a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Damn, Antonioni, too?

Look out, Alain Resnais.

As with Bergman, I turned my back on Michelangelo Antonioni, another classic world cinema titan to pass on 30 June 2007. (Again: damn.) Unlike with Bergman, I’ve more or less recanted. Pauline Kael’s in/famous “Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Party” – in which she slaughtered La Dolce Vita, Last Year at Marienbad and Antonioni’s La Notte in one foul swoop – had a sizeable effect on my budding cinephilia, and I wrote Antonioni off as a trendy little operator without even having delved much into his oeuvre. (And what’s more, really liking what I had seen: L’Avventura and Blow-Up.) Frankly, I’m still a bit iffy on La Notte, The Eclipse and Zabriskie Point, particularly the latter’s stiff, uncharismatic non-pro leads and borderline-comical, lip-smacking hatred for the U.S. And you thought he hated Europe. (The original planned ending was to have a plane skywriting, “Fuck You, America.”)

It took The Passenger, with Jack Nicholson wanting no more than to shirk all responsibility, to re-convince me of his style -- namely, that it overwhelms all, by design. One of Antonioni’s niftiest tricks was to take a genre plot – a disappearance in L’Avventura, a Hitchcockian murder plot in Blow-Up, a proto-Robert Ludlum page-turner in The Passenger – and let the narratives fade into the ether. It’s ironic that these gradually listless films twice ended with a literal bang – the climactic detonations in The Eclipse (seen here) and especially Zabriskie Point (seen here) would make Michael Bay cream his shorts. (Where did the “repeating explosion from multiple cameras” schtick come but from Antonioni?)

As noted almost verbatum, his characters typically desire connection in an increasingly isolating world. But it’s their battle with their surroundings – be they urban or rural, or the oppressive fusion in Red Desert – that really caught his eye, literally and figuratively. No one could frame an alienating shot like Antonioni, depicting his characters – thinly designed, often ciphers, but sometimes deeply, if remotely cared for, as with Monica Vitti or Nicholson in The Passenger – struggling to contend with their environment. Sadly, Antonioni only worked in cinemascope once. Naturally, it – i.e., Zabriskie Point – isn’t even on DVD.

It’s really too bad that Antonioni leaves us with The Dangerous Thread of Things, his nudity- and dumb line-laced contribution to the omnibus film Eros that plays like a devastating parody of a pretentious art film you’d see on SCTV. Antonioni wasn’t afraid to be pretentious, but his films were, for the most part, never bad.

Yet to see: Story of a Love Affair, Le Amiche, Il Grido, The Mystery of Oberwald, Beyond the Clouds



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