a review from our archives...
WHO KILLED PIER PAOLO PASOLINI?
Play revives mystery, but can’t connect us to enigmatic auteur
Speaking in Tongues
By John Logan. A Pink Ink Theatre production.
At the Vancouver Little Theatre until April 20
BY JO LEDINGHAM
On November 3, 1975, the almost unrecognizable body of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was discovered in an empty soccer field amidst wild grass and broken pavement. His brutal murder came only days after the release of Salo (based on de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom), a film containing scenes of explicit sadism and degradation that shocked even his most ardent supporters.
A complex and uncompromising artist, Pasolini raged in print and on film against fascism until he was finally silenced that November night. Mystery surrounds his death, despite the confession and conviction of an under-age male prostitute who claimed to have beaten Pasolini to death in a sexual encounter that went sour. The severity of the bludgeoning and the peculiar lack of injury to the attacker suggested that there was more than one assailant. Rumours at the time hinted at a conspiracy.
Stylistically, Speaking in Tongues resembles film-making, with many takes and retakes. Events are not chronological but continue to double back, with each repetition revealing more detail, more possibilities. Interviews with Pasolini’s friends and col-leagues are caught in the flickering white light of the film projector, and as a backdrop to the dramatic action huge reproductions of the 16th century Italian painter Caravaggio’s works slide into place. While the connection between Pasolini and Caravaggio is tenuous – both were homosexual and both were mysteriously and savagely beaten to death – the glowing paintings, with their sharply contrasting areas of light and shadow, add a visual element that is stunning. This production is Pink Ink’s handsomest to date.
However, despite imaginative staging and some good performances, Speaking in Tongues is strangely unsatisfying and un-moving. There is a good deal of talk about art, politics, and responsi-bility – some of it quite interesting – but the main difficulty arises from this production’s lack of success in balancing Pasolini’s self-indulgence, pretentiousness, and increasing sexual needs with his uncompromising artistic and political agenda.
It is possible that the cinematic techniques of Logan’s script make it difficult to connect with Pasolini; the playing and re-playing of his murder, for example, may serve to desensitize us. Logan’s script portrays a man haunted by the past and caught in the political crossfire of the left and right. Director Sandhano Schultze and actor Russell J. Roberts battle bravely to overcome Pasolini’s outrageous excesses to reveal an artist worthy of immortality, but there is little here to commend him except for the panache and courage with which he fought off his attacker, bloody-fisted, before bowing to the inevitable. Dying, the film-maker compares himself to Orpheus, whose severed head continues to sing throughout eternity.
Unfortunately, in this production, it is for the playwright alone that Pier Paolo Pasolini continues to sing.
Pasolini: Russell J. Robert
Sub-Minister: Thomas Hunt
Nino / Priest: Brian Young
Lecturer / Vito: Marek Czuma
Film Student: Cindy Block
Mother / Agent: Sarah Hayward
Hustler: Todd Dulmage
Assistant Production Manager: Jill Moran
Stage Manager: Joel Johnson
Set Designer: Susan Madsen
Lighting Designer: Del Surjik
Technical Director: Bill Hurr
Costume Designer: Lana Krause
Sound Designer: Lowell Morris
Photographer: Stephen Mitchell