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Posts Tagged ‘Michelangelo Antonioni’

Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point To Be Re-Released in the UK – But Not The Original Version

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point has always been a problematic film.

After the success of his English-language, British made film Blow-Up (1966), Italian master director Michelangelo Antonioni could pretty much write his own ticket. Blow-Up was for MGM, and so MGM agreed with Antonioni when he decided to do a film about the American counter-culture of the period, but the result was, from many points of view, a disaster. I was working for Life Magazine at the time, and remember vividly Life’s coverage of the final scene in the film, pictured above, in which Antonioni deliberately blew up a huge glass and stone house especially constructed for the film, as a metaphor for the supposed collapse of hypercapitalism, scored to music by Pink Floyd. The sequence, which runs about ten minutes in length at the end of the film, remains an absolutely stunning achievement, as the house explodes again and again from various angles, and then Antonioni moves in for super slow motion close-ups for television sets, refrigerators, and closets full of clothes disintegrating in an unforgettable montage.

But, in all fairness, it must be said that the script, cobbled together by the extremely unlikely group of Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra and Clare Peploe is resolutely clueless in its depiction of the language and values of the era, and while the film remains a visually stunning experience, the narrative and dialogue seem distressingly out of touch, particularly when one considers how well Antonioni did with conveying the ambiance of the mid 1960s London pop scene in Blow-Up. Stars Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin both had almost no acting experience, and it shows, but Frechette is dead, Halprin has moved on to new concerns, and, of course, Antonioni himself is now no longer with us, or able to protect the artistic integrity of the films he once directed.

So it makes it all the more distressing to read the news that there is now a planned re-release in the United Kingdom of Zabriskie Point in the works, but from this article in Variety, it would seem that the distributors of the film plan to release MGM’s recut of the film, rather than Antonioni’s original version. The tip off comes from the brief reference to the film’s soundtrack listing Roy Orbison as being among the numerous pop music artists whose work is featured in the film. I have nothing against Roy Orbison, but his work on the film was done at the behest of MGM, who saw the original cut of the film, hated it, and searched desperately for some way to make the film more commercial, and in doing so, tacked on a song by Orbison, “So Young,” at the end of the film, rather than reprising Pink Floyd’s “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” over the end of the film.

I saw the original version, and whatever other faults the film may have – and they are numerous – the ending seriously undermines the film as a whole, and most importantly, is not what Antonioni intended. While the MGM recut was a hot topic back when the film was first released, generating numerous news stories, most of the coverage of the re-edit has seemingly vanished, except for sites such as this one, at The Criterion Forum, in which one commenter decries the distribution of the recut, noting that “there is a perfectly acceptable film print circulating with the proper music at the end. I’ve seen it about five times in as many years in Vancouver – twice at the VIFC, once at a Cinematheque Antonioni retrospective, and once at the same venue as part of the VIFF [Vancouver International Film Festival] . . .  [MGM] should have educate[d] themselves in this matter and discover[ed] that there are alternate cuts, one vastly preferred by cinephiles and Antonioni fans.”

Are there more important things going on in the world today? Absolutely! But for those of us who care about the cinema, and about the original intent of those who created films that still – more than 40 years after the film’s first release – have the power to amaze and delight viewers, it’s a matter of some concern that this isn’t even being mentioned – especially when the re-issue of the film in UK theatrical sites is designed to tie in with a forthcoming, and supposedly final Pink Floyd album – Antonioni’s cut includes more Pink Floyd than the recut! So why not do the the right thing, get the right print, and put it out there the way the director intended?

You can watch the final destruction sequence in Zabriskie Point by clicking here, or on the image above.

Andy Warhol, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Blue Movie

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Andy Warhol and Viva in a publicity shot for Blue Movie (1969)

Here’s a story from way back in the day; it’s 1969, and I’m covering “underground films” for Life Magazine as a writer, which means I get to go the countless screenings of superb films on a daily basis and write about them – a dream job.

One day, Warhol invited the media to the Factory, then located at 33 Union Square West, to see his latest film, the original title of which is unprintable here. However, suffice it to say that the film was about Warhol “superstars” Viva and Louis Waldon making love in an apartment — owned by art critic David Bourdon — shown in considerable detail. For the time, it was quite a daring project.

In any event, when I showed up at the Factory, we were all ushered into the back, which served as the screening area (the front part of the loft being business offices of a sort, with huge, airy windows – a gorgeous space to work in), and seated in folding chairs, waiting for the film to begin. I look to my right, and who’s sitting next to me but the brilliant Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, and to my left, his leading actress Monica Vitti.

So, pretty daunting company. The film, which runs roughly 105 minutes, starts, in three 1200′ reels; the first reel is more or less conversation between Louis and Viva, shot in the interior of an apartment, using artificial light. But when the second reel comes on, a static shot of Viva and Louis in bed, illuminated only by daylight streaming through a very large bedroom window, the entire image is blue.

Why? Well, Warhol used 16mm reversal film for his movies, and if you were shooting color film in the 1960s and 70s, two of the most popular choices for film stock were Eastman Reversal 7241, balanced for use outdoors; and Eastman Reversal 7242, balanced for tungsten (indoor) lighting. If you shot Eastman 7242 outside without using a Wratten 85B filter, the image would become completely blue; and that’s what was happening here. The only light used was the daylight coming through the window, thus making the final image very, very blue indeed.

Reflexively, I leaned over to Antonioni and said “well, it looks like Andy forgot to put in the 85B filter.” Antonioni looked at the screen, then looked back at me and smiled. “You’re right, of course,” he said, “but Andy doesn’t care about things like that.” I nodded, because Warhol really didn’t care about things like that, and we watched the rest of the film in silence, along with the rest of the audience.

When the film ended — and it’s not one of Warhol’s best, by a long shot — I heard Warhol asking someone plaintively “why is the whole second reel all blue?,” so I told him about 7242, 7241, and the need to use the proper filter to balance the color when you used indoor stock outdoors, or vice versa. “Ohhhhhhh” said Andy.

Long pause. “Well, I guess we should call it Blue Movie.”

True story. Warhol’s genius at “embracing the mistakes” was never more apparent to me than on this occasion, and Antonioni laughed, as well, appreciating the obvious double entendre; a “blue movie” that really was a blue movie. Shortly thereafter, on July 21, 1969, the film opened under that title at the Garrick Theater in Greenwich Village. In his review of the film in The New York Times, Vincent Canby noted that the film was “literally a cool, greenish-blue in color.” Now you know why.

L’Avventura (1960)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Monica Vitti was an iconographic presence in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films of the 1960s, especially L’Avventura, a film that famous redefined the narrative structure of the cinema. Anna (Lea Massari) and her friends go on a yachting trip to an isolated island, ostensibly to have a picnic, and take some time off.

Antonioni builds the film slowly, centering it on Anna, who suddenly and inexplicably disappears. She’s just gone; no one knows what happened to her, or where she went. The other characters, including Claudia (Vitti) spend the rest of the film looking for her, and by the end of the film, we wonder — did Anna even exist?

As Michelangelo Antonioni said of his film,

“The tragedy in L’Avventura stems directly from an erotic impulse of this type: unhappy, miserable, futile. To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse, as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura, is not enough or serves no purpose. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth, which proclaims it is enough for us to know, to be critically conscious of ourselves, to analyze ourselves, in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. The fact that matters is that such an examination is not enough. It is only a preliminary step.

Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic, in remaining loyal to them. Thus, the moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, his adventure can only end in a stalemate.”

To which Geoffrey Nowell-Smith adds,

“A group of rich Italians is on a cruise off the coast of Sicily when one of their number—a moody, unhappy girl—disappears. Murder, kidnap, accident, suicide? Her boyfriend and her close woman friend search for her, but the search turns into a new love story, and the mystery is never resolved.

With this simple, elusive tale, director Michelangelo Antonioni launched himself into the forefront of the new emerging European art cinema. At the time of the film’s premiere he was 46 and had directed five previous features, all of them interesting but none of them able to massively capture the public’s attention.

The premiere of L’Avventura, at Cannes in May 1960, was a disaster, with catcalls erupting throughout the auditorium. But the critics loved it and so—when it went on international release—did the public. With L’Avventura Antonioni’s career was made and the film is now an acknowledged classic.”

You can see the trailer by clicking this link, or on the image above.

Blow-Up

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, with David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, and Sarah Miles, Blow-Up stands as one of the most compelling visions of alienation in the mid 1960s, though it has now become fashionable to dismiss it as a dated pop artifact.

This is nonsense; the throwaway fashion world depicted by Antonioni is as relevant today as it ever was, and Hemmings’ jaded photographer remains the perfect emblem of self-absorbed narcissism, just the right reminder of another era in which evanescent celebrity trumped all other social concerns.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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