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MARTIN SCORSESE on Antonioni
NINETEEN-SIXTY-ONE ... a long time ago. Almost 50 years. But the sensation of seeing “L’Avventura” for the first time is still with me, as if it had been yesterday. Where did I see it? Was it at the Art Theater on Eighth Street? Or was it the Beekman? I don’t remember, but I do remember the charge that ran through me the first time I heard that opening musical theme — ominous, staccato, plucked out on strings, so simple, so stark, like the horns that announce the next tercio during a bullfight. And then, the movie. A Mediterranean cruise, bright sunshine, in black and white widescreen images unlike anything I’d ever seen — so precisely composed, accentuating and expressing ... what? A very strange type of discomfort. The characters were rich, beautiful in one way but, you might say, spiritually ugly. Who were they to me? Who would I be to them? They arrived on an island. They split up, spread out, sunned themselves, bickered. And then, suddenly, the woman played by Lea Massari, who seemed to be the heroine, disappeared. From the lives of her fellow characters, and from the movie itself. Another great director did almost exactly the same thing around that time, in a very different kind of movie. But while Hitchcock showed us what happened to Janet Leigh in “Psycho,” Michelangelo Antonioni never explained what had happened to Massari’s Anna. Had she drowned? Had she fallen on the rocks? Had she escaped from her friends and begun a new life? We never found out. Instead the film’s attention shifted to Anna’s friend Claudia, played by Monica Vitti, and her boyfriend Sandro, played by Gabriele Ferzetti. They started to search for Anna, and the picture seemed to become a kind of detective story. But right away our attention was drawn away from the mechanics of the search, by the camera and the way it moved. You never knew where it was going to go, who or what it was going to follow. In the same way the attentions of the characters drifted: toward the light, the heat, the sense of place. And then toward one another. So it became a love story. But that dissolved too. Antonioni made us aware of something quite strange and uncomfortable, something that had never been seen in movies. His characters floated through life, from impulse to impulse, and everything was eventually revealed as a pretext: the search was a pretext for being together, and being together was another kind of pretext, something that shaped their lives and gave them a kind of meaning. The more I saw “L’Avventura” — and I went back many times — the more I realized that Antonioni’s visual language was keeping us focused on the rhythm of the world: the visual rhythms of light and dark, of architectural forms, of people positioned as figures in a landscape that always seemed terrifyingly vast. And there was also the tempo, which seemed to be in sync with the rhythm of time, moving slowly, inexorably, allowing what I eventually realized were the emotional shortcomings of
” and then another and another.” Fellini’s film moved me and entertained me. long before CGI) of “Red Desert” and “Blowup. Alain Delon and Ms.” pictures like “La Signora Senza Camelie. Just like that opening theme. and the extraordinary work he did before “L’Avventura. what we are. and made both seem limitless. Or “La Dolce Vita. Antonioni realized something extraordinary: the pain of simply being alive. Claudia’s self-deprecation — quietly to overwhelm them and push them into another “adventure.” “Le Amiche. The possibilities of cinema were suddenly limitless. cloaking a flightiness and lethargy that was both childish and very real. I loved Fellini’s pictures and I admired “La Dolce Vita. and it was freeing. both of them still alive and working). and neither of them show up. and had the same kind of epiphany with “8 ½. greater even than “Breathless” or “Hiroshima.” but I was challenged by “L’Avventura. nothing less. wandering through them. And in the final scene. which kept climaxing and dissipating. but if you’d asked me at the time. . Vitti make a date to meet. I still do.” At the time there were two camps. “L’Avventura” gave me one of the most profound shocks I’ve ever had at the movies. were even more terrifying and eloquent than the final moments of the earlier picture. Antonioni seemed to open up new possibilities with every movie. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels (of which I later discovered that Antonioni was very fond). That’s why I kept going back.” and the photographic detective story in that later film. “L’Avventura” wound them down. They posed mysteries — or rather the mystery. a piece of wood floating in a barrel — and we begin to realize that we’re seeing the places they’ve been.” the third film in a loose trilogy he began with “L’Avventura” (the middle film was “La Notte”).”) The people Antonioni was dealing with. the people who liked the Fellini film and the ones who liked “L’Avventura. and the world around me. I wanted to keep experiencing these pictures. so desolate. Gradually Antonioni brings us face to face with time and space. You could say that Antonioni was looking directly at the mysteries of the soul.” I knew I was firmly on Antonioni’s side of the line. nothing more. of who we are. So many marvels — the painted landscapes (literally painted. one of the most haunting passages in all of cinema.” which I discovered later. were about as foreign to my own life as it was possible to be.the characters — Sandro’s frustration. climaxing and dissipating. And the mystery. We all witnessed wonders in Antonioni’s films — those that came after. empty of their presence. to ourselves. It was frightening. and it was the fact that they were unresolved in any conventional sense that kept drawing me back. And they stare right back at us.” “Il Grido” and “Cronaca di un Amore. Endlessly. I was mesmerized by “L’Avventura” and by Antonioni’s subsequent films. They only had what passed for self-awareness. Where almost every other movie I’d seen wound things up. so eloquent. The characters lacked either the will or the capacity for real selfawareness. to time. But in the end that seemed unimportant. quite similar to the people in F. Mon Amour” (made by two other modern masters. We start to see things — the lines of a crosswalk. (It was two years later when I caught up with Fellini again. I’m not sure I would have been able to explain why. The last seven minutes of “L’Eclisse. but Antonioni’s film changed my perception of cinema. to each other. Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais.
among other things. heat. and the remarkable last shot of “The Passenger.nytimes. after he’d had a stroke and lost the power of speech.com/2007/08/12/movies/12scor. Once we spent Thanksgiving together. in which the heroine imagines an explosion that sends the detritus of the Western world cascading across the screen in super slow motion and vivid color (for me Antonioni and Godard were.html . the mind-expanding ending of “Zabriskie Point. the world unfolding in time. truly great modern painters). much better than the man himself. Images that continue to haunt me.which ultimately led further and further away from the truth.” so reviled when it came out. http://www. I crossed paths with Antonioni a number of times over the years. and I’m sorry it never happened. But it was his images that I knew. I tried to help him get his project “The Crew” off the ground — a wonderful script written with his frequent collaborator Mark Peploe. away from the drama of Jack Nicholson’s character and into the greater drama of wind.” where the camera moves slowly out the window and into a courtyard. unlike anything else he’d ever done. Later. To expand my sense of what it is to be alive in the world. inspire me. and I did my best to tell him how much it meant to me to have him with us. after a very difficult period in my life. light.
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