Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” at the cinema.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

After the 1966 film Blow Up became a sur­prise box office hit, and espe­cial­ly after the com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess of Easy Rid­er in 1969, Hol­ly­wood was des­per­ate to grab ahold of the zeit­geist and jump on board. And so Ital­ian film mak­er Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni was invit­ed by MGM to go over to Amer­i­ca and make a movie for them. This is what he pre­sent­ed them with.

Blow Up.

Blow Up.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, Zabriskie Point (’70) is seen as the sec­ond and by far the weak­est of Antonioni’s Eng­lish lan­guage tril­o­gy. An unfor­tu­nate and uncom­fort­able trip to Amer­i­ca in between the twin mas­ter­pieces of Blow Up in ’66 and The Pas­sen­ger in ’75. That’s cer­tain­ly how I would have regard­ed it before see­ing it again in the cin­e­ma this week. And that I think is the key, you real­ly do have to see this film in the cin­e­ma. It’s a revelation.

What­ev­er about the crit­i­cal past­ing that it got at the time, it’s not hard to see why it bombed at the box office. It’s exact­ly the kind of frac­tured, anti-nar­ra­tive por­trait of counter-cul­tur­al dis­gust for con­ven­tion­al bour­geois cap­i­tal­ism that you’d expect from the dar­ling of the Euro­pean avant garde. In oth­er words, it’s exact­ly the kind of film Hol­ly­wood would have claimed it was look­ing for. As ever, be care­ful what you wish for.

Monica Vitti and Alain Delon in L'eclisse.

Mon­i­ca Vit­ti and Alain Delon in L’eclisse.

The rea­son that it makes for such remark­able view­ing today is not because it offers up such a fas­ci­nat­ing snap shot of Los Ange­les as the ide­al­ism of the 60s became sub­sumed by the nihilism of the 70s. Although it is def­i­nite­ly that. Rather, it’s the com­bi­na­tion of Antonioni’s excep­tion­al­ly mea­sured and care­ful­ly con­struct­ed com­po­si­tions in a film that invites con­tem­pla­tion at the expense of a con­ven­tion­al story.

Many, indeed most of the shots are long lens, but in close up. So, say, a man sit­ting at a desk will lean for­ward, there­by going out of frame, before com­ing back into frame as he changes posi­tion in the chair once again. What results is a hyper aware­ness of the frame and of the very tac­tile nature of film, as in cel­lu­loid. You can feel the tex­ture of the images as they unfold before you. And the exper­i­men­tal sound­track, both the use of sounds, and the music of Pink Floyd, the Stones and Roy Orbi­son accen­tu­ate and com­pli­ment the images as they reveal themselves.

Daria Halprin in Zabriskie Point

Daria Hal­prin in Zabriskie Point

The Mon­i­ca Vit­ti tril­o­gy of L’Avventura (’60), La Notte (’61) and L’Eclisse (’62), togeth­er with the oth­er two films from the Eng­lish lan­guage tril­o­gy, Blow Up and The Pas­sen­ger, are con­ven­tion­al­ly under­stood as Antonioni’s mas­ter­pieces. Zabriskie Point can now also be includ­ed in that august list. It con­firms Anto­nioni as one of the two most impor­tant film mak­ers to have ever worked in the medi­um. The oth­er of course was Bergman. And they both died on exact­ly the same day in 2007, on July 30th. But, and I hate hav­ing to say this, you real­ly do have to see it in the cinema.

You can see MGM’s trail­er for Zabriskie Point here. Groovy.

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Some Forgotten Classics (and a Turkey) at Dublin’s IFI Dublin this August.

Dorleac and Deneuve in Rochefort.

Dor­leac, Deneuve and Gene Kel­ly in Rochefort.

The Films Mau­dits (cursed films) Fes­ti­val was begun by Jean Cocteau and friends in 1949 to give peo­ple the chance to have a look again at a few films they felt had been unfair­ly over­looked first time around. This August in Dublin, the IFI hon­ours that tra­di­tion with its own mini mau­dits festival.

Last Wednes­day they screened François Truffaut’s Le Peau Douce (‘64). After the huge suc­cess of his first three films, The 400 Blows (’59), Shoot the Pianist (‘60) and espe­cial­ly the joy­ous Jules et Jim (‘62) this dour exam­i­na­tion of adul­tery was always going to be a hard sell, and they walked out of its screen­ing at Cannes in their droves.

They were try­ing to make a moral­ly neu­tral film about adul­tery in which the man and the two women were treat­ed equal­ly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the man is all too believ­ably ordi­nary, and you’re nev­er real­ly sure what either of the two women see in him.

It is though an all too rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the effer­ves­cent and radi­ent Françoise Dor­léac. Cather­ine Deneuve’s elder sis­ter was killed in a car acci­dent at the age of 25 in 1967, soon after they’d both fin­ished film­ing the insane­ly over­looked The Young Girls of Rochefort, a sort of 12th Night to The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg’s Romeo and Juli­et. Deneuve said she nev­er real­ly got over it.

Monica Vitt and Alain Delon.

Mon­i­ca Vit­ti and Alain Delon.

She, and Nel­ly Benedet­ti as the firey wife, make this film worth catch­ing up on.

On Sun­day 10th there’s a rare chance to see Michelan­ge­lo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (‘62). The final part of his Mon­i­ca Vit­ti tril­o­gy, it wasn’t actu­al­ly this film that caused such con­ster­na­tion at Cannes, it was the first part, L’Avventura (’60).

But let’s not split hairs, any chance to see one of cinema’s tow­er­ing mas­ter­pieces should be grabbed with grate­ful hands. Vit­ti and Alain Delon framed by Anto­nioni, script­ed by Toni­no Guer­ra and shot by the mas­ter DoP Gian­ni Di Venan­zo, who the fol­low­ing year shot 8 ½ (‘63) and then Giuli­et­ta Del­gi Spir­i­ti (‘65) for Fellini.

Nicholas Ray's "Johnny Guitar".

Nicholas Ray’s “John­ny Guitar”.

After the polit­i­cal­ly savvy The Manchuri­an Can­di­date (’62) and Sev­en Days In May (‘64) John Franken­heimer made Sec­onds in ‘66 with Rock Hud­son. Reviled at Cannes, it too has been com­plete­ly reassessed. You can see it on Wed 13th.

Then on Sat 16th there an incred­i­bly rare chance to see Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again. After the mag­is­te­r­i­al John­ny Gui­tar (’54) reviewed ear­li­er here and Rebel With­out A Cause (’55) – and in a par­al­lel uni­verse some­where, there’s a ver­sion of that film with the actor he’d orig­i­nal­ly want­ed in the lead, one Elvis Pres­ley – Ray end­ed up teach­ing film stu­dents at Harpur Col­lege in New York.

He made this with them dur­ing his time there, and con­tin­ued edit­ing it before head­ing over to Cannes, where he dis­cov­ered that the ven­er­a­ble film fes­ti­val there was built on a far more lucra­tive porn fes­ti­val that goes on there lit­er­al­ly under­ground. And so his twi­light years were spent ahem “act­ing”. Which is not some­thing you’ll find on his Wikipedia entry.

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in "Margaret".

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in “Mar­garet”.

On Sun 17th you can see Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s unjust­ly over­looked Mar­garet (’11), which I reviewed ear­li­er here. And if you haven’t yet seen his mag­nif­i­cent You Can Count on Me (’00), lucky you. It’s all ahead of you. Here’s Mar­garet’s trail­er. And, going from the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, the mini fes­ti­val ends with the ris­i­ble Heaven’s Gate (’80), which I reviewed ear­li­er here.

All the above are hap­pi­ly avail­able of dvd. And, the last named aside, they all deserve a re-visit.

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