The project of Saint Paul occupies Pasolini’s imagination between 1966 and 1974. It originated with and connects to Pasolini’s previous Franciscan project on the subversive hagiography, Bestemmia (“Blasphemy”), another (unshot) screenplay in verse about a rascal of twelfth-century Rome, transformed into a saint after a vision of the Passion in the midst of an orgy. Pasolini worked on Blasphemy from 1962 to 1967, and still later was referring to the project of Saint Paul with the same title of Blasphemy. The continuity, as well as the difference, between the two projects is relevant. I will investigate the roots of Pasolini’s Pauline turn, after his Franciscan stage, and contextualize the project of Saint Paul within Pasolini’s production and within the rise of European queer cinema. I will also put it into dialogue with contemporary political theology, for instance with the Franciscan turn of Agamben, or the emergence of new, multi-stable subjectivities within the Kippbilder model proposed by Luca Di Blasi in his interpretation of Pasolini’s Saint Paul.
Because Pier Paolo Pasolini never completed his movie Saint Paul, any discussion of it must be speculative. However, insofar as the film appears in Pasolini’s screenplay outline and plan, it depicts Paul, in relation to the Pauline writings of the Bible, as a seriously fragmented person. This Paul struggles with multiple personalities that are continually fragmenting and at war with one another. In this way the film fuses together in a single cinematic narrative the many “Pauls” who appear in the Pauline letters and the Acts of the Apostles. The “remixed” quality that then appears in the screenplay contrasts sharply to Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. The resulting story echoes some of the writings of Italo Calvino, as well as Spike Jonze’s movie Adaptation.
This essay explores the remarkable radicalities as well as ironies of the Paul featured in both Pasolini’s screenplay and other receptions of Paul’s letters. Pasolini’s depiction stages a series of potential historical correspondences by setting the words written or attributed to the apostle (in those letters and the Acts of the Apostles) into the times of Pasolini’s own life. This juxtaposition allows for a more complex view of the radical, passionate, but manipulative saint and more recent politics of revolution, corruption, and accommodation. The tension between two different views of Paul, organizing militant cells and struggling with bodily weakness, then, provide entry points for identification with and interrogation of notions of sexual liberation and political transformation. These political investments are brought into further relief throughout by situating both Pasolini and Paul in a genealogy of Marxist thinkers and organizers, from Engels and Lenin, through Benjamin, to Agamben and Badiou, surfacing important new insights about the Paul of history and of reception in the West.
The legacy of Pasolini’s work persists beyond the recent English translation of his screenplay for Saint Paul. This concluding essay then provides a brief reflective extension into three additional genres: painting, poetry, and public art. These artistic adaptations reflect the open-ended impacts of Pasolini’s work, its provocations and excesses in particular evoke a notion of saintliness.
In several of his writings on the relation between film and language, Pasolini discusses the possibility of a moment in which a screenplay can be considered an autonomous object, “a work complete and finished in itself.” In the first part of this essay, I will reflect on the concept of the screenplay in a larger context and more specifically, Pasolini’s writings on the ontological status of the screenplay as a “structure that wants to be another structure.” The case of Saint Paul is thought-provoking, precisely because this original screenplay was never turned into an actual film. Despite this, Pasolini argues that the screenplay invites – or perhaps even forces – its reader to imagine, to visualize, the film it describes. Pasolini’s ideas on the function of language as a means to conjure up images are central to this act of visualization. In the second part of this essay, I will attempt an act of visualization. This endeavor to visualize Saint Paul as a possible film is hinged upon a careful reading of the screenplay. I analyze the opening and closing sequences outlined in the screenplay to visualize the possible filmic expression of its protagonist Paul.