensivo (le diverse vicende storiche regionali, che hanno prodotto varie piccole lingue virtuali concorrenti, i dialetti, e le successive differenti dialettizzazioni della koine) ..." (5-6). "So that, if I had to describe Italian in a concise and lively way I would say that it's a question of a language which is not national, or imperfectly so. It covers a fragmentary historicosocial body, both in a vertical sense (historical diachrony, its formation in layers), and in an extensive sense (the different events of regional history which have produced various, virtually contemporaneous little languages, dialects, and successive different dialectizations of the koine)." (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 3).

(18) "[...] poetry--is in turn nothing more than another form of action: if, in the instant in which the reader listens to it or reads it, in other words, perceives it, he frees it again from linguistic conventions and re-creates it as the dynamic of feelings, of affections, of passions, of ideas, he reduces it to an audiovisual entity, that is, the reproduction of reality, of action--and so the circle is closed." (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 204).

(19) La ricotta was part of the international project Ro.Go.Pa.G (1963), which contains three other short films (Roberto Rossellini's "Illibatezza," -"Virginity"--Jean-Luc Godard's "Il nuovo mondo,"--"The New World"-and Ugo Gregoretti's "Il pollo ruspante"--"The Rage Grown Chicken"--).

(20) "Poor Stracci. Croak. It was the only way he could remind us that he, too, was alive." (Criterion Collection edition subtitles. All the following translations of the script will come from this edition).

(21) "It is not difficult to predict for this story of mine biased, ambiguous, and scandalized judgments. In any case I want to state here and now that, however "La ricotta" is taken, the Story of the Passion that "La ricotta" indirectly recalls, is for me the greatest event that has ever happened, and the books that recount it, the most sublime ever written.".

(22) In an interview in 1964, Pasolini admits: "il regista Orson Wells, ne La ricotta, non rappresenta me stesso, e quindi le cose che lui dice le dice in proprio: Probabilmente il regista e una specie di caricatura di me stesso, un me stesso andato al di la di certi limiti e caricaturizzato e visto come se io fossi diventato, per un certo processo di inaridimento interiore e di conseguente cinismo, un ex comunista." (Volponi, 100).

(23) See Viano pag. 31-54.

(24) "Cinema does not evoke reality, as reality language does; it does not copy reality, as painting does; it does not mime reality, as drama does. Cinema reproduces reality, image and sound! By reproducing reality, what does cinema do? Cinema expresses reality with reality" (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 133).

(25) Stracci's own name, actually means "rags." He really is the poor man for antonomasia, representative of his entire social class, the subproletariat, therefore his fate can be seen as exemplary for an entire social class.

(26) Furthermore, since Stracci and his companions, all level their gazes at the viewers, in terms of cinematic techniques, the mockers and the mocked are equalized. In the same way, the distant and cynical director spatially represents the opposite pole from Stracci, his foil.

(27) I am a force from the Past./Tradition is my only love./I come from ruins, churches,/Altarpieces, forgotten hamlets/In the Appenines and the foothills of the Alps,/where dwell our brothers./I walk the Tuscolana Way like a madman,/the Appian Way like a dog without a master./I behold the twilight, the mornings/over Rome, over Ciociaria, over the world,/like the first acts of post-history,/which I witness by privilege of birth,/from the utmost edge of some buried/age. Monstrous is the man born/from the bowels of a dead woman./And I, adult fetus, wander /More modern than any modern/In search of brothers who are no more./(Criterion Collection subtitles).

(28) As noted by Micicche, this film is also a key work on Pasolini's entire ouvre, since "(anche al di la dei suoi valori strettamente estetici) testimonia in modo inequivocabile la presenza di un magma ispirativo dove confluiscono (profondamente intricate tra loro) il motivo della morte e del mito, dell'incontaminata Preistoria e della storica crudelta sociale, della vitalistica anarchia e dell'ordine repressivo, dell'epica innocenza di 'una razza che fa/ della propria mitezza un'arma che non perdona' e dell'inesorabile grigiore omicida del mondo" (Il cinema italiano 155). "(even beyond his strictly esthetic values), it unequivocally witnesses the presence of an inspiring magma where the themes of death and myth converge (profoundly tangled together), together with uncontaminated Prehistory and historic social cruelty, vital anarchy and the repressive order, the epic innocence of 'a race that makes/of its own mildness a weapon that does not forgive' and of the inexorably homicidal grayness of the world" (my translation).

(29) See also Micciche, 162.

(30) As Viano suggests, it is also important to underline that both the painters are Italian Mannerists, who aimed to depict complex compositions to the point of appearing artificial and unrealistic: "Mannerist painters often agreed to paint religious subjects, but their angels had blackish wings and estranged faces, revealing not seraphic bliss but rather doubt and torment. Both Rosso and Pontormo worked in a period of crisis, which explains 'the sense of tragic isolation, intellectual anarchy and formal extravagance that we find in their work" (107-108). In each reproduction, Pasolini in fact introduces stranger and untraditional figures of black angels and black slaves, as to emphasize the artificiality of the representation.

(31) One of the most noteworthy moments of pure form in Pasolini's "cinema of poetry" is one core scene in Uccellacci Uccellini (1966). Most of this film's charm lies in the contrast between the two main characters: the composed comic style of Toto, and the disordered untrained movement of Ninetto Davoli. Such a contrast is highlighted in the mixture of rhythms with which Pasolini shoots the fight between four men and Ninetto, who is trying to protect Toto. As critic Patrick Keating notes "Some shots are filmed in fast motion. Other shots are filmed in slow motion. Quick cuts of the fast motion shots are juxtaposed with longer takes of the slow motion shots. These shots are also cut together with Toto's reaction shots. The end result is a dizzying mixture of rhythms. On the one hand, Pasolini's disconcerting montage seems to express the emotional point-of-view of Toto, who is both surprised and confused by the fight. However, the change in the frame rate calls attention to the style of the film, and marks the editing strategy as the expression of Pasolini, who seems to be delighted by the gestures and motions" (11).

(32) On the basis of this famous quotation, some critics argued that Pasolini's death was his last artistic expression. I would avoid any speculation on Pasolini's death but instead emphasize the author's aesthetics of death as fundamental to his artistic philosophy.

(33) "It is therefore absolutely necessary to die, because, so long as we live, we have no meaning, and the language of out lives (with which we express ourselves, and to which we therefore attribute the greatest importance) is untranslatable; a chaos of possibilities, a search for relations and meanings without resolution. Death effects an instantaneous montage of our lives; that is, it chooses the truly meaningful moments (which are no longer modifiable by other possible contrary or incoherent moments) and puts them in a sequence, transforming an infinite, unstable, and uncertain--and therefore linguistically not describable--present into a clear, stable, certain, and therefore easily describable past (exactly in the context of a General Semiology). It is thanks to death that our life serves us to express ourselves." (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 236-237).

(34) The significance of Stracci's life, in fact, can be understood only when that life is completed. His death is a meaningful tool for him to express himself, as it characterizes and defines his own existence. The ideology of death is central in Pasolini's work. In his previous film, Accattone (1962), the director tackles it directly. The only possibility of salvation, for the street boy, is his own death. While dying, Accattone finally finds peace of mind, and admits, smiling "Aaaaah ... Mo' sto bene!". According to critic Lino Micicche, Mamma Roma can be considered a step forward compared to Accattone, since it defines the wrong way to go; but at the same time it confirms 'Timprigionamento senza uscite di un sottoproletariato cui non e lecito sortire dalla propria preistoria" (Cinema italiano 186).

(35) In Empirismo Eretico, Pasolini laments that "Il suo fondamento e quel sotto-film mitico e infantile, che, per la natura stessa del cinema, scorre sotto ogni film commerciale anche non indegno, cioe abbastanza adulto civicamente e esteticamente" (173). "Its foundation is that mythical and infantile subtext which, because of the very nature of cinema, runs underneath every commercial film which is not unworthy, that is [which is] fairly adult aesthetically and socially" (Trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett, 172).

(36) See also Valerio Magrelli's book Vedersi vedersi (Torino: Einaudi 2002): while analyzing the poetic of Valery, he theorizes a new birth for the "I" that, freed from the obstruction created by a nihilistic gnoseologic tradition, reflects his own scopic and meta scopic quest and the different representations of himself, continuously calling for the interpretation of the readers, asking them to take part in a dialogic and possibly dialectical exchange.
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