Antonioni, Michelangelo (Vol. 144)
Michelangelo Antonioni 1913-
Italian film director, screenwriter, short story writer, and painter.
The following entry presents an overview of Antonioni's career through 1999. For further information about his life and works, see CLC, Volume 20.
Ranked among the world's great film directors, Antonioni is noted for the meticulous artistry with which he composes his films. Reviewers commend the visual grace of his camera work, his painterly use of color to express meaning, and his slow and thorough probing of the psychology of interpersonal relationships. He achieved the peak of his fame during the 1960s with films exploring issues such as the travels of the Italian Jet Set; the alienation and anomie caused by industrial capitalism; the unreliability of perception; and the loss of identity.
Antonioni was born in Ferrara, Italy, the son of a landowner. He attended the University of Bologna from 1931 through 1935, studying architecture and economics. Between 1935 and 1939, he worked as a journalist and a bank teller. He moved to Rome in 1939, where he reviewed films for Cinema and studied filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografica. He worked with Roberto Rosselini and Marcel Carne in the early 1940s, but was drafted into mandatory service in the Italian army in 1942, which prevented him from continuing to work in film. After the war, he joined with the neo-realists, writing the script for Federico Fellini's The White Shiek, and directing short documentaries and feature films. As early as 1950, with Cronaca di un amore (Story of a Love Affair, 1975), he began to move away from neo-realism and its nearly exclusive social focus, to concentrate on his characters' psychology. With L'avventura (The Adventure, 1960), he abandoned neo-realism entirely for introspective meditations on the interpersonal effects of the economic boom in Italy during the 1960s. After the 1960s, Antonioni continued to make movies but remained out of the public eye. In the late 1980s, he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him unable to speak. Nevertheless, with assistance from German director Wim Wenders, Antonioni directed Beyond the Clouds in 1996, and continued to make movies, directing Destinazione Verna and Just to Be Together in 1999. In 1995, Antonioni was awarded an Academy Award for lifetime achievement. Among his other awards are the Grand Prize from the Punta del este Festival in 1951 for direction of Cronaca di un amore; the Silver Lion award in 1955, at Venice for Le amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955); the Golden Bear from the Berlin International Festival for La notte (The Night, 1961); prizes at the Cannes and Venice film festivals for L'avventura, Il deserto rosso, (1964), and Blow-Up (1966) and the Settembrini-Mestre Award for the best book of short stories, for his 1982 collection That Bowling Alley on the Tiber.
Although he had been working in film since the early 1940s, serving as an assistant to directors such as Marcel Carne, Roberto Rosselini, and Luchino Visconti, Antonioni came to prominence in the 1960s with his own films such as The Adventure, The Night, and L'eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962). These features explore many of the typical themes Antonioni favors, such as the vacuous life of people who betray themselves and the lives of those who have been betrayed. Red Desert depicts the torments of a neurotic woman trying to maintain balance in her life despite feeling choked by the industrial landscape that dominates her surroundings. This was Antonioni's first color film and it highlights (to an even greater degree than his black and white films) his dedication to the aesthetic qualities and purposes of his work. Blow-Up, a meditation on creating and interpreting images, was Antonioni's first film in English, and was set in the swinging London of the 1960s. The film achieved immense popularity, even outside the art filmhouses to which Antonioni's works were usually restricted. His popularity declined considerably with the critical failure of Zabriskie Point (1969), a Hollywood film addressing the emptiness of American culture, and the pain many Americans experienced during the era of the Vietnam War. Professione: Reporter (The Passenger, 1975), a melodrama of third world violence as seen by an Englishman who has subverted his own identity, was the last of Antonioni's films to be given commercial theatrical distribution.
When it was premiered at Cannes in May 1960, L'avventura was booed. Penelope Gilliat, a film critic for the London Observer, wrote that she slept through the film. Two years later L'avventura had achieved considerable notoriety and was widely considered a classic by fans and critics alike. Antonioni's next three films, La notte, L'eclisse, and Il deserto rosso, were fashionable successes in the art-theatres catering to the new European intellectual film buffs. After the success of Blow-Up, Antonioni decided to direct a film in Hollywood, but Zabriskie Point was riddled with difficulties during production. The American crew on the film disliked the way Antonioni worked and regarded the film as “anti-American.” The feature was a critical failure, neither appealing to the popular nor to the art-house audience. Reaction to Antonioni's films has always been divided, but it has never been indifferent. To some viewers, the films are excruciatingly boring and pretentiously empty, lacking in plot or coherence, and luxuriating in neurotic anxiety and amateur profundity. However, others see Antonioni's work as profoundly beautiful and serious, exploring essential questions of identity, morality, and ethics.
Gente del Po [People of the Po Valley] (documentary short) 1947
Nettezza urbana [N. U.; Sanitation Department] (documentary short) 1948
L'amorosa menzogna [Lies of Love] (fictional short) 1949
Cronaca di un amore [Story of a Love Affair] (film) 1950
La signora senza camelie [The Lady without Camelias] (film) 1953
Le amiche [The Girlfriends] (film) 1955
Il grido [The Cry] (film) 1957
L'avventura [The Adventure, 1960] (film) 1960
La notte [The Night] (film) 1961
L'eclisse [The Eclipse] (film) 1962
Il deserto rosso [Red Desert] (film) 1964
Blow-Up (film) 1966
Zabriskie Point (film) 1969
Chung Kuo (documentary) 1972
Professione: Reporter [The Passenger] (film) 1974
Il mistero di Oberwald [The Mystery of Oberwald] (television feature) 1979
Identificazione di una donna [Identification of a Woman] (film) 1982
Quel bowling sul Tevere [That Bowling Alley on the Tiber: Tales of a Director] (short stories) 1982
(The entire section is 138 words.)
SOURCE: “Identification of a Woman,” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 3, Spring, 1984, pp. 37–43.
[In the following essay, Kelly analyzes the moral decadence of Antonioni’s characters in Identification of a Woman.]
Speaking of Red Desert, Antonioni once said that it was not a result but research, an apt description which could apply just as accurately to all his subsequent narrative films, until now. In Identification of a Woman, his first Italian film in nearly two decades,1 Antonioni consolidates and refines the formal and thematic explorations made earlier, blending effortlessly the abstractions of the English-language films with the more intimate milieu and deeper mode of characterization of the Italian films. In addition to drawing from his prior experiments with color, movement, sound, and montage, Antonioni relaxes his strictures on the use of otherwise conventional formal devices by deploying numerous flashbacks and subjective inserts, an abundance of extra-diegetic (“New Wave”) music, a freer use of the zoom, and, most surprisingly, dissolves. The result is Antonioni’s most lucid work, which brilliantly highlights his most pressing concerns, while helping to illuminate further his previous efforts, especially the much maligned English-language films.
The film revolves around the middle-aged, middle-class Niccolo (Thomas Milian), a film...
(The entire section is 4930 words.)
SOURCE: “The Great Tetralogy: Plots and Themes,” in Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, pp. 51–83.
[In the following essay, Chatman analyzes how Antonioni explores “the modern condition” in L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, and Il deserto rosso, using plots “liberated” from conventional narrative techniques.]
If the films of Antonioni’s apprenticeship show diverse and sometimes wayward strands of originality, the four mature films—L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, and Il deserto rosso—constitute a solid core of achievement. Even early on, critics felt that the first three films formed a trilogy. I would extend the group to include Il deserto rosso, which differs from the earlier films only in its use of color but not significantly in theme, plot structure, or character type. About the plight of still another middle-class Italian woman, in another difficult relationship, again at odds with her environment, it looks backward rather than forward to the quite different thematic concerns of the later films. I do not claim that Antonioni intended a cycle of four films, only that the themes, style, and worldview are best understood if the films are looked at as a loose unity.
In the tetralogy, the “Antonionian film,” as the world understands that expression, was...
(The entire section is 14808 words.)
SOURCE: “Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Pirandello’s Shoot!,” in Literature-Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2, April, 1989, pp. 129–33.
[In the following essay, Cole argues that Pirandello’s 1916 novel Shoot! provided more inspiration for Blow-Up than the Julio Cortazar story which is its credited source.]
Although the credits for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) indicate that the screenplay was “inspired by a short story by Julio Cortázar,” essays treating both film and story inevitably conclude that the differences between the two are far greater than their similarities. Cortázar’s amateur photographer takes one picture of a woman talking with an adolescent boy while he speculates on the possible outcome of what he deduces is a sexual “pick-up.” His action interrupts the encounter; the boy runs away; and a man waiting in a parked car is seen joining the woman in apparent anger and agitation. Several days later the photographer, contemplating an enlargement of his picture, experiences, first, shock, as he now reconstructs imaginatively that what he interrupted was an attempted homosexual seduction; and second, relief at having had a role in permitting the boy to escape. Apart from the obvious complexities of Antonioni’s adaptation, the carefully elaborated social and cultural context of “liberated” young people in a trendy, “mod” world,...
(The entire section is 2829 words.)
SOURCE: “Blow-Up, Swinging London, and the Film Generation,” in Literature-Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2, April, 1989, pp. 134–37.
[In the following essay, Lev examines Blow-Up in the context of its “social-cultural moment.”]
Blow-Up must be approached from the dual perspectives of art and commerce. It is certainly a key film in the distinguished artistic career of Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the world’s great film directors. Blow-Up has excellent credentials as an art film: script and direction by Antonioni, based on a story by the Argentine modernist Julio Cortazar, and with an emphasis on theme and visual imagery rather than on genres or stars. Yet Blow-Up must also be considered an entry into the world of big-budget commercial filmmaking: produced by Carlo Ponti for MGM, made in London at a time when that city was exporting popular culture (films, music, fashion) around the world.
The artistic aspects of Blow-Up have monopolized critical discussion. Article after article has delved into the film’s mysteries. The film seems to be particularly attractive to American critics, perhaps because it is one of the few widely admired art films to have achieved extensive distribution in this country. Without denying the interest of Blow-Up criticism, I would like to concentrate in this essay on the film’s economic and...
(The entire section is 2160 words.)
SOURCE: “Homevideo,” in Cineaste, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1990, p. 60.
[In the following excerpt, Jaehne complains that the home video release of L’avventura strips the film of the aesthetic virtues which made it important when it first appeared in theaters.]
Italian cinema is making a come-back, say popular pundits. Some recent Italian video releases allow us to measure how far they’ve come to get back. Perhaps nothing evokes Italian influence more than Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1960, the same year La dolce vita was presented there. These films heralded an Italian avant-garde that soon became synonymous with European sophistication and so influential that they set young filmmakers of all nationalities to avoiding plotline for decades.
L’avventura was a trend-setter, an existential study of moral decay, that made observing behavior more important than storytelling. The film is about manners and morals as they unfold around a crisis, not about the crisis. A perspective of thirty years, however, prompts us to question the way the film cavalierly banishes Anna (Lea Massari) from the story, after taking pains to make her likable—virtually indispensable. Even now, after thirty years of knowing she’s—Fwoosh!—gone: we watch for her return, wonder how her friends will react and compensate for their...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
SOURCE: “Sexual Noise,” in Sight and Sound, Vol 2, No. 1, May, 1992, pp. 32–4.
[In the following essay, Wagstaff argues that in Blow-Up Antonioni confronts the theme of ethical perception and the process involved in separating the “signal,” which ought to be paid attention to, from the noise, which distracts from it.]
From 1960 onwards, Antonioni’s films analysed characters whose world had been put in crisis by some event: the disappearance of a lover, the death of a friend, the end of a love affair, a nervous breakdown—these were the starting points of the tetralogy of The Adventure (L’avventura, 1959–60), The Night (La notte, 1960), The Eclipse (L’eclisse, 1962) and The Red Desert (Il deserto rosso, 1964) respectively. Antonioni used for his analysis sex. Men and women didn’t just make love in his films; love-making was a sign, related to notions of alienation and commitment; it was treated for its meaning, revealing how his characters perceived reality and the ethical choices they made on the basis of that perception.
People tend to think Blow-Up is a lighter film than Antonioni’s previous ones. They think that because it is confusing for the viewer, Antonioni meant it to be ambiguous, and if he meant it to be ambiguous, then he did not mind whether we understood what he was trying to say,...
(The entire section is 3694 words.)
SOURCE: “Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up,” in Philosophy in Literature: Volume II, San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992, pp. 415–420.
[In the following essay, Johnson considers the theme of uncertainty of knowledge in Blow-Up.]
Several friends with whom I recently watched Blow-Up felt the film was dated. I think they were paying too much attention to the clothing worn by the characters (especially the models), the hairstyles, the automobiles and the lifestyles of the central characters; these aspects of the movie made it obvious that it was produced in the Sixties. Still, the philosophical questions posed by Blow-Up are enduring ones: what can we know about events in our surroundings? To what extent can we be certain about empirical facts? In what ways can we be fooled or misled? Does technology help supply answers to these questions?
Prepare yourself for a visual treat. While using no special effects in Blow-Up, except some effective and unusual lighting, Michelangelo Antonioni created a masterpiece of cinematography. The film won the Best Picture Award at the Cannes Festival in 1966; Antonioni received the Best Director Academy Award nomination, and the New Yorker and Life rated the film “best of the year.”
Antonioni was already well known for his unusual camera angles, thematic use of...
(The entire section is 2113 words.)
SOURCE: “The Searchers,” in Village Voice, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 29, July 20, 1993, p. 49.
[In the following review, eleven years after Identification of a Woman premiered, Brown calls the film “beautifully made … bewitching and exhilarating.”]
Antonioni’s last feature, Identification of a Woman, played in the 1982 New York Film Festival but got hostile reviews and never, as far as I know, opened for a theatrical run. I remember the totally dismissive tenor of the notices—they made the movie sound impenetrable and interminable. I assumed I hadn’t missed much. Now a warped and beat-up print arrives for just one weekend of the Public’s summer Italian festival, and I see that we missed something very special. Continuing in the vein of L’avventura and Blow-Up. Antonioni made a beautiful, riveting, very personal film, which reminds me of Vertigo and of a film made around the same time,’ Nostalghia (actually, Tonino Guerra, a collaborator on Antonioni’s screenplay, worked on the Tarkovsky picture).
Maybe it has partly to do with that lean, ascetic, academic visage, but Antonioni has always passed as an intellectual, and he’s probably mentioned (disparagingly) more than anyone else as singlehandedly responsible for some terminally arty cinema of ideas. The truth is that he’s really as compulsive and directly instinctive an...
(The entire section is 910 words.)
SOURCE: “The Night: On Michelangelo Antonioni,” in Raritan, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall, 1994, pp. 83–108.
[In the following essay, Rudman meditates on the world of Antonioni’s films and themes such as creation, obsession, isolation, time, and perception which recur in the works.]
Summer, 1993. The worst heat wave in living memory. I lie awake all night, night after night, in Windham, Vermont, thinking about the floodwaters of biblical proportions sweeping across Kansas and Missouri; the Mississippi swollen, bursting the levees, the farmers eyeing their drowned fields from National Guard helicopters.
I go downstairs and pace the two-hundred-year-old rented farmhouse, stare out the windows and wait for the deer. Torn between ecstasy and exhaustion in the gray of dawn, any thoughts I might have had about a split between the mind and the body are destroyed in this insomniac state.
I had despaired of how to begin an essay on Michelangelo Antonioni until another long night of sleeplessness threw me a line.
I thought of Monica Vitti’s rapt gaze when she looks up as the wind strums the stark white flagpoles against the blackest sky, and of the couples in the trilogy L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclisse, and the photographer in Blow-Up, who stay up all night. It is only in this fragile, indeterminate state that we can begin...
(The entire section is 7960 words.)
SOURCE: “Chance Encounters,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 4, No. 12, December, 1994, p. 61.
[In the following essay in praise of L’eclisse, Peck selects several sequences which show Antonioni’s ability to convey the subtleties of alienation, uncertainty, and dread which characterize “The Atomic Age.”]
I was 15 when I first saw Antonioni’s L’eclisse. It was screened for only one afternoon at the Tooting Classic. I skipped school games to go and see it and as a result got slapped into a two hour detention. The impact the film had on me in 1963 was devastating. It was unlike anything else I had seen, and it seemed to describe the kind of world into which we were moving—it was almost science fiction.
L’eclisse was made some months before the Cuban missile crisis and my memories of it are strongly linked to that terrifying week of nuclear brinkmanship. I think that a premonition of a looming, unidentifiable catastrophe was what made the movie so disturbing. It is difficult to communicate just how frightening that October in 1962 was at the time. We all lived under the threat of obliteration, the end of everything, fini. Subsequent international crises no longer felt so remote, each one could take the world to the brink again, and this time some maniac might press the button.
Antonioni’s film was the first I saw that seemed to be...
(The entire section is 1022 words.)
SOURCE: “Eclipsing the Commonplace: The Logic of Alienation in Antonioni’s Cinema,” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 4, Summer, 1995, p. 22–34.
[In the following essay, Moore discusses Antonioni’s exploration of alienation in his films.]
Talk of alienation in Antonioni’s cinema is more often than not negative. Despite Peter Bondanella’s observation that characterization in Antonioni’s films might not be all that negative, typically Weberian interpretations of disenchantment dominate readings of Antonioni’s cinema.1 I would like to elaborate upon Bondanella’s observation by supplying a theoretical framework, and then, noting some instances from Antonioni’s work, argue that alienation is more accurately portrayed as negativity in Hegel’s and Adorno’s sense of a reflection on value. As an instance of negativity, alienation, in this view, is a positive event promoting aesthetic progress in the face of novel experience.
In Weber’s by now classic analysis of the modern condition, alienation arises when the self becomes disenchanted with the world and retreats into itself, oftentimes to reflect upon its relations with the world and its relationship with others. In this sense, alienation implies a universal dimension to a self that sequesters itself in order to remain constant or faithful to its emotional dispositions and priorities despite alterations in...
(The entire section is 8080 words.)
SOURCE: “L’avventura,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 5, No. 12, December, 1995, p. 54.
[In the following essay, Darke examines L’avventura, and stresses the artistic and cultural innovations in Antonioni’s cinema.]
Sandro, a jaded architect who has settled for easy success rather than professional fulfilment, joins a small cruising party along the northeast coast of Sicily given by Princess Patrizia on her yacht.
Sandro accompanies his fiancée Anna, daughter of an ex-ambassador, who brings her friend Claudia, a young woman not of the same privileged class. The group swim and then go ashore to investigate a volcanic island. Anna is increasingly upset about the inadequacy of her relationship with Sandro. A storm rises and the group prepares to leave the island, but Anna is nowhere to be found. In the ensuing search, Sandro becomes attracted to Claudia who, in turn, is confused by his advances and rebuffs him.
Anna remains missing but Claudia and Sandro continue searching for her. Individually at first and then together, they visit places on the mainland where a woman fitting Anna’s description has reportedly been seen. Struggling with her feelings of guilt and shame and with the thought that Anna is dead, Claudia eventually succumbs to Sandro’s attentions and becomes his. mistress. Their search effectively over, the couple attend a lavish party in...
(The entire section is 1194 words.)
SOURCE: “Antonioni: Before and After,” in Sight and Sound, Vol. 5, No. 12, December, 1995, pp. 18–20.
[In the following essay, Nowell-Smith argues that Antonioni not only created a new cinema, but that his films, even as they age, stay fresh.]
The early 1960s was a great time for cinephiles. There was the old cinema, and there was the new. The old was Hollywood: not the Hollywood of new releases (good new American films were few and far between) but the Hollywood of the recent past—the great backlog of film noir, Mann and Boetticher Westerns, Tashlin/Lewis comedies, all still circulating around inner-city fleapits and in gaunt suburban Odeons on Sunday afternoons, to be hunted down relentlessly by neophyte zealots of the auteur theory. And the new? The new was also occasionally America (Cassavetes) but mainly Europe (Truffaut, Godard, Rivette, Fellini, Antonioni, Fassbinder), shortly to be joined by Latin America (Rocha) and Japan (Oshima). Hollywood, more than Europe, was where films had been made in the past: Europe and the rest of the world was where films were being made and would be made in the future.
Subsequent history has turned this simple vision upside down, and the auteur theory had a lot to do with it. For the auteur theory—a theory, yet—begat (or was godfather to) the movie brats, and the movie brats begat the New Hollywood, and the New Hollywood,...
(The entire section is 3538 words.)
SOURCE: “Still Hazy after All These Years,” in New Yorker, Vol. 72, No. 29, September 30, 1996, pp. 88–90.
[In the following review of Beyond the Clouds, Lane offers a melancholy tribute to Antonioni’s films, and to art films in general.]
In the fog of an Italian town, a handsome young man falls in love with a beautiful young woman. He tries to kiss her. When this fails, he tells her, “I’m a drainagepump technician.” Amazingly, this approach, too, is unsuccessful. They spend the night in the same hotel, but in separate rooms. She undresses and waits for him, in vain. In the morning, she is gone. A voice informs us, “They never met again.” Two years later, they meet again. By chance, they attend the same movie. Afterward, she brings him up to date. “I’ve been wondering recently why I have such a need to hear words,” she says. He feels differently. “I’m enslaved by your silence,” he says. At last they go to bed, where his desire is so perfect that he cannot possibly spoil it by actually making love. He leaves. Whether they ever meet again is unclear. Only one thing is certain: we have been watching a Michelangelo Antonioni film.
Beyond the Clouds, which plays at the New York Film Festival on September 28th and 29th, could well be Antonioni’s final work. I hope that I’m wrong about this, but the man is turning eighty-four next week, and is...
(The entire section is 1870 words.)
SOURCE: “Beyond the Clouds,” in New Republic, Vol. 215, No. 18, October 28, 1996, p. 30.
[In the following review, Kauffmann laments the fact that Beyond the Clouds had trouble finding a distributor, even though he does not regard the film as “first rank Antonioni.”]
The latest work by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the premier artists in the world history of film, is Beyond the Clouds. I put no distributor after the title because, as yet, it has none for this country, although one is said to been route. The picture was shown at the recent New York Film Festival. As one who has severely questioned that festival, I must note that it has shown all three of Antonioni’s films since The Passenger (1975). The two others were The Mystery of Oberwald (1980), adapted from a Cocteau play (one of only three films in Antonioni’s career adapted from other people’s material) and Identification of a Woman (1982). None of the three most recent films has yet been released here. One doesn’t have to believe that they are first-rank Antonioni in order to shudder at a system in which new works by a major artist are, so to speak, not acknowledged to exist.
Antonioni was 83 when he made Beyond the Clouds and, because of a stroke in 1985, paralyzed down his right side. He cannot speak. (I once had a ninety-minute conversation with him on PBS. When he...
(The entire section is 1459 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema, in Film Criticism, Vol. 32, No. 2, Winter, 1997, p. 66.
[In the following review, Harrison argues that this collection of Antonioni's writing illuminates the filmmaker's objectives and emphasizes the limitations of theory.]
It is difficult to overestimate the pleasures of having access, in one splendid volume, to Michelangelo Antonioni’s collected writings on film. So much remains unsaid in the work of Italy’s most intellectual director that the desire to be privy to his thoughts tends to be greater than with, say, Fellini, Pasolini, or Bertolucci. Antonioni has remained more silent in the print media than they. His films pose more problems of comprehension, often circling around unsolvable conundrums (e.g., what happened to Anna in L’avventura). His work, in his own words, records “abortions of observation” more frequently than full-fledged visions. The most abstract of Italian film-makers, Antonioni is also the most experimental, using techniques that share as much with poetry and painting as with filmic narration. To make matters even more puzzling, one senses a deep philosophical subcurrent to his dramas of human incomprehension, calling out for the clarifying texts of a Sartre or Camus, if not for treatises on perception and film theory itself.
With The Architecture of...
(The entire section is 2355 words.)
SOURCE: “Fulfilled by the Folly of the City,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4,894, January 17, 1997, p. 15.
[In the following review, Pizzichini links Beyond the Clouds thematically, narratively, and stylistically to Antonioni’s earlier films.]
It is fourteen years since Michelangelo Antonioni’s last film, Identification of a Woman; now, at the age of eighty-four, he has completed Beyond the Clouds, a kind of final reckoning, in which the veteran director, though wheelchair-bound and unable to speak since his stroke in 1985, addresses the chilling ennui of his earlier work—and moves beyond it. Based on autobiographical pieces (published as Quel bowling sul Tevere in 1983), the film’s four stories recall unsuccessful relationships. As a concession to the film’s backers, Beyond the Clouds has been made with Wim Wenders’s assistance. His contribution is a series of linking episodes that feature John Malkovich as a nameless film director who, camera in hand, travels across Europe in search of characters. In effect, he plays Antonioni, trawling through his memories in order to furnish a film.
Beyond the Clouds opens with Malkovich above Ferrara, Antonioni’s birthplace, in an aeroplane. It is the “folly of the city,” he tells us, that a love affair that lasts for years, without ever existing, should take place there....
(The entire section is 718 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Beyond the Clouds, in Film Comment, Vol. 33, No. 3, May-June, 1997, p. 59.
[In the following review, Hogue praises Beyond the Clouds for its unity and “combination of present-tense immediacy and timeless detachment.”]
Beyond the Clouds is the work of a great director. It is one of the major films of the decade. But as of this writing, it has no announced American distribution. That this is a late work of the man who made L’avventura,Red Desert, Blow-Up, The Passenger, and many more is enough by itself to make the film worthy of serious and widespread interest, but it more than stands on its own as an example of inspired contemporary film art. Indeed, Michelangelo Antonioni’s accomplishments seem all the greater when we consider that he has brought this film off in the middle of his ninth decade and despite the disabilities from a stroke suffered in the 1980s.
Produced in collaboration with Wim Wenders, the film consists of four episodes, all based on stories in Antonioni’s book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber: Tales of a Director, and directed by Antonioni himself, with linking sequences (including a prologue and an epilogue) shot by Wenders. This episodic structure and the piecemeal nature of the filming might seem to augur a somewhat scattered film, a loose-structured anthology, say, or even a mere...
(The entire section is 2565 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema, in Film Quarterly, Summer, 1997, pp. 38–40.
[In the following review, Chatman draws on Antonioni’s writing to describe how the filmmaker worked as a director.]
Antonioni was an active cinema critic in the 30s and 40s, but stopped writing about other directors’ work after making his own first film, Story of a Love Affair (1950). From then until his debilitating stroke in 1985, he wrote a number of short pieces and gave many interviews; two particularly, at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematographia; are of such importance and influence that the editors call them “oral writings” and include them among the essays of the first section of this book [The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema,], “My Cinema.” Section 2 contains writings by Antonioni on several of his own films (from Attempted Suicide  to The Mystery of Oberwald ). Section 3 reprints other interviews of a general nature, and 4, interviews on specific films, from Story of a Love Affair (1950) to Identification of a Woman (1982). Many of these pieces have already appeared in English, but they lie scattered among a variety of journals, and it is useful to have them assembled in one volume. Perhaps inevitably, such assemblage leads to some repetitiousness. But that is as much...
(The entire section is 1690 words.)
SOURCE: “Antonioni in 1980: An Interview,” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 1, Fall, 1997, pp. 2–10.
[In the following interview, conducted in 1980, Chatman discusses with Antonioni the filmmaker's body of work.]
I recently unearthed the tape of an interview I had with Michelangelo Antonioni in November 1980, recorded as I was preparing my book, Antonioni, or the Surface of the World. Antonioni invited me to his beautiful apartment on the Tiber. He was warm, friendly, open, and always candid. The interview was partly in English and partly in Italian.1 For this publication, Antonioni graciously allowed me to reproduce some of his own drawings and texts.
[Chatman:] In your early, “apprentice” films of the 1950s (the documentaries, and Cronaca di un amore, I Vinti, La signora senza camelie, and Le amiche) were you working within the genres or were you trying to work your way out of them? You wanted to make a film, Cronaca di un amore, so you made a giallo, a film noir.
[Antonioni:] Yes, but it happened without my willing it; I just wanted to tell that story. I didn’t want to demonstrate anything with my movies, you know … not to start from an idea and to explain to the audience that this is my idea, that I want to tell you this and this. I just wanted to tell a story and depict the emotions it...
(The entire section is 3596 words.)
SOURCE: “Introduction,” in The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 1–27.
[In the following essay, Brunette surveys Antonioni’s career and various critical responses to his work.]
Michelangelo Antonioni, who first gained prominence on the international cinema scene in the 1960s, has become the very symbol of that increasingly rare form, the art film, and of all that the cinema has ever sought to achieve beyond mere entertainment. Along with the films of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, the directors of the French New Wave, and a few others, Antonioni’s films were, during the 1960s, absolutely essential to the cultural life of the educated elite around the world. His work, especially, has carried both the cachet and the condemnation of being particularly “artistic”—that is, symbolic, indirect, metaphysical, and even downright confusing.1
Antonioni’s early interpreters saw his films primarily as an expression of “existential angst” or “alienation.” (Pierre Leprohon, for example, speaks of “the anguish of existence.”)2 In the mid-1960s this was undoubtedly the appropriate tack to take toward films that insisted, in what seemed to be an entirely new manner, on dealing overtly with a certain philosophically inflected Weltanschauung in a popular, commercial medium.
(The entire section is 13031 words.)
SOURCE: “Antonioni’s Heideggerian Swerve,” in Literature and Film Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, October, 1998, pp. 278–87.
[In the following essay, Schliesser argues that Blow-Up represents a cinematic dramatization of Heidegger’s writing on ways of seeing.]
In 1995 Michaelangelo Antonioni was presented with an academy award for his “lifetime achievement” as a filmmaker. In a parallel universe, such recognition would seem cruelly ironic. In our own, however, it is simply, depressingly suggestive of how Hollywood has typically treated its most gifted artists (for lack of financial backing, Antonioni has not made a film since 1981). I will not dwell on the film industry’s fickle relationship with Antonioni: it is, like the struggles of so many other visionary directors, an old and familiar story. What I would like to address, however, is the current revival of interest in Antonioni’s films after two decades of virtual neglect (the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award was followed by the publication of William Arrowsmith’s Antonioni: The Poet of Images and a veritable blitz of articles on the director), a critical interest unfortunately undercut by the nonrelease of Antonioni’s latest film in the United States.
But what is the present sense of Antonioni’s achievement? To what extent does hindsight command a reevaluation of his contribution to...
(The entire section is 6627 words.)
SOURCE: “The Consuming Landscape: Architecture in the Films of Michelangelo Antonioni,” in Architecture and Film, edited by Mark Lamster, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000, pp. 197–215.
[In the following essay, Schwarzer analyzes the metaphorical use of architecture in Antonioni’s films.]
In day-to-day experience, the sight and feel of buildings is subject to extreme shifts of attention, duration, and familiarity. We experience buildings on pragmatic excursions, in the rounds of routine, and via flashes of discovery. In the representation of architecture (through drawing, model, or rendering), by contrast, the approach to buildings is abstract and ideal. With film, the experience of architecture is more directed than in everyday situations and less focused than in architectural representation. In a dark auditorium whose seats point toward a fixed screen, great demands are made of a viewer’s attention and vision. Images of buildings unfold off reels in a linear sequence, yet this succession is guided not by the steady flow of experienced time but by the choices of the filmmaker. The camera has the capacity to associate buildings with a great many objects and events, moods and atmospheres, locations and relations. Film brings architecture into focus only to disperse it within the hubbub of life.
No filmmaker has used architecture to greater effect than Michelangelo...
(The entire section is 6701 words.)
Arrowsmith, William. Antonioni: The Poet of Images. Edited with an introduction and notes by Ted Perry, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Essays based on lectures given at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on the visual structure of Antonioni's major films by a noted classical scholar and translator.
Brunette, Peter. The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Close visual and textual explications of Antonioni's major films.
Chatman, Seymour. Antonioni, or, the Surface of the World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Encompasses all of Antonioni's films in chapter by chapter discussions.
Powers, John. “Antonioni’s Magnificent Impasse.” Film Comment 36, No. 4 (July 2000): 52.
Powers sees Identification of a Woman as a brilliant Antonionian exploration of heterosexual love relationships.
Rifkin, Ned. Antonioni's Visual Language. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1977.
Analyzes the elements of Antonioni's filmmaking in a detailed survey of his films.
Rohdie, Sam. “Chapter Three.” In his Antonioni, pp.43-56. London: BFI Publishing, 1990.
In this chapter focusing on...
(The entire section is 286 words.)