A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967)

Seeing Julian Beck as Tiresias in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Oedipus Rex reminded me of an excruciatingly boring evening I spent in Brooklyn in 1968. Some friends had invited me to go with them to see Beck's Living Theatre perform their play Paradise Now, which as I recall featured the semi-naked company, including some pale and pimply dudes in jockstraps, wandering through the audience, yelling at us about our bourgeois complacency. Those who know me will realize that this is not my sort of thing at all. I realize now that Beck and Judith Malina had a tonic effect on theater with their avant-garde productions, and I salute them for that, but I was not receptive to their efforts on that evening. Fortunately, Pasolini's Oedipus, though infused with some of the radicalism of the Living Theatre, is not at all boring. It's sometimes raw and rough-edged, especially by standards of mainstream cinema. The Technicolor camerawork -- the cinematographer is Giuseppe Ruzzolini -- is often very beautiful, with its astonishing images of the Moroccan desert and ancient buildings, but there are some bobbles in the hand-held camera sequences that move beyond shakycam into wobbly-out-of-focuscam. Franco Citti, who made his debut in the title role of  Pasolini's Accattone (1961) and appeared in many of his other films, is a bit out of his depth as Oedipus, but Silvana Mangano is an impressive-looking Jocasta, and Beck is a suitably foreboding Tiresias. Pasolini's screenplay does justice to its Sophoclean origins as well as to the perdurable myth, although the frame story that begins in Italy during the Mussolini era, with the Fascist anthem "Giovinezza" on the soundtrack, and ends in Pasolini's present seems extraneous. But the truly astonishing contribution to the film was made by costume designer Danilo Donati, whose eerie designs, seemingly cobbled together from scrap metal, clay, and leaves and branches, don't belong to any particular era but have the right aura of primitive myth. Some examples:
The Oracle of Apollo in Oedipus Rex

Silvana Mangano as Jocasta

Headdress for a priest