Sunday, August 05, 2007

41. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's US film "Zabriskie Point" (1970): A film that lost its shine over the years

When I saw the film for the first time in the early 1970s, I was in awe of this film. Visually, it was stunning and the events on campuses in Europe and USA made you relate with what Antonioni was trying to say so well visually in the final 15 minutes of the movie: blowing up in your mind the "tyrannical" establishments and big business interests. It was a not so veiled comment on American values. Antonioni was probably affected by the popular French student uprising in the Sixties, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

The repeated blowing up of the beautiful house in the middle of a desert, the lead female character enjoying the natural stream of cold water, painting an aircraft in psychedelic designs (even the staid British Airways did it a few years ago) are some of the images that were copied by advertising personnel all over the world for decades. Even Pink Floyd increased their fan following after the film was released.

You see this film some 30 years later and you begin to wonder why the same film has lost its sheen. Today, anti-establishment films have more substance--facts, documentation, fine performances, and superb screenplays. Antonioni seems to be out-of-date; a flawed genius. Even viewing Antonioni's Blow Up today gives you the similar feeling that this genius of the 60s and 70s is passe. Filmmakers have learnt a lot from his cinema over the years and brought forth more complex and mature works over past few decades.

Zabriski Point needs to be evaluated for what it was when it was released. It was a great film if you were to see it on a wide Panavision screen as opposed to the dwarfed TV screens. The visual and aural (Mick Jagger, Kieth Richards, Pink Floyd, et al.) allure of the film still remains. The lead pair were not great actors but they were cute and natural. One of them (Mark Frechette) died in prison in USA extending the reality of the non-conformist values he personified in the film. Today, Antonioni seems out of "sync." But watch carefully and you will appreciate the muted sounds of the regular actors--Rod Taylor, G.D. Spradling, the ladies at the swimming pool, the cops at the air-strip. The realistic sounds that you hear well, by contrast, are from the non-conformists. Antonioni was relevant 30 years ago but his grasp of the medium cannot be questioned even today. He knew what he was doing.

Antonioni's screenplays were laconic but loaded with meaning. In Zabriskie Point, his leading lady character Daria says these lines about a river: "There's a thousand sides to everything - not just heroes and villains. So any way... so any way... so any way... so "anyway" ought to be one word. Like a place or a river. So 'Anyway River.' " Interestingly in this film, US playwright and actor Sam Shepard and another interesting screenplay writer Clare Peploe (collaborator and spouse of director Bertolucci) contributed to Antonioni's screenplay.

He passed away this week. R.I.P, Mr Antonioni your contribution to cinema cannot be denied.

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