Pasolini and classical tragedies

Pasolini turned two Greek tragedies into films in the mid of his film-career.

Eidpo Re (1967) adapted the screenplay from the Greek tragedy Oedipus the King written by Sophocles in 428 BC.

In this fragment, situated after about 10′ into the film, you see a lot: how Oedipus is found and adopted by the king & queen form Corinthe; how Oedipus appears to be a selfish boy: betraying his friends to be sure that he wins the game; how easily he accepts the general, nearly astrological prediction from the oracle as the truth; how he does not take up responsibility for his own path and deliberately chooses his way on the crossroad by tossing himself around, blinding his eyes with his hands.

(for the moment, versions on youtube with english subtitles have disappeared. even without, you can feel the power of the film.)

Meanwhile, you can observe some other characteristic touches of Pasolini: an eclectic variety of location, costumes, music; and how he turns the simple setting of the oracle for example into something stately only by the way people approach it. In this fragment, you can also see Pasolini’s use of double interpretations: one moment, the area around the oracle is crowded, another moment, Oedipus perceives it as empty because his mind is blinded by it.


Pasolini would also use this ‘double interpretation’ in his Medea (1969), adapted from Medea by Euripides (431 BC). In the middle of the film, Iason has a double vision and sees the centaur, who raised him, both as a human figure (symbolising manhood) and as a figure with human head, arms and torso and the body and legs from a horse (symbolising childhood). More than childhood against adulthood, it also symbolises rationality versus emotionality. Iason approaches things rationally, Medea emotionally – but none of them finds a balance using strengths of both approaches. As such, Glauce (who is about to be married to Iason, who betrays Medea to become king) will die twice: once as a vision of terror, enflamed by the robe Medea gave her; a second time throwing herself from the city walls in an act of despair.

A video containing the ‘emotional’ death of Glauce:

What you can also observe in this fragment is the strength of Pasolini’s location shooting: the strange natural surroundings of Cappadocia in Turkey for Medea’s ancient Colchis; a mix of the outside walls from Aleppo (Syria) and the inside of Pisa (Italy) for the ‘civilised’ Corinthe; the eclectic costumes that get more functional in Corinthe, the magnetising performance of Maria Callas – the only time she would appear in a feature film.

Both films are out on dvd; and Masters of Cinema released Edipo Re on blu-ray as well.

A lot of documentaries were made on Pasolini, and this is one that stands out:
Whoever tells the truth shall die (Philo Bregstein, 1981)
A nice extra: Scott Walker, the singer-songwriter who evolved from crooner into experimental musician, dedicated the first song of the stellar album Tilt (1995) to Pasolini: Farmer in the City (Remembering Pasolini)


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