The Other Side of La Dolce Vita

Pier Paolo Pasolini with Tazio Secchiaroli in the Locations of Accattone

17 Nov – 23 December 2022

Novalis Art Design, G/F 197 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong

The Other Side of La Dolce Vita
Pier Paolo Pasolini with Tazio Secchiaroli in the Locations of Accattone
by Giovanna Bertelli

Novalis Art Design is delighted to present the exhibition ‘The Other Side of La Dolce Vita: Pier Paolo Pasolini with Tazio Secchiaroli in the locations of Accattone.’

This exhibition is organised by the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong under a series of programmes celebrating the 100th anniversary of Pier Paolo Pasolini and is part of the Italia Mia Festival.

1958. Federico Fellini, perceives what will be the subject of his next film: the new Italian reality, a democratic republic, a lifestyle imported from across the ocean, a society that is quickly abandoning the old style of living to embrace the economic boom, based on wellbeing and consumption. Fellini draws inspiration from photoshoots published in tabloids, popular weekly magazines filled with strong images and scant text; he decides that his reinterpretation will be a fresco-like journalistic report, it will be La Dolce Vita. He seeks and meets Tazio Secchiaroli, the most praised street photographer: his shoots are often exclusively published and prominent in periodicals. The photographer’s stories offer him inspiration for some scenes; Fellini thinks he should be the model for his character Paparazzo, and that Secchiaroli himself should interpret him; despite refusing the proposal, he accepts to go on set to photograph and teach imitation assault photographers how to move in front of the camera.

Years later Tazio Secchiaroli himself reminisced about that brief unrepeatable period of his life, between 1955 and 1960, not only for the great innovation in the world of photographic reportage, thanks to the new photographic genre created and perfected by himself, but also for its function of social redemption. Assault photographers were a handful of suburban youngsters who often exposed, with their shots, the most renowned faces of the collective imaginary. For Tazio it was like removing an aura and returning celebrities to their normal human weakness, to then, show them to people who either felt reflected in those stories or who used them as a distraction before going back to the hardships of life.

1960. Pier Paolo Pasolini, who already often collaborates on screenplays, also with Federico Fellini, decides to put himself behind the camera and sign a film as director. He wants his camera to tell the story, not of Fellinian Rome’s via Veneto, but of the hard and hopeless life of the working-class neighborhoods and of the boroughs inhabited by the urban underclass.

At first, Federico Fellini is enthusiastic of the idea and offers himself as producer of the film; with his newly minted society founded with Angelo Rizzoli, Federiz, he researches new cinematographic talents to make arthouse films. For the scouting of locations, he recommends to the new director, Tazio Secchiaroli, the photographer he began to hold in esteem a few years earlier, and with whom he has formed an excellent collaboration.

Tazio Secchiaroli happily accepts the new commitment. Far from the lights of via Veneto, hangout of the happy few of the jet set, a cosmopolitan ensemble of actors, singers, aristocrats fallen or in exile, scions of the most bourgeois and conservative Rome, he enters a reality that is only a few kilometers away and that he also knows well, being himself born and bred – son of a master mason – in Centocelle, a working-class neighborhood in the outskirts of Rome.

By himself and with Pasolini he researches the most appropriate and descriptive Roman boroughs, realizing a reportage of over 150 images that are today an urbanistic, architectonic, and social testimony of Rome; these shots by Secchiaroli are not simply photographs of locations, but an analytical account in which the eye of the photographer lingers on a populace that lives on the streets: children, women, few men, some dogs, on empty and sun-drenched roads.

Summer in Rome; on the fringes of a metropolis and of society, far from the glitzy via Veneto, we see a dusty and forgotten city, yet so alive and real. A sort of counterpart to the gleaming and glamorous via Veneto, Cinecittà, residence of gossip.

In these margins of periphery move the Roman‘little people’; those who have no alternative to a life of sacrifice and small ambitions, or of most humble work, and who go to the center of the capital just to gain a few coins as street vendors or through odd jobs. Seven generation Romans or new families citified from the countryside before or after the war, in search of a better life that often they have not found.

Fragments of walls, stories, and lives.

Tazio Secchiaroli knows both realities, the outskirts of Centocelle, where he lives, and life in the center of town that he photographs during the day, and especially at night, in search of celebrity. Even before his encounter with Pasolini, already as an adolescent when he receives as a gift a photo-camera from his paternal aunt, Secchiaroli in his free time loves to photograph his neighborhood, his friends, or linger among the displaced people from war who have adapted to living among the ruins of ancient Rome and new shacks. He knows the city in its deepest folds, and he has no difficulty in following the indications of Pasolini, who alike mixes through the tables of the bars of via Veneto and piazza del Popolo, but at the same time is attentive to the village people and street kids; with Tazio and like Tazio he moves effortlessly in both realities. They scout some areas together, so that the future director can show the photographer what he already sees through his imagination while Tazio captures with his machine realities that will later become set.

Sometimes he lets Pasolini enter his shots, Pasolini who observes, suggests close-ups and sceneries where he already sees non-professional actors, such as Franco Citti, become his characters. The chemistry between photographer and author is in perfect harmony; the same images shot by Secchiaroli are found, animated, in the scenes of the film’s footage: Accattone’s home, the bar where Accattone spends his days, the visit to Ascenza to ask her for money. For who knows Rome well, still today it is easy to recognize the buildings of Testaccio, the small houses of the Pigneto, the tramvetto of Casilina, a vital link for many who travel from the extreme periphery to the center of the city; we are also amazed by the big new urban space with the gasmeter, or Testaccio bridge, so identical, yet so different from today. Looking at the photographs of the location scouting for Accattone you seem to already see scenes of the film, so much is the closeness, also in the faces and gestures of the actors, nearly all chosen by Pasolini among the inhabitants of the neighborhoods. There is an illusion of a stereoscopic vision, by overlaying the photographs of the locations and those of the scenes we have the complete perception of the Pasolinian work.

Tazio’s understanding of his city, its people, allows us today, sixty years later, to have an all-rounded testimony of the Roman reality between the 1950s and 1960s. It is highlighted by the strident juxtaposition between center and periphery, as seen through Secchiaroli’s acute and disillusioned eye, with his two different photographic approaches: on the one hand his anthropologic description, sought by Pasolini’s long sequence shots, on the other, the rapid blinding flashes at night to capture celebrities deformed in quick close ups that popular magazines pay in weight of gold.

Tazio Secchiaroli extends his gaze as if he were changing the vision of the camera, modelling it to his needs, from a reality to its opposite; he has a privileged point of view and just like a two-faced Janus he shows two sides of the same coin, so strident yet so united, the past and the future of the city. From one perspective via Veneto, whose fame as new boulevard of the beautiful world is thanks to him; from another, the fathomed world exposed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Just as Tazio tackles the Roman nights searching a scoop with a photography best suited for sensational headlines, for Pier Paolo Pasolini he wants to display the real conditions of life of the old and new suburbs. As a Roman photo reporter, within him everything cohabits, and all is confused. The quickness of the stolen shot in via Veneto is left aside, to observe the infamous streets, the new apartment blocks of the boroughs where the city adjoins the countryside, the expressive faces of its people. His lambretta, often in shots, to not lose sight of it, brings him through the new streets of Rome, where shacks alternate frequently illegal small houses, to memories of the countryside such as gates of an estate, a farmhouse: Pigneto, Torpignattara, via Casilina. Children playing in the streets, women looking on them at the entrance, swift nocturnal visons. These are the areas where Pasolini will set his Accattone, a story of a life on the margins, of a “protector’, a man who survives by exploiting in prostitution a young girl, unredeemable from a rough life. The film is so close to reality that it is nearly impossible to distinguish footage from daily life. Pasolini wants the faces, the gestures, the surroundings to be just as they are in real life: squalid, often decaying.

Tazio Secchiaroli engages in an extensive scouting mission, grasping the most simple and bare aspects that reveal themselves in their whole descriptive force only if carefully observed. Sometimes they seem empty images, yet disconcerting details always emerge. At the beginning of the filming Secchiaroli will return to the same places and here a perfect transference will occur between non-professional actors and what Tazio had narrated through his location scouting.

Tazio will devote himself only to the first three days of filming, for the first two scenes: the film will soon be interrupted. Federico Fellini has seen the ‘footage’ and he is disappointed, so much so that he withdraws from the production; Pasolini will have to wait and find Arco Film of Alfredo Bini and Cino del Duca as the new producer that will enable him to continue filming.

In the meantime Tazio Secchiaroli will have moved on to new sets and new commitments, but what his eyes have seen, that is impressed on his film, the locations that Pasolini was searching, still somehow unexplored by cinematography, by neorealist photography, are ever present in their natural candor, ready to be immortalized and celebrated by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s filming and narrating, to the extent that today these places are not only for the people who search traces of Rome’s recent past, but also of ‘gentrification’ and movida on the wake of fame left by Pasolini’s opera prima.

Summer 1958 and summer 1960, the two facets of Rome are coexistent yet clashing with each other. Tazio Secchiaroli, the same photographer, with his complete vision captures on film such divergent realities. Without exiting the boundaries of his city, he creates a social reportage on the two extremes of Rome, without associating to neorealism for this reason.

Giovanna Bertelli