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Why does Antonioni's place in the canon sometimes feel a bit tenuous?

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

This an example of what I mean from O’Hehir’s article, Beyond the Multiplex:

<<Consider Brian Baxter’s essay in the Guardian, an apparent eulogy that belongs to the finest small-minded, carrion-crow tradition of English intellectualism. Baxter places Bergman among such “second rung, but never second rate” directors as Antonioni, Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Billy Wilder and Luchino Visconti, who “hover fitfully behind the handful of geniuses — Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, Rossellini — where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism.” >>

Does Antonioni’s work sometimes feel a tad too “arthouse” for some people when placed alongside the work of Ozu, Bresson, Renoir, or even Bunuel? His reputation doesn’t quite seem to have outlasted its divisiveness the way Bresson’s has.

Aaron G.

over 1 year ago

The first rung/second rung distinction in the article seems arbitrary. I’d like to see how one defends why Rosselini is first-rung and Antonioni second-rung.

The problem with Antonioni is that he made so many great works so early, and his later works — although some of them are very good — aren’t quite of the same quality. His early great films also tend to feel a little bit dated (to me) because they are so stylized and were (and are) so imitated.

But I don’t think his place is tenuous, this critic is just making a questionable point.

Joks

over 1 year ago

Antonioni’s influence over contemporary arthouse cinema is probably stronger than every single one of those 5 directors mentioned except for Bresson.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

I’m not seeing the term ‘art house’ there.
where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism
Baxter is just laying down some criteria which are his own and at the same time appear to be the formulaic and conventional “art as truth”.
Where, P+O >= T.
The remedial greatest list approach to criticism is something to be avoided. I don’t know why we would discuss this guy’s opinions – as far as I can tell, the major extent of his work is writing obits.

mubiane​r

over 1 year ago

When I think of a lot of festival films from recent years I think they wouldn’t have been possible without Antonioni. Ceylan for instance. It’s true his Italian films can seem a little dated, but it’s best to try to look beyond that. L’Avventura is the weakest in the trilogy imo. Blow-Up and The Passenger feels less dated, and are equally good as the Italian films, maybe a good place to start for people who don’t know his films that well.

Aaron G.

over 1 year ago

The Passenger is a truly great film, so I emend my comments above. And the DVD that Nicholson had released is one of the highest quality transfers I’ve ever seen (if you are not so fortunate as to have seen a real print in the Antonioni 100th this year). [Blow Up feels the most dated to me — a truckload of mimes!]

David Ehrenst​ein

over 1 year ago

The answer is that Quentin Tarantino has become the standard for everthing.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

The answer is that Quentin Tarantino has become the standard for everything.

That or we have a price list mentality, which is constantly affirmed by the internet.

Fin.

over 1 year ago

Blow-Up feels less dated?

The film so firmly invokes a specific time and place that I find it impossible not to consider films rooted in the mid-’60s without Blow-Up coming to mind.

Many of Antonioni’s films are inscrutable — like life itself, which is perhaps the point. Many of his films are also quite interesting, if fleetingly so. I believe he intended to provoke repeated viewings of his films, even if many of them do not reward repeat viewings.

Juan Perez

over 1 year ago

Only that…Kurosawa SHOULD go in the little list where Ozu, Bresson, etc., belong. Placing AK in the same rank as Wilder or Visconti is ridiculous.

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

But are Pickpocket and Voyage to Italy truly miles ahead of L’Avventura? To me, the three films are on an equal plane, and I don’t see how L’Avventura is any more ‘dated’ than Pickpocket or Late Spring. For the record, every film I have mentioned in this post is arguably a five-star work.

Then again, neither Bresson or Ozu had that one film that dropped like a bomb the way L’Avventura did, so perhaps his reputation only had one direction it could invariably go in.

mubiane​r

over 1 year ago

It’s a long time since I saw Blow-Up, so maybe I have a bad memory. It is of course very 60’s, but it doesn’t have to be dated still. By dated I mean something that no longer works; the film seems stupid/naive/ugly etc., but you feel that it must have looked different when it was new. People think about these things way too much.

El hombre huevo

over 1 year ago

“Kurosawa SHOULD go in the little list where Ozu, Bresson, etc., belong. Placing AK in the same rank as Wilder or Visconti is ridiculous.”

No, Kurosawa is one of cinema’s most uneven major filmmakers. Not even Bergman or Godard made a film as horrendous as The Most Beautiful or The Idiot.

And Visconti is a better filmmaker than Wilder and Kurosawa.

“But are Pickpocket and Voyage to Italy truly miles ahead of L’Avventura? To me, the three films are on an equal plane, and I don’t see how L’Avventura is any more ‘dated’ than Pickpocket or Late Spring. For the record, every film I have mentioned in this post is arguably a five-star work.”

No. But Mouchette and The Age of Medici are. But Antonioni’s best film is The Passenger, anyway…

And Late Spring holds resonance for the sole reason that it comments on states of being that are universal. Calling it ‘dated’ is to misunderstand the critical reception behind the film for the last 40 years.

Matt L

over 1 year ago

I’m not sure how one could say Bresson and Dreyer and Bunuel are not arthouse but Antonioni is. What is meant by arthouse in this case? I mean, would you expect to show Bresson at a multiplex? How about Bunuel at the mall? Or Dreyer in a small town cinema along side The Hobbit? Come on.

If you want to talk influence over the past 20 years of cinema then Antonioni wins over everyone in that list except Ozu. His place in the ‘canon’ is secure unless everyone shuts off their brain and decides to replace him with some contemporary. But if that were the case then everyone else you name is also holding on by a thread. Let me put it this way, if Antonioni fell off the canon then the canon would lose even more meaning.

Jirin

over 1 year ago

Dreyer in first rung and not Antonioni?

IMO Dreyer has three great films, and one of them wasn’t seen till the 80s. The rest of his filmography is above average at best. Antonioni has at least that many great films and a plethora of other strong films as well.

I think the issue here is that not as many people watch Antonioni as before? Of course Harvard Film Archive just showed a month long retrospective for him, and every show was packed, do that many people really flock out to see Ordet or Gertrud?

What is a ‘rung’ exactly? Why do we need a first rung ‘club’ and who decides the criteria for it?

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

Matt L:

I was making a distinction between the ‘simplicity’ of Bresson and the screaming “high modoernism” of Antonioni. That’s what I meant when I said Antonioni was more “arthouse” than Bresson or Bunuel. While I certainly don’t regard Antonioni as a lesser filmmaker than Bresson, the ‘simplicity of the latter certainly seems to be valued in current cinephile circles over the “in your face high modernism” of the former, although the “in your face high modernism” doesn’t really unequivocally reveal itself until L’Eclisse. It’s still reasonably subtle in L’Avventura.

Falderal:

As for comparing Mouchette to L’Avventura, it’s all just a matter of personal taste. I think both films are great. Also, I never meant to imply Late Spring is dated. All I was trying to say was that Late Spring and L’Avventura are comparable in terms of their "datedness’, which essentially means neither film is more dated than the other, at least not in my opinion.

Jirin:

Perhaps Antonioni is more popular than Dreyer in many ways, but pre-Blow-Up Antonioni has never had the mainstream following that either Bergman or Fellini had. If we’re going to discuss the mainstreamness quotient of each filmmaker in question, Ordet won a Golden Globe, and Viridiana won the Palme d’Or. You couldn’t say as much for any Italian-language Antonioni feature.

Juan Perez

over 1 year ago

Antonioni has many masterpieces, beginning with “Il grido” and ending up with “The passenger”; in between he has “Blowup”, “L’avventura”, etc. Plus, he revolutionized the medium, both thematically and technically. But when i say “thematically” i mean that he was one of the first directors to make “plotless” movies, (in this sense, he could be compared with Joyce and Beckett in literature, whose short stories and novels are loosely structured). And his influence in other directors is enormous (it’s quite clear in Kubrick and Tarkovsky -the long tracking shots, i mean). In conclusion….he should be in the canon.

(when he visited Rothko in his studio, he told him: “Your paintings are like my films -they are about nothing…with precision”).

Anubhav Bist

over 1 year ago

I personally don’t believe Michelangelo Antonioni should take a back seat to anyone. Nor should any of the other “second rung” filmmakers Baxter includes for that matter. Of course this whole discussion is subjective, but it’s hard to argue Antonioni’s place considering his influence on world cinema (just look at the films of Edward Yang, Wong Kar Wai, Ming-liang Tsai, Kuji Yoshida, Wim Wenders, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Michael Haneke, and Lucrecia Martel).

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

The stereotype tends to be that Antonioni appeals to the pretentious artsy crowd, whereas a figure like Bresson appeals to the more ‘practical-minded’ cinephiles like Jerry Johnson who wouldn’t be caught dead saying anything positive about a film like Walkabout, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, or La Jetee.

Anubhav Bist

over 1 year ago

Also does anyone else find it odd that in the discussion of “second rung” and “handful of geniuses,” the names Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Kenji Mizoguchi, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, F W Murnau, and John Ford aren’t mentioned?

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

“But when i say “thematically” i mean that he was one of the first directors to make “plotless” movies, (in this sense, he could be compared with Joyce and Beckett in literature, whose short stories and novels are loosely structured).”

At least while adopting the form of the ‘feature narrative film’ as his medium. “Plotless” movies had already been made as far back as the twenties.

On another note, I could be wrong, but from what I gather Antonioni didn’t seem to have much time for pre-20th century art. In any case, it’s hardly a rare occurrence for a great artists to have otherwise suspect artistic tastes. Then again, they’ve earned it.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

@ Jirin
IMO Dreyer has three great films, and one of them wasn’t seen till the 80s. The rest of his filmography is above average at best. Antonioni has at least that many great films and a plethora of other strong films as well.

I think the issue here is that not as many people watch Antonioni as before? Of course Harvard Film Archive just showed a month long retrospective for him, and every show was packed, do that many people really flock out to see Ordet or Gertrud?

Well no, the issue is Baxter’s criteria: where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism
Those criteria are code for art = truth.
The irony of this thread is that so many have alighted on The Passenger as Antonioni’s best work.

The Passenger actually does this:
Antonioni’s narrative discourse falsifies style, fiction, characters and temporal perception and thus dramatizes the Deleuzian cinematic allusion of the Nietzschean “power of the false” notion.

So yeah, given Baxter’s criteria Antonioni is going to be way down the truth scale.

I’ll say it one more time: The remedial greatest list approach to criticism is something to be avoided.

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

Well, great art usually does equal truth, but then the question is, how does one define truth?

Also, how does Antonioni’s work lack “poetry and originality”?

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

that’s clearly a very simplistic definition

Did anyone bother to look up Baxter’s CV?

Maybe his audience is ‘simplistic’.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

“On another note, I could be wrong, but from what I gather Antonioni didn’t seem to have much time for pre-20th century art.”

That’s not the sense I get based on what I’ve read.

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

Okay, perhaps you’ve read more on Antonioni than I have, but I just remember watching some documentary serveral months back where someone who knew Antonioni well was being interviewed and said his favorite composer was Schoenberg and that he dismissed a lot of classical music figures from the 19th century.

Mars in Aries

over 1 year ago

When I think of good, yet second rung filmmakers, I think of the likes of Wenders, Kieslowski, Haneke, the Dardenne Bros., Teshigahara, Malle, Roeg, and Polanski, among others. You know, very good filmmakers who will most likely never be rubbing shoulders with Renoir, Bresson, and Bunuel. I certainly wouldn’t place Antonioni or even Bergman in that former group. Despite Bergman’s occasional theatrics and the dubious thematic nature of his films, he achieved an evocation of mood and atmosphere that only Rohmer and perhaps Truffaut could ever hope to rival.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

I can see the affinity between Schoenberg and Antonioni is terms of non-resolution.

Robert W Peabody III

over 1 year ago

The moon and the sun, cohorts of mood and atmosphere…..

Matt L

over 1 year ago

Mars in Aries
I understand what you mean by modernism. Alain Resnais fits in there quite well. However, that is just Antonioi’s cinematic style. His themes are anything but modern – he usually deals with the loss of spirituality and the loss of the soul and the ennui of existence in the modern world. He longed for getting something back from the past.

Falderal
Not even Bergman or Godard made a film as horrendous as The Most Beautiful or The Idiot.

Have you seen every Bergman and every Godard film? I can’t speak for Bergman but having seen 30 Godard films I can tell you he has made some very poor [bad] films. However, that is not a bad thing. Just because a filmmaker makes a stinker or two it should not prevent them from being in the canon.

Plus, it’s all opinion anyway.

You say Mouchette is Bresson’s best film. I say Au hasard Balthazar or L’Argent.
You say The Passenger is Antonioni’s best film. I say L’eclisse or Red Desert.