(1966) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Before now, I had never seen an Antonioni film, even though he’s one of those big names in cinema, and this film, which I think was his biggest cross-over hit and was available readily on VHS even in the piddliest video stores in the 1980’s, I never saw it. I thought about it a lot of times, but never did. But I often note that nobody has seen everything there is to see, unless they are pure film-geek extraordinaire…and there are those people out there. Anyways…
What struck me about this film really was the cinematography and framing of shots, which were aesthetically beautiful, but so formalized that they draw a lot of attention to the view, the image. Also, the use of music and of silence was striking, setting pacing and punctuating the narrative, again focusing on the visual, the images, so much so that it distances the viewer from the narrative in a connective way.
There is a lot going on about vision, image-making, the camera, all assumingly highly self-reflexive. I can’t say that I’ve made it all out, really. In one sequence, the act of photographing a model is highly sexualized, rather explicitly sexual. Then there is the whole aspect of the “blow-up”, the images that the photographer makes and enlarges to look for the mystery that was accidentally captured. Does the capture create the scene? Did it exist before? What happened when it all disappeared? Because the photographer notably disappears at the end of the film in the final shot. Is the commentary about the potential of illusion (optical or otherwise) in the act of photography?
The other thing that struck me was the modernity captured in the film. Antonioni seems obsessed with the modern aspects of architecture, fashion, music. The camera looks at all of this style, occasionally in stark contrast to the actual city or town aspects of London, which are old and provincial-looking. The use of the Yardbirds and Herbie Hancock on the soundtrack really lock the period perspective. It must have seen very modern in its day, 1966.
Now, it’s an interesting and aesthetically fascinating film that I consider provocative in terms of ideas. It also surprised me because, in reality, I had no sense of how Antonioni films really were. I liked it.