- Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini's Rome
The name "Pasolini" is almost synonymous with the city of Rome. In Stupendous, Miserable City, John David Rhodes examines Pasolini's poetic and filmic relationship to Rome as a representational and geographic space by examining his ambivalent relationship to traditions of realism and formalism in the early films and literary texts. Rhodes situates Pasolini's early films within two distinctive contexts: the history of modern Roman sub/urban development and Pasolini's literary output of the 1950s. Emerging from this dual focus is a series of arguments that effect a departure from other works on modern urban development (much of which has developed from Walter Benjamin's work on Paris) and the cinema and the city, and instead focuses on a kind of Roman specificity within Pasolini's works. Rhodes points out that there is a trend in Pasolini studies to address the centrality of Rome; however, his specific interest is in "marrying formal analysis to a thoroughly researched context of urban and architectural history" (xxi). Although Stupendous, Miserable City focuses primarily on architecture and urban development [End Page 196] in Pasolini's films and poetry, Rhodes' also incorporates analyses of the architectural spaces of Neorealist films throughout the book as a critical counterpoint to the visual archive of Rome that is under scrutiny in Pasolini's films. The interplay of formal analysis and historical context enables Rhodes to deftly expound on previous Pasolini scholarship in a clear and concise book. By asking specific questions about Rome in Pasolini's work, this book contributes to and challenges existing discourses on Pasolini as well as Italian cinema and cinema and the city more generally, an intervention of interest to scholars of Italian film and literature, but also for visual culture scholars interested in questions of media and urban space.
The first chapter focuses primarily on establishing the historical context of the Roman periphery. Many of the changes in Rome began with its establishment as the national capital, but the growth and development of the suburbs was continued with fervor during the Fascist period and the immediate post-war period. During these periods the demographics of the city changed significantly as the working-class populations were pushed from the center of the city and into the Roman periphery. The images of some of these housing projects that were developed under Mussolini and in the post-war period are familiar, as they have been featured in many Neorealist films, most notably Bicycle Thieves. In relation to Bicycle Thieves, Rhodes asserts that there are specific historical antecedents for the feelings of displacement experienced in the film, which allow for historical and material readings to be soundly incorporated into the symbolic readings of this film. While the stories in Neorealist films are clearly impacted by the specificities of urban development in Rome, Rhodes argues that Pasolini's filmmaking is more explicitly a document and way of seeing Rome—a way of seeing that is not only manifest in Pasolini's films, but also his poetry.
The analyses of Pasolini's poetry provide the foundation for a discussion of how Pasolini conceives of space. Rhodes effectively weaves together Pasolini's biography with several examples of his poetry, personal letters and prose, in order to highlight the precise visual (and visceral) descriptions of the city. Although these texts possess certain documentary qualities, Rhodes maintains that, "Pasolini is more interested in capturing the linguistic rhythm of life in the periphery than he is in reporting on it visually" (31). This particular concern with documenting the city through precise formal techniques is a point that Rhodes returns to and expounds upon in later chapters.
The historical context outlined in the early part of the book is developed further in chapter three by discussing more specifically the way in which Accattone is a melding of realism and modernism. [End Page 197] Rhodes posits that, "Pasolini's is a modernism shot through with realism; his realism is one inflected and informed by modernism" (55). Rhodes develops...