Wednesday, November 24, 2010

THANKSGIVING: PASOLINI'S THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW

PIER PAOLO PASOLINI:
MARCH 5, 1922-NOVEMBER 2, 1975

I had a conversation not long ago with a guy who had very little use for "church." "I go once a year, on Thanksgiving," he said. "That seems a logical day to go. And I notice the people who profess to believe in God and to be so grateful barely show up at all."

"Thanksgiving's a secular holiday," I finally stammered. "I think the idea is more or less to give thanks every day..."

Personally, I would like to give thanks this week for Pier Paolo Pasolini, the late Italian film-maker, because I just re-watched The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Pasolini used real people in his film, including his own mother (with whom he lived for a time as an adult) as the older Virgin Mary. People with real emotions, ravaged faces, bad teeth. This is exactly what Christ would look like and act like. Intense but not fanatical. Fierce yet tender. On fire but contained. Possessed of absolute integrity but without the desire to retaliate, lord it over, or be vindicated.

Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant:


John baptizes Christ:


The music's incredible, too: Odetta's "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." Bach's Mass in B Minor. The Missa Luba, a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs:
 

Pasolini was part intellectual, part peasant. Part Marxist, part ad hoc Catholic. Gay without making a campaign out of it. Critical of the student rebellions because they were too bourgeois, critical of the police and yet somehow also on the side of the police. Knew that power always tends to the right. Sold his books on the streets. Was arrested for lewd public acts, was a constant target for the tabloid press, and was murdered in 1975, run over multiple times by his own car in an incident that has never been solved and may have been connected to blackmail, a jealous lover, or Communist-haters. And made at least one movie for which alone he should be awarded the crown of stars.

"If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief." (1966)

"The mark which has dominated all my work is this longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn't lessen but augments this love of life." (Interview in documentary, late 1960s)

From a New York Times interview, 1968: "I suffer from the nostalgia of a peasant-type religion, and that is why I am on the side of the servant. But I do not believe in a metaphysical god. I am religious because I have a natural identification between reality and God."

"One should never hope for anything. Hope is a thing invented by politicians to keep the electorate happy." 

And "thanksgiving," if invented by the state, I might add, is a pallid, tepid facsimile of true thanks, which is shot through with reality, longing, and thus pain. "[Thanksgiving] is the natural expression of those who are not so stupid and so rude as to have forgotten that they are guests. Those naïve, medieval people—and they exist always in every generation, usually obscure, unknown, and even ignorant—who begin and end each day in that most beautiful instinctive human attitude, the attitude of the sensitive, courteous guest of God, on their knees with the head bent down before an ever-present God toward whom their hearts open like drooping flowers or like radiant flowers—they are the only people who really understand admiration and gratitude."
--Katharine Butler Hathaway, The Little Locksmith (memoir of woman born with spinal tuberculosis who was strapped to a board and kept immobile for the first 10 years of her life)

14 comments:

  1. This post is an excellence, and yes, I am thankful for it!

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  2. Happy Thanksgiving, Dylan! and many thanks for the support...

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  3. As always Heather, your words send chills up and down my spine and bring tears to my eyes.

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  4. I think Jesus said that he came for sinners, not the self-righteous. The sick need a physician, right, so why are so many surprised to find sinners in Church?

    Sadly, the ones who set themselves up as smarter and better than everyone else are probably the sickest of them all, and most in need of the physician they won't go to until they acknowledge their sickness.

    It's like being surprised to see blood and crutches in the emergency room!

    Anyway, that scene in which Joseph has discovered that Mary is pregnant is incredible. I've put the film on the netflix instant play queue. I never heard of Pasolini or the film, but I want to see it. Thank you.

    I love that quote from Katharine Hathaway.

    Have fun with Maud!

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  5. oh that Katharine Hathaway memoir is a classic. She was born in Salem, Mass. and kept immobilized on a bed as a child, which was the treatment in those days for spinal TB, and when they finally let her up she had a "hunchback" (can't remember the scientific term now)--which the immobilization was supposed to prevent--anyway...Nary a trace of self-pity, but a very rich and strange inner life. Moved up to the mid-coast of Maine, died on Christmas eve, also on the eve of the publication of her only book.

    And the Pasolini, as you can see, speaks for itself...Happy Thanksgiving to you...

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  6. scientific term for hunchbacked: kyphotic?

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  7. excellent, Dylan! exactly right...from the Greek kyphos, meaning "a hump," according to wikipedia...she got married before she died, which was nice...

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  8. Reading your post reminded me that I saw this movie in a theatre when I was a freshman in college. At the time, although I liked it in a reserved way, it also shocked me due to the realism.

    I haven't seen it since. In fact, I had forgotten the title. Now I'd like to see it again. I'll have a much more mature perspective.

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  9. There ought to be a term for people who are constantly fingering "hypocrites". They're surely among the Pharisees of our day.

    But enough of them. Thank you, Heather, for the Pasolini, and for simply being who you are.

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  10. Well I am often a huge Pharisee myself. Which is exactly why I so badly need Christ, his Church, the sacraments, and an occasional very large plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, prosciutto-crumbed Brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce!

    Thanks, Bill...

    And Ruth Ann, if by realism you mean in part violence, the "realism" is actually quite muted. The Crucifixion, for the prime example, is done almost entirely by suggestion and nuance. This is not remotely like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, or what I read about The Passion of the Christ, a film I resolutely refused to see...

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  11. Funny you posted that comment about Mel and the Passion as your comments about Pasolini's life made me think of Mel...he too, has had a number of messups, and yet, in my eyes, made a film for which he should be awarded the crown of stars. I saw the POTC. It was difficult, but genuinely, the feeling I left with was gratitude - that He suffered that for me. And artistically, it's brilliant - such a Catholic sensibility...the scenes with Mary and the few words from them are with me often.
    I was also moved when I found out that one of the hands that crucifies Christ in the movie, is Mel's. It was an acknowledgement that he's a sinner...

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  12. Heather,

    Your blog is tops. Absolutely the best writer/Catholic/convert blog on the web. Just posted this post to my Facebook wall.

    Tiffani

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  13. Tiffani! You rock! It's funny, I was just thinking that the fact that I'm a convert is SO not my/a "platform." I don't have a platform--I have a sense of complete insane wonder that one, I ever got sober, and two, I ever found my way to the Church. I waited 18 years after I got sober to write a book about my alcoholism and I waited 12 years after my conversion to write a book about that and my sense is ever more that in and of themselves, neither of those things are remotely noteworthy. What's hopefully somewhat noteworthy is the life and p.o.v. that grow out of a continuing conversion and continuing sobriety...which is kind of a small, hidden, lonely process that takes time and patience and the willingness to forego worldly "reward," the latter in particular of which is not my strong suit. Of course a sense of humor helps big-time. Anyway, many thanks for the support...

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  14. You are certainly welcome for my support!:)

    I am a cradle Catholic and have often wished I could see my own Church the way so many converts do. I must admit though, I do not generally have a great affection for converts, and that's my own failing as a lazy life long Catholic. They tend to "know everything", be kind of unrealistic about their faith, and they drive me nuts, but your blog does not read this way at all. It's for real. It reads 100% honest, and I find myself heading over to my bookshelf for Graham Greene after I have spent time at your blog. You read a lot like him to me.

    I, also, have a great respect for anyone recovering from any form of addiction. I have seen the consequences and the suffering of addiction in my own family, and the bravest people in the world are the ones who can live with that suffering while not surrendering to it. I can't imagine the difficulty of this. I have been physically ill most of my adult life, but I have often said that my physical suffering (even while I was paralyzed) I would take, any second, over an hour struggling with addiction. So keep writing about it. It amazes me. It encourages me.

    So, I selfishly encourage you to continue writing indefinitely. I like the way you think.

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