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September 29, 2012

The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema

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Michelangelo Antonioni - 1996
University of Chicago Press

I think that cinema, as a form of spectacle, is destined to undergo a transformation in the near future. For years now it has been showing signs of fatigue. In many countries, cinema is no longer able to compete with television, although from the artistic point of view television is at a much earlier stage of development. This is proof that cinema has wasted time following paths which are by now well-trodden. Cinematic narrative has lost a lot of its original character, and it is less and less able to satisfy the demands of today's public. Old formulas are constantly reiterated. Despite the changes that have occurred in the last few years, directors are limited by technology. Forced to respect a series of conventions which influence his style, the director has lost his freedom over the subject of the film, over his own reality.
- Michelangelo Antonioni

What I can be certain of, fifty-two years after this statement was first published, and based on other statements and writing, is that were Michelangelo Antonioni still around to make films, he would chuck celluloid in favor of the latest digital technology. 3-D? A big maybe. A music video made in 1982, when he was seventy, is at heart the work of someone playing with new gadgets to see what can be done, back when computer generated special effects were still in their infancy. Antonioni liked working with as small a crew as possible, and probably would have been intrigued by notion of making a feature with a small digital camera, as Monte Hellman had done with The Road to Nowhere.

What gets repeated in the writings and interviews are how Antonioni improvises on the set, usually taking a half hour or so to be alone prior to shooting to set up his shots, and how he sees actors as part of every aspect of the film he has in mind, doing what he can to get the performance he envisions. One chapter explains in greater detail how the famous seven minute shot in The Passenger was accomplished, just a short time before the Steadicam was made available. In some detail, Antonioni relates what happened before, during and after his making of his documentary on China. There is also some discussion on a couple of films not made during the period between Identification of a Woman and Beyond the Clouds.

Antonioni also talks and writes about his childhood in the small town of Ferrara. Among the surprises is that the filmmaker famous for the ending in Blow Up with the invisible tennis ball was himself a prize winning tennis player in his university days. Also, Antonioni would have made his feature debut with The White Sheik, which instead went to his peer, Federico Fellini. Antonioni also notes having fun shooting second unit work for the Alberto Lattuada's big budget, The Tempest.

One wishes the editors of this American version, culled from Antonioni's original Italian multi-volume published writings and interviews, were as exact as the author. Aside from some sloppy proofreading errors, are mistakes that I have to assume were to be found in the Italian edition. In discussing locations visited for Zabriskie Point, Barstow (California) is rendered as "Barnstone", while San Francisco based filmmaker Bruce Baillie is referred to as "Bruce Belley".

One also comes away with a sense of generosity of spirit, especially towards filmmakers admired including Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, and even Steven Spielberg. Antonioni also shows openness to how his films are interpreted. As articulate as he is about himself and his work, the way Michelangelo Antonioni would best want to be remembered on this centennial celebration of his birth, is to let his films speak for themselves.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 29, 2012 08:18 AM


Nicely put - there were, and are, far fewer open-minded directors than Antonioni, and judging by the remembrances online, he was well-loved.

Posted by: Vanwall at September 29, 2012 03:38 PM