‘Pasolini’s Last Words’: poetic, lyrical and relevant

A man walking through a tall field of wheat stands and beckons. The camera follows him, pushing stalks of wheat out of the way. The scene re-enacts an excerpt from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 book, La Divina Memesis, a word play on Dante’s Divine Comedy. “I watched him walk ahead of me, up a steep path overgrown by a bad and innocent weed,” reads the film’s narrator.

And so begins Pasolini’s Last Words, Cathy Lee Crane’s hour-long biographical and experimental documentary on the death and works of Italian writer, filmmaker, activist and intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Crane, an Ithaca College cinema and photography professor, produced, filmed and edited the piece over the course of six years. Pasolini’s Last Words was screened on March 27 at Cornell Cinema and followed by a question and answer session with Crane.

Although Crane is a filmmaker, she was introduced to Pasolini’s work through his literature rather than his films. After reading his unfinished novel, Petrolio (the Italian word of “oil”), she was inspired by the book’s fragmentation, a style that she adopts in her documentary. Told in 10 chapters shuffling between his death, interviews, essays, films, and books, Crane’s documentary offers a portrait of Pasolini and how he saw the world.

The film begins with Pasolini’s death. He was murdered on November 2, 1975, at the beach of Ostia, near Rome, his body driven over with a car until it was unrecognizable. Archival Italian news broadcasts replayed his death. This archival footage is followed by a clip of Pasolini’s last recorded interview, where he says that everything is political. Before his death, Pasolini had just finished his film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, based on the book by Marquis de Sade. The controversial film — a commentary on how humans become dehumanized — focused on four wealthy fascist libertines after the end of Mussolini’s Italy in 1943.

“That’s why I made this film. Because what he had to say is still relevant,” Crane said in the Q&A session following the screening. “That and making a film about historical reference: the possibility that he was murdered because he understood this right-wing attention that was not made public or acknowledged until 20 years after his murder.”

Through Crane’s lens, we re-discover Pasolini’s prophetic wit. Minus the news footage of his deaths, all the words in her film were written or once spoken by Pasolini. “How I look at reality springs from the personal, so all my films are how I see reality and my Marxist reality,” he says.

Pasolini’s ideas are still relevant — from his views on consumerism (“The language of things have not changed, but the things themselves have changed”) to his understanding of military governments (that by governments bombing women and children, people will want even more militarized and communistic governments). The latter, which he calls the “state of treason,” foreshadows Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism, where she agrees that “shock and awe” from natural or man-made disasters have pushed through negative capitalist change.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ideas fueled Crane’s experimentation, which ranges from the fragmented narrative to double exposures and multiple split screens. In an essay reflecting on his first film, Accattone, Pasolini wrote, “If I wanted to reshoot Accattone today, I couldn’t find somebody playing himself.” Taking those words as a challenge, Crane hired Bochay Drum to attempt to re-enact the character of Accattone from the film. Drum watched hours and hours of a scene from Pasolini’s film until his body could replicate it. Crane juxtaposes and loops the clip from Accattone with the modern re-enactment in the mise-en-scène. While Drum is sitting in a chair in a room, behind him, the exact same scene in Pasolini’s film is double exposed on a square screen. The images begin to overlap as the clip loops. Both Franco Citti (the original Accattone) and Drum rise and run toward the camera. Despite how closely the motions mirror each other, Drum lacks Citti’s spirit, proving that while anyone can replicate the gestures, no one can be Accattone like Franco Citti was.

The last couple of chapters in Crane’s documentary are re-enactments from scenes in Pasolini’s book Petrolio. The unfinished novel is about Carlos 1 (Drum), a religious bourgeois man employed by an Italian oil and gas company, and his sexual and lower-class twin, Carlos 2 (Amanda Setton). Crane employs an attractive femme fatale as Carlos 2 to tempt Carlos 1. In one scene, she walks closer to him, laughing and smiling until she turns just out of reach. In another, the two dance, and the camera follows, swaying as if it were dancing with them. The scenes are lovely and poetic, but also as elusive as the unfinished novel.

While Crane defined Pasolini through his ideas, words and impact, the documentary’s by no means a complete portrait. Pasolini’s Last Words doesn’t delve into all of Pasolini’s works. The film doesn’t offer biographical information about his family or childhood. At times, the fragmented style makes the film’s messages unclear. But the excerpts Crane has chosen are as engaging as the man — standing, beckoning and waiting for us to follow him.


‘The Imposter’: 99-minute ‘without a trace’ mystery with no answer

When director Bart Layton stumbled upon a real-life case in which a missing child appears to be recovered three years after his disappearance, he found the perfect story to portray in his documentary, “The Imposter.”

Told solely through narration from interviews, “The Imposter” revolves around two separate narratives: the disappearance of 13-year-old Nick Barclays from Antonio, Texas, in 1994 and the story of Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old Frenchman who posed as teenaged runaways across Europe. When Bourdin pretends to be Nick, three years after Nick disappeared, the stories of Frederic and the Barclays family intersect, and the Barclays family welcome Bourdin into their home in Texas.
Since the real Nick disappeared, the audience cannot discover what really happened to the boy, so there is a speculative element to “The Imposter.” The narrative structure of the film creates a sense of mystery, and the viewers are trying to figure out what happened to Nick as the story bounces back and forth between Nick and Bourdin. This is an effective technique to create a sense of drama for viewers who may not be familiar with the story, but it can be confusing when the characters are first introduced.

For a story about Nick, the visuals are limited to photographs and amateur family home videos where he is seen goofing off with a camera. The filmmakers attempt to solve their dilemma by telling Nick’s story through Nick’s sister, Carey Gibson; his mother, Beverly Dollarhide; and his uncle, Bryan Gibson to reveal what Nick was really like as well as the circumstances of his disappearance.

Meanwhile, Frederic’s story is also difficult to illustrate. To solve this problem, the filmmakers induct a cast of silent actors as placeholders to dramatize the events Frederic relays in his interviews. Adam O’Brian plays Frederic when he is in a shelter in Spain, while Anna Ruben plays Carey when she goes to Spain to pick up whom she thinks is Nick, but is really Frederic. The actors move the pacing of the film, and separate it from the monotony of interviews.

The dramatizations were a clever way to illustrate the story; however, Bourdin wasn’t the only ‘imposter’ in the film. Sometimes the visuals didn’t match the storyline. During scenes when the re-enactors of the Barclay family and Bourdin are driving around San Antonio, mountains are visible in the background; mountains are not consistent with the geography in San Antonio. The mountains as well as the end credits indicate that the reenactments were shot in various parts of Arizona, not Texas, which lessens the film’s credibility.

If there is any truth to “The Imposter,” viewers learn that Layton knows how to direct a good story.

To see this review in The Ithacan, click here.

The Most Dangerous Game

A lighthouse shines in the distance against the velvet-black sky—against the darkened theatre of Cinemapolis at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 25, 2009. The lighthouse’s beacon beckoned ships and sea creatures alike near a darkened cove, lined with rocks and fishermen’s spears. It beckoned viewers to a closer look at the award-winning FLEFF[1]-sponsored documentary The Cove.

The cove is a perfect trap for Richard Connell’s character General Zaroff to set up “the most dangerous game”—to set up for a true man-hunting game of cat-and-mouse, hunter-and-hunted, and predator-and-prey.

The cove is also where Taiji government in Japan set up a secret dolphin slaughterhouse. “I do want to say, we tried to do the story legally,” the narrator began the documentary, driving a vehicle with a hospital mask hiding his face, while trying to avoid the police. Of course, the town of Taiji—with “We love dolphins!” posters hung around every corner—is a “little town with a really big secret.”

One might find it curious that there are certain places that one is not allowed to fish or hold cameras. These places are the coves of Taiji, where big red “X’s” mark the forbidden territory. But for some, “X” always stood for buried treasure, and a big secret was sure buried in Taiji and other places like Taiji. The governments knew this, of course, so they were employing in this cat-and-mouse game, tailgating the man with a facemask. All the man needed was a camera. With some leaked footage, the rest of the word to find out.


Ric O'Barry with Cathy the dolphin.

Perhaps this story started with Flipper, a popular television series in the mid-1960s. With care-free catchy lyrics such as “They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, no one can see is faster than he…” many became fascinated with dolphins—the playful creatures. “If it weren’t for Flipper, we wouldn’t even care about dolphins,” someone commented about the public’s spotlight.

And at the height of the dolphin era, no one was more popular than the dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry. He built up the dolphin industry, spending many hours in the water, living in the television sets of countless homes. However, after “Flipper,” a dolphin by the name of Cathy, consciously stopped breathing, committing suicide in the young dolphin trainer’s arms, O’Barry spent the rest of his years trying to tear down the dolphin industry.

“I never planned on being an activist,” said O’Barry. “I spent years building the dolphin industry and spent last 35 years tearing it down.”

Save a Whale, Ride a Dolphin: Smile for Free Willy

“Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking,” began the melancholy song ‘Smile’ by Charlie Chaplin. ‘Smile’ was Michael Jackson’s favorite song. Perhaps the late King of Pop was on to something. In 1993, Jackson wrote the song ‘Will You Be There’ for the motion picture Free Willy, a movie about a boy who tries to save a whale from being killed from captivity.

The boy—Jesse—was just trying to do what Ric O’Barry has been doing since Cathy died: free Willy.

“The dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception. It creates the illusion that they are always happy,” said O’Barry. “You realize after a while that they don’t really belong in captivity.”

Yet by trapping bottle-nosed dolphins in stadiums packed with people, clapping and shouting, one is killing them with a wall of sound. Dolphins have incredible sensitive hearing and sonar; they are able to see with sound. To see tourists day after day with their loud thunderous clapping and cheering as they leap through the air, the dolphins are slowly dying.

About 23,000 dolphins and porpoises die each year in coves like Taiji, however, most deceased dolphins are not show dolphins. While dolphins in Taiji do get sold to water parks to perform, most dolphins in the Taiji coves are slaughtered in the salty blood red waters. Most of the dolphin meat doesn’t even get eaten.

Dolphins have been known to help humans—such as the stray surfer who leans to close to a shark; yet humans kill dolphins.

As Charlie Chaplin sang, “Smile, though your heart is aching…”

The Biggest Public Health Problem

“If we lose access to sea creatures, it may become the biggest public health problem,” they said, especially in an island such as Japan, where fish becomes 70 percent of protein for people. Yet with the current rate of fishing, there will be no fish left.

Besides the rate of killing of fish to extinction, there is another problem lurking beneath the cold depths of the Taiji cove. Dolphin meat is laced with mercury, and over time a buildup of mercury can make one lose one’s hearing, sight and mind. It can result to the Minamata disease: a neurological condition caused by severe mercury poison, causing deformity in infants and symptoms ranging from ataxia, numbness, general muscle weakness to insanity, paralysis, coma, and death. Therefore, dolphin meat isn’t a very popular food item for Japanese citizens. Still, in a tough economy, one finds it hard to deny free food.

With an abundance of dolphin meat, they start giving away free dolphin meat in kid lunchboxes. Dolphin meat in Taiji may be found in grocery stores, mislabeled as whale meat. The best part is that the government knows what is going on, but citizens wouldn’t know the difference.

Yet the problem of food poisoning isn’t limited to Japan, and the coves in Taiji aren’t the only slaughterhouses of dolphins. As Ithaca College Journalism Professor Todd Schack said, “We live in a giant glass house and we can’t blame Japan when they can turn around and blame us.” As unlikely as it may seem, food poisoning persists even in the good U.S. of A.

A recent New York Times[2] article reported that a 22-year-old dance teacher became paralyzed after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli. Although selling tainted meat is banned, tens of thousands of people become sick by the E. Coli virus, which symptoms ranging from aches, cramps, diarrhea and seizures to a coma and paralyzation. E.coli contamination this summer led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states. Ground beef—or hamburger meat—is usually made from a variety of sources, and not all the processed meat is tested for E. coli.

As Ric O’Barry said, “If we can’t stop that, if we can’t fix that, forget about the bigger issues. There’s no hope.”

[1] FLEFF is an acronym for Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

The Floods of Katrina

Because the Bible Told Me So
“I, on my part, am about to bring the flood [waters] on the earth, to destroy everywhere all creatures in which there is the breath of life; everything on earth shall perish,” the Lord told Noah (Genesis 6: 17).

For Hurricane Katrina victims, everything on their earth did perish. “Everybody lost everything around here. Everything of value except our lives,” Kimberly told cameras.  And the government didn’t do anything to stop it.

“We’re actually prepared for the worse by hoping for the best,” former President George W. Bush told cameras. No evacuation was prepared and Bush dismissed calls to bring in troops to help New Orleans victims. However, that optimistic nature didn’t save the 1,836 lives lost to Hurricane Katrina.

As Kimberly Roberts said: “You have people who couldn’t leave like me. But I believe in the Lord Jesus.” So did Noah. And both Kimberly and Noah, and all the animals that marched in two by two, made it out of their “flood” alive.

Kimberly and Scott Roberts

Government’s Gonna Trouble the Water

The screening of Trouble the Waters, an award-winning documentary produced by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, was well received at 7 p.m. on September 15th, 2009 in that Emerson Suites of Ithaca College. It is an epic story of faith and survival as Trouble the Water takes us directly into the lives of an African American couple: Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Michael Roberts. “We were there the night New Orleans went underwater,” the Roberts described.

Like Noah, the Roberts made an ark—theirs was a little green rowboat by the name of Duachita, with the words “wet dream” graffiti-ed on her hull. (Katrina sure was a “wet” dream, however, for Katrina victims, they might never get a chance to wake up.) Like Noah, the Roberts saved a community—they drove 30 people out of New Orleans by a pick-up truck. (Kimberly described the worse thing as seeing people in the streets, streaming out of the Red Cross shelter, and knowing that there wasn’t anything she could do to help them. There were just so many people who lost their homes, their jobs, and their lifestyles.)

As with Exoduses, this one failed in a major way. “They left her behind. They left my mom behind,” Kimberly accused the government. Before the Hurricane hit, Kimberly was told that all the patients of the hospital were to be evacuated. Weeks later, Kimberly Roberts found out that the evacuation never took place.  Like in Genesis 19 when the Lord took Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt, Kimberly’s mother was left behind.

Moreover, as Kimberly, Scott and her 12 kids were confined to an attic with no food or clean water, the 911 Operator chillingly replayed, “The police are not rescuing at this time.”

Even as Roberts made her plea: “I’m gonna drown! I have children!”

The operator repeated her noncommittal response: “The police are not rescuing at this time.”

“What am I going to do? I have children.

Meanwhile, the blades of the helicopters roared above.

Serving One’s Country

Photo taken by Karen Larkin.

Imagine your home country, the land in which you defended with your life.  Imagine coming home from days, months, or years at war, and the satisfaction you feel for doing one’s part for one’s country. For the soldier coming home to New Orleans from Iraq, however, they had no “home” to go to. Their “home” was in ruins, and even as they were off in Iraq, defending their country from the savages of war, no one defended their homes, jobs, or livelihood.

“The government let us down. What good is it to even serve us?” many wondered.

“I don’t want to fight for a government that doesn’t give a damn for you,” someone told cameras.

If you don’t have money and you don’t have status, you don’t have a government.”

As Producer Tia Lessin said: “The levees breaking were foul play. [The government] knew for years that the levees in New Orleans were vulnerable.” It was a crime to not evacuate the city, and it is a crime where no one is accounted for. And while, $350 million is spent in tax dollars to fight the War on Terror, what money is being spent to rebuild the homes, jobs, or livelihoods of the citizens of New Orleans? Meanwhile, the commercial and tourist attractions of New Orleans are restored just in time for Mardi Gras.

The Never-Ending Nightmare

“This must be a dream,” Kimberly’s younger brother Wink said when he emerged from prison to find his grandmother dead and his home ruined. However, Wink and his family never work up from their nightmare.

“Katrina is still going on. She’s still trying to do damage,” someone describes.

“New Orleans felt completely left behind,” producer Tia Lessin told the audience at Emerson Suites. “They felt that the rest of the country moved on and they haven’t.”

In the beginning, there have been great floods – floods that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. For Katrina victims however, the effects of their “great flood” may last a lifetime. After Katrina, most white have returned to their homes, however, most of the black community still have no homes to go to. As rent increases in new homes rebuilt in the New Orleans area, the homeless population also increases. And lastly, the levees still remain vulnerable.

Sidebar: For more information, visit http://troublethewaterfilm.com !