Reflections after the Stonewall Riots: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Maria Callas and Pier Paolo Pasolini on the set of Medea

Pier Paolo Pasolini interviewed by Louis Valentin (1970)

A 1970 interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini, on the youth revolt of the sixties, culture, love, his film “Oedipus Rex”, the heterosexual couple, homosexuality, and more.

LV: You have often been accused of being a pornographer. Does this bother you?

PP: People who say my films are pornographic only cast suspicion on themselves. Anyway, I have nothing against pornographic films. They belong to a type of subculture, but that’s no reason to prohibit their directors or producers from making them, for that would be repression. Maybe, some day, if there are too many such films or they are too badly produced, no one will go to watch them. It’s the politics of the worst, of saturation….

LV: It is often said that you have three “idols”: Christ, Marx and Freud…. What do you think of that?

PP: It’s nothing but another formula…. In fact, my only idol is reality. If I chose to become a “filmmaker” and a writer at the same time, it is because, rather than expressing this reality by means of the symbols called words, I preferred the expressive means of the cinema, so that I can express reality by means of reality.

LV: Can you express in words, however, as you perceive it subjectively, this reality that is constituted by contemporary young people, and the things that seem to inspire them?

PP: The young people, or at least those young people who represent the majority, the faceless gray mass of our society, have lost all taste for culture. They are ignorant and don’t want culture. What is dangerous about this is the fact that they have turned their own ignorance into an ideology, a wall behind which they can hide while chanting slogans. Only a very small percentage of today’s students have read Proust, Sartre or Marcuse. Culture has reached its saturation point. All literature is “dad’s” literature. In this society, only productivity has the force of law, and all productivity tends to negate culture. To produce it is not necessary to educate oneself. The young people who want to enter this industrial and paleo-industrial world follow the lines of force imposed by technology and reject the arts and literature. It is a mechanical and automatic law, and young people unconsciously abide by it. All change, all protest, even if it is non-violent, amounts to nothing when you take into account the youth as a whole and the number of protesters. Revolt is the product of a tiny elite. The vast majority has only one goal: total, worldwide industrialization. Young people, by rejecting society while simultaneously rejecting all culture, often do nothing but accept this situation.

LV: But why do they reject culture?

PP: Because culture coincides with father, mother, Church, with all the family and social taboos. It’s always been like that. Young people have always renewed culture apart from that of the father. They therefore attacked the father, which implied a feeling of anxiety, a foretaste of death, a fabulous masochism. To kill the father, even under this form, represents an absolute masochism, a constant guilt. Civilization was still agricultural, and man was not yet this sorcerer’s apprentice who forges his isolation by mechanizing himself. Today, only an elite dares to attack daddy’s culture. Its sense of death has been “decoupled” in this barbarous world, made of prison-cities, implacable highways, bad movies, bad television programs, and false or trivial news. Technology denies art. It must be served; otherwise, it leads to anxiety and death. It imposes its rule and annihilates all feelings that do not want to serve it. It kills humanity, that is, what is human in man. To pause, to deny, to search, to ask questions, in a word, to educate oneself, means to feel tension, to go against the current, which only an elite (and tomorrow a super-elite) can still allow itself, accepting death, social pressure, by devoting itself to this problem. This is why the young people are silent. They march with their eyes glued to the path blazed by the machine. They advance to the sound of an anthem composed of bad music, visualized by a retrograde television industry, urged on by a nameless film industry and by an anarchical sexuality. This is neither music, nor art, nor love, but a sterile concoction that forces the young people to take refuge in productivity. This is why the youth are silent … yet it is they who will write our history.

LV: Can love improve this disastrous situation?

PP: This society no longer wants love. It rejects it, because love is opposed to work and detracts from the time devoted to production. So love, self-love, self-respect, had to be slandered. On the other hand, however, love can be used to expand productivity. Is it cars that are sold? No! What is sold is the representation of couples embracing in cars. This is what the billboards show, this is what is conveyed by advertisements. A naked woman on the hood of a car, and the car will be sold. Color? Red. No one remembers anything but the make and model of the car. In the United States, the most technologically advanced country, young people protest against technology by means of anti-technology. And what you get is the hippie phenomenon, the longhairs; the community can be turned into a concentration camp, rage can be turned into flowers, into non-violence, into inaction.

LV: Don’t we have to rejuvenate love? Shouldn’t we try to sublimate the couple?

PP: Why? I have never seen couples as triumphant and as sublimated as they are today: “She” and “He”, everywhere. Even during the student movements, in Paris, Rome or Milan, I never saw protesters kissing each other in the streets, men showing their love for other men and women for other women. Young people are profoundly moralistic. They reproduce the morality of their parents, of society. Liberated Eros, hetero- or homosexual, anarchic and free, might possibly exist among the haute bourgeoisie, but even so it is nothing but a hypocritical deviation.

LV: Since you think there is no such thing as a couple, should we therefore live alone, or in groups?

PP: That is a false alternative. It is quite clearly a hypothetical, archaic notion, slavishly imitated from ancient models. Solitude represents asceticism, holiness. And it is nothing but a way to escape from society. It is a feudal, egocentric reaction, from fear of facing the problem. Living in a group is suicide, it is often associated with drugs, a kind of practical abyss that one installs between oneself and others. It is another kind of solitude to rediscover solitude in the grave, because, as long as one is not dead, one is never alone. To love drugs is also to reject culture. An educated person can also take drugs, but he will do so for more plausible reasons, whether due to illness, or because he needs them to instill a new acuteness to his mind. Today’s young people take drugs mindlessly, for self-destruction and to invent excuses for their subculture. Cocteau took drugs, but he did so for cultural reasons. I don’t think that the villa at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat would have ever been built if he had never taken drugs…. Our young people who take drugs never love anything of quality. In the delirium of hashish or marijuana, they praise bad paintings or second-rate underground movies…. The only advice that I can give young people is that they should educate themselves; then they can take drugs, if they still want to. It is not by dressing up like a Saint Germain cellar rat that one becomes a Sartre, or by taking drugs that one becomes an Aldous Huxley….

LV: But what were you like when you were young?

PP: Let me explain: to recreate the world by speaking of oneself, to find excuses by looking far back into the past, saying “I was born”, “I lived”, to conjugate oneself in the past imperfect … I cannot do this. I have neither the necessary physical prowess nor the moral force for this. I would need to re-live every second, to return to experience the sensations of that time. Autobiographies are always false. They are either complacent or suicide. Biographies at least contain one truth: the appearance that they try to convey to others.

LV: But you said that your film, “Oedipus Rex”, was your most autobiographical film….

PP: True. The profound difference between Oedipus and my other films resides in the fact that it is autobiographical, while the others were not, or were only autobiographical to a lesser degree. At least they were almost unconsciously, indirectly autobiographical. In “Oedipus…”, I told the story of my own Oedipus Complex. The boy in the prologue is me, his father is my father, a veteran artillery officer, and his mother, a schoolteacher, is my own mother. I told the story of my life; mythologized, no doubt, converted into an epic through the legend of Oedipus. But, despite the fact that it was the most autobiographical of my films, it is the one that I view most objectively and from a distance; because while it is true that I related a personal experience, it was an experience that has ended and which practically no longer interested me. But it did have some interest for me, at least, as an element of knowledge, of reflection. It was no longer either a struggle or a drama. Whereas in my earlier films I confronted problems that were always contemporary problems for me, in Oedipus I addressed a theme that was no longer fresh and alive.

LV: What autobiographical elements do you recall using for that film?

PP: In the first scenes you see a field, and this field is almost exactly like the place where my mother took me for walks when I was a child. Certain clothing, like the yellow dress and hat that my mother wore, were reproduced based on old photographs. There is also an officer’s uniform that is identical to the one worn by officers in the 1930s…. I was also impressed by my return to the big plaza in Bologna, swarming with people, and I felt as if I were in a dream….

LV: Why did you play the role of your grandfather in “Oedipus Rex”? His speech is the longest in the whole film….

PP: For two reasons. Above all, because at the time I could not find anyone who was right for the role. And secondly, because that speech is the first one taken from Sophocles, and I wanted, as the author, to be the one to introduce Sophocles in the film.

LV: Some critics have spoken, with reference to this film, of “dreamlike colors”. Could you tell us if you dream in color or in black and white?

PP: I dream both ways. Anyway, I must say that I don’t think I have ever dreamed in those colors that you see in the prologue. The dreams that I have had…. For example, I recall a dream from about ten years ago, in which a volcano erupted and set a crowd of panic-stricken people on fire…. My dreams served as inspirations above all for the colors of the episodes of the plague and the funerals. The idea of wrapping the dead in colored tinsel was mine, and it is an idea that reflects the colors of my dreams….

LV: What is your definition of love?

PP: Without love, people die, they suffocate. It is depression, death. Society feels it, and that is why there is such a tendency to glorify love. It is one of the keys of productivity. Without love, man cannot produce. Of course, all societies are sexually repressive, because the energy that man consumes to make love fails to profit capital. Every society is above all Puritanical, and we must not believe that we are living in a period of total sexual freedom. That is an illusion. The day that society is completely industrialized, one will see the birth of a type of absolute moralist, like those of the most retrograde societies. Overtime was invented not to stand in the way of love, but to channel it by way of social rules. Love is then transformed into the reward for the labor performed for the benefit of industrialization.

LV: Has love become the symbol of the forbidden fruit?

PP: Society prohibits knowledge of the power of our love and its application to reality. It teaches individuals to have a false idea of their own desires, of their own libido. Society wants to reaffirm in man the false idea that he has of own love, as of the love that he has for himself.

LV: Don’t you think that man is desperately searching to discover his sexual limits?

PP: If you want to go beyond your sexual limits, you lose yourself in the infinite. What lies beyond love is madness. Fortunately, there is a sexual economy. There is a mechanism of boundaries, of correction. Eros regulates itself.

LV: Can love exist without sado-masochistic relations?

PP: It is inconceivable. But who started it? Sade or Masoch? It’s the old story of the chicken and the egg. The equilibrium of these two forces is the result of human equilibrium.

LV: While you were directing your films, especially “Teorema”, did you have the impression that you were doing something useful?

PP: That’s not my goal. I don’t want to be paternalistic, or pedagogical, or engage in propaganda, or be an apostle…. When a cultural work becomes scientific, it is no longer cultural. Psychoanalysis is not culture, but applied science. Engaging in nuclear research and building the H-bomb are not the same. Only the essence of a work is useful: this is why every authentic work, rather than being useful, is therapeutic.

LV: You just said a little while ago that couples do not exist. But, physiologically speaking, how is it possible to deny their existence?

PP: You cannot physiologically deny the existence of the couple, of coupling. It is in the form of the nuclear family that couples no longer exist. Neo-capitalism no longer needs the family, just as it no longer needs the Church. If they still persist, it is merely as relics from the past. The education of children no longer depends on the family, but on the group. Yes, we are living in the end times. The foundation of society has shifted. Now it is the relation between production and consumption. Why do so many young people run away from home? I am well acquainted with this problem. I have met many young runaways. I asked them why they ran away from home. The reasons are the same that they were twenty years ago: unhappiness, arguments with their parents. In short, the classic reasons, backward, anarchic, archaic, retrograde. But they concealed, due to a lack of understanding, the real reason behind the rationales they offered: freedom, the quest for the absolute, protest. I know a twenty-year-old boy who ran away from home. I listened to what he said. I told him: “You ran away because you were in love with your girlfriend’s mother and you wanted to make love to her”. He was shocked. He refused to admit it. He said that he ran away from home so that he could come to Rome to join in the student protests. He hid his Freudian revolution behind a social revolution. Apart from this aspect, however, he ran away from home for a more modern reason, to participate in the life of the group and further his education. He had chosen another family. His family had been replaced by the group. In order to be accepted into the group, this boy protested with and against the others. In doing this, he brought along with him all his old habits: moralism, utilitarianism. For a real revolutionary, however, nothing is either useful or useless. The only thing that counts is action. Utility is still a bourgeois notion, and the very canons of utility are moralism, hypocrisy, repression and violence. Every action speaks for itself, as action. It is self-sufficient. It is necessary to act on instinct and on the basis of culture. Culture is added to instinct; it is culture that distinguishes us from the animals.

LV: What is your position on the question of homosexuality?

PP: I already told you: the couple considered as a nuclear family is a heresy, it is alienation. From the moment when the couple is codified, it can only self-destruct. So society rejects what is not codified and can challenge its statutes. Homosexuality is a threat to society. It is inconceivable in any organism or community, no matter how free. Just try to imagine homosexuality at Fiat. Why, from the moment that one accepts the idea of the nullity of the couple, of the family, should one reject loving others, regardless of their race or gender? Women were always considered to be inferiors in society. Their social function consists in giving birth: making babies. If the Nazis didn’t need women to perform this function, if society was completely industrialized, they probably would have filled their concentration camps not only with Poles, Jews, and Gypsies, but also with women. They rounded up homosexuals, too, since they were a threat in a moralistic society. If they did not put all the women in concentration camps, it was for a practical reason: to build babies; to build them, not to bring them into the world. Women existed as machines. But the socially unproductive homosexual? His fate is even worse than that of the woman. He is marginal and as such he can either accept social rejection and suffer, or go against the current and suffer all the same. Normality and abnormality are also bourgeois notions. The only abnormality that capitalist society still tolerates is the woman. Women try to and occasionally do overcome their condition as outsiders. Rare indeed are the women who are free and who live like men. How many judges? How many film or theater directors? Society does everything possible to prevent women from freeing herself, and if it were suddenly to allow them to assume the positions now held by men, what kind of men are we talking about and how are they treated? Take television programs, for instance. Can they liberate women? The only freedom they concede to women is a sexual freedom that, in fact, is the opposite of freedom and is instead a kind of sadistic repression. All these erotic movies are proof enough of this. They only serve to entertain the lowest Freudian instincts and, at the same time, to augment productivity with degradation, overtime, savings, etc. Woman will be the result of this applied labor. She will be the receptacle of the needs created by society. This is why I now, and always will, try to idealize woman, in order to transform her into herself, without any conditioning. For me, a woman must herself be the idealized, free and pure being, like my own mother.

LV: Why did you cast Callas as “Medea”?

PP: Maria Callas is an extraordinary tragic actress. She is the only actress who can express, even without acting and without saying a word, spiritual catastrophe. She can portray a woman deeply in love, a violent and tormented woman, the opposite of the defeated woman. You only have to look at the women in my films, to see what they are beyond all outward appearances, to know what I, Pier Paolo Pasolini, am. I am not a believer, but I am very close to the myth of the Gospel. If one understands this to mean a religious myth in the broadest sense of the term, that of the possibility of a dialogue between Marxists and Christians, I am closer to the Oedipal myth, that is, to the love of the son for the mother and the hatred of the father. I am closer, insofar as I have gone beyond it, while I have not abolished my “belonging” to the whole Christian mythology.

LV: Do you love life?

PP: I love it fiercely, even desperately. I believe that this ferocity and this desperation will only lead to my destruction. I love the sun, the grass, youth. It has become for me a vice more terrible than cocaine. I devour my existence with an insatiable appetite. How will all of this end? I don’t know….

LV: Why are your films so scandalous?

PP: Because I am scandalous, as I explained before. I am scandalous because I have a cord, an umbilical cord, between the profane and the sacred.


First published in Italian in Louis Valentin’s journal, Lui, No. 1, June 1970. Subsequently translated into Spanish and published in the Argentinian magazine Confirmado, No. 331, October 19, 1971. Translated from the Spanish translation in September 2018.

Source of the Spanish translation:

Interview available at

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