- Stupendous Miserable City: Pasolini's Rome
In Stupendous Miserable City. Pasolini's Rome, John David Rhodes takes the reader on a vivid journey to Rome in the 1950s and 1960s. However, this is not the glamorous Rome of Fellini's La dolce vita or of Wyler's Roman Holiday. Rather, it is the wretched, forgotten, peripheral Rome of Pasolini's early films, and the various tappe or stages of the trip reflect a Calvary that ended in allegorical sublimation. From Pasolini's first experiences as a non-native inhabitant of the city and his struggle to find work, to his literary production during his first decade in the capital, to his cinematic collaborations with several masters, we arrive at Pasolini's own film career. The first, fundamental period of filmmaking reflects much of the conflict and oppression that Pasolini experienced in his life and observed on the streets. Thus the borgata films and their specific urban environment become the focus of the book. Rhodes posits that postwar Roman development "was a phenomenon of limits and their surpassing," (xiv) which resonated with Pasolini's aesthetic practice, urging him to move from the concrete, here-and-now reality of postwar Rome to abstract and allegorical renderings of the city.
The title of the book derives from a moving poem by Pasolini, entitled "Il pianto della scavatrice" ["The Tears of the Excavator"] which describes the radical changes that modern housing projects made to the 'authentic' landscape of Italian cities prior to the economic miracle. Therefore, "Stupendous miserable city" encapsulates Pasolini's starkly contrastive sentiments—his attraction and repulsion—to the new, ancient city, and to its physical and cultural transformations throughout the postwar decades.
The introduction traces the origins of Pasolini's immersion in, and fascination with, the working-class areas of Rome. In marking the birth of Pasolini's "passion" for the "unlovely" (xi), Rhodes captures the imagination of the reader and provides a logical and engaging framework for analysis, based on two revealing contexts: 1) Roman urban history and development; and 2) Pasolini's 1950s literary production. To render the role of the city much more concrete than it has been in most scholarship, he argues against the use of Rome as solely an aesthetic invention (xv). Instead, Rhodes anchors his discussion first in the real, historical Rome presented in Pasolini's films and second, in Pasolini's detailed knowledge of Rome and of contemporary architectural concerns. [End Page 177]
In chapter 1, Rhodes provides an introduction to twentieth-century Roman urban history. He discusses different ways in which the Roman periphery was represented in neorealist cinema: as a forgotten space, an allusion to otherness, or a home to humble characters seeking to rebuild their lives and find happiness in simple things. The displaced Romans in the years following the war were like the sventrati in Mussolini's time, and whether by mandate or dire necessity, the demographic shift once again re-shaped the city's landscape. It perpetuated a culture and discourse of the "displaced," which, argues Rhodes "intertwined with the vicissitudes of film culture of the postwar period, particularly neorealist filmmaking" (15).
Chapter 2 charts the biographical events preceding Pasolini's move to Rome with his mother in 1950. Afflicted by public scandal and political repudiation, Pasolini left Friuli, and his first literary production in Rome mixes tones of fascination with those of the pain inherent to permanent relocation. Moreover, Pasolini's careful descriptions of the faces and places he encountered in Rome paint a unique picture of the city. Pasolini saw more than which met the average eye, and his perspective joined his private concerns as an outsider with the public concerns of native, yet displaced inhabitants. According to Rhodes, the Roman landscape, particularly the periphery's "uneven and dilating contours" (39) left its imprint on Pasolini's aesthetic view and constituted more than an object of poetic vision. It became a point of confrontation between Pasolini the director and the forefathers of Italian neorealism.
Indeed, in chapter 3, Rhodes shows how Pasolini's...