Although he was already an acclaimed-indeed, notorious-poet and novelist, Pasolini (1922-1975) was nearly forty when he turned to filmmaking with Accattone. While a student at the University of Bologna, he became interested in promoting the Friulian language and published his first collections of poems. Later he became interested in studying the culture and speech patterns of people living in the borgate, or suburbs, around Rome. In particular, he picked up street slang from his longtime friend Sergio Citti and used it in his acclaimed novels Ragazzi di vita (1955) and Una vita violenta (1959). Because of his expertise in this area, he also served as a consultant on the script for Federico Fellini's The Nights of Cabiria (1957) and wrote some dialogue for La Dolce Vita (1960).
Pasolini was also a friend of Bernardo Bertolucci's father, who had helped Pasolini published his first novel. The young Bertolucci later served as an assistant director on Accattone. He recalls: "When I worked with Pasolini, I realized that here was something completely different - it wasn't in the style of neo-realism, but nor was it experimental or avant-garde in the way the New Wave was. He came from literature, and also he had graduated in History of Art at Bologna University, and so he was very influenced by art. In fact, when he began Accattone, he said, 'My model in this film will not be the cinema, it will be the primitive Tuscany of the fourteenth century.' And you can see that influence in the enormous close-ups in the film. [...] Because he did not have much knowledge of film-making, he invented cinema. It was as though I had the privilege of assisting, of witnessing the invention of cinema by Pasolini. One day, he said he was going to use a dolly, and somehow it was like seeing the first dolly movement in the history of the cinema." Bertolucci, who remained a close friend with Pasolini, shortly afterward directed one of Pasolini's unfilmed scripts for his feature film debut, La Commare Secca (1962).
Accattone marked the beginning of Pasolini's ongoing collaborations with several important people. Alfredo Bini (1926-2010) had produced the successful Italian drama Il bell'Antonio (1960), for which Pasolini had worked on the script. After this Bini produced several more films by Pasolini, the last being Oedipus Rex (1967). One of the leading cinematographers in Italy, Tonino Delli Colli (1922-2005) worked with directors such as Sergio Leone, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini and Roman Polanski in the course of his career. He photographed a number of Pasolini's films, including the "Trilogy of Life" and Pasolini's final, controversial feature, Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).
Pasolini himself said about the lead actor Franco Citti in an interview with Oswald Stack, "He was the brother of my oldest friend in Rome, Sergio Citti. [...] [Sergio] helped me enormously in all my novels, he was like a living dictionary for me. I used to jot down notes at home and then I would go over and see him to get him to check the jokes and the local slang of the Roman characters, in which he was extremely proficient. I'd known his brother Franco for years, ever since he was a small boy, and when I had to choose the people for Accattone I thought of him for the part immediately." His choice of Citti reflected a deep interest in non-professional actors that continued throughout his career. Pasolini later commented about his film Mamma Roma (1962), though it applies even better to this film, "I choose actors for what they are and not what they pretend to be." In the same interview he conceded that his decision to dub Franco Citti's voice for the film was ultimately a mistake, though he conceded, "Paolo Ferraro who dubbed him in Accattone was extremely good and I think he added something to the character because dubbing, while altering a character, also makes it more mysterious; it enlarges and enriches it. [...] It raises a character out of the zone of naturalism." Although Franco Citti is primarily known for his roles in Pasolini's films, he also appeared in a number of other Italian films and Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy.
Another distinctive aspect of Pasolini's directorial style is his choice of music on the soundtrack, in this instance Johann Sebastian Bach. In one interview, Pasolini stated, "[...] I wanted to represent the degradation and humble human condition of a person who lives in the mud and dust of the Roman borgata. I felt, I knew, that inside this degradation was something sacred, something religious in the vague sense of the word, and thus this adjective "sacred," and I added to that with music." Not surprisingly, this juxtaposition was one of the aspects which drew criticism when the film was released. Pasolini elaborated, "I think what scandalized them in Accattone was the mixture of the violent Roman subproletariat with the music of Bach, whereas in Mamma Roma there is a different kind of combination which was less shocking - ordinary people who are trying to be petit bourgeois with the music of Vivaldi, which is much more Italian and is based on popular music, so the contamination is much less violent and shocking."
In the early Sixties, around the time that Pasolini was making the film, he frequently became the target of right-wing newspapers and even appeared in court on more than one occasion due to his associations with younger men from the underclass of Rome. He was even charged with armed robbery the same month as the film's premiere, but was eventually acquitted. During the film's November 1961 premiere screening at the Cinema Barberini in Rome, a neofascist group attacked spectators and vandalized the theater, though eventually order was restored. Reportedly, after a subsequent screening that evening Luchino Visconti embraced Pasolini in a show of support.
The film also attracted a lawsuit; a Christian Democrat politician named Salvatore Pagliuca sued Pasolini in February 1962, because one of the characters in the film-a pimp-bore the same name. Although the court ruled that Pasolini and his producer did not need to pay any damages since there was no likelihood of confusion between the politician and the character in the film, the judge did order that Pagliuca's name be removed from the soundtrack.
After the film's release, the weekly newspaper Oggi condemned Accattone as "one more film about human garbage," though other papers reported packed screenings in Rome. As a result of the outcry around the film, the censors pulled it from release. The film also found only a mixed reception in its initial U.S. release in 1968, though it has since come to be regarded as a classic that heralded the emergence of a major talent in Italian cinema.
Producer: Alfredo Bini
Writer and Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Director of Photography: Tonino Delli Colli
Film Editor: Nino Baragli
Art Director: Flavio Mogherini
Principal Cast: Franco Citti (Accattone); Franca Pasut (Stella); Silvana Corsini (Maddalena); Paola Guidi (Ascenza); Adriana Asti (Amore); Luciano Conti (Il Moicano); Luciano Gonini (Piede d'Oro); Renato Capogna (Il Capogna); Alfredo Leggi (Pupo Biondo); Galeazzo Riccardi (Il Cipolla); Umberto Bevilacqua (Salvatore); Romolo Orazi (Accattone's father -in-law); Massimo Cacciafeste (Accattone's brother-in-law), Mario Cipriani (Balilla); Roberto Scaringella (Cartagine); Silvio Citti (Sabino); Giovanni Orgitano (Lo Schuchhia); Piero Morgia (Pio).
Sources: Cowie, Peter. Revolution! The Explosion of World Cinema in the 60s. London: Faber and Faber, 2004.
Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "My Accattone." Translated by Donald Ranvaud. Article originally published in Corriere della Sera, October 8, 1975. Masters of Cinema Blu-ray/DVD edition, UK, 2012.
Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini Requiem. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
Siciliano, Enzo. Pasolini: A Biography. Translated by by John Shepley. New York: Random House, 1982.
by James Steffen