director Michelangelo Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni’s only American film, Zabriskie Point, is a portrait of a churning, volatile modern dystopia in contrast with the natural beauty of the Arizona desert. Themes of industrial spoilage of the natural world are evident in other works of Antonioni, most notably to my mind as in Red Desert (1964), maybe because that was the most recent of his films I’ve seen.
But America is wasteland extraordinaire. With its ubiquitous billboards and signage, industrial build-up, the overflowing metropolis of Los Angeles. And the people there are in full foment, radicalized against authority, weaponized but still ineffectual.
When a young radical (Mark Frechette) gets into trouble at a student protest, he escapes by stealing a plane and heading east. He meets up with the free-wheeling assistant (Daria Halprin) of an industrialist bent on converting open space into suburban tracts. Her research in the outer reaches of civilization have her also questioning her role in the world. They connect at Zabriskie Point to the sounds of the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd (among others) in a psychedelic freak out of rebellious surrealism and free love.
The film was criticized upon release for Frechette and Halprin’s amateur skills. Antonioni is drawing on the counter-culture ideals of the time, tapping into youth culture and attitudes that are in step with his own critiques of America and industrialization.
The film is beautifully shot. One shot in particular struck me so much. It’s just a view of an old man sitting at a bar, but the camera comes in through the window in a very unusual way, depicting perhaps another side of America and what America is? I don’t know. Zabriskie Point may not be my favorite Antonioni film, but it’s very interesting.