Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Total eclipse of the art

By Edward Copeland
After Michelangelo Antonioni's recent death, I figured I owed it to him to give him some more chances. I'd only seen three films and of those liked Blowup, was bored silly by L'Avventura and thought Zabriskie Point was just dumb. Now, I've seen The Passenger and L'Eclisse and while I've reassessed Antonioni a bit, I still can't say I've complete warmed to him.

I watched The Passenger first and as big a fan I am of Jack Nicholson and as intriguing a premise as it sets up, it failed to ever hold my interest for long. Granted, the final sequence is a good one, but it seems as if Antonioni was almost too determined not to allow forward momentum to occur for very long.

Why journalist David Locke (Nicholson) chooses to drop out of his life and assume another man's identity is only hinted at and the characters of the two important women in the story: the girl (Maria Schneider) and Locke's wife (Jenny Runacre) get even less development than Locke does.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing to me about The Passenger was that I figured that the DVD commentary track by Nicholson would at least be interesting, but that proved to be as dull as the film itself.

Thankfully, most of L'Eclisse was a different story and it certainly is the best Antonioni film I've seen. Its story is as vague as most of his stories, but there's something hypnotic at work anyway.

I'm hard pressed to use words to describe it, but I know I liked it. It reminded me of my reaction to Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad: Damned if I could tell you what it's about, but boy did it hold me in its grasp.

L'Eclisse works much the same way, though its story is clearer and more straight-forward than the usual Antonioni outing. It's still very elliptical in nature and it doesn't really spell things out, but somehow through the images as well as the performances of Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, you intuitively pick up what you need to.

L'Eclisse also contains something I've never seen much evidence of in the other Antonioni films I've seen: A sense of joy at times as well as energy, though not at the expense of his love of angst and alienation.

The only thing that lessened the experience for me was its final ending, where it suddenly throws in intimations about the atomic age with a suitably odd finish that seems as if it's almost tacked on in a desperate attempt to layer on more meaning than is necessary.

The sequence itself is quite interesting, with its quick cuts and unusual shots that abandon any sense of the story or characters we've seen so far, but at the same time it seems too manufactured as symbolism that, even though I liked the film, seems out of place in this movie.

So now I've liked two out of five Antonionis and L'Eclisse a lot, but my jury's still out on him as a whole.

There's a fine line between pretension and art and it seems to me he erred far too often on the side of the former instead of the latter.

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There's a fine line between pretension and art and it seems to me he erred far too often on the side of the former instead of the latter.
Please tell me you just didn't write that?
I'm sorry, but it's not pretense just because he didn't make Hollywood films. He didn't err at all. He was a filmmaker not a hack who churned out product.
I think you are also trying to hard to figure it all out and catch up on these films too quickly. Antonioni is to be considered and thought about. His films also need to be seen on the big screen. I refused to see L'Eclisse [for 15 years] until I had a chance to see it on the big screen. I finally did. It's my favorite of his now. The Passenger didn't work for me on the small screen. On the big screen I thought it much better.
As I said, of his films, I did like L'Eclisse the best. Only it and The Passenger were his works that I saw recently. Unfortunately, some of us don't have access to theatrical screenings of films like this because of access and other factors. As I wrote, I was into the vibe of L'Eclisse until the very end, which I realize is its most famous part. You'll find I bitch about Hollywood tripe far more often than I do other types of films, but all opinions are subjective. I think he's too pretentious. Sue me. I find too often that movie buffs want to wax on about things they themselves don't quite get so they can attach their own meanings to it and are afraid if they don't play along, someone will find them out. My opinions are always my own. I could care less whether anyone else agrees with me or not. To thine own self be true.
Re-reading my reply, I see it comes off as sounding a bit harsh, but that was my instinctive reaction to yours. I just want to make clear one point that I don't think came off well in the previous reply: Everyone's opinion on a film is just as valid as another. Now, there are degrees, based on their knowledge of the medium, but I don't believe anyone can truly be right or wrong about a film's worth (except for Bio-Dome: anyone who likes that is insane).
No offense taken. I value opinion and it's fine to think what you like. The only problem I have is the use of certain words to describe a director. Pretentious is such a word. While I will agree that many viewers, 'play along' I think that very often our criticisms of a film or a filmmaker should be aimed at critics or the audience because our reactions for or against a film / filmmaker is based on what we are told. Rather than on what we see.
In short, I think people have made Antonioni's work seem pretentious while, in fact, Antonioni just made films.
If a filmmaker makes a statement in a different way than everyone else they are not pretentious. Unless maybe that filmmaker is Oliver Stone - but that's a different issue all together.
Anyway I completely understand access to theatrical screening of these films is limited to cities like LA and NY. I moved to LA years ago and have really enjoyed the ability to see films on the big screen where they look best. [Although I certainly have seen a lot on DVD.]
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