Michelangelo Antonioni, RIP


Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian director who perfected a style of languid, weary alienation in a series of influential films mostly made between 1960 and 1970, is dead at 94. He died on Monday, the same day as Ingmar Bergman; with Federico Fellini, the three were sometimes thought of as the ruling triumvirate of European art cinema.

Although film lovers endlessly debated his best films, he had only one major international hit, "Blow-Up" (1966). Filmed in London, it starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in the story of a photographer who takes a picture of her in a park with a man, and then later, painstakingly enlarging his work, thinks he may have photographed a murder.

More from Roger Ebert here.

Blow-Up created a still-potent way of talking about the ungraspability of social reality. In that and other movies, Antonioni also helped to make American audiences more cosmopolitan and sophisticated, which isn't a bad thing (to be sure, he could boring too).

Former Reasoner Charles Paul Freund likes to point out that one of the ads for the generally inscrutable Zabriskie Point beseeched the audience: "You figure it out." Which is certainly a different way of selling a movie.

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  1. So how come no columnist here blogged about Albert Ellis, who died last week?

  2. to be sure, he could boring too

    do you mean “bore” or “be boring”?

    As an accomplished prig copy editor, I would advise against the passive voice.

  3. I thought Blow-Up looked amazing. Whatever you think about his way of telling a story (or not telling a story), the sets and characters look perfect.

  4. Blow-Up created a still-potent way of talking about the ungraspability of social reality.

    I must be a philistine. The only thing I remember about that movie was Jeff Beck destroying his guitar while playing Train Kept A Rollin’.

  5. I thought Blow-Up looked amazing. Whatever you think about his way of telling a story (or not telling a story), the sets and characters look perfect.

    But Coppolla’s The Conversation (which is basically a retelling) is a much better movie.

  6. Loved The Passenger though.

  7. I had no idea that the Depalma directed/Travolta starring movie “Blow Up” was a remake until I read this.

    Sometimes, it sucks to be low brow.

    Along the same lines, did you know that purple martins don’t eat mosquitoes at all?

  8. Patrick – different movie – the 1981 Travolta one is “Blow Out” – similar theme, but not a remake.

    No mimes in the park, for example.

  9. Happy Jack –

    Nothing about a nude Jane Birkin sticks out in your memory? Nothing at all?

    Anarchy –

    The DePalma movie you’re thinking of was “Blow-Out”.

    One thing that annoys me about visionary artists taking on genre films is the lack of respect for the genre and the craftsmanship that’s required to bring off a satisfying piece of entertainment. “Blow-Up” was a murder mystery with a great set-up but no payoff. It looked great and it made its point, but it left me wondering whether Antonioni could have made a genuine Hitchcock-style thriller if he had wanted to, or if he lacked the cleverness and discipline to do it.

  10. Are we TRYING to win the title of “most embarrassing H&R comment thread ever” or what?

    Antonioni directed four undisputed masterpieces (L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, Blow Up and The Passenger), and some other keenly interesting films. Can’t we leave moronic comments to NRO (where I believe JPod referred to Bergman and Antonioni as the “masters of bummer cinema”)?

  11. What’s this “we” shit?

    Is there an H&R Posters Union that takes exception w/ my ignorance and wants me reassigned to NRO?

    Tough crowd, this exclusive libertarian kaffeeklatch, tough crowd.

  12. henry,

    in defense of JPod (did I just write that?! Someone kill me, please), they were kind of the masters of bummer films. It’s like saying “Brian De Palma, known for his flashy and kinetic visual style…”

  13. Blow-up had tennis playing mimes. How can anyone say there was no payoff?

  14. de stijl,

    If I didn’t know that JPod and that Goldberg thing went on and on constantly about Battlestar Galatica and Star Trek I might cut him sopme slack. But then when I consider his column on Bergman (in that paper for deep thinkers everywhere, the NY Post), I really can’t:

  15. ok henry here’s your soy grande decaf latte.

  16. How is it that nanny states like Italy produce such great art? The governments must subsidize it or something.

  17. Re Albert Ellis:

    Ellis overtly and often with characteristically acerbic sarcasm stated that devout religious beliefs and practices were harmful to mental health. In The Case Against Religiosity, a 1983 pamphlet published by his New York institute, he offered an idiosyncratic definition of religiosity as any devout, dogmatic, demanding belief. He noted that religious codes and religious individuals often manifest religiosity, but added that devout, demanding religiosity is also obvious among many psychoanalysts, communists and aggressive atheists. He proposed that intolerance of any set of beliefs with which one disagrees is in common with organized religion.

    If the shoe fits, wear it.

  18. I am waiting for the threads where “we” shit on Dostoesky, Tolstoy and the like.

    Hooray for us, the salt of the earth!

    Sometimes a moron is just a moron. That they prefer like company, and seek validation as anything but a moron, is not surprising.

    Let me watch more that great film Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay for–that will get me back in good with the libertarians!

  19. Forgive my typo, Fyodor–you deserved better.

  20. de stijl,

    Well, yeah. Coppola did it. In the 70s. That it was better goes without saying, all due respect to Antonioni. Coppola was in his awesome period back then and acknowledged few peers.

  21. “Hooray for us, the salt of the earth!”

    hey, at least nobody’s shown up to mourn Michelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

  22. “Antonioni directed four undisputed masterpieces L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, Blow Up and The Passenger”.

    These four “undisputed” masterpieces (I am willilng to bet money there are plenty of critics who will, in fact, dispute that designation) also happen to be four of the most boring films ever made. L’Avventura, probably the most boring film ever, could put someone on a weeklong meth-binge to sleep, and it’s nauseatingly pretentious to boot. Frankly, the same can be said for almost all of Antonioni’s films.

  23. I like Blow-Up. As for the rest, my friend the film student said Antonioni was trying to achieve boredom and succeeded. I decided to take her word for it.

    On the other hand, I was down on Fellini for years. Turned out I’d been watching the wrong films. 8 1/2 and La Strada are wonderful films and I have a certain fondness for “The White Sheik.”

  24. Stroll On!

  25. I read one Antonioni obit in which the writer said Antonioni’s great artistic achievement was using bleak landscapes as a metaphor for alienation. If that’s the case, then Antonioni, ultimately, is simply the art snob’s Sergio Leoni.

  26. You can keep all that pretentious shit – I prefer the genre films of the southern Italian filmmakers like Sergio Leone.

  27. yeah, libertarian bloggers only like brazil and whatever else gets listed on “libertarian themed movies” this site or others do. (i am a libertarian) i’m actually not a huge fan blowup or l’adventura but they’re not awful and i like antonioni’s style. basically you do or you don’t. i like fastpaced movie and i like slow movies with a lot of space. i liked the brown bunny. i liked old joy. anyway my favorite antonioni films are l’eclisse, the passenger and la notte. i also have an old tape of zabriskie point which on that way i’ll concede i can’t really disagree honestly with criticism of it but i still like a lot of things about it. antonioni was great.

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