Pasolini’s Audacious Debut


To view Accattone click here.

Pimps, thugs, prostitutes, thieves and other miscreants, these are the denizens of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone (1961). “Accattone,” a slang term for beggars and bums, is also the nickname given to Vittorio, our antihero, as played by Franco Citti in a break-out role that would bring him fame at the age of 26. He’d later be cast as Calò in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), where he was given the famous line “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.” As the pimp in Accattone, one that treats all the women he comes across quite badly, he is completely deaf to such advice.

Pasolini’s astonishing directorial debut heralded one of the most uncompromising and significant filmmakers to hit the cinema scene in the early 1960s and on through the mid-1970s at which time he was murdered, his body disfigured, all in a case that still remains mysterious at best, or overtly corrupted by the same powers that Pasolini kept exposing throughout his career.

Pasolini had already established notoriety and fame as a writer at an early age, being all of 19 when his first poems were published. His novels Boys of Life (about street hustlers, published 1955) and A Violent Life (concerning Rome’s slum inhabitants, published 1959) both provide some of the background material Pasolini would bring to Accattone.


Tempting as it would be to lump Pasolini’s early work in with such landmarks as Rome Open City (1945) or Bicycle Thieves (1948), Pasolini sought to distance himself from the masters of Italian neorealism who focused on common people by instead focusing on sub-commoners. To quote Georges Sadoul: “Accattone is neorealism rejuvenated – with a vengeance. There is none of the sentimentalism that marks some of the postwar Italian films; for Pasolini there is no solution to Accattone’s problem, no escape possible from the vicious circle of despair, vice, and poverty.” (Dictionary of Films)

Two more Pasolini quotes worth pulling from George Sadoul (albeit this time not from his Dictionary of Films but rather his Dictionary of Film Makers):

“I made my first film simply in order to express myself in a different medium – a medium that I knew nothing about and whose technique I had to learn with that first film. And for each subsequent picture, I have had to learn a different technique… I am always trying out new means of expression.”

“I now find that the meaningfulness of words, that content achieves the same power of communication… an image can have an allusive force equivalent to that of a word, since it represents the culmination of a series of analogies selected aesthetically.”

Before Pasolini made Accattone, he’d collaborated as a writer on Nights of Cabiria (1957) as well as The Big Night (1959), among others. Pasolini was a Marxist, humanist, director, poet, intellectual and much more. (Wikipedia and other sources usually add: actor, journalist, philosopher, novelist, playwright, painter, political figure, etc.) He was a true multi-hyphenate. A Renaissance man. In sum: he was a cultural force. A fighter of decadence and power, and he didn’t care if that power was in the hands of such institutions as Church and State. He paid for his art with his life, and it’s worth your time to see why.

Pablo Kjolseth

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2 Responses Pasolini’s Audacious Debut
Posted By thea1989 : July 9, 2017 10:08 am

Hi Pablo – Just a heads up – in the second and third paragraphs, ‘Antonioni’ is written where Pasolini should be!

Posted By Pablo Kjolseth : July 9, 2017 11:36 am

Hi, Thea – Thank you for alerting me! Now amended. Best, – pk

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