What a bunch of assholes. I kept thinking this during the first twenty or so minutes of Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1961 film Accattone. Accattone's a pimp, and we see him at the beginning of the movie hanging out with his small time gang, every man of them apparently totally amoral as they laugh and discuss robbery and beating women.
I wondered how much of that is posturing as the film progressed, though we do see a group of the guys taking Accattone's prostitute to a deserted lot and beating her savagely. He's not present for this, and apparently it was done as a slight to him, but we don't like Accattone much better at this point, having forced the prostitute, Maddalena, to work that night despite an injured leg. He badgers her into it, whining that he needs the money and that it's all her fault he doesn't have a respectable job. He's a pretty impressive young slimeball, yeah.
Contrary to the popular idea that stories need a sympathetic central protagonist, Accattone never stops being fascinating to watch. But maybe the reason for that is none of us find such ruthless behaviour as Accattone's as alien as some of us might like to pretend. And among other things, Accattone might serve as a reminder as to why we don't give in to such base pragmatism as Accattone displays.
We never get any scene of Accattone breaking down and renouncing his wicked ways. One could even argue that the life Accattone leads is ultimately no less fulfilling than the lives most people lead. After Maddalena is imprisoned for accusing the men who attacked her without being able to prove it (there were some really fucked up laws in Italy at the time, apparently), Accattone starts trying to recruit a new girl, Stella, only to fall in love with her, trying instead to support the two of them first by taking an honest job transporting scrap metal, then enlisting as an assistant to a local thief. Accattone tries to kill himself twice during the movie by jumping off bridges, failing both times, so there is a sense that on some level, despite his completely shameless rap with his friends, he reproaches himself for his way of life. When he first meets Stella, he remarks on how extraordinarily innocent she seems.
A grim and, for Accattone, frustratingly obtuse dream sequence at the end of him witnessing his own death and a vision of other gang members buried naked in the rubble of a shelled building again suggest an undercurrent of hatred for his own way of life beneath his utterly cavalier exterior. The impression I had was of surface personality composed of networks of callous reactions to reality created as self defence mechanisms that work to kill the person underneath. It's no wonder he looks to death as a relief.
I wanted to watch the movie because it's referenced in Morrissey's song "You Have Killed Me"--
Pasolini is me
Accattone you'll be
The Wikipedia entry for the song says;
There is much speculation as to the meaning of this quote. Some fans believe that it is merely an example on Rome's influence on Morrissey whereas some believe that it is a reference to the loss of virginity, since Accattone is Pasolini's first film.
Which seems a bit of a reach to me. My theory is that it has more to do with the fact that Pasolini was murdered by a young hustler in 1975. One could imagine the young hustler someone not dissimilar to the character Accattone, and certainly one could imagine Accattone murdering someone like Pasolini. Which works with Morrissey's apparent love for his killer in his song--Pasolini obviously loved the sort of people who were incapable of respecting love.