La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams
CATHY LEE CRANE and JOHN DI STEFANO / Querying and queering Pasolini: fragments of a conversation between Cathy Lee Crane and John Di Stefano

CATHY LEE CRANE and JOHN DI STEFANO / Querying and queering Pasolini: fragments of a conversation between Cathy Lee Crane and John Di Stefano


John Di Stefano … what are some influences that would underpin our collaborative project on Pasolini?

Cathy Lee Crane …  I saw this incredible video called Anna (1975)[i] in Montréal at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma when my film Pasolini’s Last Words (2012)[ii] was showing in 2012. It was a work shot with an early video camera in the streets of Rome, and it is unbelievably beautiful. I have never seen an image that beautiful. Soft. It’s a story, but it’s a staged encounter. It’s proto feminist.

JDS  Was it programmed with your film?

CLC  No. They rediscovered it and programmed it as part of that year’s festival. If we make a new work together, I would want it to have that kind of look.

JDS  I like the idea of using early video technology to materially engage a relationship to that historical period. I love that period in the history of video, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and lecturing on it lately.

CLC  I have tons of notes on Petrolio[iii] because I was going to adapt it. It soon became clear that it was an insane proposition.

JDS  Oh, it’s a book that can’t be easily adapted in a traditional sense, because of its fragmentary and unfinished nature.

CLC  It cannot be adapted.

JDS  It can be mined however. 

CLC  That impossibility to adapt it finally led me to the novel’s “Project Note” at the beginning of Petrolio.[iv] It’s as if Pasolini said, “Listen, don’t even try this.” Or alternatively, set out to make an unfinished film.

JDS  That makes me think of similarities in some ways to Teorema, both the novel and the film script. The script and the novel were written concurrently, and are related. There’s overlap, but they’re also divergent in many ways; two different iterations. It’s an idea and working method that Pasolini had already employed when working through his ideas: what is adaptation? and maybe Petrolio was always meant to be a collection of notes, or something incomplete and perhaps incompletable.

CLC  For sure. There’s been a lot of ink spilled on one fragment of the novel in particular: where is the missing section about the ENI [v]?  There is speculation that those missing pages were one reason he was murdered. Well that, and his column in Il Corriere della sera. Was he naming names? He certainly knew of the strategy of tension before that was outed two decades later. 

JDS  There’s a new edition of Petrolio [vi] coming out this year in Italian with those missing ENI sections now reinstated … The thing that I’ve always been conscious of as an artist working with Pasolini is to steer away from ‘investigative journalism’ or ‘biography’ because I’m neither an investigative journalist nor a biographer in the traditional sense, but there are aspects of these that I engage in my practice … I’ve always thought that what I could contribute to the discourse around Pasolini is a type of critical dissection and examination of images, and artefacts … with a particular attention to their subtexts. Indeed, one of the exhibitions that I made about Pasolini was entitled Texts and & Subtexts.[vii] It involved reading between the lines, and deploying the archival in less conventional ways …

CLC  For me, the biographical film has only been well-done by Isaac Julien. I’m inspired by his films on Langston Hughes and Franz Fanon. Working with the interpretation of a life as fiction and doing so formally with layers: staging, projection, and the archive. Biographical film about writers, no less. I’m following those footsteps. My first biographical film was on the writer Simone Weil[viii], and my way into Pasolini was through his writing. 

JDS  For sure. Having a writer as a subject allows you to deploy their written texts too, and that is not insignificant. It is part of what has propelled my interest in Pasolini for so long too I guess.

 … but figuring out how to deploy the images requires a particular attention. An example is the image at the start of Accattone, of Accattone diving into the Tiber river.[ix] It’s such a key image, but it lasts only a few seconds in the film. In Ponte (verticale) (2013)[x], I extend those few fleeting seconds from the original film temporally, as well as animate them spatially in the exhibition space, so the image literally moves vertically from ceiling to floor in a very slow fall, to simulate the downward trajectory of the diver in the space itself. Similarly, in Punto (2013)[xi] I isolate the image of Accattone spiting, another key image in the film, and apply a slow motion and delay effect that reframes and extends the transgressive gesture in the original film. It’s a type of engagement with the filmic text that’s more than just sampling. It’s literally reworking the image in order to extract further meaning from it, open it up, mine it. I’ve done that with audio extracts too, and I’ve even worked with lifting foreign-language subtitles of Pasolini’s films and using them.[xii]

Fig. 1John Di Stefano Punto (2013) Digital video (variable). Installation view: SCA Galleries (Sydney, Australia)

CLC  Are you familiar with the book where they pull together a dictionary of all of the gestures from Pasolini’s films? [xiii]

JDS  Oh yes, UCLA had a copy of that book, and I remember stumbling upon it when I was a student. It provided a different way of understanding Pasolini’s visual language, divorced from the narrative conventions of the films. When I found that book, it was a bit of an epiphany and it influenced my first performance-based work on Pasolini that was in the form of a slide lecture using some of those images.[xiv] To me, it offered an interesting lexicon, an unanchoring of the images in a sense. I felt it was a type of artwork in and of itself in book form too, reminiscent of many artists’ projects like Gerhard Richter’s Atlas, etc. The act of trying to catalog every gesture, every hand, every face, every object in his films …

CLC  By way of compilation and interrogation of pre-existing images, Harun Farocki can be seen as having begun to build a dictionary of cinematic language with his film Expression of Hands (1997).

JDS  That appeals to me in many ways, especially since it’s ultimately an impossible project.

CLC  It’s impossible to complete.

JDS  … or, a never-ending project.

CLC  Right. It’s like the Borges library. It’ll be a gesture itself.

JDS  Precisely. I admire the idea that someone actually compiled and published something like that. I always thought that this perhaps could be a first instalment of something bigger, maybe even a collective undertaking …

CLC  It’s interesting to think of a dictionary of tropes within Pasolini, not nearly as interesting as conceptual fragments that both stand alone and offer a sort of associative tension.

JDS  As artists, we understand the image and what goes into constructing one. I understand how to read one, and consequently I understand ways of how to mine one, and that’s one of the methods I’ve developed over the years working with Pasolini.

CLC  …and also think about the way in which it can be a multi-platform event.

JDS  Yes, definitely. I’ve worked spatially with installation in much of the Pasolini project.[xv] I like it because it’s a form that requires the viewer to become active through their idiosyncratic forms of viewership, making connections and associations as they travel through the space and encounter the ‘fragments’ of works.

CLC  It’s a journey you’re asking them to take.

JDS  It is literally a physical journey that requires putting together elements and impressions and creating one’s own understanding of these things, especially things from the archive. They’re not illustrations.

CLC   The typewriter is key.

JDS  Ah… the typewriter, that Olivetti Lettera 22! I love that object, and I love tracking how it makes its way into the Pasolinian imaginary. It’s a leitmotif in a few of my works, like Senza Parole (2002) and Volgar Eloquio (2002)[xvi] … but I digress …

Fig. 2John Di Stefano Foro/Fosse (2015) Mixed media installation: four-channel video projection, six-channel audio, plywood (variable). Installation view: SCA Galleries (Sydney, Australia)


Cathy Lee Crane  The thing about Pasolini that’s so important continues to be his critique of consumer capitalism. “Letters to Gennariello” were first published as articles on the front page of a daily paper[xvii] in the months leading up to his death: as ‘lessons’ to a young man. These ‘lessons’ insist, among other things, on looking closely at bodies and things in order to detect the subtle work of homogenization wrought by consumer capitalism, his primary preoccupation in the last year of his life. My film is less a biography of him, than it is the biography of that preoccupation.

John Di Stefano  Yes, I see that. I was fascinated by those “Letters to Gennariello” and used them in a work myself[xviii] … There’s a lot of things embedded in that, depending on who the audience is. Pasolini has both a global appeal, but he also has a very local appeal. In an Italian context, it’s going to be historical, so, it’s about the class system, the history of fascism and communism, etc.

… I’ve been inspired by Giovanna Marini who has not only written songs about Pasolini but also put to music some of his poems.[xix]  Do you know, the Italian singer, Alice? She recorded a haunting song entitled “La Recessione” which puts to music excerpts from Pasolini’s La meglio gioventù.[xx]

CLC  How do you sing Pasolini?

JDS  In fragments …

CLC  It’s so great. On the 50th anniversary of his murder in 2025 our work will be Petrolio, finally. An unfinished work, ‘built out’ as an exhibition and across platforms he could only have dreamed about.

JDS  Or, it’s just that “Project Note.”

CLC  Perhaps it doesn’t have to refer too specifically to the novel itself, but to what we know of him and his output. In the “Project Note” he outlines the fragmentary nature of his project as well as the multiple ‘versions’ of it that collectively embody it. We can propose one such version.

JDS  Another version, indeed.[xxi]I like the fact that his entire critique is embodied in that short introductory note to the book. It represents in many ways the real spirit of his radicality.

CLC  It’s how to understand his work …

JDS  … a work that is open ended, fragmentary, always inviting further iterations, appropriations … all active and accessible to the reader. This makes a great demand of the reader to become more active in their engagement with the text, sifting through it and engaging their own associations and conclusions, something that is parallel, and not dissimilar to the strategy of using installation forms, like we spoke about earlier.


Cathy Lee Crane  I made the Pasolini-inspired filmAdrift (2009) after meeting John David Rhodes, author of Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome.[xxii] I met him through our mutual friend Byron Suber in the summer of 2006, who brought dancers from Cornell University with him for a summer program in Italy. And I had no idea where I was going, but I thought, I’m just going to go to locations … and scout.

John Di Stefano  You didn’t have that scenario planned?

CLC  Not at all. I told Byron I would be in Rome in 2006 and he told me his friend John David was going to be there too. He knows everything about the locations where Pasolini shot. So, I took a tour.

JDS  With a Pasolini expert … quelle chance!

CLC  It was a miracle of good fortune and perfect timing. I also had the idea while traipsing around with these dancers, that I’d have them re-enact the final scenes of Accattone in Testaccio.

JDS  That final scene is a type of tragic dance isn’t it? Makes me think too of The Paper Flower Sequence where Ninetto Davoli skips down via Nazionale in Rome[xxiii] … But, what a perfect alignment with your colleagues though.

CLC  Totally random. Unfortunately, all the other footage I shot that summer ended up being unusable due to technical issues. So, I went back the next summer and shot Adrift.[xxiv]

JDS  So that’s when you met the woman, your actor?

CLC  Oh, no, I’ve known Lee DeLong since the 1980s in New York.

JDS  But, you had thought of what you wanted … a female character, like Mamma Roma. She’s a lot of things though. She recalls the archetypical Anna Magnani figure, but the flip side too, you know …

CLC  She’s the drag queen version. It was a loose adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ notion of drift as described in his novella The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.

JDS  So the fact that she inhabits some of the sites of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma, allows the viewer to weave them together somehow … and your film is also about a little girl who appears in the film, an evocative variant on Pasolini’s often male-oriented accounts.

CLC  On her tour of the fountains of Rome, she also dances with a man.

Fig. 3Cathy Lee Crane Adrift (2009)


Cathy Lee Crane  It’s so important that part of our working together for this project builds on the previous work with Pasolini that you had been doing for such an extended period of time. I remember reading your Art Journal article[xxv] and it really gave me a way into Pasolini that I hadn’t had.

John Di Stefano That article was about figuring out ways to ‘queer’ Pasolini, and to work with the archive in a way that went beyond the default use of the archive to illustrate. Much of my process making artwork often involves writing, and it’s certainly been a large part of working with Pasolini over the years. Writing is often where I can work out ideas that then migrate to other forms like video works, audio works, performance works, book works or installations. The project I made for the Queer Looks anthology is also a good example of this[xxvi] where I weave disparate texts and images into a somewhat fictive narrative ‘encounter’ between myself and Pasolini.

CLC  It reminds me of Pasolini’s Divine Mimesis.[xxvii] So, we’re just following like he was following and everyone’s following am I right?

JDS  Yes, it does have parallels with Divine Mimesis in its desire to re-write with the experimental and theoretical use of the personal, political and poetic. I wanted it to function as a type of supplement to the published anthology, similar to an insert. I was inspired by the inserts that some books have where all the illustrations are bound together as a cluster, and often have been vandalized and ripped out of the spine of the book, either partially or entirely. So, it was meant to evoke that sense of rupture to the discourse in some way. 

CLC  Beautiful.

JDS  The piece aimed to offer multiple visual and textual perspectives to a scene from Accattone by showing behind-the-scenes images along with stills from the film and other elements, again, trying to use those archival elements to open up other perspectives we didn’t have from them before …

CLC  Yeah. I have so much unused footage and archival material, which I’m sure you do to.

JDS  I’m a passionate archivist at heart.

CLC  Me too.

JDS  I like using archival material’s translucency rather than opacity. So, when I appropriate an image, I envision it as an opening up into ‘something or somewhere else’ that Pasolini didn’t show us, or couldn’t show us, or wouldn’t show us. It’s also, in a more profound sense, a place of encounter between Pasolini and myself … indeed the title of that project was “My Affair with Pasolini.”

JDS  So, I think we’re ripe for …

CLC  … a collaboration.

JDS  We wouldn’t have to shoot anything new.

CLC  But, it would be nice. It would be nice to do something like the African Oresteia.[xxviii] We go to scout Petrolio.

JDS  That could be particularly interesting given our own interests in physical sites and locations, like your recent work along the US/Mexican border[xxix] and my on-going investigations of global sites of resistance.[xxx] It reminds me too of some of Eric Baudelaire’s films, like Also Known as Jihadi (2017), and his revisiting and filming of locations of past events. We’d have to go to Italy.

CLC  Do something like that, that’s direct and unfinished.

JDS  I like the idea of revisiting places with a sense of retrospection.

CLC  We both do this in our work.

JDS  There’s something about situating the past in the present, as a means of reactivating it. Many artists work with this idea, in fact I think immediately of someone like Willie Doherty and his Ghost Story as one of many, many examples … It’s also about trying to find a different relationship with the archive so that it functions as an engagement into the future rather than into the past, which is why the idea of transparency is important.

CLC  I’m excited about the idea that we can do something like the African Oresteia and have it be the Roman Petrolio.

JDS  I like the ‘unscripted’ potential of that.But things have changed. What would the equivalent of going to Africa be today?

CLC  It’s still all about oil.

JDS  But is oil really what’s driving things now? It’s not solely oil anymore, is it? What are capitalists going crazy for?

CLC  …and cryptocurrency. The thing about Petrolio that’s fascinating to me structurally is it has a story of a split protagonist who is by night a hustler on the streets of Rome, and by day an executive in the ENI. So, he’s looking at this split character, Carlo. And even Carlo changes. The last third section of Pasolini’s Last Words (2012), that I title an unfinished allegory[xxxi], is an attempt to render that sense of split duality in Petrolio.

JDS  I like the idea of thinking about a duality, a ‘split’ like that when scouting for films, but I find Pasolini’s African Oresteia problematic in the way many ethnographic films have been problematic in the past.

CLC  I mean, listen, the African Oresteia is a problematic film. And the question is, do we adopt that point of view.

JDS  … or we revise it, or we recontextualize it in some way so as to open it up.

 …  of course I can’t help but think of Pasolini’s Comizi d’Amore (1965), and the book La Lunga Strada di Sabbia.[xxxii] The book chronicles a type of anthropological reportage road trip across Italy in the summer of 1959, with beautiful photographs by Philippe Séclier. The original texts and images were published in the popular magazine Successo in a three-part installment. The book however includes all the original text and images, and also supplemental images by Séclier as well as additional text by Pasolini. It includes inserts of various archival documents like Pasolini’s handwritten notes and typed texts. I’ve always seen that reportage as a ‘proto’ first iteration of ideas that later evolved into Comizi d’Amore.

CLC  Incredible film tracking the changing sexual mores of the time.

JDS  Yes, although technically Comizi d’Amore was the off-shoot of another scouting road trip Pasolini did in 1963, but I’ve always thought the seeds were planted with the Successo commission in 1959. Like many filmmakers coming out of neorealism, the ‘documentary’ aspects of filmmaking was always very strong.

Fig. 4John Di Stefano Murmurations (Rome) (2017)


Cathy Lee Crane  It’s almost like we’re at the midpoint. We are practicing artists that came of age in the 80/90s, and we have Pasolini dying in the 70s. And here we are in twenty twenty-two. We’re not the twenty first century, but we’re in this more centrally located fulcrum. Our aesthetic means are different than those of the present.

John Di Stefano  …and of course our own trajectories with Pasolini are longer. You know, he would’ve been 100 years old this year.

CLC  How old was Pasolini when he died? He was born in 1922 … so he was 53 when he died.

JDS  It would be interesting to revisit an earlier piece like ”Picturing Pasolini“ and say, well, that’s actually what I wrote when I was 30. That was my understanding of Pasolini when I was 30. But now my understanding is different.

CLC  Yeah that’s what I’m talking about. I really like your point about retrospection, so that’s why you want an artist in their 50s. We’ll need a brave curator.

Cathy Lee Crane & John Di Stefano

[i] Alberto Grifi & Massimo Sarchiell, Anna, 1975. A documentary about Anna, a young drug addict taken off the streets by one of the filmmakers. Through her, the filmmakers attempt to explore the social issues that impact Anna and reveal an uncomfortable self-portrait, and inadvertently raise questions about documentary filmmaking.

[ii] Cathy Lee Crane, Pasolini’s Last Words, 2012

[iii] Pier Paolo Pasolini, Petrolio, Pantheon, 1997. Originally published in Italian as Petrolio, Einaudi, 1992. This was Pasolini’s last, unfinished novel that is partially reconstructed from notes. It focuses on Carlo, a left-wing Italian Catholic working for the state-controlled oil company (ENI); a man who becomes obsessed with satisfying his perverse, insatiable sexual passions.

[iv] “PROJECT NOTE : All of Petrolio (from the second draft) should be presented in the form of a critical edition of an unpublished text (considered a monumental work, a modern Satyricon). Four or five versions of that text survive: they correspond in some respects and not in others, some contain certain events while others do not, etc. Hence this edition makes use not only of a comparison between the various surviving manuscripts (of which, for example, two are apocryphal, with variants that are bizarre, exaggerated, ingenuous, or “revised in the manner of”) but also of the contribution of other materials: letters from the author (concerning whose identity there is an unresolved philological problem, etc.), letters of friends of the author who know about the manuscript (and disagree among themselves), oral testimony reported in newspapers or else- where, songs, etc. There are also some illustrations for the book (probably the work of the author himself). These illustrations are of great help in the accurate reconstruction of missing scenes or passages, and, since they are graphic works on a high level, although purely mannerist, in addition to the literary version there will be a critical figurative version. Furthermore, to fill in the vast lacunae of the book, and for the readers information, an enormous quantity of historical documents that have some bearing on the events of the book will be used, especially regarding politics and, in particular, the history of ENI. Such documents are: journalistic (features from magazines/supplements, L’Espresso, etc.), in which case they are quoted in full; “recorded” oral testimony, in inter- views, etc., of high-ranking characters or in any case of witnesses; rare cinematographic documentaries (and here there will be a critical reconstruction analogous to the figurative and literary ones—not only philological but also with respect to style and attribution, e.g., “Who is the director of that documentary?”). The author of the critical edition will therefore summarize, on the basis of these documents—in a flat, objective, colourless, etc. style—long passages of general history to link the “fragments” of the reconstructed work. Those fragments are to be arranged in sections in an order determined by the editor. Sometimes the fragments correspond to entire original chapters (that is, there are chapters whose text corresponds in an almost identical way in all the manuscripts except the apocrypha, which continue to suggest curious variants). The fragmentary character of the whole book ensures that, for example, certain “narrative pieces” are in themselves complete, but we can’t be certain, for example, whether they are real events, dreams, or conjectures made by one of the characters. Spring 1973” (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Petrolio, New York: Pantheon, 1997, pp ix-x)

[v] ENI – Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (National Hydrocarbons Board), an Italian multinational oil and natural gas company.

[vi] Pier Paolo Pasolini, Petrolio, Maria Careri & Walter Siti (eds), Garzanti, 2022

[vii] John Di Stefano, Texts & Subtexts, New Zealand Film Archive, Wellington, 2005

[viii] Cathy Lee Crane, Unoccupied Zone: The Impossible Life of Simone Weil, 2006

[ix] Pier Paolo Pasolini, Accattone, 1961

[x] John Di Stefano, Ponte (verticale), 2013,

[xi] John Di Stefano, Punto, 2013

[xii] John Di Stefano, Theorem, 2002,, and Sottotitoli, 2005, and Testi, 2005

[xiii] Michele Mancini & Giuseppe Perrella, Pier Paolo Pasolini: Corpi e luoghi, Theorema edizioni, 1981

[xiv] John Di Stefano, “The Ashes of Pasolini”, Pier Paolo Pasolini – Life After Salò Conference, UCLA Film & Television Archives, Los Angeles, 1991

[xv] Aleks A. Wansbrough, “John Di Stefano: Bandiera Nera”, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, 10, 2015, pp. 190–197

[xvi]  Senza Parole (2002) appropriates a homoerotic image of two men dancing the ‘twist’ together, embedded in the title-sequence of Pasolini’s film La Ricotta (1963). This radical queer image, is excavated from the title-sequence and projected onto a long sheet of embossed paper strung through an Olivetti typewriter, identical to one that Pasolini used. Volgar Eloquio (2002) depicts the typing of Pasolini’s poem “Lines from the Testament” onto a sheet of paper in real-time. The poem was published in Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems,trans. Norman MacAfee with Luciano Martinengo, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996; originally, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Trasumanar e organizzar, Garzanti, 1971

[xvii] Originally published in Il Corriere della sera; and then collected in Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lettere Luterane, Einaudi, 1976

[xviii] John Di Stefano, Cenere, 2002

[xix] Giovanna Marini, Cantata per Pier Paolo Pasolini, 2001.  

[xx] Alice, “La Recessione”, 1992, from the album Mezzogiorno sulle Alpi. Text: Pier Paolo Pasolini, from La meglio gioventù, Sansoni, 1954; Music: Mino Di Martino.

[xxi] Will Kwan, “Another Version: John Di Stefano’s Redeeming Translations”, A Space Gallery, Toronto, 2002

[xxii] John David Rhodes, Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome, University of Minnesota Press, 2007

[xxiii] Pier Paolo Pasolini,La sequenza del fiore di carta (1968), part of the anthology film Amore e Rabbia, 1969 by Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Luc Godard, Carlo Lizzani, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Elda Tattoli. Also the subject of: John Di Stefano, “Pasolini’s Paper Flower Sequence”, Errant Bodies, Matias Viegener (ed), Los Angeles, 1996/7

[xxiv] Cathy Lee Crane, Adrift, 2009

[xxv] John Di Stefano, “Picturing Pasolini: Notes from a Filmmaker’s Scrapbook”, Art Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2. College Art Association, New York, 1997, pp. 18-24

[xxvi] John Di Stefano, “My Affair with Pasolini”, Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video, John Greyson, Martha Gever, Pratibha Parmar (eds), Routledge, 1993, pp. 292-300

[xxvii] Pier Paolo Pasolini, La Divina Mimesis, Turin: Einaudi, 1975

[xxviii] Pier Paolo Pasolini, Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana, 1970 

[xxix] Cathy Lee Crane, Drawing the Line, 2018,

[xxx] John Di Stefano, Murmurations (Rome), 2017, and the related video installation Foro/Fosse, 2015,

[xxxi] Cathy Lee Crane, an unfinished allegory, 2012

[xxxii] Pier Paolo Pasolini, La Lunga Strada di Sabbia, Contrasto, 2005. Originally published as La longue route de sable, Atalante, 2005