July 31, 2007
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912 - 2007.Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, whose depiction of alienation made him a symbol of art-house cinema with movies such as Blow-Up and L'Avventura, has died, officials and news reports said Tuesday. He was 94.... Antonioni depicted alienation in the modern world through sparse dialogue and long takes. Along with Federico Fellini, he helped turn post-war Italian film away from the Neorealism movement and toward a personal cinema of imagination.... "In the empty, silent spaces of the world, he has found metaphors that illuminate the silent places our hearts, and found in them, too, a strange and terrible beauty: austere, elegant, enigmatic, haunting," Jack Nicholson said in presenting Antonioni with the career Oscar. Nicholson starred in the director's 1975 film The Passenger. The AP. See also: Acquarello, James Brown's profile for Senses of Cinema, Dennis Yuen's Antonioni archive and the Wikipedia entry. "'With Antonioni dies not only one of the greatest directors but also a master of modernity,' said Rome mayor Walter Veltroni this morning. A quiet funeral is planned in Ferrara, his birthplace in northern Italy, this Thursday," reports Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Also, Penelope Houston recalls L'Avventura's tumultuous reception at Cannes in 1960: "Affronted critics leapt to the director's defence. In 1962, L'Avventura was runner-up in Sight and Sound's poll of the top ten films of all time, coming closer than anything else in four runnings of the event to toppling Citizen Kane from its decennial perch. In 1972 L'Avventura held fifth place, in 1982 it was seventh, but by 1992 and 2002 it was out of the money. This seemed a fair enough reflection of altered attitudes, the eclipse of the European art-house cinema which Antonioni's work exemplified." Further down that same page, John Francis Lane writes, "In the years following his stroke, in addition to making Beyond the Clouds, though impaired in speech and with a paralysed right arm, Antonioni enjoyed travelling and accepted most of the invitations that poured in, attending festivals and cultural events in Italy and around the world, with his wife Enrica always at his side.... Among Antonioni's nostalgic trips, the most moving was his visit to the Taormina film festival in 2000. He stayed at the San Domenico Hotel where he had shot the last scenes of L'Avventura (in which I had a cameo role)." "Ingmar Bergman left in the early hours of yesterday morning. Within a few hours, Michelangelo Antonioni had followed him through the exit door," blogs Xan Brooks: It remains to be seen whether this signals the onset of some art-house apocalypse - some Biblical purge of revered European auteurs - but the omens are hardly encouraging. How are Godard, Resnais and Rohmer bearing up?... If Bergman was the great high priest of the European art-house, then Antonioni was its puckish intellectual. His films were at once more playful and more spare than Bergman's. L'Avventura and L'Eclisse are cerebral, teasing puzzle pictures. Blowup is a roguish, vogueish mystery play. Zabriskie Point offered a freewheeling, anthropological tour of an American counter-culture that - one suspects - never really existed outside of Antonioni's head to begin with. I also feel that Antonioni has aged less well than Bergman. Perhaps it is the fate of all "modernists" to eventually turn antique, or even retro, and through no fault of his own Antonioni seems finally to have been too fashionable, too much an index of his age, so that his cool inquiries can now look a little mannered and arch. Heavens. I couldn't disagree more. Now as we head into the late 00's, the almost standardized "festival film" bears the mark of no other director more than Antonioni's. At any rate, the Guardian has now set up a special section for Antonioni as well. Initial reactions in the German-language papers: Andreas Kilb in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bernd Graff in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Tomas Fitzel in Die Welt. "In a generation of rule-breakers, Mr Antonioni was one of the most subversive and venerated," writes Rick Lyman in the New York Times. "He challenged moviegoers with an intense focus on intentionally vague characters and a disdain for such mainstream conventions as plot, pacing and clarity. He would raise questions and never answer them, have his characters act in self-destructive ways and fail to explain why, and hold his shots so long that the actors sometimes slipped out of character.... 'What is impressive about Antonioni's films is not that they are good,' the film scholar Seymour Chatman wrote. 'But that they have been made at all.'" Coudal Partners points to Charles Thomas Samuels's 1969 interview with Antonioni; that's at EuroScreenwriters, which has another that ran in Cahiers du cinéma in 1960. A few clicks over, you'll find Bergman on Antonioni (in an excerpt from an interview with the Sydsvenska Dagbladet): He's done two masterpieces, you don't have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I've seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that's mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau. In my collection I have a copy of Il Grido, and damn what a boring movie it is. So devilishly sad, I mean. You know, Antonioni never really learned the trade. He concentrated on single images, never realising that film is a rhythmic flow of images, a movement. Sure, there are brilliant moments in his films. But I don't feel anything for L'Avventura, for example. Only indifference. I never understood why Antonioni was so incredibly applauded. And I thought his muse Monica Vitti was a terrible actress. Not one for junket niceties, that Ingmar Bergman. Pix and discussion at the House Next Door. "Last year, BAMcinématek ran a series called The Vision That Changed Cinema: Michelangelo Antonioni, a three-week retrospective in which they screened most of the filmmakers work," recalls Aaron Dobbs. "It gave me an opportunity to see one of his earlier films - Chronicle of a Love, an interesting mixture of Neorealism and American noir. The film is particularly interesting as an artifact of Antonioni's artistic development, showing the glimmers of many of his later themes within the more standard story structure one might expect from a younger filmmaker." "As much as Antonioni's films bemoaned the state of man in the modern world, they never were whiny about it. And as precise a picture-maker as Antonioni was, he was never clinical or antiseptic." Glenn Kenny on why Antonioni's is not a cinema of "alienation": "I don't know if it's objectively better, but my preferred word is 'disengagement.'" I'm posting this in both the Bergman and Antonioni entries: Do read all Glenn Kenny's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Ingmar Bergman," which he posted yesterday; here's "XIII," addressing some of what we're talking about in the comments: "Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman," Michael Atkinson notes. That's partly because nobody can be the new Bergman. And not just for the obvious reason. Unlike a lot of younger filmmakers today, Bergman was a highly, richly cultured individual. He knew the Bible backward and forward, Shakespeare too; fine art, music, and so on. All of his knowledge did more than inform his work - his work is suffused with it, it gains much of its texture and heft from it. Of course, Antonioni is similarly cultured, but his depth in this area doesn't play so much upon the surface of his work; it motivates the form, rather than thickens it. Today's young filmmakers aren't, for the most part, as polyglot. For a lot of them, all the culture they've got is film. And Antonioni's got a signature style that's accessible to them, and seems imitable: shoot some architecture and negative space, have characters disaffectedly utter banalities, and you think you've got it. To emulate Bergman, you've got to know what he knew, and knowing that... go on to be yourself. Dennis Cozzalio on Bergman and Antonioni: "L'Avventura remains for me a mournful, rich and exquisitely moody canvas of sun-baked despair, but in general I'm afraid I value the Italian director's movies more for the influence they have had on directors I revere (Robert Altman, Brian De Palma) and respect (Gus Van Sant, Peter Weir) than for the films themselves." "Some admirers feel that Antonioni didn't have much more to say than he said back in L'Avventura. But nobody ever pretended that he didn't say it beautifully." Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab. An online listening tip from the Shamus: "The great Brazilian performer Caetano Veloso wrote a song called 'Michelangelo Antonioni' for the title sequence and breaks between [Eros'] three segments, and it remains one of the most haunting, absorbing pieces of music I've ever heard." "When watching his films, whether it's the first time or the 58th viewing, there always seems to be something new popping up, some moment or detail you had missed before," writes Blake Ethridge. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: If I had to name a single favorite film, it would most likely be his The Passenger, in which Jack Nicholson plays a reporter who impulsively assumes the identity of a similarly featured dead man - a gun runner - and allows that man's appointment book to dictate his drift through North Africa and Europe. The film was re-released last year by Sony Pictures Classics, and I hadn't seen it in years. My memory of the film was solid, but when I screened it at 20 years old I was compelled by its thinking about the ways in which the Western media represents the third world. The theorist and filmmaker Peter Wollen had co-written the screenplay, and embedded within its story and Antonioni's compositions was an essay on the ideologies of the narratives we create for ourselves. When I watched it again, so many years later, these ideas were all still there, of course. But I hadn't remembered how purely beautiful, emotional, and finally devastating the film is, from its carefree moments of abandon with Maria Schneider in a convertible to Nicholson's concluding, crushing monologue in which, clearly consumed by depression, he recounts the story of a blind man who, after suddenly regaining his sight, becomes disenchanted with the world around him. At the end of this film, Antonioni staged perhaps his most famous shot in which the camera departs the film's deceased protagonist, melts through a wall and, like our world, lives on. Jim Emerson points to a letter written to Roger Ebert in 1999 by Ronan O'Casey. Here's how it begins: A friend recently sent me your column in the Nov 8, 1998 Denver Post about the movie Blow-Up. As I actually played the blow-up in that fine movie, I thought you might enjoy knowing the behind-the-scenes story of how the film was made (or not made, in fact). Your column proclaims it to be a great film, and I am not trying to discredit that opinion. But it is nonetheless an unfinished work, and it raises the fascinating question of how much of the "art" of a final film is intentional - or accidental. Updates, 8/1: "As I watched the attractive aristocrats and climbers in his films mope through their empty lives, a part of me wanted to be just like those people: self-absorbed and miserable, perhaps, but also fashionable and sexy," recalls Stephen Holden. "The ever-acute critic Pauline Kael recognized this contradiction in a famous essay, 'Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties,' which aroused the ire of Antonioni devotees like me. More than four decades later, that contradiction remains unresolved in popular culture." Then: "For all their differences of temperament, Mr Bergman and Mr Antonioni were staunch moralists.... If both had bleak apprehensions of the decline and fall of Western civilization in an increasingly secularized age, Mr Antonioni's vision was more urbane and cosmopolitan." The NYT's also posted a piece by AO Scott on Bergman and Antonioni that'll be running in Sunday's paper: "The two of them upheld, as filmmakers, TS Eliot's observation that 'poets, in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.'... There was, among certain filmgoers in the 1960s, an appetite for difficulty, a conviction that symbolic obscurity and psychological alienation were authentic responses to the state of the world. More than that, the idea that a difficult work had special value - that being challenged was a distinct form of pleasure - enjoyed a prestige, at the time, that is almost unimaginable today. We would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness." "Unlike Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni is poorly represented on DVD," writes Dave Kehr. "He did not have the good luck to make most of his films for a single, state-subsidized production company, and as a result rights to his films are spread around the world and are often difficult to track down." "There's no point in comparing Antonioni and Bergman," argues David Thomson in the Guardian. "There's every reason to wonder whether the climate and culture of film - I mean the extent to which we and film-makers need it, desperately - is likely to go on producing masterpieces. In any comparison between film and the novel, Antonioni may have made films as subtle, as nuanced, as filled with doubt and certainty as the best modern writing. In 1960, or so, I think there's no doubt that the world craved such work, even if they booed it when they saw it. Now? I'm not so sure." For the Los Angeles Times obituary, Dennis McLellan talks with Jack Nicholson, who tells him "Antonioni was in a ranking 'by himself. I don't know how to put this, he's just a maestro, and everybody loved him,' Nicholson told The Times, emotionally searching for words to describe his longtime friend. Describing Antonioni as 'a father figure to me as a few other people I've worked with somehow became,' Nicholson said they had great affection for one another. 'He was a man of joy and impeccable taste,' he said. 'His whole life was dedicated to modestly being a brilliant artist.'" "Unlike his fellow countryman Federico Fellini, who believed in imbuing his movies with as much life as possible, Antonioni was often quoted as believing all existence was meaningless and human interaction a futile joke," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Many found his abstractions more demanding than delightful, and in a new millennial dialectic where all expression - good, bad, naïve, ill-conceived - is outwardly championed, it's easy to see how Antonioni would be ignored. He wasn't flamboyant or foolish. Instead, he was fastidious and arcane - personality quirks often associated with philosophers and fools. And true to his all-encompassing aesthetic, Michelangelo Antonioni was often both." Mathieu Lindon opens today's cover package in Libération. More in the German papers: Christina Nord in die taz, Daniel Kothenschulte in the Frankfurter Rundschau and Christina Tillman in Der Tagesspiegel. "Bergman once staged a memorable chess game with Death, of course, in The Seventh Seal - one of the few films whose every image is invested with such power and inevitability that they seem to preexist the film itself, like carvings in ancient wood or stone - but it was Antonioni who was truly the chessmaster, one of cinema's rare geometric thinkers, possibly its first and without question its most definitive," argues Tim Lucas. "A significant number of today's most acclaimed art-house filmmakers, from Béla Tarr in Hungary to Abbas Kiarostami in Iran to Carlos Reygadas in Mexico to Jia Zhangke in China, owe an enormous debt to the languorous style that critic Andrew Sarris once evocatively termed 'Antoniennui,'" writes Dennis Lim at Slate. "If Bergman was, as Slate's Dana Stevens noted, a master of faces, Antonioni was a poet of landscape." "It has become a cliche to say that buildings and landscapes are as much characters in Antonioni's films as the isolated nomads who inhabit them, but if we are taking cliches to be the contrail of an artist's influence, traceable across the works who kindred spirits who followed, then Antonioni irrevocably changed the way film looked at and used urban and natural space," writes Matt Sussman at Pixel Vision. "Tsai Ming Liang, Pedro Costa, Ridley Scott (specifically Alien), Wong Kar Wai, Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento are some of the directors who come to mind, who conscious or not, are indebted to the way in which Antonioni foregrounded landscape - never letting us forget the topography of the chess board on which he orchestrated his sublime stalemates, again and again." "Blowup is Antonioni's masterpiece," argues Flickhead. "There isn't a bum frame in the entire film." "After a while, life and work and a few laughs turn us all into Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton) in Woody Allen's Manhattan," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door: "I mean, the silence, God's silence... OK, OK... I mean, I loved it at Radcliffe, but alright, you outgrow it!" Surely Allen means us to reject the self-loathing, brittle Wilke, who churns out novelizations of popular movies instead of trying to create serious art. But her comments nail the Bergman/Antonioni pretensions and the mindset that would most appreciate them. She also sees Bergman's "fashionable pessimism" as "adolescent." This hits even closer to the bone. Wilke has a point. Several points, actually. She is also evil. Her pop mindset rules today, and we have to do everything we can to topple it. Paying attention to the virtues of Bergman and Antonioni is definitely a step in the right direction. "I know that Antonioni is often described as a filmmaker who explored alienation, and whose techniques reinforced this," writes Nick Rombes. "But there is such a brightness to films like The Passenger, such a flooding of light, like that you might get right before an eclipse, right before it all starts - as it always does - to go very, very dark." Updates, 8/2: "Goodbye Maestro." Wim Wenders writes a poem in Sicily. WSWS revives Richard Phillips's 2004 assessment of Antonioni's "flawed legacy." "I hate Antonioni films," admits Spencer Parsons in the Austin Chronicle. But: "I can remember scenes and sequences and images by Antonioni better, more precisely, and viscerally than I can recall anything from numerous films I supposedly enjoy." Signandsight translates Arno Widmann's response to Stephen Holden's NYT piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "The quick succession of the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni seemed to fill him with a sense of relief. No obituary of the filmmakers makes it so clear how necessary they were - and how bitterly we will miss them - as this attempt to portray them as spectres of a morose, gloomy old Europe, unable to accept the lightness of being." "Of course, 'Antoniennui' always risks bloated inanity, and no one threw darts better than critic Manny Farber," blogs Max Goldberg at Pixel Vision: Antonioni gets his odd, clarity-is-all effects from his taste for chic mannerist art that results in a screen that is glassy, has a side-sliding motion, the feeling of people plastered against stripes or divided by verticals and horizontals; his incapacity with interpersonal relationships turns crowds into stiff waves, lovers into lonely appendages, hanging stiffly from each other, occasionally coming together like clanking sheets of metal but seldom giving the effect of being in communion... Antonioni's aspiration is to pin the viewer to the wall and slug him with wet towels of artiness and significance. Goldberg: "I find nothing to disagree with in Farber's barrage, though it still takes nothing away from my absolute pleasure in something like Red Desert, a film in which all elements - color, score, composition - align to bring Vitti's lost woman well past the verge of a nervous breakdown." At any rate, "both Antonioni and Bergman were monumentalized long ago. More than anything, their deaths make one wonder if the pantheon itself is passing in today's increasingly fragmented film culture." "Many people I respect feel passionately about Antonioni's pictures, and one could definitely argue that his influence is more evident and more widespread in contemporary culture than Bergman's," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: I've always felt similar reservations about Antonioni's work as I do about Alfred Hitchcock's; in both cases, an extraordinary technical facility seems to put form ahead of content, style ahead of substance. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that for both directors form was content, and that this idea flowed from their most basic understanding of the world. In both cases, my problem is not so much with Antonioni or Hitchcock's movies (which I find powerful and impressive, though hardly ever moving) but with what I see as their baleful influence on later generations. "In Michelangelo's Gaze, the director enters a church and contemplates the statue of Moses by Michelangelo - the other one," writes Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. "Everything is here: the breathtaking use of space, the interlocking looks between man and statue, the subtle soundtrack. The immodest comparison of himself with the Old Master; the poignant physical contrast between the frail filmmaker and the mighty prophet. And, above all, a defiant, almost decadent elegance. The closing credits note that the director was dressed by Giorgio Armani. Naturalmente." The BBC reports on the funeral. Another online listening tip. "Like Antonioni, Scanner is a student of the urban - a realm of aesthetic scholarship that is exemplified by his nightjam.org.uk project." Marc Weidenbaum offer two samples. "I felt a bittersweet shock of recognition while considering [Jim] Cheng's observation [in USA Today] that '[e]ven for those who were not intimately familiar with his work, Michelangelo Antonioni's name was synonymous with art-house cinema of the 1960s and 70s,'" writes Joe Leydon. "Yes. Quite so. Thinking of Antonioni and Bergman reminds me of a bygone era - a time when I came of age as a lover of film - when campus film societies programmed subtitled imports out of the Janus Films catalogue, book stores prominently displayed anthologies of serious film criticism (Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, Judith Crist and Andrew Sarris, etc) and art houses that routinely booked 'the new Truffaut' or 'the latest by Fellini' served free coffee in the lobby to encourage interaction, conversation and an overall sense of a 'film community.'" "Maybe I have a thing for impending mortality, but I find the last works by Bergman and Antonioni to be among the most chilling, compelling and enthralling works that either made," writes Kevin Lee. Of Michelangelo's Gaze, he adds, "The film's nearly silent soundtrack is the polar opposite of the typically chatty Bergman, but in actually it expresses itself in much the same way as Bergman's films do - in gazes. And Antonioni's gaze in this film is without equal." Brandon Harris on Zabriskie Point: In making a film that deliberately jettisoned any notion of fulfilling its audiences' expectations, Antonioni doomed his projects commercial and critical prospects, while leaving a film that merits much greater attention than anyone, including Mr Antonioni's fiercest supporters, has been willing to give it. Zabriskie Point is ostensibly about the highly ambiguous road toward liberative struggle. Its climax, one in which Daria Halprin's character appears to blow up a beautiful cliff bound home, one in which her boss and his partners are discussing their plans for developing the area, before the curtain is pulled back and we understand that she has only imagined the destruction, is both a self-reflexive nod to the crassness of American popular cinema and an earnest indictment of its culture. Mrs Halprin gets back in her car and drives off into the sunset mourning an ephemeral cause that she never truly grasped, much like almost every baby boomer I know.... Since this liberative struggle is something that real life new left groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground could never fully articulate into a coherent ideology and subsequent post Civil Rights films like The Spook Who Sat by the Door or The Final Comedown, both earnest and flawed films made by Black Americans that failed to give much credence to revolutionary action or depict such an uprising with some semblance of verisimilitude, its no surprise that Zabriskie Point fails, both in the conversations between committed, poorly dubbed young people or the larger, highly ambiguous thematic mission of the picture, to sell its vision of a truly radicalized American youth scene to the audience.... What is so ironic about this is that Zabriskie Point became a grand failure commercially and critically at a cultural moment when middle class Americans, entering a new decade that would be rife with scandal and national malaise, had tired of liberative struggle, were moving to the suburbs (Sunnydunes!) in droves and taking up arms, not to rid the country of Nixon or Hoover, but for personal protection from barely perceived, media generated threats (urban crime). Perhaps, Antonioni's greatest "failure" was his most prescient film. Liz Helfgott at Criterion's On Five blog: Working on [the history of Janus Films] with Peter [Cowie] and my colleagues here was incredibly enriching, full of surprises, and one of the most touching was a story told by Janus cofounder Cy Harvey about Antonioni coming to New York with Monica Vitti in 1960 for the premiere of L'avventura, and the director's first encounter with the endlessly dim-witted New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. "Antonioni was very different from either Truffaut or Bergman," Harvey recounted. "He was extremely shy, very emotional. So at ten thirty at night, we walked to the corner, bought the New York Times, and, of course, it was clear that [Crowther] didn't understand it." Crowther's review began, "Watching L'avventura... is like trying to follow a showing of a picture at which several reels have got lost." Harvey, who was distributing the film, remembered, "Antonioni starts to sob, Monica Vitti starts to cry, and the tears are streaming down their faces, and they don't quite understand what's going on." Happily, Crowther's critical influence was more limited than his stupidity, and L'avventura enjoyed a healthy first run. "Who are the heirs to those esteemed filmmakers - some living (such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer), most dead (Bergman, Antonioni, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, many others) - who came to prominence during the post-WWII era, who I would label The Art House Elders?" Joe Leydon offers a "modest proposal." Online viewing tip. Tribeca's artistic director Peter Scarlet reminisces about Bergman and Antonioni. Updates, 8/3: "It was said that Antonioni could be as difficult as his films. Yet on a drizzling January day - perfect Antonioni weather - during production in 1969 on Zabriskie Point, his only film shot in the US, he proved to be unfailingly gracious, open and friendly, and remained so over the years to me even though a 1985 stroke impaired his speech." Kevin Thomas reminisces in the LAT. "So to commemorate the passing of those monolithic, for-so-long-seemingly-immortal titans of 1960's European cinema I pulled out my DVD of... Before Sunset. What?" You'll find an explanation at Memories of the Future. Works for me. "The old-style 'auteurs' are fast disappearing," sighs Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Their impact was once enormous. The British filmmaker Mike Leigh has talked about his experience of arriving in London from Salford in the autumn of 1960 and immediately being 'blasted from here to eternity by the French cinema, the Italian cinema, the Russian cinema, the Japanese cinema, the cinema of Satyajit Ray, etc.' In other words, the cinema of auteurs. His experience was far from unique." "Both directors were old men, and so grief is bested by appreciation," writes Nathan Kosub at Stop Smiling. "Beyond themselves, there is nothing to compare the accomplishments of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni to: not literature, not music. Quite simply, there is nothing that compares to the joy of movies." Richard Phillips, WSWS, part 2. Gerhard Midding remembers Antonioni in Freitag (and in German). "In Europe, when I first came upon Bergman and Antonioni, we called their work films, not movies, and we honoured them as among the great artists of the century," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "This is a difficult concept for us Brits, with our literary and theatrical traditions to contemplate. We tend to find it difficult to admit that filmmakers such as Bergman, Buñuel and John Ford should be accounted along with the best writers, artists and composers of the century." But "long live cinematic art. And long live movie entertainment, too. It is perfectly possible to love Antonioni's L'Avventura and the Carry On movies as well. Or Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Creature from the Black Lagoon." "I've always felt that the people who describe Antonioni's movies as being about ennui, anomie, and alienation are... not wrong, exactly, but largely missing the point," writes Steven Shaviro. "The point being that Antonioni's movies, above all, are about seeing and feeling the world, about the look of things - including when those things seem to look back, or when they seem to look through us, to ignore us." Notes on endings, time and the body follow, and then: "In all these ways, Antonioni gives us his own, highly original and unusual, inflection of modernism. The combination of ravishing (if severe) visual beauty and an underlying despair is, of course, very much a familiar modernist stance or trope. But Antonioni gives it a particular inflection, through the ways his characters are absorbed into a landscape (usually not a 'natural' one) that changes them even as it reflects them: both expresses them and absorbs and digests them." And then, of course, politics: Antonioni's films work as critiques of class relations, and of gender relations, precisely because they don't at all moralize (and also because they don't portray any working class alternatives to the lives of the bourgeoisie, in the manner of the neorealist films that Antonioni was reacting against). Rather, these films draw us into a paralysis, which we as viewers share with the characters whom we are watching on screen. This paralysis is the absurd consequence of what happens when class domination and gender stratification are pushed to the extreme points that they are in a certain sort of (medium-late) capitalist society. The characters' neuroticism, their narcissism, their sterility, is the rigorous 'subjective' consequence of an 'objective' regime of accumulation for its own sake. And then, he gets to his favorite Antonioni film. Must reading. Filmbrain stumbles across a quote that has him muttering, "Oh, Orson..." "[F]ew films yield as much satisfaction upon repeated viewings as... L'Avventura." Walt Opie at the Guru. "Making movies seems to depend on a distinct sort of unstated psychic carnage. I've seen variations of this several times since. Lots of invisible geometries in play. A transfer of unwitting energies to the last man standing. Antonioni, damaged but resolute, would always be that last man." That's John Foxx, just a clip of a generous and thoughtful reminiscence he sent along to Glenn Kenny; Foxx (you may remember Metamatic) composed music for Identification of a Woman. Updates, 8/5: "Of all the other great Italian directors, probably none were so unremittingly secular as Antonioni," writes Peter Steinfels in the New York Times. "His world is severely postreligious, a circumstance that made reflective believers intensely interested in his work, too. For Antonioni, however, the passage from religion was simply a fact; for Bergman it was a struggle.... [W]ere believers, and again Christians foremost, drawn to these directors as powerful witnesses to what happened when God was declared dead? No doubt some religious defenders wanted to employ these bleak visions in a smug apologetic for faith, a greater temptation perhaps in the case of Antonioni, a post-Christian Italian, than of Bergman, an ex-Christian Swede. But for the most part, religious admirers of these directors treated them and their films not as object lessons for nonbelievers about the consequences of nonbelief but rather as revelations for believers about the true challenges of faith." For the Observer's Philip French, Antonioni's "final masterpiece" is The Passenger: "It's an enthralling, demanding movie with a final seven-minute take that is among the most remarkable in film history. Antonioni may have rejected neat conclusions, but his films end memorably - in the case of Zabriskie Point, with one of the cinema's greatest bangs." Then: I met Antonioni only once, at a film festival in Delhi in 1976. He was short, handsome, quietly authoritative. One day I attended a discussion, arranged by Indian TV, for which he was joined on stage by Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa and Elia Kazan. The two Asians towered over the diminutive Occidentals. It was a civilised occasion and the four ended up agreeing that in their different ways they were all humanists. I felt I was observing a moment in history, just as this past week can be seen as the end of an era. Short interviews with Sarah Miles and Peter Bowles follow. "[W]hat I've been mourning these past few days is not so much the passing of these difficult, masterful old men but of the cinematic era they dominated - which sputtered out, its passing largely unremarked, well over 30 years ago," writes Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times. "[T]o an unprecedented degree, we redefined the nation's high and middlebrow culture. In this era, collegiate film studies burgeoned, publishers flooded the market with books about movies and, when I began my career as a movie reviewer at Life, which had the biggest weekly circulation among American magazines, I wrote regularly, without objection from editors or readers, about all the great directors listed above." And they are: "Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, the entire French New Wave (Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Melville) and, lest we forget, the cheeky Czechs of the Prague Spring." Anyway, get this: "At one point, the competition from foreign films grew so intense that the Los Angeles Times, no less, called for a protective tariff on cinematic imports." "Things always look nearer and dearer in pop culture's rear-view mirror," writes the Toronto Star's Peter Howell. Yes, last week was a sad one, he concedes, but come on: "In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a lover of intelligent film, especially if you live in a city as fortunate as Toronto." Via Movie City News. "A glacial anatomist of love, despair and the alienating tropes of modern life, he seemed to come from another country and culture than the one inhabited by Fellini, De Sica, Visconti, Pasolini and Bertolucci," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "In his most creative decade, the 1960s, Antonioni's sensibility as an artist seemed closer to a northern European heritage - Camus, Sartre, existentialism - than to anything Mediterranean." "Michelangelo Antonioni was, if nothing else, a director of moments," writes Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: This is not to say that he excelled at individual sequences at the expense of the whole, or even that he had an abiding gift for dramatic, carefully constructed epiphanies. His unique gift, his genius (to use a word pressed into backbreaking service this week) lay in depicting with immense precision the most agonizing hours of inner torment, documenting on film that which cannot be documented so directly: The moment when an artist begins to know the limits of art; the moment when a marriage can no longer go on; the moment when a man's inanition of will finally reduces every personal illusion to dust; the moment when a revolutionary impulse dies; the moment when loss becomes irretrievable. It was something no other filmmaker, then or now, was capable of. It was literally like photographing heartbreak. Also, an online viewing tip. Antonioni's 1949 documentary, Sette Canne, un vestito. "[H]e seemed to follow fashion as much as set it, particularly in the English-language phase of his career," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Blowup started this, and Zabriskie Point, his one American studio venture, confirmed it; I remember vividly his hobnobbing with Bay Area radical chic types before and during production, and their desperation to be accepted by him." Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker. Online viewing tip. Facets Features has a short clip from an interview with Bergman in which he references Antonioni. Antonioni "was the first true modernist in commercial cinema," argues Time's Richard Corliss. "Pro or con, a filmgoer had to be diverted by the beautiful people in an Antonioni cast: stunners like Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Alain Delon and especially Monica Vitti, the director's mistress and muse for five crucial films. These stars helped Antonioni make anxiety glamorous, passivity photogenic, entropy entertaining. You could say he made 'boring' interesting." "The mystery of L'avventura is not an unresolved disappearance but the unresolved continued existence of everything, of form and of void," writes Chris Stangl. "The puzzle of Blow-Up is not a beguiling amateur sleuth story, but a genre implosion, demolishing the entrance and exit points of detection drama. Not anti-mystery: ur-Mystery." Updates, 8/6: Online listening tip. David Denby for the New Yorker. "It's important to remember that Bergman and his fellow Euro-titan Michelangelo Antonioni, who both died on the same day last week, were big-name commercial directors - who also helped moviegoers worldwide see the relatively young, originally low-brow, populist medium in a new light: as a (potential) art form," Jim Emerson reminds us. "(The Beatles, who in 1964-65 were the most popular youth phenomenon on the planet, even wanted Antonioni to direct their second feature, after A Hard Day's Night!) And if they hadn't been so popular and famous, they would not have been so influential. These guys won plenty of high-falutin' awards at film festivals, but they were also nominated for Oscars in glitzy Hollywood." Updates, 8/7: A little something from me at the Reeler: "[I]f we're to peg Antonioni and Bergman as modernists... there's something missing: the city." "Near the end of the last millennium, I decided to do something difficult and convoluted and thoroughly silly," confesses Jim Emerson. "On this particular occasion I determined to figure out which 100 movies were the most highly regarded at the close of the century.... came up with some complex point scale for rating the movies by the awards and honors they had received, using a mixture of domestic and international, popular and critical sources.... Point of interest: Bergman had three films on the list: Persona (22), Wild Strawberries (66), and Fanny and Alexander (84). Antonioni had one: L'Avventura (8)." The staff at IFC News lists "ten (and more) songs, shorts, movies, shows and novels that pay tribute to the [Bergman and Antonioni's] work." Continued here.
Posted by dwhudson at July 31, 2007 3:49 AM