L’avventura

October 30, 2013

Michelangelo Antonioni’s film of 1960:  one critic said of it that no film has subverted expectations and conventions so elegantly as this one. I guess that’s why it received boos at its first showing in Cannes, although it was later awarded a jury prize.  I first saw it in college – I loved the images – but I wasn’t sure I understood what it was all about.  Is it about anything?  Of course, there’s Monica Vitti!!

In short, some rich parasites who lack social grace take a boat trip to a Mediterranean volcanic island.  One of their party, Anna, goes missing:  nobody seems overly concerned.  They do the right thing and get the authorities, but, well, maybe she was just bored, and ran off somehow.  The story centers on Sandro, Anna’s boyfriend, and Claudia, her best friend along for the ride.  They have an affair.  Seems pretty weird, doesn’t it?  After all, Sandro and Anna were to be … married, weren’t they?

Before the boat trip, Sandro goes to get Anna.  She takes him upstairs to make love.  “Your friend is waiting,” he says.  “Let her wait!”  That’s Claudia through the window.  The characters, and the audience, will do a lot of waiting in this film.

Monica Vitti’s presence dominates the film.  She became a superstar after its release.  Here, she waits, while her friends make love upstairs.

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Anna is a mercurial type.  She ends a pleasant dip in the sea by the boat when she claims to have seen a shark.  Is there something between these two ladies?

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They go ashore on a dramatic little island.  Sandro and Anna argue. The stupid boat passengers pick among the rocks.

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Time to leave, and no Anna.  They all go searching.  The scenery is awe-inspiring.

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Still, guys like this are barely affected by the beauty around them.  He just goes on making fun of his scatter-brained wife and everything else in the world.  Not an endearing portrait of the denizens of la dolce vita. As a critic remarked, in Fellini’s film they at least seem to be having fun:  these people are just bored by everything.

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Claudia and Sandro are of this group, but outsiders in a way.  We learn that he was an aspiring architect at one point, with ideas, and that as a boy he wanted to be a diplomat or a romantic, starving genius.  Now, he’s just rich, with houses in Milan and Rome.  Claudia remarks at one point that she had a “sensible” childhood, that is “without any money.”  Sandro found his way into this circle of decayed noblemen and parasites through business, but we have no clue about Claudia.  I guess being so beautiful might open a few doors, especially in a totally sexist society.

Claudia is genuinely distraught over Anna’s disappearance while Sandro seems to take it all very calmly.  Moreover, he seems uncomfortably interested in Claudia…  And she is not comfortable with her own attraction to him…

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An encounter on the boat before they set off for the mainland to deal with the police and continue the search for Anna: Claudia doing her hair…

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…Sandro coming aboard for his suitcase…

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He makes his move…impulsive…”Yes, absurd…so what?”  He has all the existentialist crap for excuses to her objections that it is just not right, not now…

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He follows her onto a train to try and convince her to go away with him.  She overhears a young provincial coming on like gangbusters to a pretty country girl, and she laughs at the crudeness of his attempts at seduction.  She begs Sandro to leave her be, and he does.  But they get together not long afterwards, continuing their desultory search for Anna.

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Not much to value between men and women.  Here, one of the boat passengers, now in a palace in Sicily, flirts with a young prince to make her husband jealous, a futile endeavor.  The guy’s artwork, simply a device to get women, is utter junk.

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Claudia is rather disgusted by the whole business…

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We may wonder why a sensible and beautiful woman like Claudia hangs out with these creeps, but it’s 1960, and what was her upbringing..?  She is a strong female character, but in a world hostile to women.  In the most powerful, terrifying in a way, scenes of the film, she waits for Sandro while he makes inquiries in a hotel.  Suddenly, she realizes that as a woman unescorted by a male, she is open game for anything with pants.  They eye her like a whore strutting her stuff in a bordello.

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Sandro has his own emotional issues.  He wants to view a church interior, but the town is not set up for tourists.  A local man informs him that “they got a few French here, but they just wanted to go to the beach,” and the locals told them they were not welcome.  Presumably, they were not properly dressed.  Nobody cares about architecture…

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Except for one young man doing a sketch in the piazza…  Hmm…not bad.

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Not bad at all.  Too bad it got ink knocked all over it…  The young man confronts Sandro, but a friend intervenes.  Such is the generosity and spiritual fullness of Sandro’s inner life.

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The school lets out and a stream of young boys in black… some see it as the equivalent of the ink on the paper.  Is that what ruined Sandro’s psychology?  Or is that a better way, now ignored?

Who knows?  Who cares?  Should we care..?  Well, the film is stunning to watch even if we don’t like the people much.

Poor Claudia.  She’s tired, so she doesn’t go down to enjoy an evening of schmoozing with the glitterati at the hotel they pitch up in, but Sandro goes, and stays late.  Claudia goes in search of him through the now-empty rooms, littered with party junk.  He is engaged with a young woman (aspiring actress?  prostitute?  both?) on a couch.  Claudia is shocked and disgusted.  Should she be surprised?

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She runs outside, and Sandro follows.  He sits on a bench and weeps. The film ends with a depressing chord, and Claudia taking his hair in her hand in a gesture of comfort.  This is what she is stuck with, I guess. Pretty sad for all of them.

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What’s the Zabriskie Point?

June 23, 2010

Not a big fan of Antonioni’s Blow Up, so why would I watch another of his English language films?  Because occasionally I feel the urge to see those films that I always heard about as a kid, but never could see.  No DVDs, no VHS, no cable TV…  Zabriskie point is one of those, brought to my attention by a near insane friend of mine.

It begins as an almost vérité exercise in cinema, showing a raucous meeting of college radicals in 1970, planning a strike to shut down their university.  One good looking disaffected participant declares his readiness to die for the cause, of boredom, and walks out.  Later, during a riot, he draws a bead on a cop with a gun, but someone else shoots.  The kid runs, now a suspect in the murder he didn’t commit.  He steals a small airplane and flies to Death Valley where he meets up with a hippie secretary driving to her real estate developer boss’s desert mansion.  They play, they love, he returns to LA and is shot for no good reason, while she, despondent over the radio reports of his death, fantasizes the ultimate in revolutionary armageddon.

The film makes little sense, and it almost laughable in some ways.  Wikipedia reports that it is widely considered as one of the worst cinema disasters in history.  It is amazing to watch at times, however, for MA knew what he was doing with a camera!.   Let’s just say it’s one European’s love letter to the American landscape.

I enjoyed the scenes of the southern California industrial landscape and the street scenes, c. 1970.  Took me back a bit once again.

Some images from the film:

A clever sequence in which some mannequin-like suits watch rushes of some new commercials for their desert homes development featuring dressed up dummies.

Out in the dessert, at Zabriskie Point, in fact, the young couple gets to know one another.  She: “This is such a beautiful place. What do you think?”  He: “I think it’s dead.

The desert is an amazing place.  Cinematography is wonderful.  Aren’t those copulating couples hot??

An amazing house her boss has.  Why does she drive an old Buick?  Is that the good old days of consumerism?

We get to see this several times from many angles.  Must have cost a pretty penny to bring it off so well.

Dreaming?  A girl’s gotta dream!

Your whole world is going too.

Just in case you thought that didn’t include all those books you read!  Background music by Pink Floyd.

Ahhh!  Where there’s destruction, there’s hope.

The sunset, and Roy Orbison’s music heals all.

 


Blown Up

December 26, 2004

Yes, she is very pretty, and she looks a bit cold. Get her wrap, why don’t you? Of course, it’s Vanessa Redgrave in the most famous pose of her career, and of the movie by Antonioni, “Blow Up.” I watched it today, for the second time in about 25 years. I think I saw it in college in a film class, and at that time, I took it moderately seriously. On this viewing, I could only regard the film as preposterous. I wonder, did anyone take it seriously at the time it was produced? A quick look at some reviews online shows that people still do, and so, I assume, did then.Well, Redgrave and Hemmings are fun to look at, and the period styles and mood of Swingin’ London are moderately diverting. Of course the drug use and ‘orgies’ are so tame by today’s standards that one could almost miss them, but that’s not the fault of the film. Problem is, it’s boring and obvious. The protagonist is a self-involved, alienated, artist, and the intelligence behind the film is preoccupied with making rather obvious points about “we see what we wish to see,” and “who knows what is real and what is illusion…?” Were these points not obvious in 1966? If not, we can only say that the film has not weathered the decades well.

Still, watching it, I get a whiff of the stale miasma of the avante garde. That stilted, self-referential intellectualism that leads artists to publish manifestos and make grand pronouncements about subverting traditional conventions of narrative, structure, expectation, yada yada yada. Time and popular culture subvert them instead. And ideas are never an excuse for being boring. And so we have minimal art of the 60s and 70s, which is art, of course, but only minimally interesting. And we have its descendants today, covering gallery walls with text and message, but nothing to look at. I wish they’d all go read Jean Gimpel’s masterly tirade, “Against Artists,” in which he traces what he calls the decadence of modern art to a centuries-long progression down the road of too much philosophizing. Well, it’s one point of view.

Does the avante garde have any currency today? Does it mean anything to anyone outside of the tiny art world, and inside it, is it anything but commercial? I hope not! I’d rather have a lot of sold-out avante gardists than a vigorous Mario Marinetti and his fascist futurist thugs. Lenin was always talking about the vanguard of the revolution, the political wing of the avante garde. Same idea – a small class leads, and receives from on high the nectar of final truth.