‘Today would be the hundredth birthday of the cinema’s exemplary modernist, Michelangelo Antonioni, who, from the very beginning of his career, understood form to be the crucial content of his era—and made films that, themselves, had an advanced form of his own design. His fundamental subject is the bourgeoisie and the way that new methods of communication—mainly the mass media, but also the abstractions of high-tech industry, architecture, music, politics, and even fashion—have a feedback effect on the educated, white-collar thinkers who create them. These new ideas have as strong an effect on their creators and implementors as on the world around them, and knocks them off the course of their own lives.
‘Antonioni is also one of the cinema’s great pictorialists—his images reflect, with a cold enticement, the abstractions that fascinated him. That’s why the word most commonly used to describe his view of the modern world—“alienation”—is, rather, a common mistake. Certainly, many of his characters find themselves out of touch with their own desires, their own physicality, and seem distanced from themselves, in search of an anchor of immediate experience and spontaneous emotion. But he wasn’t nostalgic about the premodern; he understood that technology and advanced design arose in response to authentic needs, and that there is at least as much of a problem with the long-established ways that cry out for sophisticated technical improvements.
‘Let’s be specific. There has been a lot of talk lately about the death of the cinema, and one clip puts it in its place. It’s an excerpt from Wim Wenders’s 1982 film Room 666, featuring a remarkably prophetic and sanguine interview of sorts with Antonioni, when he was a young man of seventy who looked with confidence to the electronic future of the cinema. The premise of the film is that, at the Cannes Film Festival, Wenders posed one question to each of his interview subjects, film directors all—“Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?”—and left them alone in a hotel room, in front of a camera, to address it. (By chance, the clip begins with the tail end of Steven Spielberg’s segment, in which he incidentally reveals the same stunted and repressed approach to inner life that dulls his films.)
‘But Antonioni would have none of Wenders’s hand-wringing. He responded by considering “the influence of television”—and adding that, if it seems like a problem, it’s “only because we belong to a different generation.” He talks about “new technologies”—videotape, which, he says, “will probably replace film”—as may other technologies “like lasers, who knows, or others that are yet to be invented,” which will solve the problem “of being able to entertain ever-growing audiences.” He recognizes that many people are attached to film, but that this attachment will eventually vanish. “We should think of the entertainment needs of future viewers. I am not that pessimistic. Actually, I am quite … I’ve always tried to adapt myself to the means of expression characteristic of a certain time.” He mentions that he had already made a film on tape and was continuing to work in video (“I’m sure that the range of artistic possiblities ofered by video will make us feel differently about ourselves”). He understood that with the “big screen” at home, together with “high-definition magnetic tape, we will have cinema in our homes. We will no longer need to go to the cinema.” He knows that the change will be a big one—but “We will have but one option: we will have to adapt.” And he concludes, “My feeling is that it won’t be all that hard to transform us into new men more suited to our new technologies.”
‘He cites his 1964 film Red Desert as the place where he addressed that theme most directly. I agree; it’s his greatest film. It was forward-looking then, and remains so. Antonioni, born on this date in 1912, is younger at his posthumous centenary than are many active filmmakers today.’ — The New Yorker
Michelangelo Antonioni Overview @ Senses of Cinema
MA @ IMDb
French Antonioni Website
MA’s films @ The Criterion Collection
‘Michelangelo Antonioni: stately cinematic master or pretentious bore?’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni: centenary of a forgotten giant’
L’exposition Michelangelo Antonioni @ La Cinémathèque Francais
‘The Mysteries of Michelangelo Antonioni’
MA’s films @ Strictly Film School
‘Where to begin with Michelangelo Antonioni’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni | Ontological Architecture’
MA interviewed by Roger Ebert
MA’s films @ mubi
‘Rethinking Michelangelo Antonioni’s modernism’
‘La vraie vie de Michelangelo Antonioni’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni on the Utility of Mystery’
‘Art/Form: Antonioni at the Cinémathèque Française’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni—a flawed legacy’
‘Landscapes of deliquescence in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert’
‘The Colors and the Spinozist Bodies of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni / Film as Sculpture’
‘Michelangelo Antonioni and the “Reality” of the Modern’
‘The languorous, achingly hip films of Michelangelo Antonioni.’
‘He was a man you could never quite reach’
Michelangelo Antonioni en 5 minutes
Michelangelo Antonioni receiving an Honorary Oscar
My Dinners with Federico and Michelangelo
by Charlotte Chandler
Somehow Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, the two greatest film directors to emerge in Italy after World War II, sparked a rivalry in the public’s imagination that didn’t really exist for either of them. Cinema buffs still sometimes ask, “Are you a Fellini person or an Antonioni person?,” much as they would ask you to make that other necessary creative choice: Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky?
I was a friend of both of these remarkable artists and their wives for many years. I wrote a book about one of them—I, Fellini (1995)—and I hope to write a book about the other, who died in 2007. The truth is they led parallel lives. They began their careers as journalists, and both were skilled artists. Young Antonioni sketched architecture; young Fellini drew cartoons. Both were encouraged by Roberto Rossellini, the genius of Italian neo-realist cinema, who was a mentor at the start of their careers. Though they never became close friends, the two men were very respectful of each other’s work. Fellini’s 1952 film The White Sheik was based on a story by Antonioni, and when Fellini was filming And the Ship Sails On, in 1982, Antonioni visited him on the Cinecittà set. Both directors created masterpieces in black-and-white as well as in color. Fellini, whose fame caught on earlier, made, among other major works, La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), Juliet of the Spirits (1965), Fellini Satyricon (1969), and Amarcord (1973). Antonioni’s finest works include L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse (1962), Red Desert (1964), Blow-Up (1966), and The Passenger (1975). Their films were only rarely in competition, most memorably at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, when L’Avventura and La Dolce Vita contended for best picture. La Dolce Vita won.
“Fellini and Michelangelo were two sides of the same coin,” Enrica, the widow of Antonioni, told me. “People said they were opposites, but they were twins, though they never knew it. My Mickey was seen as a director who wanted to do highbrow films for the few, but he really wanted to make films everyone would love to see, just like Fellini.”
Antonioni once told me, “I believe Federico was more concerned with the outer life of the people in his films. I am concerned with their inner lives—why they do what they do.”
Fellini told me, “I feel my inheritance as a film director is from art, and Michelangelo’s is from literature. My films, like my life, are summed up in circus, spaghetti, sex, and cinema.”
Nowadays is not only us critics who enthusiastically support your work, as it was at the times of L’avventura and La notte. A large part of the public has also shown its enthusiasm for your work since Blow-Up was released. How do you explain this change?
Michelangelo Antonioni: Today, the public has matured and accepts certain themes and/or language without difficulty. As for myself, I would say that, instinctively, I might have found a way to make my films more – how can I say Americans would say exciting, more interesting, but that is not the right word. More precisely, I might have found a way to be less reserved in showing emotions and feelings. Perhaps I have been able to deal with a topic more deeply and even more skillfully. I do not really know. A film – I will never grow tired of repeating it – does not need to be “understood.” It is enough if the viewer “feels” it. To see a film must be an overall personal, intuitive experience, like when one reads a poem. Who would dream of being able to thoroughly explain a poem? Take The Passenger, for instance (I am sorry to keep returning to this film, but this is the film that everyone wants to talk about), or its last sequence, that long uninterrupted take. There is no need for the audience to understand it from a technical point of view; it is enough if they are sensitive to that slow flowing of things through the window, while the camera slowly moves onward.
In The Passenger, however, technique is very important, even if this is not unusual in your films.
MA: It seems to me that there is something unusual here. In general, I have never made camera movements that were not justified by the movements of the characters. Here, instead, the camera moves on its own, as if it had the same interest for objects, landscape, and people that the protagonist, the reporter, has. Why this? It seems to me almost arrogant to answer. I work very instinctively, and the meanings of certain techniques become clear to me only later on. For example, in reviewing The Passenger I ask myself: Why did I film that scene in this way? It will seem strange, but I always find an answer that I have never previously thought of. The presence of a car in a pan, apparently coming from nowhere, might have been suggested to me by the fact that a character without a past of his own, but with the past of someone who is now dead, was riding in that same car.
And I took another liberty – that of approaching every sequence with always a new attitude. If you think of it, it is possible to say that there is no technical unity in the film. Every sequence was fIlmed differently from the others because the content was different. At the end, however, all of these differences seem to me to find a unity of their own. This is, after all, my attitude toward the story I’m telling.
The Passenger was released this year. Apart from the television documentary on China in 1972, your last film was Zabriskie Point in 1970. Why such a long break?
MA: Because in the meantime I prepared two films. One, Tecnicamente dolce [Technically Sweet], took almost two years. The script was ready, I even went location-scouting in Sardinia and in the jungle. Then Carlo Ponti, who inherited the project from other producers, eventually decided against it. He was probably scared that I would never leave the jungle or that I would start painting it.
The other film was inspired by a story by Calvino, The Night Driver. At first it was called The Spiral, and then The Color of Jealousy. It was an obsessive story of a jealous man who every night would leave his own city by car and go to his lover’s town. In order to have a better control of the color I filmed it with a video camera rather than with a regular camera. This time I was the one who was having serious problems with the script. I could not find the right approach, and I gave up. But in the meantime, another year had gone by.
You have stated that your next film will have an Italian subject because you realized that by making films outside of Italy you began to feel uprooted. Can a frame, a language, give you roots?
MA: We are all rooted in a language, in a culture, in an historical environment. In traveling to other countries I have assimilated parts of their culture, while at the same time losing a part of my own. It is somewhat like those writers who spend alternatively six months in the United States and six months in Europe. At a certain moment they no longer know what to write about. That is what I mean when I say that I need to find my roots. I would now like to tell the story of people born and raised in Italy. It may happen that at the last moment this country, which already makes us shiver if we look at it closely, unexpectedly will push me away and make me change my mind. I know, it is not a very original criticism, but it might be original to attempt to love this country even if you despise a part of it. And when I say “a part,” I mean a large group of people, those we see in the streets, in the public places. Sometimes I think I belong to another race.
And your films?
MA: I could answer by saying that my films are what they are because I am who I am. Some say that I am a typical elitist director. The truth is that when I come in contact with art I have a freer, less engaged attitude than most people think. Personal interests are what always move me. All of the characters in my films are fictional, but at the same time they are also real, because reality has suggested them to me. What I need is to hear a line or to see a gesture, a face, an expression, an event, a story. This grows inside of me, it becomes a sequence, the sequence becomes a series of sequences, and then I have a complete story. I’m not too sure how this happens. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I always have to make a film for someone. Not the public, but a specific person – a friend, a woman. It has always been this way, even when I used to play tennis as a young man. If I had a public, I played better. Once, in Bologna, at the final match of a tournament, practically no one was there. I lost the first two sets. Then more people came and I won the next three.
There is something else I would like to add. I wish my films were released more discreetly than the promotion requires. The publicity spots and the billboards loudly boast of how good the fIlm is, and urge the public to go and see it and to admire it. The beauty of a film, when it is there, should instead surface almost by chance, without arrogance, since the purpose of the film is different from what advertising would make it to be.
Does autobiography play a role in your films?
MA: There is only one way to be autobiographical: out in the open, without restraint. That is, one should not regard as private what one writes or puts in a film. One needs a certain amount of shamelessness to do this, and I do not have it. My way of being autobiographical is different, it changes depending on what people I see, what I do, what kind of light I’ve found on my way to work. All these things can influence the way I film or make a sequence. So if certain characters reveal something of myself, I would say that it is natural, and that it would be unnatural if it were not so.
What about tomorrow?
MA: Cinema as it is now is beginning to tire me out. There are too many technical limitations. It is ridiculous to still have to use a regular camera, not very different from what was used thirty years ago, or to still have to go to such great lengths to transform reality to conform to our desires. We cannot completely dominate color or use it as painters do. That is why I have thought of video cameras, and I am still thinking about using them for my next film. Only with magnetic tape is it possible to avoid the compromises that the
development and print laboratories impose on you. On the tape the color can be electrically corrected. It is true that there are many other technical complications, but the advantages are enormous.
You asked me: “What about tomorrow?” Tomorrow could already be today if it were not for the industrial structure of cinema that opposes it. It would be the end of film, of film development and print laboratories, of regular cameras, and of at least a third of the commercial cinema establishment. Do you think that it would be easy to destroy all of this? Among all of the arts, cinema is the one that is most solidly grounded in life, and one would have to begin to change even life. Since, the way it is now, it’s not very well organized.
16 of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 17 films
Story of a Love Affair (1950)
‘After a series of striking documentary short subjects, Michelangelo Antonioni made his first feature, Cronaca di un Amore (Story of a Love Affair), a loose, neutral treatment of a seemingly standard noir subject. Cronaca is much like Robert Bresson’s early Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne—you can detect the future abstract style of the director underneath the conventional material. With these two films, a new type of reflective cinema was born, dedicated equally to the interior lives of actor “models” and the obscure surfaces of the photographed world.’ — Slant
The Vanquished (1953)
‘There’s no gainsaying Antonioni’s sense that there’s little going on in the story to repay attention to the action—but this may be why the director achieved so much with its filming. The characters play second fiddle to the environment in the Italian episode of I Vinti; the actors seem to shrink beside the awesomely looming, coldly oppressive images of modern buildings going up quickly in grandiose modern urbanistic projects. Looking down upon the city through a huge window high up in the revellers’ glossy glass-and-metal apartment building, filming the alluringly pure yet chilling shapes of modern streetlights on a bare new highway, Antonioni foreshadows his great films of the sixties—and the French and English episodes of I Vinti, with their more pointedly worked-out stories, hardly do so. The constraints that circumstances placed on Antonioni’s story-telling pushed him, perhaps unintentionally and maybe even unawares, into a freer, stranger, more probing and more inventive way with the camera. He said of his early films: “I chose to examine the inner side of my characters instead of their life in society, the effects inside them of what was happening outside. Consequently, while filming, I would follow them as much as I could, without ever letting the camera leave them. This is how the long takes of Story of a Love Affair and The Vanquished came about”.’ — The New Yorker
the entire film
The Lady Without Camelias (1953)
‘The third feature film by cinema master Michelangelo Antonioni, La signora senza camelie [The Lady Without Camelias], expanded the expressive palette of contemporary Italian movies, demonstrating that a personal vision could take an explicitly poetic tack; that “seriousness = neo-realism” was perhaps already turning into something of a truism; and that Antonioni would answer to no-one but himself. A riveting ‘behind-the-scenes’ show-business drama, La signora senza camelie explores themes that would haunt its director from L’avventura through La notte and The Passenger — an individual’s tenuous hold on her identity, and the dangers inherent to performance… in life and on-screen.’ — Eureka Video
Le Amiche (1955)
‘A woman friend of mine once insightfully remarked that men show much more compassion and empathy for other men than women do for other women. She claimed that the congenial smiles among a group of women may often belie far less generous feelings. This challenging subject territory – how women see themselves and how they see each other – is what Michelangelo Antonioni explores in his fourth feature film, Le Amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955). Although the film is not so well known today and appeared before Antonioni came to international prominence, Le Amiche features many of the themes and cinematic techniques that characterized Antonioni’s great works that came later. In fact it displays some of Antonioni’s innovative storytelling methods on a narrative canvas that was more complex than that of his later works. Here Antonioni traces the evolving and mutually influencing relationships among a group of young women friends who are all trying to answer the same question for themselves: what do they really want out of life?’ — Film Sufi
the entire film (Italian)
Il Grido (1957)
‘So much attention has been paid to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s films from the 1960s that his earlier Neo-Realist efforts have been overlooked – as if they represented the work of nothing more than a talented tyro. But even though Antonioni was not as consciously “experimental” in his early films as he was in those of his Alienation Trilogy (L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse), and in later classics such as Blow-Up and The Passenger, his Neo-Realist films were both well written and visually accomplished, playing upon the viewers’ emotions and providing them with believable characters and situations. That Michelangelo Antonioni’s film career started out in documentaries should come as no surprise to those familiar with his earlier output. One of the best of the early Antonioni efforts is Il Grido / The Cry (1957), which he also co-wrote along with Elio Bartolini and Ennio de Concini. The nearly two-hour-long black-and-white drama has much in common with Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic La Strada, save that Antonioni’s film is a bit more believable and less patently heart-tugging. Also worth noting, Il Grido prefigures many of the themes that would recur in the director’s later work – e.g., alienation, apathy, anomy – in addition to possessing a political edge lacking in those later films.’ — algft.com
‘A group of rich Italians is on a cruise off the coast of Sicily when one of their number—a moody, unhappy young woman—disappears. Murder, kidnapping, accident, suicide? Her boyfriend and her close 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 to the forefront of the emerging European art cinema. At the time of L’avventura’s premiere at Cannes, in May 1960, he was forty-six and had directed five previous features, all of them interesting but none of them able to massively capture the public’s attention. The premiere was a disaster, with catcalls erupting throughout the auditorium. But the critics loved it, and so—when it went into international release—did wider audiences. With L’avventura, Antonioni’s career was made, and the film is now an acknowledged classic. Forty years ago, the film struck audiences mainly with its freshness, and it can still have that effect today. It surprises with its insights: characters do unexpected things in unexpected places, but in a way that provokes recognition—yes, that does happen, though it doesn’t conform to the way we think things ought to happen.’ — Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
La notte (1961)
‘With understated shifts in perspective, Antonioni captures a world that is subtly yet deeply out of joint. (In L’eclisse and Red Desert, the visual dislocation would be more radical, and the emotional one irreparable.) One sequence in La notte shows Giovanni and Lidia entering his publisher’s office for his book party. As he passes behind a rack of his books and pauses for a mortal instant, his name appears repeatedly in front of him like a caption that’s empty of meaning, an incantation of nonsense sounds that are somehow him and that he’s there to somehow impersonate—an anti-verbal opacity that lends its meaninglessness to the little bricks of words that lie beneath these tags and that also reduces to inanity the suited and dressed, coiffed and elegant, witty and eloquent intellectuals who are there to celebrate him and his opaque creation. The world of La notte isn’t an absurd or meaningless one; it’s one that hides its profoundest meaning in plain sight, that owes its almost incalculable profundity to the immediacy of its visual patterns and abstractions, and that Antonioni both damns and redeems in the same gesture, the same moment, by means of his own art.’ — Richard Brody
‘Michelangelo Antonioni’s mysterious and disquieting 1962 film L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) is a twilight zone of anxiety and alienation in which the director displays his ability to slow time down a stop and allow his characters to wander in an eerily untenanted landscape. He had a knack of making Rome look as empty as the middle of the night – in the middle of the day. Did his film intuit the emptiness of growing postwar prosperity, or just have its own strange vision of the aftermath of nuclear attack? The film really is visionary: it has a gift for unearthly images to compare with Fellini: the crashed car resurrected from the water with the hand of its dead joyrider visible is unforgettable. But it also discloses an enigmatic void in its own strange, hectic little love story: almost as if extraterrestrial forces are preparing this ground for some uncanny incursion.’ — The Guardian
Red Desert (1964)
‘Coming after the trilogy of L’avventura (1960), La notte (1961), and L’eclisse (1962), which confirmed his reputation internationally as one of the world’s leading avant-garde directors, Red Desert is the most ambitious of all of Antonioni’s attempts to ground the condition of our modern existence in a theory of alienation. The alienation in question is very complex, and it is part of the film’s difficulty, but also its achievement and seriousness, that the feelings evinced in its dramatization are so fundamentally contradictory and intractable. For on the one hand, Antonioni would say, the world being created by the advance of technology is undoubtedly beautiful: we see it in the fantastic sculptural shapes thrown up by science and industry—the girders and pipings and pylons that are part of a vast new network of global communications, seemingly reaching to the stars (an early sequence in the movie takes us to a deserted rural building site where the University of Bologna is constructing a massive new radio telescope). On the other hand—and here the pounding soundtrack of the film’s opening ten minutes makes its own inescapable comment—this new world is very close to hell. A wasteland is a wasteland, after all, and if a “new beauty” has been born (how powerfully the film shows that it indeed has been), the phenomenon is shot through with poison.’ — Mark Le Fanu
Blow Up (1966)
‘Made in Great Britain in 1966, the flat-out great Blow Up (in the U.K., Blow-Up) was Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language effort. “Inspired” by Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar’s 1959 short story Las babas del diablo (literally, “The Devil’s Drool”), Blow-Up was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Edward Bond) – in addition to winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the National Society of Film Critics’ Best Film Award. Having first seen the two Hollywood films most influenced by Blow-Up, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) and Brian De Palma’s Blowout (1981), I did not know quite what to expect since the former is an excellent film – arguably, Coppola’s best – and the latter is a solid Hollywood thriller. Blow-Up, for its part, is not only a great work of art but a great work of philosophy as well, one as impressive as Antonioni’s Italian masterpiece, La Notte (1961).’ — altfg.com
Zabriskie Point (1970)
‘Zabriskie Point was to be Michelangelo Antonioni’s greatest triumph, a crowning achievement in an already seminal body of work and a bold affirmation of his commercial ascendance in America. It was to be the Italian-born director’s state-of-the-epoch address, a provocative document of the political injustice, civil warfare, and extreme moral and cultural polarities defining the end of the 1960s. The eagerly awaited successor to Antonioni’s stunning 1966 success, Blow-Up, a stylish mystery and an enigmatic study of naïveté and ennui in swinging, pop-art London, Zabriskie Point was to be nothing less than Antonioni’s portrait of the United States — and by extension, Western society — at war with itself. And it was to be a film made with the kind of financial largess, technical facilities, and corporate indulgence that only a major, old-school Hollywood studio like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in its infinite blockbuster fantasies, could sanction. But just about everything that could go wrong with the project did go wrong, and Antonioni’s great dream would prove to be his worst nightmare. Released in March 1970 after nearly two arduous years in production — a period that included long, exhausting shoots on location in the California desert, pitched battles between Antonioni and M-G-M executives, and a protracted, frustrating search for the perfect musical score — Zabriskie Point was one of the most extraordinary disasters in modern cinematic history. The arithmetic alone was astonishing. Reeling from severe management trauma yet eager to capitalize on the booming counterculture youth market, M-G-M — which went through three presidents during the production of Zabriskie Point — poured $7 million into the film, an extravagant figure for that time and nearly five times what Antonioni spent to make Blow-Up. But where Blow-Up (the first release in Antonioni’s three-picture deal with M-G-M) had taken in more than $20 million at the box office, Zabriskie Point made less than a tenth of that — a mere $900,000 — in its humiliatingly brief theatrical run.’ — phinnweb.org
The Passenger (1975)
‘After the relatively modest results from Zabriskie Point (1970), even Michelangelo Antonioni’s loyal fans may have wondered if his powers of artistic expression were in permanent decline. But with his next feature fiction film production, The Passenger (1975), the writer-director turned away from the political and returned to the philosophical existential themes that had driven such earlier artistic successes, as L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse (1962), Red Desert (1964), and Blow-Up (1966). And on this occasion he was supported by having perhaps the two most magnetic and compelling screen personages of the time, Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. The result was one of Antonioni’s greatest works. Actually, The Passenger initially does seem to have a political theme, since it concerns a television reporter’s investigation of revolutionary turbulence in North Africa. But it eventually reveals itself to be an examination of existential dissatisfaction with contemporary personal and social narratives in our modernist world. So the film very much situates itself within the thematic contexts of Antonioni’s earlier successes.’ — Film Sufi
The Mystery of Oberwald (1980)
‘The easiest way to explain The Mystery of Oberwald is that it is intended to make up for this deficiency in Antonioni’s work when taken as a whole. Oberwald forms a tidy contrast with most of Antonioni’s output—shot on video where his major works are shot on film; tightly paced where Blow-Up and The Passenger are quiet and slow; primarily confined to interiors where most of his films, going all the way back to L’Avventura, indulge a fascination with landscapes and the insignificance of the individuals within them. But the video’s look in its opening moments—grainy shots of a castle interior as thunder and lightning boom theatrically outside and actors gad about in Victorian garb—evokes these stories not so much as the late ‘60s, early ‘70s TV show Dark Shadows. Indeed, Oberwald immediately seems to share much of television’s humble and undiluted desire to entertain. Like Dark Shadows and its ilk, Oberwald is so modest in its means and its aspirations that ten minutes in, you realize that your expectations are going to be dashed. Even though Oberwald is the video creation of one of cinema’s most legendary directors, it isn’t a wild, abstract experiment of the Nam June Paik variety, but a straightforward dramatization of an age-old story.’ — Pop Matters
Identification of a Woman (1982)
‘Antonioni didn’t always produce demanding High Masterpieces. And a perfect example is Identification of a Woman, his foolishly underrated 1982 film about men and women, love and cinema. When it first came out, the responses were furiously divergent—it won a prize at Cannes, got creamed by the New York Times—but three decades on, it’s easier to assess its place in Antonioni’s career. Made when he was nearing seventy, this is one of those autumnal movies—think Rio Bravo or An Autumn Afternoon—in which an aging director allows himself to be more relaxed and genial than in his most finely tuned work. Far from serving up a major statement about the human condition—something Antonioni was never shy about doing—Identification of a Woman comes tinged with modesty and irony. His first feature set in Italy since 1964’s Red Desert, it finds him taking a provisional measure of how the modern world has been shifting around him.’ — John Powers
w/ Wim Wenders Beyond the Clouds (1995)
‘Clouds are magical when you’re young – remember staring up at the sky with your imagination running wild, seeing the endless possibilities of their shapes? But somewhere along the way, we often lose that sense of creativity. For example, watch Beyond the Clouds – the work of an old man who had long forgotten how to look up. The credits list two directors, Antonioni and Wim Wenders, but it’s well and truly the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, the man responsible for the acclaimed L’Avventura and Blowup. At the age of 83 and not long after suffering partial paralysis following a stroke, Antonioni started work on his final film armed with a collection of his own short stories, a half-formed screenplay, a cast full of people he owed favours to, a doting wife to literally call the shots, and with German filmmaker Wim Wenders as insurance. The result is a mishmash. It’s a swan song that recycles his visual and theoretical motifs – some of it works, most of it doesn’t, but all of it is decidedly Antonioni.’ — SCMP
The Dangerous Thread of Things (2004)
‘Eros is a composite film consisting of three short films, two by admirers of Michelangelo Antonioni and the last by Antonioni himself. The first two films in the package, by Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-Wai and the U.S.’s Steven Soderbergh, are both excellent. As is typical of this sort of composite work, the best is saved for last, and it is to that amazing film that I wish to direct your attention. Written by Antonioni and longtime collaborator Tonino Guerra, it is called The Dangerous Thread of Things (“Il filo pericoloso delle cose”), and it is based on a short story in Antonioni’s 1983 collection, That Bowling Alley on the Tiber River. It is from this book that Antonioni drew episodes for his film Beyond the Clouds (Al di là delle nuvole, 1995). Antonioni made The Dangerous Thread of Things when he was 92 years old. He directed it from a wheelchair, to which a stroke has confined him. One never knows, of course, but it probably will prove to be his last film. It’s a brilliant piece of work.’ — Dennis Grunes
p.s. Hey. The p.s. returns tomorrow. See you then.