“Archaic Modernism: Queer Poetics in the Cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini” by Daniel Humphrey— Three Films

Humphrey, Daniel. “Archaic Modernism: Queer Poetics in the Cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini”, Wayne State University Press, 2020.

Three Films

Amos Lassen

In ‘Archaic Modernism’, Daniel Humphrey gives us the first book-length, English-language examination of three adaptations of Greek tragedy gay and Marxist Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini: “Oedipus Rex “(1967), “Medea” (1969), and “Notes Towards an African Orestes” (1970/1973). Using Pasolini’s own theories of a “Cinema of Poetry”, Jacques Derrida’s “?criture, and modern scholarship by queer theory scholars who have fought for an anti-relational and antisocial subjectivity, Humphrey claims that Pasolini’s Greek tragedy films bring to light a paradoxical sense of “archaic modernism” that is the core of Pasolini’s project. Humphrey maintains that they reveal the queer roots of Western civilization’s formative texts. 

The book is made upof three chapters. The focus of chapter 1 “Oedipus Rex”, looks at the filmic language employed and queer mythological source material that haunts the tragedy even as it remains at a sub-textual level. Chapter 2 looks at the idea of queer fate and queer negativity through a scene-by-scene analysis of “Medea”. Chapter 3 examines “Notes Towards an African Orestes”, Pasolini’s misunderstood failure, but which can be seen as a deliberate, sacrificial act on Pasolini’s part. Humphrey argues that the filmmaker’s “trilogy of myth” can best be understood as a deconstruction. Humphrey sees these three films as essential and that they are gaining value now.

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