I should also point out Antonioni’s eternal openness. It leaves the film up for intrepretation. The problem is that so many ideas have been stuck onto Blowup by now that the film seems almost mad when you read a critic’s translation of the events. The critic on the commentary is a little bit off the mark. It seems that he got his ideas from taping together various preexisting ideas about the film. That explains the lumpiness in his commentary (and in his book on Antonioni).
In certain circles this was the film you were suppose to have liked when first released. I saw it when I was 19 years old and kind of liked it, especially for the visuals. I saw it again maybe 2 years old and enjoyed it. Isn’t this the only film based on on a previously published material that Antonioni did? i can understand people not likely it though. Surprised that Criterion hasn’t grabbed this one.
“But the thing that really gets me is that there is never a glimpse of hope or humanity that will help them cope with life. Even if sometimes they briefly questioned themselves, they are condemn to do the same thing over and over for the rest of their lives.”
Andre, I’ve got to disagree, once again, with you about those earlier Antonioni features. What gives them hope, and is the only thing that will make life easier, is love, a connection. Antonioni makes that point pretty clearly, I think.The trilogy is a laundry list (I don’t what I mean by that either) of things that keep these specific characters from love and a connection. For Antonioni a real connection is the only thing we have to get us through this life. Sex (Sickness of Eros), social codes, outmoded morality are discussed as dividers. When the characters figure all of this out at the end of his movies they may make changes in their lives. They may not. Antonioni leaves the door open. That’s hardly the hopeless ending that you describe. I’d say there is light as long as is knowledge. They see the error of their ways. That’s a possibility for light, no? What makes you think that they’re forever in a Groundhog Day cycle?
The characters DO overcome this at the end of Eclipse. That’s why it’s the climax of the trilogy, Andre, they’ve found a solution to their stagnant relationship: end it. And begin searching again. In L’avventura, Antonioni saw Claudia and Sandro staying together at the end. At the end of that film there is an identification of a problem between the characters which creates what Antonioni calls “mutual self-pity.” But they do stay together…she puts her hand on the back of his head. There is a chance, we see, in this final gesture that things can change, that understanding and maturity are possible…but never absolute (this is an Antonioni movie, remember). In La notte the ending is more open. The woman identifies the problems that separate the couple, but the man chooses to make love instead. Why? Well, Antonioni thought that this could represent a desire to keep the relationship together on his part and to correct all of their present and past problems, or a refusal to cope with the situation. She resists to some extant, but gives in. It’s the most open of his endings, I think. The most debatable, but not the eternal damnation that you described. They may survive, yet. We never know, neither do they. Except you, right? You know what’s going to happen to them forever and forever and forever.
I can’t believe that I actually wrote this much on your account, ANDRE. I’m certainly not going to proof-read this—you’re not worth the strain on my part. Allow me to retort some of your childlike, grandiose claims about Antonioni and his movies.
I’d also say that you’re a simple person-not Michelangelo Antonioni. I think Antonioni is not to fond of certain codes which keep us in place. That’s what he said, anyway. I think he has great affection and interest in his characters. He doesn’t hate them. That’s pretty bizarre of you to say that. He’s the director noted, like Bergman and Fellini, for taking film forward toward the individual’s thoughts.
L’avventura is a masterpiece about a girl who goes missing and is replaced by her friend. Why? Is that because of “alienation?” No. DEAD WRONG, ANDRE. It’s because that social structure and our place in it is more important than ourselves. We’re not important in this world, only in that we show up. You don’t agree? Who’s being naive now? When the girl doesn’t show up, when she leaves her life behind (“the girl’s”—this time in the person of Jack Nicholson—perspective is seen in another Antonioni masterwork The Passenger; a great film about escaping from ourselves and our places in organized soceity—which is impossible, obviously, but we all have this desire, don’t we?) she is searched for, but then she is never found so she is immediately replaced. She isn’t important: her role is and another can fill it easily-even her best friend.
This social code exists in all facets of life. Antonioni said that he chose the upper-class because people mistook his prior film Il grido as a film about the poor who are sad because they are poor. Rubbish. Sounds simple and dumb, right? Yeah, it’s not true. But your complaint that Antonioni’s upper-class characters are unhappy because they’re rich is such a crappy argument that I wonder—I honestly do—-about either your intelligence or your attention-span.
Your stupid conception that Antonioni was simply attacking everybody and making outright moral damnations is bunk. Obviously, one’s opinion is there always, but you miss the point. Antonioni said; “I’m a middle-class filmmaker making middle-class dramas.” Does the man HATE HIMSELF THEN TOO? Is that really your argument? If he does hate himself why doesn’t he kill himself? Why does he make dramas explaining how awful he is and everyone he knows? You’re crazy. “Dated?” You keep using that word to punch Antonioni. The man chronicled his times, but he was not a man of his time, he was as misunderstood then as he is now. Fitzgerald, Flaubert, Joyce, Tolstoy, Dickens (Antonioni would blush as I compare him with those esteemed men, but I’m not really comparing here I’m giving literary exampes) all chronicled the aspirations and hopes of their times, the places, the politics, the atmosphere, the morality, the way people acted and lived, and also (as is most important in Antonioni) the interior lives of his characters. That was Antonioni’s great accomplishment. Are those writers dated? Who says that a book can do that, but a film cannot? Well, in the fifties some people still thought Scott Fitzgerald (one of Antonioni’s favorite authors by the way) was rancid and past date. Give it time. Antonioni captured his decade’s thoughts, neurosis, and passions and the great importance of that will ensure that he’s given great credit in about thirty or so years when the sixties are as distant as the twenties are now. You just want to damn all of his movies, I don’t know why, maybe one day you decided that he was no Robert Bresson. I don’t know.
Antonioni’s movie Il grido deals with the same themes in the same manner. The characters are dirt poor. DOES HE HATE THEM TOO?He’s still pointing out romantic errors on their part. Christ, I’m sick of your silly oversimplifications. Why do I even bother with someone like you? Can you ever admit that Antonioni had at least some talent? No, probably not. He was the worst director ever, a flawed and pathetic man, right? He’s all about “ennui,” right? Jesus, he never even used such a word. Just stay the hell away from his films then, how’s that? I’ll leave you alone if you leave him alone. I promise if you promise.
Your little quest to find examples of Antonioni’s “datedness” and irrelevancy is psychotic in my opinion. It’s easy to attack the clothes and hairstyles as being old. The socipolitical landscape has shifted. So? That’s certainly not what his movies were about, now were they? He was a painter and a poet style director. Not a novelist-style director like Bresson-there are other methods, you know. The problems Antonioni addressed are more complex than “alienation,” and he was more than some fashionable parasite. Those issues he brought up in his films still plague us. We have not overcome them. How can you say we’ve overcome those problems? A LIE! As a provincial-sounding American I’ll assume that you file him under “European Art Filmmaker.” He was a very brilliant man who used images and sounds in a vibrant new way (See my explanation of Blowup and Antonioni’s approach on the “Blowup…What The Hell?” topic). You do realize that Antonioni has influenced a generation of young directors, photographers, and even some painters, right? That was a genuine influence there. His films are about emotional states. That’s what Antonioni said his sixties movies were about: emotions. Passion, sadness, yearning, love, lust, desire, confusion, loneliness and hope.
When those emotions run out of fashion Antonioni will too. Of course, there is no chance of that happening any time soon. Fool.
Sorry I Can’t Help But Talk, thank your for you posts, I genuinely appreciate and enjoy your analysis of the works of Antonioni. I have seen very few Antonioni films. However, this is set to change soon as the more I lounge around here, the more I am inspired to go see them all as soon as possible.
Sorry I Can’t Help But Talk, your intelligent & passionate defense of Antonioni in this thread and recent others is the best stuff I’ve come across on these forums. Thank you for talking!
yeah I saw this some years ago and was underwhelmed too. I’m not a big fan of Antonioni to be honest. I think his best film is Identification Of A Woman.
“I think his best film is Identification Of A Woman.”
Well, at least there’s someone.
And thank you, Kimberly and Law. That’s nice of you to say.
‘I’ve realised that basically I don’t give a shit for society which, in the case of Poland, is forty million people. But what I really care about is the individual human being.’ – Krzysztof Kieslowski
Someone placed this in the Random Filmmaker Quotes thread. It only partially reminds me of Antonioni (in that the individual is the central focus). I wouldn’t say that Antonioni doesn’t care about the society he’s filming, but there’s no denying that the background is only that: the background of the movie. It’s in the peripheral of Antonioni’s thoughts. He used it as tool to get at his characters, that’s all. You can say the background of Blowup is long gone, but the film is not “about Swinging London”—I don’t care how many times you’ve heard that. It’s just not true. So to say that the film is a relic is a bit of a stretch, no? It’s thinking is as “modern” as anything else.
Maybe you find the film difficult to relate to because the background has changed so much in the years since Blowup, but the film is (mainly) about the man in film—not his house, or his neighborhood, or his politics, or his society. The artist often captures his world, and it’s various citizens who live in that world.
Do you find The Great Gatsby to be a “dated novel?” Or Anna Karenina? Or Sentimental Education? Or Moby Dick? I’m not aligning Blowup with those masterpieces, per se, but I am noting this disparity between what a novel is allowed to to and what a film is apparently (by some people’s standards) not allowed to do.
One can write of the present (inevitably it becomes the past), but not film it? Do we have to put ourselves on a little island in the middle of nowhere and hope that contemporary reality doesn’t leak in and cripple our movies? Blowup has other things on its mind than London. I think that I’ve already explained earlier.
I think that I’ve already explained (this) earlier.
I must say I was quite surprised to see how ignorant some people are about Antonioni’s methods and concepts. I can’t believe some people think Antonioni’s films are Bunuel-like jabs at the upper-classes and that’s all. Madness. Just madness, to me. How do you explain The Passenger, or Identification of a Woman (where the Director is definitely not a member of “that crowd” as he calls the bourgeois), or Il Grido, or even Zabriskie Point where the protagonists are the workers/proletariat and they still want to escape?
[ZP is, like I have said many times, not a negative assessment of America or its high-living bourgeoisie, but more a portait of its maker, two young kids/adults, the desert, and-most of all-the extreme representation of his approach. Must I bring out that damned quote in which Antonioni says precsiely this one more time?]
The characters in Passenger, IOAW, Grido, etc; all cannot escape themselves. Neither could Antonioni. And neither can you. Have you ever met anyone in you entire life-or you have ever even heard about anyone-who escaped themselves? No, it’s impossible, but we all want to do it. You always remain yourself. At the beginning of Antonioni’s Beyond the Clouds, the Director says just this very thing as he’s driving through the fogs of Ferrara.
Ferrara, the town of Antonioni’s birth, childhood, adolescence, and-in the end-his grave. You see, he never could escape, so how can you? I’d really love to find out—but so would everybody else.
That’s what Antonioni’s sixties movies are about. Negative? Nah. Just honest. Sometimes we can’t cover our ears and eyes to avoid the truth. Sometimes we must understand and confront our problems—even if we may never have a chance of winning.
The Passenger is about a man who trades in his life for another man’s life. A man who “takes life as it comes” and has no family. For the protagonist, Locke, this sounds like freedom, escape. But as Locke pretends to be that man and live his life, after that other man dies suddenly, Locke finds out that the man was a gunrunner supporting the rebels in the very war Locke was (lazily, without moral conviction) reporting on for the BBC.
As the film progresses Locke discovers that he hasn’t found freedom-he’s found a greater hell than he could ever have imagined and he’s made a grave mistake. Eventually his old life (in the form of his wife, his colleage, and that emptiess he thought he could escape from on this permanent vacation), AND the other man’s life (in the form of government assassins and-perhaps, maybe?-Maria Schneider) come chasing him. Two men’s codes, two men’s lives are far more difficult than only one, but Locke figured that he’d have no trouble leaving everything behind. As he says, “to throw it all away and live day by day.” Isn’t that what we all want? Locke’s first instinct is to run, but as the reality of the situation dawns on him and the seriousness of his mistake becomes clearer, he begins to see that he can’t ever really “get away from it all”—as a billboard prominently displayed in Zabriskie Point say.
This climax, set in a little Spanish hotel, when Locke finally realizes what he’s done, is the finest and most emotional scene in any Antonioni movie-maybe any movie. At least, that’s what I think.
I’ve noticed a few, small typos in some of my prior posts. I guess that was bound to happen as I have not stopped writing for about 24 hours straight, but I should have proof-read them more carefully. I hope that this does not dilute my arguments of their character.
And I’ve also noticed that I’ve made The Passenger sound much more depressing to watch than anybody would ever describe it as being.
I could probably say a lot about BLOW-UP since I wrote my dissertation on Antonionis work and even got to interview him — recently republished in Bert Cardullo, editor, MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI INTERVIEWS (University Press of Mississippi, 2008). (Some of it may be available on line through Google Books or Google Scholar.
However, for now, I’ll just mention that the blow-ups SEEM to reveal a hidden figure with a gun behind a fence on the grassy knoll in Maryon Park in London. Does this sound familiar? Yes, the JFK assassination. Was the director CONSCIOUSLY alluding to the conspiracy theory? I doubt it. But the theme of skepticism about photographic representation is common to both the JFK murder (in the Zapruder film, crucial things happen in the second when the camera’s view is blocked by a street sign) and BLOW-UP. So, even though in both cases, there’s visible evidence of a crime, it’s still uncertain and “ambiguous” what really happened. The photographer (called Thomas in the screenplay) has trusted his camera to make him rich and get him through life but, at the end, he puts it down to pick up the imaginary ball. (BTW, it took me about 12 viewings to come up with this JFK theory!) And, BTW, there IS a dead body on the grass in the early park scene. It’s w-a-y off in the distance and small in the frame under the tree but you can see it as Jane runs back to the tree. I’ve made a frame capture of that shot to prove to students that it’s there!
One other little tidbit:The film does not provide names for the characters (and most Antonioni films do not provide last names; his people are often rootless and anonymous) but the script calls them Thomas (Hemmings) and Jane (Vanessa Redgrave). D. H. Lawrence’s novel LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER was originally titled JOHN THOMAS AND LADY JANE, the names that the groundskeeper Mellors gives to their respective sex organs. There’s still a scene in the novel in which Mellors refers to his and Lady C’s genitalia as “John Thomas” and “Lady Jane.” While I’m playing the name game, Thomas in BLOW-UP seems to be both a Peeping Tom and a Doubting Thomas.
Yes, this is the sort of stuff we do in academic film studies. :-)
“I’d rather watch Blow Out by DePalma to be honest "
Well that explains everything about you.
@Ira Joel: BLOW-UP is not the only Antonioni film based on a previous book or play. Here’s a list:
LE AMICHE (1955), based on a story by Cesare Pavese, “Tra Donne Sole.”
THE PASSENGER (1975), based on a story by Mark Peploe.
THE MYSTERY OF OBERWALD (1980), based on a play by Jean Cocteau, “The Eagle with Two Heads.”
And, of course, Mr.[Prof.?] Tomasulo,
BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995) But that’s his own book of short stories, isn’t it?
You were a very lucky man to have interviewed him. Very lucky.
Sorry Talk, nice work on “The Passenger”. I watch it a couple times each year.
Dr Tomasulo, I always thought there was a figure with a gun in those bushes. Where can I see your frame shot of that other image?
David, pithy as usual. Love it.
KJ: I’m not sure I can post that image of the dead body under the tree. At present, it’s in the form of a slide taken from a 16mm print of the film. But if you have the DVD you can freeze-frame that image and use a frame-capture device to grab it. (Sorry, I’m a bit of a technophobe. I had a Teaching Assistant who used to do all my frame grabs for me, but I’ve lost his services.)
Well, I haven’t seen “Blow Up” in a good while, so I might be due. I’ll look for it.
Okay, so now that you have (quasi) calm down i can try to say something. Let me first say that your ultra aggressive style of writing makes me really glad that you don’t know me personally. You make me fear for my life dude.
I will try to pass over all the stupid personal insults you write about me and try to have a discussion and believe me this is already pretty hard given your tourette style of writing that insists on dropping pathetic little insults every other sentence.
You say that “I think he has great affection and interest in his characters.” That is really hard to believe when he gives such crippled character as Ugo or even Sandro. What is there to like in them? Ugo is so impotent that the only way he can show affection to his wife is in a bizarre party on a shack. Claudio is such a spoiled rich person that not even him understands why he is pursuing Claudia. I surely see nothing to admire or love in any of these guys. And in my hyperbolic way of writing I do say it is because he hates them, meaning that after two hours of seeing Sandro pursuing Claudia, all we get is a tiny little glimpse of hope that maybe (or maybe not) they will develop some true feelings towards each other.
“L’avventura is a masterpiece about a girl who goes missing and is replaced by her friend. Why? Is that because of “alienation?” No. DEAD WRONG, ANDRE. It’s because that social structure and our place in it is more important than ourselves. We’re not important in this world, only in that we show up. You don’t agree?"
Uhhh..No. This is actually a Woody Allen quote and is as deep or interesting as a Woody Allen movie. If you think L’avventura is a masterpiece because of such an important thought, good luck with that.
“Antonioni said; “I’m a middle-class filmmaker making middle-class dramas.” Does the man HATE HIMSELF THEN TOO? Is that really your argument? If he does hate himself why doesn’t he kill himself? Why does he make dramas explaining how awful he is and everyone he knows? "
That is a pretty insane train of thought but I will try to make sense out of it. From L’avventura to the Red Desert all of his characters are bourgeoise upper middle class and have such archetypal occupations such as trader or engineer that only with a huge grain of salt we take that to be middle-class melodrama. My point was that both on L’avventura and the Red Desert his characters are condemn to the worst fate I can imagine: not knowing why they suffer. If he had any genuine love and fondness for them I believe he would have done it differently. Think of Voyage to Italy for instance.
I would be surprised if Antonioni, like many leftists of the 60’s, did not have a serious distrust of bourgeoise way of life. That is the thing I find outdated.
I should also say that I think he is avery gifted and talented director. His movies, whether I like them or not, are always incredibly beautiful shot. Thus your rant how I find him a horrible director is aimless.
Finally, let me say that I wish I could say that this has been a pleasant discussion which clearly has not. Your absurdly inquisitive and dogmatic style makes it very, very, and I will say again, very unpleasant to read your posts. If you soothe down your tone of voice I will continue reply to your other posts, otherwise you will be left barking in vain.
I apologize, Andre, for my strong tone and language in the prior posts. I’m a little embarrassed by that, actually. I hope my boorish behavior hasn’t totally turned you off of Antonioni.
I think where you go wrong is in your need to view Antonioni strictly as a “Marxist intellectual.” He wasn’t much of either, really. He wasn’t anything, except an artist. I’m not trying to say that he was indifferent, but that he had mixed feelings…about everything. He could take a stance-and he usually did take a stance-on everything, but he always had respect for the other side (I guess could still learn from him on this point).
Antonioni was more heavily attacked by THE LEFT for his movies than he was the Right. Il grido, for example, caused a great stir among the collective Marxist circle in Italy. It showed a worker who was unhappy and a loner….it didn’t do over well with the communist propanganists in Rome. Antonioni had sympathy for the worker, but he was born and bred in a different world.
He was from a middle-class background, but he famously stated that he preferred to play with the poor children as child in Ferrara.
Antonioni’s films of the sixties were about love connections gone sour. There may have been love once between the couple in La notte, but that’s probably long gone by the time that we meet up with them. La notte is a very personal film. Not quite autobiographical, but a tender and yet unsentimental account of a dying marriage. Antonioni was horribly scarred by the death of his first marriage, and his first wife, Letizia, was a wonderful woman by all accounts. They were once deeply in love. But it all went wrong somewhere. Just all of the sudden, one day, they both realized that it was gone and that they had drifted apart. This strongly influenced Antonioni’s thoughts and philosophy for the next five or so years, and really, the rest of his life (though his opinion on sexuality altered a great deal).
The tragic sadness of his breakup haunts the atmosphere of his next movie, Il grido, and gives that film its odd, melancholy charm. The trilogy of films that Antonioni made after Il grido reflect the philosophical changes that have occured within him. It is a love trilogy, of course.
For this trilogy, he returns to the world of the Italian upper-classes. This was a world that he memorably studied in his prior films, Cronaca di un amore and Le amiche. In those films the upper-class characters are repellent, superficial and self-possessed. He doesn’t have to hate them to see them as amoral in the worst way.
In L’avventura, the first of the series, of course, he views Sandro as a victim of his own natural, but truly carnal, needs. Sandro is wealthy. Claudia, his newfound lover, is from a poorer background she explains late in the film. This is the point when things start to shift in Antonioni’s cinema (actually that was Il grido, but it becomes, in a way, obvious here).
The poorer character, Claudia, makes the same mistakes as her new wealthy lover and fits into the same rigid patterns as her missing friend. One could claim that the lower-bred Claudia’s behavior seems just as self-absorbed as her wealthy lover, Sandro. This is important to realize…Antonioni’s characters are no longer anything like the tools used in neorealism for politcal purposes.
Antonioni’s earlier films like Cronaca and Le amiche can be seen as effective, experimental, and backwards semi-neorealist films (a bit of a stretch; he was always searching for his own style). Let’s call those films, like Cronaca, post-neorealism. Your complaints about Antonioni’s “dated” (I really disagree that despising the bourgeois is a relic from an era long past, anyway) politics don’t hold up after as after 1955 he really doesn’t show any political signs in his trilogy.
In your opinion, would you say that all of neorealism is “dated” in terms of left-wing thought? Neorealism most definitely fits your critique much better than Antonioni’s sixties films. That iconic, left-wing cinematic movement has an influence (no matter how far removed the two styles were apart, even then) only on his first two or three movies. After that he rejected neorealism.
Antonioni helps invent and develop what Cahiers du Cinema called in 1957 (in describing Il grido) Interior-realism. Fellini and others can be seen as being included in this new category.
If La notte were his about his own (petit-bourgeois) marriage to some extant, if L’avventura was about the existential, sexual, and ethical decay of a rich AND poor person, do you really think he still sounds like he hates his characters? No. He sees that they issues, like everyone. They are, in fact, global problems—especially these days with the rise of globalization and the growth of India and China.
And after all, Antonioni is famous for being exceptionally drawn to the lifestyle of the upper-class, a lifestyle that he himself often took part in. He made it look “beautiful,” as you put it, so he could have damned it AND decided to make it exciting and sexy. A fun life, but a vapid, careless one. Monica Vitti is one of the most quietly endearing actresses in all of the cinema, do you really think that he uses her simply as a sledgehammer to attack his political rivals and enemies? No, I think not. He’s interested in outmoded morality, and this new, technological world and the people caught in between—not knowing where to go. There is so much going on in Antonioni, how can you see them as left-wing political operas? There are so many narrative tangents in each film and each tangent reveals new ideas and new directions; new problems with no easy solutions.
As Antonioni put it (and I’m paraphrasing) in 1960, “Here we are within reach of the moon, and yet we are still living with the ethics of Homeric times.” We still abide by those same ethics today. And we have suffered as a society, epistemologically speaking. Antonioni was right to take notice of this confrontation between the old and the new and it is one of the MANY, MANY concerns of L’avventura-not just “alienation.”
It all comes back to love, though. He never could forget Letizia.
My point is that Antonioni liked and was excited about this new world of technology, knowledge and achievement and was fearful about what effect this ancient morality would have on that progress. Did you know that it was illegal for Italians to divorce in officially Catholic Italy in 1961, the year of both La notte and Divorce-Italian Style?
If you don’t believe that Antonioni was excited about new technology go to Google Video, or Youtube—there was an old Italian television special added on July 20th that showed Antonioni and Vitti together (with many other scientists and public figures) at some kind of televised broadcast of the moon landing in 1969. That blows a fairly wide hole in your argument that Antonioni hates the factory owner and his factories in Red Desert. He makes the husband totally unattractive because that draws the audience and Vitti toward Richard Harris’ Corrado Zeller. Corrado is just a man, with a man’s needs and his own, typical sense of self-importance that so many men have. She is drawn to him because specifically because her husband is remote. This has nothing to do with either her decaying mental condition or the factories outside. Antonioni used the same effect in Cronaca di un amore.
Both Lucia Bose’s husband in Cronaca and Vitti’s husband in Red Desert are made to look unattractive to draw the character into the arms of another man (to look for comfort and a genuine connection; that’s all most women really need). As it turns out in both films, the new men are no better than Lucia’s or Vitti’s husbands in the first place. Both Lucia and Vitti’s husbands are played by non-actors so heighten the apparent lack of charisma, warmth and attraction.
It’s a similar technique that Hitchcock used in Dial M For Murder when he hired the uncharismatic Robert Cummings to unattractively play the hero and make the audience in that earlier film root for the villain to some degree.
Bose’s husband is a fabrics kingpin in Cronaca IS ANTONIONI AGAINST FABRICS TOO? Why only is Antonioni against owners of factories, but not fabrics? It has nothing to do with their being owners of any factory. Antonioni has Vitti’s husband the owner of the factory TO GIVE A SUITABLE REASON FOR A WOMAN SO ILL-SUITED FOR THIS ENVIRONMENT TO BE STUCK THERE. That’s what Red Desert is about: adaptation and the lack of ability for this woman to do so. Look it up in an Antonioni interview (or on Wikipedia or something for Chrissakes), if you don’t believe me. I don’t mean to be pushy, but you won’t believe it. Her mental situation is left without a causality—today we’d see genetics as a main factor. The genius of this simple story is that the environment is one she can’t handle. Antonioni’s not condemning it (as he’s actually quite impressed byall of this technology as I’ve explained), he is simply, effectively saying that she should not be there. She should not be there. She should be in a special care facility, or as she fantasizes, on a beach. That’s why Antonioni takes the unusual (for him) approach of having Vitti’s voiceover during the beach story recitation—it’s to give you a sense of her yearning and where she really belongs. That’s what the film is about, not some anti-industrial film.
Vitti, perhaps, marries her husband for comfort (maybe like in La notte there once was a love, but now it’s gone) and stability, but they are mismatched romantically (I don’t think Antonioni was taking the time in either film to crtique their class-status at all) as Bose and her husband are in Cronaca.
You’re right to say that Antonioni sees a wall between the couples, but he sees this as tragic (especially in the case of Red Desert) not as proof of an inevitable bourgeois death rattle.
And by the way, Antonioni does not use archetypes in these films. Sandro in L’avventura is an architect who gives up his art for laziness and easy money (as he explains). In La notte, Marcello Mastroianni (Giovanni Pontano) is a celebrated novelist who appears to be quite an average writer (when Moreau reads his letter in the devastating last scene), yet he is convinced of his own talent. Lorenzo in Le amiche is another failed artist: a mediocre painter who is overshadowed by his more talented artist wife (who he takes his wrath upon). It seems to me, with all due respect, that your theory of bourgeois archetypes is more suited to Freud than Antonioni. The characters are just as often artists, though failed, miserable, and frustrated ones. How does that sound for bourgeois archetypes?
There was another point: you said that Antonioni does not let his characters understand what they have done. Vitti comes to figure out (at the end of each film) what her specific problem is in that particular film. Epiphany, Joyce called it. You know, it’s those moments at the end where the characters stare off in concentration and reflect on what they’ve done, or when they break down and cry in a scene of “mutual self-pity.” At the end of L’avventura both the man and woman reach this moment. They realize what they have done—they are crying after all. Not a word is spoken, but they’ve figured it out. After learning of their errors, how can they be expected to repeat them? What in these endings (especially in The Eclipse) tells you that they are doomed to eternity in Ennui Hell? That’s pretty presumptuous on your part, no?
Again, he was not at all some strict, anti-bourgeois, idealogically-obssessed leftist with nothing but hate in his heart for money (“Money is useful, but I don’t worship it,” an Antonioni quote from around the time of Zabriskie Point, no less). He was much, much more complicated than that. Read his many splendid interviews and watch MANY more of his if you don’t believe me.
Please, take another look at his films, you might be surprised by them. Watch some other films of his, like The Passenger. I hope you’ll see then why Antonioni is so respected by myself and throughout the world. Sorry, again if I came on too nastily earlier.
“You’re right to say that Antonioni sees a wall between the couples, but he sees this as tragic (especially in the case of Red Desert) not as proof of an inevitable bourgeois death rattle.Bose’s husband”
I don’t know what happened here. A mistake, I guess. Sorry about that, I wrote that pretty quickly.
I think that my problem is that I sound much meaner when I write than when I talk. It’s humiliating to see my personal attacks in the prior posts that I wrote. That wasn’t my intention, they just almost crap themselves out of me. I hope that you won’t think too lesser of my points because of it.
I’m just vigorous, that’s all.
And once again, I sincerely apologize.
Anyway, I wrote this little “piece” about Antonioni’s work with the film actor and I seem to include it everywhere and in everything that I write on him:
He uses the background to comment on the character. He wants to discuss the character himself, yes. But really: Who needs an actor? Think of him as an artist who draws a figure on a blank page of paper. Most directors cut the figure out and simply hold up that cut-out: the character is there-made present by the artistic intrepretation of the performer. Antonioni is unusual. He draws the figure, yes, he cuts the figure out, yes, but after that he discards the cut-out. It’s of no use to him. He is an abstract painter of the cinema, of course. He uses the blank page with the cut out hole of where that figure was to explain and explore the character. When you think about it: it’s just the same, isn’t it? The cut-out and the remaining page with him missing offer no information than the other to explain the outline of the character, do they?
For example: Alain Delon, Marcello Mastroianni, Richard Harris. All three worked for Antonioni and if yet you were asked which of three was the strongest actor you probably wouldn’t say Delon, would you? But it’s Delon who comes out the strongest because his presence is correct within the frame. He works properly against his space. The stock market scenes and all of the chaos followed by the silences of the night sky with Delon in the foreground give us enough of the character without his help. He really only smiles and shrugs in the film.
Cutting, color, composition, angle, rhythm, movement of the camera, stillness of the camera, tonalities (if it’s in B&W), sound (to which I would include musical backing/score; the musical soundtrack within a scene: on a radio or in a club; tone of voice—he’s a dubber by means, not by choice, at least in Italy; dialogue; ambient sound effects-like electronic music; and “natural” sounds like the blowing of leaves in the wind) all conspire to define that background space. Of course, the Rome of 1961 that Antonioni paints helps inform the characters of Eclipse. It would be the same with Milan in 1960 in La notte, or the island and Sicily in L’avventura, the London of Blowup and so on and so forth. It all has an accumulative effect in defining a character.
Of course, the actor is important too. What they look like, how they are dressed, how they turn their heads in a certain manner, or how they smile—or don’t, how they interact with the space provided….you get the idea. When you watch the films you are both aware and unaware of this activity. All “modernists” have a self-conscious style (apparently Antonioni must be a modernist because every book and article presents him as, “Michelangelo Antonioni; Italian Modernist Film Director”). That’s a basic correlative that is/was common in Modernity.
Oh, I should point that I don’t think that Michelangelo liked the Italian bourgeois by any standard, but I also don’t think that such big social messages mesh well with his “Internal-neorelism” or are even of such great interest to him artistically, certainly post-Il grido.
Um, this is even more off topic and probably deserves its own thread, but……
Has anyone here seen Antonioni’s later documentaries? Sicilia? Or maybe Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale? Kumbha Mela sounds interesting. I wonder which aspect ratio he shot this one in…..
I’d love to see these films or to hear from anyone who has seen them. I think they traveled around in that massive retrospective a few years back, but I missed them.