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Posts Tagged ‘Michelangelo Antonioni’

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 numerous books and more than 70 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.

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