Revisiting Mamma Roma (Pasolini retrospective 1)

09 Mar
March 9, 2014

The TIFF Pasolini retrospective (Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination) kicked off at the Lightbox last night with a packed screening of Pasolini’s second feature, Mamma Roma. This was my first big-screen viewing of this film and, in fact, only my second theatrical viewing of any of Pasolini’s films, and needless to say I was thrilled to see it in its intended size and format.  The archival 35mm print that was screened was the same Cineteca di Bologna restoration (2002 if I remember correctly) that formed the basis of Criterion’s 2004 DVD release—still the best version available for home viewing.

Some of the other screenings coming up in the series are more recent restorations and/or fresh prints and I am looking forward to seeing ever more pristine editions of his films.  The home-video nerd in me is just a little bit disappointed to see that no further restoration work has been done on Mamma Roma because it suggests that we won’t be seeing an HD release of this classic in the near future.

The screening was prefaced by a talk from Italian cinema scholar Luca Caminati, who lent some helpful insight into Pasolini’s technique and continuing relevance in the first portions of his presentation, but later had people looking at their watches when he began to theorize about how Pasolini resolved the 1960s-era debates around representational art versus its opposites. On the topic of Pasolini’s continuing relevance he mentioned various examples of contemporary art inspired in various ways by Pasolini, including the Sharon Hayes video piece “Ricerche: three” which premiered at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

On the technique side he mentioned how Pasolini made his images more painting-like using a telescopic lens for medium-to-close shots, effectively flattening the frame, magnifying the sense of an opaque backdrop, as can be seen in the image above. This was a technique developed for him by his cinematographer, Tonino Delli Colli.

Caminati also mentioned the way that Pasolini deploys images of the sublime ruins of the ancient Roman aqueduct juxtaposed with the new housing developments of the postwar Italian boom. I realized that I hadn’t paid sufficient attention to this recurring image during my previous DVD viewing of the film, but projected at theatrical size it could not be missed. TIFF I cannot thank you enough for programming this series.  On to Accatone!

 

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