The life and death of a Cinecitta extra

It’s probably impossible to say whether Pier Paolo Pasolini had seen Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich’s The Life and Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra (1928) when he made La Ricotta, his contribution to the not-very-promisingly titled 1963 anthology film Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG (“RoGoPaG” being an acronym for the names of the four contributors).  Nevertheless, Pasolini’s film rhymes interestingly with Florey and Vorkapich’s.  It takes place on the set of a Jesus movie that appears to shooting somewhere out in Calabria (where Pasolini would soon film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew), presided over by an enigmatic director (played by Orson Welles) who is seen reading a book about Pasolini’s Mamma Roma.  Anyway.  The plot concerns a lowly extra who, after his meager lunch is eaten by the Pomeranian of the shoot’s resident diva, becomes desperately hungry, contrives to sell the Pomeranian to a passerby, uses the money to buy what looks like five pounds’ worth of cheese and bread from a local farmer, and proceeds to gorge himself while his fellow cast members stand around jeering and laughing.  Then, as shooting resumes and he’s attached to a cross (he’s playing one of the thieves crucified along with Jesus) he issues a series of hiccups and dies.  As is typical with Pasolini, La Ricotta has a satirical bent—but it’s told in the mode of a fable or a parable, with a simplicity and grace that look like absurdity.

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