Pierre Clémenti’s magnetic screen presence captured the imagination of countless moviegoers during the cultural heyday of the 1960s and ’70s. His roles are as unforgettable as they are varied, brushing up against the sacred and the profane in characters often adapted from mythology, literature, theater, and religion. Angel, demon, hippie, rebel, poet: a child of 1960s counterculture, Clémenti played—and was—all of them. Behind his striking physical performances, which bore the imprint of Antonin Artaud, Lettrist cinema, and the Living Theater, was an ardent, lifelong commitment to creative freedom. Clémenti was a darling of cinematic auteurs (Luis Buñuel, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Pier Paolo Pasolini among them) who nevertheless shunned a traditional path. As an actor, he was uncompromising, choosing independent and iconoclastic roles over studio projects at every turn, which he pursued passionately alongside poetry, theater, radio plays, and films of his own.
In 1967, Clémenti’s purchase of a 16mm camera unleashed a two-decade drive to capture life around him. Chronicling family, friends, travels, life on film sets, and the barricades of May 1968, his small-gauge diaries, bursting with psychedelic flair and ingenious editing, comprise a significant body of underground films. Rarely seen outside of Clémenti’s inner circle in his lifetime, the entirety of his directorial output is presented here in stunning digital restorations, alongside key titles in Clémenti’s iconic filmography as one of the great actors of postwar cinema.
Pierre Clémenti coincides with the English-language translation of Clémenti’s memoir A Few Personal Messages, published in 1973 after his release from Italian prison. Jailed on trumped-up drug charges for 17 months without trial, in the country that had become his adopted home, Clémenti found his life forever changed. But his drive to create remained unshakable, as did his conviction that cinema could expand human consciousness in the face of hegemonic power and injustice. “The actor is the representative of the collective unconscious,” he writes in the journals, “I see the artist as a worker among the rest…. We must fight for our lives.”
Organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Associate Curator, Department of Film. Thanks to Balthazar Clémenti and Stephanie LaCava.