Here’s a collision of cultural figures you don’t see every day: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom director Pier Paolo Pasolini sitting down with modernist poet Ezra Pound. Though only eight minutes in length and perhaps not subtitled with ideal fluency, this clip nonetheless hints at the kind of conversation, or conversations, you’d like to have been in the room for. Here Pound and Pasolini discuss the linguistically experimental Italian literary movement “neoavanguardia,” which counted among its adherents Umberto Eco, Edoardo Sanguineti, and Amelia Rosselli. Pasolini, not just a filmmaker but a poet and all-around man of letters himself, would naturally know to bring this subject up, since the group famously looked to Anglophone modernists like Pound himself (as well as T.S. Eliot) for their inspiration.
Pound came to Italy in 1924, by which point he already held expatriate status. Born in 1885 in what we now know as Idaho, he moved to London early in the 20th century. Horrified and devastated by the First World War, he moved to Paris in 1921 before landing in the small Italian town of Rapallo three years later. He there proceeded to tarnish his reputation by endorsing the fascism of Mussolini and even Hitler. Pasolini shows interest not in political questions, but artistic ones: about the avant-garde, about Pound’s beloved 14th- and 15th-century painters, and about his Pisan Cantos. Pasolini actually dons his glasses and performs a reading from that work as Pound gazes on. We then see the 82-year-old poet taking his leave, leaning on his cane, moving haltingly through the rustic Italian countryside that spreads out behind him.