Teorama (1968)

by | May 29, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Teorama (1968)

Starring: Silvana Mangano; Terence Stamp; Massimo Girotti; Anne Wiazemsky
Written and directed: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Studio: Koch Lorber KLF-DV 3064
Video: Widescreen 16:9 Color and B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital, Italian with English subtitles
Extra: 2005 Documentary “Pasolini and Death: A Purely Intellectual Thriller”
Length: 98 minutes (Extra: 53 minutes)
Rating: ***

I have two distinct memories of Teorema, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s answer to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, in which a mysterious youth, played by Terence Stamp, enters the life of an industrialist and his family; and, acting as both erotic force and catalytic converter, he proceeds to disrupt their bourgeois existence. My first recollection is that of having seen the movie the year of my college graduation; I think I compared it with Woman in the Dunes and later, to Something for Everyone. Pasolini had his own ideas about the use of color, even more politically distinct than the lurid hues in Antonioni. Each of those films, too, challenges conventional mores and notions of individual identity. For Pasolini (1922-1975), his cinema was a long, convoluted exercise in self-immolation, in divesting himself of his privileged background and publicly exposing his homosexuality, his pederasty, his Communist leanings, and his rejection of middle-class security. The bonus film, a documentary-memoir by Giuseppe Zighaira, selectively catalogues Pasolini’s fascination with death, and his desire to humiliate his legacy in the midst of glorifying his obsessions.

My second memory comes from having inadvertently encountered Terence Stamp in Atlanta at The Good Earth, a health food store in Buckhead. I had often screened Billy Budd for my classes in Atlanta; so meeting Terence Stamp and discussing actor Robert Ryan, along with Stamp’s roles in The Collector and Superman II, led to his own declaration of his pride in working in Teorema. Stamp commented on the director’s use of silences, the extended periods of posed stasis, “existential modeling,” Stamp called it. The nudity in the film is all male; the camera avoids Mangano’s overt sexuality, leaving her own lust to her face. If the invasion of Stamp’s eroticism wreaks havoc on the gentry–the daughter petrifies and the son laughs himself silly–it raises the power of the maid, who becomes a kind of healer, a shaman, as a result of her sexual aggression. The camera shifts back and forth, texturally as well as thematically, as the vision of the factory and the colorful, comfortable home switches to images of an ashen wasteland,  the cinders of which evoke from the industrialist (Massimo Girotti) – his naked, primal scream that ends this haunting and disturbing film. What does not bear the test of time is the deliberate use of ambiguity, a contrived detachment that makes us indifferent to the fate of this family, treated as they are as social types. The use of Mozart’s Requiem, as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion had in Accatone, lifts the moral value of the principals beyond their own self-perception.

The 2005 documentary uses stills and some private footage to discuss Pasolini the man and artist, his fateful meeting with his Madonna figure, Maria Callas (for the Medea production, which is never overtly named).  Arrested for solicitation of minors, deliberately invoking the wrath of the Church and the middle class, Pasolini courted his own destruction, conscious of the messianic content in his own life, making obvious, mythic comparisons to Osiris, Orpheus, and Jesus. Zighaira states that the Christ in Pasolini’s St. Matthew Passion is Pasolini’s depiction of himself, offering himself for the slaughter. I am reminded of Sebastian’s character in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. Others may find in Pasolini more in common with Jean Genet. I doubt Pasolini would be eager to be claimed by anyone: a bitter individualist to the very end, Pasolini clearly hypostasized Death as his apotheosis.

— Gary Lemco

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