In chronological terms Pigsty comes just before Medea and the Trilogy of Life in the Pasolini filmography. Thematically it prefigures Salò. It tells two parallel tales, one set in Germany in the late sixties, the other in a seemingly timeless volcanic wasteland. The former stars Jean-Pierre Léaud as the son of Alberto Lionello’s industrialist. His girlfriend (Anne Wiazemsky) wants him to commit to the revolution - to join her and her fellow revolutionaries as they piss, en masse, on the Berlin Wall - but he has no interest in the outside world. His father, meanwhile, is locked in a battle of wits with a rival businessman (played by Ugo Tognazzi). Both have information on the other, including involvement with the Nazi party. The other narrative thread is simpler and makes do without dialogue. A young man (Pierre Clémenti) travels across a barren landscape, slowly gathering followers (including Pasolini regular Franco Citti) and indulging in cannibalistic activities.
Pigsty has, by far, the starriest cast list of any Pasolini picture, which comes as something of a surprise given his fondness for the unprofessional. Certainly he’d worked with the likes of Orson Welles, Anna Magnani and Terence Stamp in the past, but he tended to restrict the ‘name’ performers to one per feature, if that. Pigsty, on the other hand, has plenty of arthouse heavyweights to go around. Léaud, of course, was something of a talisman of the nouvelle vague. Wiazemsky was married at the time to Jean-Luc Godard and had recently appeared in two of features plus Besson’s Au hasard Balthazar. Tognazzi and Lionello both had careers in Italian cinema stretching back to the early fifties, whilst Clémenti’s cv reads like a who’s who of post-war arthouse filmmaking: Visconti, Bertolucci, Buñuel, Janscó, Makavejev and many more besides.
It should perhaps go without saying that Pasolini didn’t bring in such a cast to up the box office appeal. Nazism and cannibalism, after all, are hardly the most populist of subject matters, not to mention hints of bestiality. Rather the casting appears to have more of a symbolic drive. Léaud and Wiazemsky, for example, had previously co-starred in Godard’s La Chinoise, which is unlikely to have escaped their director’s attention. Pigsty’s dialogue scenes between the pair play out as a parody of the earlier picture, written and spoken with a stylised and heavily ironic emphasis. Those between Tognazzi and Lionello, meanwhile, are just as mannered yet are coloured by different - though equally subversive and satirical- associations. Here it is the pair’s shared history in lightweight comedies that rings through, albeit in a manner which must also accommodate Lionello’s Hitler hairdo and ’tache plus the appearance of Marco Ferreri, future director of Dillinger is Dead and La Grande bouffe. This entire half of Pigsty is loaded with such allusions; as an audience we are asked to translate, not simply to view.
By way of contrast the other narrative strand strips everything back: no dialogue, no exposition, no dressing up, no overwhelming narrative force (though that’s not to say that it is plotless). Clémenti eats a butterfly, then he eats a snake, then he moves onto human flesh, all the while expanding his band of followers. Set against the minimal backdrop of volcanic ash and pale skies we are left to our devices, free to interpret the increasing barbarism as we see fit, though of course the cross-cutting with the present day understandably plays its part. Interestingly, Pasolini originally intended this half of Pigsty to make up the entire film, which was to be named Orgy. Ultimately he would also incorporate one of his plays, also named Pigsty, and update it from its original 1966 incarnation, but I’d argue that he’s more comfortable with the Clémenti passages and their comparative lack of fuss.
Indeed, if we look at what was to follow then it’s clear which was the more influential. Pasolini’s next feature, Medea, retained the minimal approach and took on its chosen Greek myth as though it were making an ethnographic documentary. Similarly the Trilogy of Life which then followed opted to retreat into the past, to the tales of Boccaccio, Chaucer and the Arabian Nights and their earthy pleasures untainted by modern living. Not that Pasolini stayed there too long. Salò came next and returned to the consumerist critique of Pigsty albeit in a much more forceful and confrontational manner. Again minimalism was the chosen approach - no narrative, no exposition, no tricks or gimmicks, only the most necessary of dialogue - the perfect means with which to deliver its stark, still shocking message. Needless to say, Pigsty remains in its shadow, unable to match its effect. But as a test run - with its comparatively diluted anger and experimentalism - it still deserves our attention.
Pigsty was first released in the UK as part of Tartan’s now out of print Pasolini Vol. 2 boxed-set alongside Hawks and Sparrows and Oedipus Rex. All three are getting new editions courtesy of Masters of Cinema - Pigsty and Hawks and Sparrows will be released onto DVD on July 23rd with Oedipus Rex due a dual-format offering in September. This new disc is encoded for Region 2 and in the NTSC format. It has also been sourced from a new HD master, albeit one which Masters of Cinema felt wasn’t quite good enough to justify a Blu-ray release. Their decision is an understandable one - though clean, the image is a touch soft and not quite as impressive as the recent release of Pasolini’s next feature, Medea. Needless to say, Masters of Cinema have still put all of their efforts into making this as good a presentation as possible, utilising a dual-layered disc despite their being only the original theatrical trailer as an extra and ensuring that there is nothing untoward about the transfer itself. As we’ve come to expect from the imprint, the film is also correctly framed (1.85:1), anamorphically enhanced and the English subtitles are optional. The soundtrack appears in its original Italian mono, though understandably there are some synch issues inherent in the production owing to the international cast.
As well as the Italian trailer, Pigsty also comes with a typically chunky 20-page booklet containing articles old and new. Pasquale Iannone provides a new overview, Pasolini himself provides viewing notes (originally circulated at the film’s Venice premiere) and there is an extract of an interview with the director conducted by Cahiers du cinéma which appeared in their May 1969 issue.