What images are these?

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square in Green Frame, 1963


Considerations about “Apunctuations for an African Oresteia”, by Pasolini

The film

Given its almost unknown status in Brazil (Fabris, 1998),[1] let's try a description - imperfect, certainly - of the sequences of the Appunti per un'Orestiade africana, from 1970, with Pasolini's narration highlighted:

1st) credits on the book and the map of Africa, side by side; presentation of himself (Pasolini seeing and filming himself through a shop window), the film (“neither documentary nor film, notes for an African Oresteia”) and the place of Africa, a “socialist African nation with a philo-Chinese tendency” / scenes of an African city, probably Kampala, capital of Uganda, appliance stores, street vendors selling books, photos, posters of Mao-Tse-Tung;

2nd) presentation of the plot of Aeschylus' Oresteia (Agamemnon, Coephoras and Eumenides): “We are in Argos, whose king is Agamemnon and who is about to return from Troy, where he fought. His wife Clytemnestra is waiting for him, but she is in love with another man, Aegisthus. She then awaits him with the intention of eliminating him, of killing him. Agamemnon returns to the city with his army, tired, exhausted, destroyed, and Clytemnestra kills him with a ruse. Cassandra, the slave whom Agamemnon had brought with him from Troy, uselessly prophesies the atrocious murder. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra have two children, Orestes and Electra. Electra witnesses the crime, while Orestes is far from his homeland. But when he becomes young, at the age of 20, he returns to Argos, finds his sister Electra in the tomb of their father Agamemnon and together they decide to avenge his death. Orestes presents himself disguised as a beggar at the court of Argos and with a ruse ferociously kills his mother, Clytemnestra. As soon as he kills his mother, the Furies, the Erinyes, the goddesses of atavistic, ancestral terror, appear before him. Orestes flees, but the god Apollo protects him. The god Apollo advises him to look for the goddess Athena, goddess of democracy and reason, that is, of the new city of Athens. The goddess Athena decides to help Orestes, but not to help him, so to speak, from above, as a goddess. She wants to help him by making him judge himself by other men. He thus institutes the first human court. This human tribunal of democracy and reason acquits Orestes. [entrance to the auditorium of African students at the University of Rome] The Furies [Roman name for the Greek Erinyes] are transformed, by the goddess Athena, from goddesses of ancestral terror into goddesses, so to speak, of dreams, of the irrational, who remain close to democracy rationale of the new state” — plot narrated in the midst of mute scenes of the population, men, women, children, people exposing themselves, smiling, others running away from the camera, embarrassed;

3rd) anchored boat, fishermen, police, people having coffee, or sleeping / beginning of free jazz, with the excruciating sax of Gato Barbieri;

4th) search for characters, traveling through Uganda and Tanzania — Agamemnon, Pylades, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra (“so hard to find among the laughing African girls”;

5.ª) on the shores of Lake Vitória, search for the choir, whose importance is enormous, insists the voice of the narrator, in a film that wants to be “essentially popular”, a choir therefore formed by the people in “real and everyday situations”)/ Chorus music enters, a kind of sacralizing march / poor hut, scattered objects, mug, hoe, mother with child on her back / crossing Lake Victoria, raft full of peasants and workers, heading to the center of Africa / arrival in Kasulu, primitive village , in search of the environment, which must be as real and true as the characters/ Kasulu market/ arrival in Kigoma, the center of Africa/ Kigoma market, the narrator reiterating the “deeply popular character” that the film must have, from which the role of protagonist of the choir in its daily work, like this woman who draws water from the well, this little boy playing / collective scenes of the popular choir, talking about politics and the powerful, gas station attendants, tailors, barbers, people so real, so involved in their day-to-day tasks, which bring with them a “mystical and sacred moment”/ passage reading from the oresteia;

6th) modern part of Africa: coming out of a factory, close to Dar Es Salaam, like any other factory in the world, with its modest girls and its advanced girls, without prejudice, like this one, and Livingstone's school, and its modern pedagogy, students studying and working, and the narrator talking about the humility and docility of African students;

7th) auditorium of African students at the University of Rome and Pasolini presenting his “travel notes” for a african oresteia/ Pasolini discusses with them the historical analogy he believes he recognizes between ancient Greek civilization and current African tribal civilization, and raises two questions: a) at what time should the tragedy be adapted (today, the 70s? or in the 60s, the period of independence from many African countries?) and b) in which region of Africa/ “the discovery of democracy by Africa recalls the institution of democracy in Greece, metaphorized in the transformation of the Erinyes or Furies, goddesses of the irrational, into Eumenides, goddesses of reason”;

8.ª) the trees, due to their inhuman aspect, could well represent the Furies, “the animal moment of man”, similar to African nature itself, grandiose, solitary, terrifying / wounded lioness, like Fury lost in her pain / end choral music and early jazz;

9th) time to start the story/ the watchman who gives the signal, by means of fireworks, of the arrival of Agamemnon/ reading of the Oresteia passage;

10.ª) documentary scenes of the war in Biafra, filmed by someone else, could be a flashback of the war of Trojans/ “nothing is further from these images than the idea that we commonly have of Greek classicity; however, pain, death, mourning, tragedy are eternal and absolute elements that can perfectly unite these images with the fantastic images of ancient Greek tragedy”;

11th) clandestine music studio in a western city / sudden idea (like jazz improvisation), first scene of a new project, reciting or singing a oresteia in jazz style, more particularly Cassandra's prophecy, calling upon American singer-actors to represent the 20 million black proletarians of America, also Africans;

12th) duet between Cassandra (Yvonne Murray), with her vision of Agamemnon's death, and the chorus (Archie Savage), in the lullaby of the free jazz by Gato Barbieri;

13th) execution of an enemy (documentary, crude and cruel scene) as the fulfillment of Cassandra's prophecy;

14th) tomb next to hut / representation, at Pasolini's request, on the part of father and daughter, who live in the hut, of a funeral ritual, depicting Electra's libations at the foot of Agamemnon's tomb / passage reading from oresteia;

15.ª) the “real” film: a) “real scene of the film”, Orestes in his father's tomb / passage reading from the oresteia; b) trees swaying wildly in the wind and the screaming sax of Gato Barbieri as the Furies chase Orestes after killing his mother Clytemnestra; c) Orestes listening to Apollo's advice, to look for Athena in Athens; d) Orestes on the road to Athens; e) University of Dar Es Salaam, typical Anglo-Saxon university, “seat of future local intelligence”, as a temple of Apollo / the university, whose construction is due to the help of the people and government of the People's Republic of China (plate reading inauguration), and its varied bookstore, as an example of the contradictions of the young African nation, between the socialist path and the “neocapitalist” alternative; f) wonder of Orestes in Athena, modern, (“provisionally represented with materials gathered and mixed from Kampala, Dar Es Salaam and Kigoma”) in contrast to Argos, “barbaric, feudal and religious”/ reading of passage from oresteia; g) court of the city, representing the trial of Orestes and his acquittal by men / passage reading from the oresteia;

16th) auditorium of African students in Rome / two questions from Pasolini: a) if they feel a bit like Orestes (with ambivalent responses from students) and b) how to represent the transformation of the Erinyes into Eumenides;

17th) flowery field, alluding to the African renaissance, and the narrator's proclamation of a “new Africa, synthesis of modern, independent and free Africa, and ancient Africa”;

18th) Wa-gogo tribe from Tanzania, dancing and singing (but conscious dance, because what was, until recently, a religious, cosmogonic rite, then becomes a reason for celebration and joy) as a possible representation of the transformation of Erinyes in Eumenides, with the goddesses of irrationality starting to live in the “new independent, democratic and free world”/ passage reading from the oresteia;

19th) wedding party in Dodoma (Tanzania), with painted women dancing, “signs of the ancient magical world” (and which now present themselves as tradition, as something that cannot be lost), as another possible representation of the transformation of Furies in Eumenides;

20th) conclusion: one person plowing, two, many people plowing the future / return of the choir-march, in crescendo / “the new world is established; the power to decide its own destiny, at least formally, is in the hands of the people; the ancient primordial deities coexist with the new world of reason and freedom; how to finish? well then, the last conclusion does not exist, it is suspended; a new nation is born and its problems are endless; but problems are not solved, if they live; life is slow; its progress towards the future does not suffer from a break in continuity; the work of the people knows neither rhetoric nor indulgence; his future is in his longing for the future, and his longing for the future is great patience.”

The problem and the solution

Africa is not Africa, the people are not the people, the Biafra war is not the Biafra war, the trees are not the trees, the images are not the images… So what is this? What images are these?

Africa is ancient Greece, the people are the choir, the war of Biafra is the war of Troy, the trees are the Furies, this black man is not this black man, he could be Orestes, that Agamemnon, Pylades that other, this black woman is not this black one, but Clytemnestra, or Electra, who knows? hard, cold, proud, so difficult to find among the laughing African girls, the university is not a university, it is the temple of Apollo... This man, this man we see now, and whose walk, in his final minutes, we accompany, towards to unappealable execution, this man who is going to be shot now, it is not this man who is going to be shot, it is Cassandra's prophecy coming true...

This is not it. So, it can only be something surreal… No. The images have nothing dreamlike about them. So, he's a charlatan, a real Dalí... No, the author introduces himself and introduces himself to the film, humbly — not a documentary, not film, notes for a film... So, he's a madman... Neither. The author is perfectly aware that this is a historical analogy, and a debatable one. He boldly discusses it even with native students, facing more or less reserved criticism. But it's absurd... It may be, but it has social relevance. Otherwise, we wouldn't waste time.

But what is it then?

Documentary is not, in the conventional or classic sense. In fact, film does not document, at least not conventionally. There is no primary purpose of registering any historical present, any exotic or endangered culture, etc. Finally, the film does not follow any pure model, neither sociological nor anthropological.

But neither is the classic, or conventional, anti-documentary.[2] The images shown are authentic, the film does not fall into any disreputable vanguardism. We need not, for example, object to the rights of the object, which are as sacred as the rights of the subject.

In some way, however, even obliquely, Africa appears there, and some historical situation can be glimpsed...

So is it fiction?

In the strict sense, no. If we needed to opt for dry, it would be even more for the documentary, without a doubt. But such a special documentary, so full of fiction, and such unique fiction, that the eventual and harmful combination of such peculiarities in a single name could cause irreparable critical damage and which, therefore, should not be mentioned.

To say that the film is ineffable, that its genuine genre is unpronounceable, we know that is not going too far… Let's try it at once.

The film is a poem.

Before they accuse me of ignoring the conversation, however, or of mimicking its inimitable author, reproducing that this is not it... I'll explain myself.

I don't say poem just to break the tautology of being artistic and establish criticism. We know that a film is a film, a painting is a painting, a book is a book, etc. This is not a critical metaphor, so common in the field of the arts, this book is a rhapsody, this symphony is a mural, etc. etc., a rhetoric often used by critics and creators, and which our author makes so much use of.[3]

No, the film is a poem.

But then, would it be a documentary… poetic?

Frankly, we cannot imagine Pasolini committing such obscenities.

The film is a poem. And let us now try to specify its terms.

The radical disengagement from reality is a right granted almost exclusively to the poet. And this lack of commitment makes use of the author of Appunti per un'Orestiade africana. Africa is not Africa, it is Greece, etc.

From this lack of commitment, by the way, the modern poetic attitude is born. No longer having mythological and rhetorical systems to rely on, the modern poet, absolutely free, does what he wants. Or rather, as they like to say, the poet creates reality.

So proceeds Pasolini.

And, to win us over, he develops, by voice, a long speech, intimate, warm, enticing, a long interior monologue, interspersed with reflections and other poetic passages from the ancient trilogy, translated by him, and therefore by him. in a certain way.

in that voice over,[4] that covers a mute Africa, immersed in its historical tragedy, struggling like a great wounded animal, in animal cries of jazz deep, — in that voice over, and discovering a redeeming future for him, we witness the willpower and arbitrariness of every lyrical self.

This Africa is not this Africa — I want it. And thus is born the african oresteia. Africa is ancient Greece, and ancient Greece is the Africa of the future — I want it. And thus is born the African Orestiade as a founding poem, as a celebration poem, as an epic of the future.

And such is the will to power of the immense and moving lyrical self, that we begin to suspect the impotence of the will. Evidently, the desire to realize utopia, to create the non-place by force, could only be rooted in a visceral aversion to the consumerist, “neocapitalist” world of Italy in the 70s.

Visceral aversion to the part, which we share body and soul with the author, failed, after a short time, the historical prediction. Idi Amin was already looming on Uganda's horizon, soon third-worldism as an ideology was failing, and almost immediately the Third World itself.

A african oresteia, however, seems to resist. With all its third-world mythology, with all its psychoanalytic mythology, it has not been disqualified by history. And it does not resist for having innovated, subverted, revolutionized the language, etc. Balela. Empty shell doesn't stop standing. It resists because its form, let's say, is not formal; magnetized that has a historical content, its form is objective, it is matter.

In other words, it resists thanks to its notes. More precisely, it resists precisely because they are notes. In these notes, in these notes, in these drafts of the epic of the future, which evidently no one could ever describe, write, draw, is where its permanence lies.

How to talk about Africa without being colonialist? How to talk about the future without being a futurologist? How to describe utopia without proselytizing?

The found form, not a formula, because the true form is never repeated, except as a way — it was to take “author cinema” to the limit[5] and achieve, shall we say, a kind of “poet cinema”,[6] entirely built by a powerful voice over lyrical. Only historical prediction "in the form of poetry" could withstand the catastrophe of a denial.

Os Clipboard, as a poetic attitude, as a lyric in search of epic, honestly, humbly, placed the poet-author in the course of history. No wonder they are interspersed with reflections, discussions, hesitations, improvisations, glimpses.

How to decolonize Africa? By the way, what is Africa? Are they nations? Tribes? Is it race? Is it continent? Archaic Africa or Modern Africa? Modern… or Europeanized? Wouldn't it be better then to set the film in 60, or 50, or even 40? But why not enlist too, by the trumpet of the Jazz, music of protest and despair, genuine black music,[7] the millions of black American proletarians? Aren't they also Africans? Exploited? How to represent the transformation of the Erinyes into Eumenides, and at the same time avoid that of Africa in consumerist Italy? But this popular epic, which is about to begin, which must begin, which I want to begin, hasn't it already begun? So why not begin the account of the African renaissance at once? This scene, for example, of Orestes' arrival at his father's tomb, so true is it, is it not the real scene?

Improvising, vacillating, turning, as if in jazz spirals, around the center of deep Africa, always returning to their obsessions, the Clipboard, as a form, however personal they may seem, and they are, with their idiosyncrasies and oddities, their desire for an immeasurable epic, bear the marks of a collective project, involving generations and generations, of a bet, after all, that far transcended the individual Pasolini.

Behold its strength, — doodles of an old collective dream.

But it also has its weakness to African Orestiade, summon old Western myths to give birth to a new, non-Western society.

Universal myths?

Can anyone believe, in good conscience, that those black university students could or, worse, should, as soon as they returned home, implement some libertarian Oresteia?

Orestes these?

Well, the question was amusing and supposed to be answered with spirit… It wasn't.

A weakness, no doubt, but historical, more than exclusively personal, as we know how much of the “universal” in those family disputes for human emancipation there was in the return to myth.

Os Clipboard, in any case, with all its hope, its dream, its utopia, its poetry, with all its madness, testify to a bitter historical inflection, still alive in the memory of the fight for the liberation and preservation of the species.

His longing for the future, however, remained longing, and his great patience seems almost divine.

The end of the film is moving, those people with a hoe in their hands, plowing the future... But even more moving, truly moving is seeing the young students with callused hands opening books, docile, humble, passive, probably receiving the basic of modern western civilization: every man has a right… Touching—or mockery?

the tensions

The poetic solution by notes, effective and original, and which saves the film from an inevitable accusation of colonialism, is evidently not unique. The tension between history and myth, already noticed by specialized critics, and which runs through a large part of Pasolini's filmography, gradually finds its resolution in each film. So, in his first film, Accatone (Social Misfit), as Rosamaria Fabris (1993) teaches us, if the pictorial reference to the last suppers, to the passion of Christ, and the sacred and sacralizing music of “The Passion according to Saint Matthew” by Bach were not enough, the redemption of the character still goes through death. After Christian mythology, still present in Mom Rome e The Gospel according to Matthew, forming the “subproletariat trilogy” (Rosamaria Fabris, 1998), or its national-popular phase, we confront, perhaps due to an influx or also from psychoanalysis, pagan mythology, with films such as Oedipus king, Medea and os Clipboard.

Certainly such "phases",[8] in a complex artist like Pasolini, they are not linear, as evidence, for example, Theorem, from the later period, “unpopular”, but again managing the Christian imaginary. In any case, the tension between history and myth, or myths, Christian, pagan, — in addition to the Marxist and psychoanalytical “myths”, which seem to form, with all their quantum period, the personal mythology of our author, — is so present and structuring in his filmography that it also has a visual correlate.

In her figurative universe, as explained by Annateresa Fabris (1993), an unresolved tension always persists — with the exception of “La ricotta” (episode of Rogopag), whose resolution is happy, “positively dialectical”, — between realism and stylization, willingness to adhere to the world of empiricism and cultural sophistication, tension, in short, between “realistic vision and mannerist perception”.

As for the eventual happiness of partial resolutions, which Pasolini adopts, film by film, of all the tensions, myth and history, realism and mannerism, and their multiple consequences in his rich trajectory, this is already the task of the pasolinians, especially those who want to practice criticism , and not just celebration.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of see ships (Nankin, 2007).

Except for specific adjustments, the article reproduces a communication presented during the II Annual Meeting of Socine (Society for Film Studies), held at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro between 4/7 and 12/98/XNUMX, under the title “Do you sleep on the image? (notes around the Appunti per an African Orestiade)”

Cited filmography

Acattone (Social Misfit), 1961

Mom Rome (Mom Rome), 1962

“La ricotta” [3rd episode of Rogopag (Human relations)], 1963

The Gospel according to Matthew (The Gospel according to Saint Matthew), 1964

Oedipus king (Oedipus Rex), 1967

“Che cosa sono le nuvole?” [3rd episode of Capriccio all'italiana Capricho à Italiana)], 1968

Theorem (Theorem), 1968

pork (Pigsty), 1969

Medea (Medea, the sorceress of love), 1970

Appunti per un'Orestiade africana, 1970


BAMONTE, Duvaldo (1996). Arrangements and Disarrangements between Film, Spectator and History in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Filmography, master's thesis, ECA/USP, unpublished.

FABRIS, Annateresa (1993). “The gaze of Pier Paolo Pasolini: questions

visuals”, in Italian Magazine, v. 1, No. 1, July 1993, FFLCH/USP.

FABRIS, Mariarosaria (1993). “Presentation” and “The Edge of Redemption: Considerations on Accatone”, v. 1, No. 1, July 1993, FFLCH/USP.

_______ (1998). From Experimentation to Abjuration: Pasolini Theoretical, Filmmaker and Literacy. Graduate course at ECA/USP, first semester of 1998.

GREENE, Naomi (1990). Pier Paolo Pasolini: cinema as heresy, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

HOBSBAWM, Eric J. (1996). Social History of Jazz. Translation by Angela Noronha. São Paulo, Paz e Terra, 1996 (1960, 1ª ed., the jazz scene).

MORAES, Maria Teresa Mattos de (1998). “[Di Glauber] Restlessness in documentary cinema”, in cinemas No. 13, September/October.

OMAR, Arthur (1997). “The anti-documentary, provisionally”, in cinemas No. 8, November/December.

RAMOS, Guiomar Pessôa (1995) The Sound Film Space in Arthur Omar, master's thesis, ECA/USP, unpublished.

_______ (1997). “[The sound or harmony treatise] The musical montage”, in cinemas No. 4, March/April.

XAVIER, Ismail (1993). “Modern cinema according to Pasolini”, in Italian Magazine, v. 1, no. 1, FFLCH/USP.


[1] The film, from 1970, appears today on YouTube, in two good copies, with subtitles in Spanish or French: “With the participation of a group of African students from the University of Rome, written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini and with Gato Barbieri on saxophone, Donald F. Moye on drums and Marcello Melio on double bass; sing Yvonne Murray and Archie Savage; original songs by Gato Barbieri; cameras: Giorgio Pelloni, Mario Bagnato and Emore Galeassi; sound technician, Federico Savina, and editing by Cleofe Conversi”.

[2] For a committed discussion of the documentary and the anti-documentary, see Ramos (1995 and 1997); Omar (1997) and Moraes (1998).

[3] Pasolini speaks of pork, for example, as “poem in the form of a cry of despair” [apoud Greene (1990), p. 136].

[4] It is strictly, technically speaking, a voice off, as Mariarosaria Fabris rightly noted, since the source of the speech was located from the beginning. like that voice off, however, covers the film's images from end to end, and works as a kind of oracle, speaking from above, prophetic at times, we grant ourselves, shall we say, this critical license, to continue calling it a voice over.

[5] For a discussion of “auteur cinema” in Pasolini, continually undoing and remaking, see Bamonte (1996).


[6] For a suggestive summary of Pasolini's cinematographic thought, see Xavier (1993).


[7] "(…) O jazz avant-garde music of the 60s was consciously and politically black, like no other generation of musicians from jazz it had been (…). As Whitney Balliet said in the 70s: 'The free jazz is really the jazz blackest there is'. Black and politically radical. (…)” (Hobsbawm, 1990, p. 19).


[8] See Mariarosaria Fabris, on this page, the “tetralogy of death” by the Italian artist: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-viagem-dantesca-de-pasolini/

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