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.

Sign up for a subscription right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the very best and worst in film, television and music!

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.

Sign up for a subscription right or below and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Television and Music!