Pier Paolo Pasolini was among the most controversial and provocative filmmakers ever to impact the international cinema community. Emerging during the 1960s, Pasolini broke from his New Wave-inspired peers, drawing influence for his work not from other cinematic sources but from art, literature, folklore, and music. He was also among the few directors of his era to focus less on the process of filmmaking than on his subject matter, bringing to the screen the gritty desperation of life on the fringes.
Pasolini was born in Bologna, Italy, on March 5, 1922. The son of an army officer, he grew up at various points throughout the country, and began writing poetry at the age of seven. While studying art at the University of Bologna, he published his first book of poetry, Poesie a Casarsa, in 1942. A year later, he was drafted to serve in the armed forces during the waning months of World War II, and after Italy's surrender his regiment was captured by the Germans. Pasolini soon escaped and fled to the small town of Casarsa, where he remained for several years. He joined the communist party in 1946 but was expelled three years later in the wake of an arrest for "moral indignity." Regardless, he remained under the sway of Marxist doctrine, finding particular inspiration in the writings of Antonio Gramsci and his belief in the revolutionary power of the Italian peasantry.
In the late '40s, Pasolini resumed his university studies, and in 1950 he relocated to Rome, living in the city's slums while working as a teacher. A homosexual, he fell in with the local underworld of prostitutes, hustlers, pimps, and thieves. Pasolini himself was often arrested in their company -- he once attempted to rob a filling station and later helped a wanted criminal flee the police -- and in 1955 these experiences converged in his first novel, the scandalous Ragazzi di vita. The book's publication prompted the Italian courts to prosecute Pasolini on obscenity charges, the first of many such run-ins with the authorities. Regardless, Roman criminal culture remained at the forefront of his later work, and his second book, 1959's Una Vita Violenta, also detailed the life of a slum child. At much the same time, Pasolini was also earning notice as a poet, and his 1957 collection Le Ceneri di Gramsci earned the Viareggio Prize. From 1955 to 1958, he also edited the avant-garde magazine Officina, which was later forced to cease publication following a Pasolini poem attacking Pope Pius XII on his deathbed.
Pasolini's involvement in the cinema began rather quietly, with the 1954 screenplay for Mario Soldati's La Donna del Fiume. Over the next several years, he also collaborated on scenarios for projects by Federico Fellini, Mauro Bolognini, and Luis Trenker, but in light of his other, more scandalous work his film material earned little notoriety. By the early '60s, however, the cinema became Pasolini's central focus. After scrapping the completed screenplay for a project titled La Commare Secca (which he then passed along to Bernardo Bertolucci), he wrote another script, Accatone, which he directed in the slums with a non-professional cast in 1961. As with his literary debut, his film debut became the subject of much controversy, with moralists holding up the picture as proof of the need for stricter censorship guidelines. Abroad, the feature garnered honors at the Montreal and Karlovy Vary film festivals, and with his sophomore feature, 1962's Mamma Roma, he won both the International Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival in addition to Italy's Silver Ribbon.
Pasolini next joined forced with Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, and Ugo Gregoretti for the 1962 anthology RoGoPaG. His segment, "La ricotta," starred Orson Welles as a filmmaker directing a movie on the life of Christ. While intended as an attack against the vulgarization of spirituality, the piece was prosecuted for "publicly maligning the religion of the state" and ban