On his 2006 single “You Have Killed Me,” Morrissey dug deep into the reference well for opening lines that it’d take a cinephile to love: “Pasolini is me. Accattone you’ll be.” It’s likely the only English-language song to reference not just Pier Paolo Pasolini but “Accattone,” his unrelievedly grim 1961 writer-director debut. But, the eternal question: what does it mean?
Pasolini’s filmography is incredibly diffuse and hard to pin down. At least one of his films — “The Gospel According to Matthew” (Pasolini’s militant atheism led him to remove the “Saint”) — is a stone-cold classic, endorsed by film buff and Vatican alike. He’s also responsible for the notorious “Salo” and dabblings in a particularly academic/theoretical type of documentary (his “Notes Towards An African Orestes” is a nearly indigestible mixture of touristic/anthropological footage, Greek myth and free jazz).
And yet Pasolini is, unfortunately, best known for being murdered under mysterious circumstances. Italy was (and still can be) a violent place, and certainly the controversy-steeped Pasolini courted all kinds of troublesome attention from unwanted corners. At age 53, he was first violently beaten, then run over several times with his own car. It was all kinds of suspicious: a sweater in the car belonged neither to him nor the alleged criminal (who retracted his confession in 2005), and bloody fingerprints were never checked. Say what you will about the CIA, at least they’ve never bumped off any militant directors.
This well-known story is as the Independent reports, popping up again due to calls to reopen the investigation and make use of DNA tests. A conspiracy theory about it being a political killing ties in not just with an article Pasolini wrote before his death claiming he knew names of people hiring hitmen, but with the generally turbulent climate of the time — the equal conspiracies surrounding, say, Prime Minister Aldo Moro, kidnapped and killed in 1978 shortly after a plan to integrate communists into the majority government was announced.
All this serves to remind that Pasolini’s image can be claimed and reclaimed however you like; for a man prone to blunt statements about class, he’s awfully ambiguous. Back to Morrissey: having claimed self-identification with Pasolini, he takes it a step further: “As I live and breathe, you have killed me.” Furthermore: “I walk around somehow, but you have killed me.” On one level , this is almost certainly about Moz repudiating celibacy — but look at it again and he seems to be saying that Pasolini’s ghost walks among us, as alive as ever — preserved, ironically, by his controversial death more than anything.
Here’s Morrissey with the song on Italian TV. The audience cutaways are priceless:
[Photos: “Accattone,” Water Bearer Films, 1961; “Notes Towards An African Orestes,” I Film Dell’Orso, 1970]