You are on page 1of 21

6/20/2015

Zabriskie Point (1970, Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen

Zabriskie Point (1970,
Antonioni): A Scene by
Scene Analysis of a
Troubled Masterpiece
by Donato Totaro
(5289 words)

Volume 14, Issue 4 / April 2010

⏱ 22 minutes

With its 40th anniversary just around the corner, a reassessment of Zabriskie
Point within Antonioni’s body of work is long overdue. Zabriskie Point was the
middle of three films Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni made for MGM:
Blow-Up (1966) being the first and The Passenger (1975) the third. Of the
three American films each have had their own idiosyncratic mini-history and
cultish associations. Zabriskie Point is the one which did the poorest at the
box-office (a mere $900,000 during its brief theatrical run on a budget of 7
million dollars, compared to the art house success of Blow-Up) and suffered
the most severe critical backlash. Even avid Antonioni supporters, like
Seymour Chatman, found fault with it at many levels (its overall premise, the
abandonment of the political, the acting, etc.). Many of the negative
comments arose from a misconception: that Antonioni’s intention was to make
a political film about the American Counterculture. Antonioni was on record
several times denying this, and arguing that he was interested in isolating two
characters, one who was directly involved in the student demonstrations
http://offscreen.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970

1/21

6/20/2015

Zabriskie Point (1970, Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen

(Mark) and one who became indirectly involved through her association with
the other, Daria. Still, it is hard to absolve Antonioni of all guilt for designing
a film which, at least on the surface, would appear to be ‘about politics.’
“I think that this film is about what two people feel. It is an interior film. Of
course, a character always has a background” (Antonioni, 305).
This ‘background’ can have two senses. The obvious one being the pulse of
the late 1960s Civil Rights Movement as expressed by the student
demonstrations against (among other things) the Vietnam War. A less obvious
sense of ‘background’ and the one which I will stress as being the true focus
of interest for Antonioni is the actual physical landscape and urban
architecture of Los Angeles and the Death Valley desert. For anyone who
knows Antonioni’s past masterpieces this would not come as a surprise. If all
great directors could be reduced to one major contribution to cinematic
language, for Antonioni it would be his uncanny ability to wed character
emotion to landscape. In my scene specific analysis of Zabriskie Point I will
pay special attention to this aspect and attempt to contextualize the film within
his earlier works, and to other allusions the film evokes for me.
In his great Italian films Antonioni dealt almost exclusively with the class he
knew best, his own, the Italian middle class. I find it strangely ironic that a 57
year old, middle-class Italian art director –consciously or not– was seen (by
some US critics) as a spokesperson and defender of the American
Counterculture! If there is any weight given to the negative criticism leveled at
Zabriskie Point it is largely because Antonioni was dealing with a class he
knew very little about (working class), [2] a generation far removed from his
own, in a country (the United States) he knew little about. But in whatever
country Antonioni worked (and he worked in many, China, England, Italy,
Central Africa, Spain, Germany) he knew how to express character interiority
through physical geography. This is something he could not forget,
regardless of where he was working.
Antonioni was the sort of director who thought long and hard about how
technical issues would impact on style, form and meaning. I’ll highlight an
example using the aesthetic choices he formed around the use of camera lens
type. In his first set of feature films (Cronica du un amore, 1950, La signora
senza camelie, 1953, I Vinti, 1953, Le amiche, 1955, Il Grido, 1957)
Antonioni used the wide angle lens exclusively. The wide angle lens
(approximately 50mm with a 35mm camera) has the technical qualities of
opening up the field of vision, expanding space and providing a greater
http://offscreen.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970

2/21

cinema direct. La Notte. 1961. What is interesting is that by the late 60s the telephoto lens was associated with a certain aesthetic: the cinema vérité. and a reduction in depth of field. 1960. Antonioni played with this aesthetic convention by using it at the outset of the film.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 3/21 . His decision to go with the telephoto lens was no doubt related to this latter fact. panning from one to another. zooming in/out. observational documentary/TV. mature period. line. What follows is a scene by scene breakdown [2] highlighting the two central critical areas I have introduced in my opening: the importance of landscape/architecture and the aesthetics of the telephoto lens. color. Antonioni resorted to a mixed lens style for Blow-up but returned to the telephoto aesthetic for Zabriskie Point. throwing portions of the frame out of focus– is conducive to abstraction: forcing the audience to look for things other than subject/representational. rendering a ‘painterly’ quality to Il deserto rosso. The technical qualities of the telephoto lens tends toward a closing of the field of vision. and it was his most abstract film. the alienation trilogy (L’Avventura. texture. L’Eclisse. 94). a compression of space. I would have continued the direction I took at the opening with the student-meeting sequence” (Antonioni. since the particular properties of the telephoto lens –flattening the frame. Il deserto rosso (1964) marked an important moment in Antonioni’s stylistic development because it was his first color film but also his first film to use the telephoto lens exclusively.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. In his middle. and shape. http://offscreen. The zoom lens which brought the viewer into an objective view of different characters. Scene 1: Student Meeting (0’00”-8’50”) [3] “If I had wanted to do a picture about student dissent. 1962) he began to incorporate a telephoto lens (roughly 100mm with a 35mm camera) with a wide angle aesthetic. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen depth of field. but then abandoning it for the more ‘painterly’ quality (something which no doubt shaped the critical confusion over the film’s lack of political continuity). became a signifier for a certain newly formed (compared to earlier documentary) ‘truth’ factor. such as form. where he made his most famous films.

as there is just about more dialogue in this scene than in the rest of the film combined! http://offscreen. but not out of boredom. panning and zooming from face to face.” as he makes his dramatic exit from any sense of collectivity. “ I’m willing to die too. to Mark rubbing a pack of yellow matches against his mouth. Mark ends the meeting for both him and us with his rhetorical interjection. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Antonioni begins the ‘deception’ right from the first scene of the film.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. such as when continuous dialogue is matched with successive elliptical shots of Mark (Mark Frechette). fragmented space.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 4/21 . Mark’s distaste for meetings and talk seems shared by Antonioni. which becomes blatant if the opening is compared with the ending. underscores the divisions within the group rather than the sense of unity that would be expected at a student meeting with goals of collective action. I would add that this style. The implosion of the vérité style is subtly announced in moments of illogical spatial editing. but with the very next scene announces a shift away from vérité realism to an abstract expressionism. with its foreshortened. So much for temporal and spatial realism. to Mark smoking a cigarette. starting with a zip pan from a perturbed looking Mark. The cinema vérité style of this opening sequence will soon be abandoned for a more poetic and surrealist style. cutting quickly. introducing the students in a typical vérité style.

6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 5/21 . The scene then picks up Mark and his friend Marty driving in a pickup truck. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen That’s exactly what is on Mark’s mind Scene 2: Introducing Daria (8’50”-10’00”) In this brief scene we are introduced to Daria (Daria Halprin) and Lee Allen (Rod Taylor). head of a land development company called the Sunny Dunes (the enemy) in the lobby of an imposing modern business complex. The function of the scene is to veer the viewer away from the pseudo-political opening to what Antonioni is interested in: abstraction (while at the same time signaling Mark’s alienation http://offscreen. Scene 3: Billboards (10’00”-13’40”) This scene begins with a series of languid pans across large city billboards filling the frame completely with images of (mainly) farming. but the vérité style camera is misaligned with (non-diegetic?) industrial sounds reminiscent of the factory sounds from Il deserto rosso.

strangely enough. going about their job with indifference and lacking any sense of humanness or humor (a joke with the punch line ‘Carl Marx’ washes over them). Scene 4: Buying a Gun (17’00”-18’20”) Mark and another student enter a gun shop. Mark drops his friend off to join a picket line in front of the university’s administration building. reminds me of a similar scene in the 1974 exploitation film The Candy Snatchers (Guerdon Trueblood). As they are leaving the store a second clerk gives them a tip: “One other thing about the law. and the billboards. (The scene is also reminiscent of the tunnel ride in Solaris. Their request to “buy some guns right away for self-defense” is at first met with some resistance by the clerk (“You can pick them up in four or five days…”).com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 6/21 . their request to purchase a gun is first met with mild resistance. The scene returns briefly to the vérité style of the opening. Alice. http://offscreen. and the clerk eagerly sells them a 38 caliber hand gun. If you shoot him in your backyard be sure to drag him into the house.) We learn that Mark has a sister. professors) by a grated fence symbolizes the police as a class apart from the main protagonists of the film. but then they are willingly accommodated. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen from the ‘collective’). The telephoto lens is used to create vertiginous movement. and even given ‘advice’ on how to stay within the letter of the law.” The scene. fragmenting the space between Mark. You can protect your house. The police have nothing in common with the students.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. his truck. In both scenes young protagonists with violence in mind enter a gun shop. Scene 4: Civil Disobedience at the Police Station (13’40”-17’00”) The physical separation of the police and the citizens (students. seen driving by in a sports car. A simple verbal appeal to “keeping their women safe” in their “borderline” neighborhood melts away any gun restriction laws.

20’40”) This brief scene depicts a group of business men in a boardroom watching promotional video on a new housing development by Sunny Dune Land Development company.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. as Antonioni cuts between the all-male board members and the miniature model reproductions of the sterile housing community. as they are seemingly preparing to take some type of violent action. The scene veers toward satire. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Scene 5: Sunny Dunes Promo (18’20”. neither Lee nor the person driving with him seem to take any heed of the report. Tellingly. Scene 6: Preparing for Action (20’40”-21’30”) The sound of the radio report bridges a transition to Mark and a few other students listening to the same report in a shabby apartment.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 7/21 . http://offscreen. As Mark drives off the shot cuts to Lee’s car arriving at the Sunny Dunes Development headquarters. Scene 7: Sunny Dune Headquarters (21’30”-22’40”) Lee arrives to join the meeting. On the car radio is a report on student unrest at a university campus. The scene cuts to shots of Lee Allen driving to the meeting. We see Mark place a gun between his pant leg before he leaves.

We learn in the next scene that she is driving to meet Lee at his Phoenix area desert estate for a business meeting. An unusual (for Antonioni) low angle from below Lee’s desk frames his crotch area in the middle of the frame against a modern building seen in the background through the large window. We are ‘alienated’ from Lee through the way Antonioni shoots him in his office space. recalling similar out of balance framing from La Notte. The US flag at the top of the flag pole blowing in the wind caps off the dialectical association of the powerful (big business/Government) and the powerless (the students/Counterculture). and Antonioni overwhelms the human with the interior/exterior juxtapositions. his office. sterile. a playful phallic joke at the patriarchal nature of the Sunny Dunes empire. http://offscreen. Lee crosses his legs to form a powerful diagonal line right to left from the telephone intercom under the desk. The connection between Lee/Sunny Dunes Development and the US Government is extended to the Law with the striking edit to the next scene: an extreme close-up of a police officer in full riot gear. recalling Jacques Tati (Playtime) in its harsh. Scene 9: Lee’s Faustian Empire (23’15”-25’40”) This is the first scene to feature Lee in his environment.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. and the building seen through the window. inhuman modernity. It cuts to Daria in her car stopping for directions on her road map. his legs. A shot of Lee’s secretary frames her to the extreme right of the frame.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 8/21 . Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Scene 8: Daria on the Road (22’40”-23’15”) This scene opens with an aerial shot of the vast LA highway and surrounding desert landscape.

where they behave violently.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 9/21 . The tension escalates. The innocent gesture of tucking his shirt into his pants is interpreted as a move for a gun and the young man is shot dead by the police. and in a more relaxed and playful state. with their faces hidden behind their masks and riot gear. but his fate has been sealed. renders a sense of anonymity to the police. as a group collective. 138). which only exposes the officer’s eyes. forcing students to exit. A black man runs out of the building. allows them to behave anti-socially. William Arrowsmith in his excellent book on Antonioni notes that Antonioni differentiates between the police at work. The following sequence of edits to Mark reacting to the shooting by going for his gun and a police officer being shot makes it clear to the viewer that the bullet that felled the officer did not come from Mark’s gun. Mark runs off.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. Scene 11: Taking to the Air (30’00”-38’00”) http://offscreen. Tear gas bombs are thrown into the school. as they proceed to break up the huge crowd of student demonstrators on the university grounds. The vérité style returns to depict injured and bleeding students being led away on stretchers. The anonymity of their uniforms. for the ‘good’ of social order (p. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Scene 10: Restoring Order (25’40”-30’00”) The mask. and when they are out of uniform.

the shot of Mark in the cockpit. Mark goes into a deli to call his friend Marty. Mark leaves the deli and quietly walks into a hangar area and hijacks a small plane. the soft music. Softer rock music emanating from her car radio becomes audible as the camera nears her vehicle. The ethereal movement of the camera. The camera continues to descend and picks up Daria driving along the highway in a retro 1950s Buick coup. When he gets high into the air Antonioni resorts for the first time to freeflowing. Scene 12: The Roadside Café (38’00”-45’00”) The scene cuts to Lee at his office receiving a phone call from Daria. who has stopped at a desolate roadside café. and the pinkish desert sand (nature) introduces the ‘feminine’ (Daria).com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 10/21 .6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. while typifying the music of his generation. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen In a fascinating bit of Antonioni-esque ‘environmental subjectivity’ we see Mark seated on a city bus. Mark’s request for a sandwich handout is turned down by the cook. Are they tinted green? He disembarks and we notice that the bus windows are tinted green. The plane has the words ‘Lilly 7’ written on its side. mutual disapproval of Mark. In what can only be described as a sublime edit. gives way abruptly to aural silence and an in-flight aerial camera movement descending toward the sand dunes. A couple of older blue collar workers eating at the counter reflect the theme of generational tension in their silent. the music blaring loudly. shot with a green filter. The scene crosscuts between them. as http://offscreen. a gesture which relates to other Antonioni films in the use of flight as a form of temporary escape (see the L’eclisse clip from the Bloom essay in this issue). The source of this green hue is uncertain at first. and sports a pink and beige color pattern that foreshadows the tone and texture of the desert. The image has a green hue. guitar rock music which captures Mark’s euphoric state. The scene cuts to a closer shot of Mark and we notice that he is wearing tinted sunglasses. his head bowed.

the homeless children. Daria runs away from the attacking children and drives off to safety. As her car rushes out of frame the camera remains on the diner and tracks /zooms-in to the sad image of an old man (the one pictured in the photo above) sitting alone at the counter with his beer and cigarette. The Trial Zabriskie Point To add to Arrowsmith’s earlier point about the police collective. the stairs leading up to a porch with no home. as one of the kids asks Daria.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. the smashed up piano. This sets up a strange altercation between Daria and a horde of scavenger children outside the diner. a plaintive country song playing on the soundtrack (shades of Edward Hopper). The implication being that big corporations come in and lay the past to waste. The bartender laments a group of problem children that were transferred from Los Angeles to his town. “Can we have a piece of ass”). Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Lee tries to locate her on a map to guide her to his Phoenix estate. Daria makes small talk with the ‘locals’ including a old washed up boxer and the bartender. character is chased by an aggressive posse of children (only here the scene has a sexual undertone. The sense of a place forgotten by time is present throughout this scene: the washed up boxer and comatose man in the diner.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 11/21 . the upturned car. a similar http://offscreen. a scene which has always struck me as an echo of the scene from Welles’ The Trial where Anthony Perkin’s Josef K. The bartender tells her that the man she is working for is going to ‘kill’ the area.

When she asks Mark if he really stole the plane he replies. where the camera dollies a full 360 degree around Casey Afleck. As they make small talk. http://offscreen.” They drive off together.” the name of the bird that rises from the ashes and gets reborn. Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. as a group they threaten. Mark and Daria sit on a rock edge overlooking the desert expanse. When asked where she is heading Daria replies “Phoenix. 96). Scene 13: Cat and Mouse Game (45’00”-55’00”) As the film nears its midway point we get the meeting of the two central protagonists. if for no other reason than today’s delirium might be tomorrow’s truth” (Antonioni. “a prehistoric bird with its genitals hanging out”).6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. Mark tosses down a red t-shirt.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 12/21 . Daria and Mark. the camera dollies around them in a 180 degree circular arc. foreshadowing her political awakening at the film’s end. to quote Mark. The scene also opens on the bird-like shadow of Mark’s plane on the road (and later the plane is painted like. in the desert. as an author I claim the right to delirium. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen dynamic occurs in this strange scene where Daria is attacked by a group of scavenger-like children outside the diner. “I needed to get off the ground. Individually the children are passive. Scene 14: Zabriskie Point (55’00”-75’00”) “Well. A playful game of chicken ensues between Mark’s plane and Daria’s car (foreplay?). eventually lands his plane and they meet. a gesture which may have influenced another great Death Valley desert film.

and elsewhere? It is a symptom of the emotional sickness of our times. post-war Italian society as suffering from what he called “sick eros” (sex that is used to fill an emotional/spiritual void). Il Deserto Rosso) Antonioni depicted the Italian middle class as emotionally and spiritually vacant. Jerry Garcia’s soulful solo blues guitar wraps itself around the scene like aural dust.” In his famous alienation tetralogy ( L’Avventura.” They eventually make their way down below and begin to make love. as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura. But this preoccupation with eroticism would not become obsessive if Eros was healthy. rolling in the sand. something is bothering him. The tragedy in L’Avventura stems directly from an erotic impulse of this type: unhappy. I prefer music. which sets up her conversion/political awakening at the end: Mark: “Hear any news about the strike? Daria: “No. This bizarre scene is the one that perhaps most baffled viewers and critics. our theatrical shows. Antonioni begins to improvise on reality.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 13/21 . La Notte. blending themselves into the landscape (aided by the flattening.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. man reacts. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen A casual line reveals Daria’s apolitical nature. And whenever something bothers him. To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse. Antonioni characterized this modern. Just like Garcia’s improvisational music. is not enough or serves http://offscreen. play fighting. man is uneasy. when in fact it contains the most direct thematic link to his earlier works and functions as a soulful antidote to the central negative dynamic portrayed in his alienation tetralogy: “sick eros. miserable. but he reacts badly. Phantom couples (played by members of Joe Chaikin’s Open Theatre) begin to appear everywhere around Mark and Daria. He explained this interesting concept in a statement at the 1960 Cannes festival following the horrendous reception of L’Avventura: Why do you think eroticism is so prevalent today in our literature. only on erotic impulse. that is. But Eros is sick. futile. and he is unhappy. if it were kept within human proportions. compressing lens). L’Eclisse.

in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. Scene 15: The “Red” Desert (75’00”-80’00”) Daria and Mark return to the road. One of the Counterculture’s most symbolic anti-establishment gestures was a return to a Romanticist notion of free and natural love and sexual liberation. The encounter with the state trooper in the middle of nowhere has echoes to Marion Crane’s similar encounter in Psycho (only here Daria is outside her car). It is only a preliminary step. to be critically conscious of ourselves. every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure. Mark. to analyze ourselves. And what better to drive the scene than the music of Jerry Garcia. Like http://offscreen.’ The Grateful Dead. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth. the moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. The fact that matters is that such an examination is not enough. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen no purpose. Mark decides to return the plane back to the air strip. his adventure can only end in a stalemate (Michelangelo Antonioni. To return to a question many critics were probably asking back in 1970 – what affinity did Antonioni have with the American Counterculture?– undoubtedly Antonioni saw the energized sexuality associated with youth and the 1960s ‘free sex’ mantra as an antidote to “sick eros”. in remaining loyal to them. which proclaims it is enough for us to know. we persist. Mark takes his gun out and aims it at the trooper from behind the stall. Thus. with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 14/21 . wanted for the stolen plane. but spot a state trooper parked on the road ahead. Every day. and perhaps murder. but luckily the situation is diffused as the trooper leaves the scene. 33-34). the leader of the band most strongly identified with the 1960s/early 70s ‘free sex. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable. hides behind one of two bright red portable toilets that appear stranded in the desert (an homage to Il deserto rosso/??Red Desert?? ?) while Daria talks to the state trooper.

I would list these: waste. A radio report coming from Daria’s offscreen car says that Mark was shot by an unidentified cop when their attempts to pull him over failed. Scene 17: The Rebirth (93’45”-95’00”) “If I had to sum up my impressions of America. We feel his death as a useless loss.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. Mark leaves the social collective only to die upon his return. The scene cuts back to the desert.) Scene 16: The Bird Soars Again (80’00”-93’45”) Daria and Mark paint the plane a psychedelic mess of colorful slogans and pop art graffiti in preparation for its rightful return. but we know the facts to be different. Mark will eventually be shot dead by overzealous policemen in the process of returning the ‘borrowed’ plane. innocence. 92). The only positive his death will serve is to ‘reawaken’ Daria. Her path to Lee’s Phoenix area desert estate is telling. only to be killed in the process. who does not utter a single word after the death of Mark. a symbolic visualization of her ‘rebirth’. Like Aldo from Il Grido. poverty” (Antonioni.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 15/21 . As soon as he lands the plane he is chased by police cars. The scene intercuts between Daria driving to her destination in Phoenix and Mark soaring overhead toward the hangar. She stops off at a green. vastness. (Psycho also opens with a title card that situates the action in ‘Phoenix’. The police fire rounds before giving any warnings. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Marion Crane who decides to return the stolen money. where a fleet of police officers await. The police approach the plane and find Mark’s inert body slouched over the steering wheel. cacti filled space to http://offscreen.

Daria finally arrives at Lee’s desert estate to join him for a business meeting. a dejected Daria stands by her car looking out aimlessly. Mournful country blues guitar music accompanies one of the most beautiful moments in the film. She stops to look up at the waterfall and is overwhelmed by emotion. with a look of new found determination. or the shower Maria takes in Tarkovsky’s Mirror after confirmation that she did not make a printing error. She shows all the classic signs of being ‘alienated’ in the environment. through a womblike granite tunnel which has –conveniently– a small waterfall. she turns away quickly and. walks aimlessly through the estate. Struck by the news of Mark’s death.). but this scene is a clear instance of it: purification/rebirth through water being a common symbolic gesture (just think of Marion Crane taking a shower after the robbery. then rests her face and hands against the inner wall where the water runs down. takes to the road. She does not talk to Lee (compared to earlier). Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen meditate (what she went there for in the first place). She sways her body gingerly from left to right. She enters the home by way of the back. going through a portal. Her rebirth is confirmed through her subsequent behaviour toward Lee and his ‘establishment’ home.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. past a swimming pool. She begins to cry.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 16/21 . The camera frames her from behind. allowing the water to fall over her body (see frame still above). Antonioni was never one to rely on symbolic imagery. in harmony with the blowing foliage. etc. After the thirty second long take. is framed looking through barriers. the telephoto lens separating her from the trees and greenery in the background. and smiles http://offscreen. as if to suggest her ‘political’ sway (93’30”-94’00”).

rather than any obvious allusion to Communism). a distraught Daria places her troubled head against the car seat and then gently caresses the red shirt which Mark gave her (the color red is symbolic throughout the film. After a brief.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 17/21 . suggestive of danger.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. The contact with the maid serves as her cue to leave Lee’s luxurious estate. most notably Jeanne Moreau in La Notte or Monica Vitti in L’eclisse. and ultimately. one of Lee’s servants (of Native origin). silent ‘fantasy’ image of the house exploding. The gesture of Daria caressing Mark’s shirt recalls similar http://offscreen. The scene cuts to the meeting between Lee and potential land buyers inside the house. Jeanne Moreau She begins to drive away but then stops a few hundred feet from the house. Daria’s moral transformation. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen when making telling eye contact with a member of the under-class. The latter gesture suggests a sense of working class empathy in Daria not evident in earlier scenes. death. Mark’s anti-conformism. Daria’s ‘meandering’ walk in this scene make her a spiritual cousin to Antonioni’s earlier heroine’s.

leading to one of the most experimental conclusions of any fiction film (perhaps matched only by Antonioni’s own L’eclisse).) are transformed into kaleidoscopic colors and forms.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. Artifacts of consumer capitalism (a fridge. accompanied by a manic rock score featuring primal screams and searing guitar solos. The five minute sequence is marked by Eisensteinian overlapping editing (the house explodes over and over again). [4] and the abstract properties of the telephoto lens. clothes.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 18/21 . The final item to be exploded is the library. a super slow motion cinematography. made one year later in 1971. with hundreds of atomized books floating toward the camera. The focus soon shifts to Daria’s vivid imagining of the home being blown to (literal) smithereens. a television set.) http://offscreen. Can Antonioni be making a link to the opening scene (books linked to students/university) and the ‘explosion’ of the student revolution? (The use of super slow motion in this scene no doubt influenced Dario Argento’s similar use of hyper slow motion for the end of his giallo masterpiece Four Flies on Grey Velvet. laundry detergent. etc. food. furniture. who has mysteriously disappeared. Wonder toast bread. where she caresses the dress given to her by her friend Anna. and again later with Sandro’s shirt. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen gestures by Claudia (Moncia Vitti) in L’avventura.

perhaps we can finally enjoy the film for what it is rather than what it is not. 2 For the sake of completeness I have decided to include every scene in the film. Endnotes 1 To be fair. http://offscreen. in Il Grido. With the span of time. suggesting the ‘dawn’ of a new era. even though not each will yield productive material.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. Dreams begin so young. Zabriskie Point is a fascinating continuation of Antonioni’s life-long interest in the mise en scene of human beings and physical space.”) As Daria drives off the camera tilts up to frame a beautiful golden sunrise (a shot which has its twin in Gerry). Antonioni did deal with the working class in some of his early documentary (Gente del Po. most notably. With such a rhetorically happy ending it is surprising that so many American critics attacked the film for being ‘Anti-American. Can you tell them apart? While not at the level of Antonioni’s greatest works. 1957. Behind her the sky is a beautiful orange. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen Recalling the earlier stark edit from noise to silence.’ Gerry and Zabriskie Point.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 19/21 . 1947) and. (An idea echoed in the lyrics of the closing Roy Orbison song “So Young”: “Dawn comes up so young. the explosion fantasy ends on a cut to silence and a close-up of Daria’s smiling face.

“The Rhythms of Life: An Appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni. Like Share 67 Tweet 0 Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal. Canada) and a longstanding member of ACQQ (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma). Introduction and notes by Ted Perry. Extreme Aesthete of the Real.” Film Quarterly (Fall 2008. Giorgio Tinazzi. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Willaims. The Architecture of Vision. More by Donato Email Donato Volume 14. 20/21 . Antonioni: The Poet of Images. 4 According to James S. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK). Carlo di Carlo. Williams. American Edition by Marga Cottino-Jones. in some cases the time codes were rounded out to the closest second. William Arrowsmith. 62:1): 46-57. Issue 4 / April 2010 michelangelo antonioni http://offscreen. Marsillo Publishers. 1995. Hence they are meant to be a general guideline to the film’s structure and not an exact to-the-frame temporal breakdown. Bibliography Michelangelo Antonioni. ed. For the sake of neatness.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 Follow @dtotaro1 Essays  italian cinema.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970. James S. “special cameras were used here producing 3000 images per second” (55). 1994. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen 3 The time codes are taken from the recent MGM DVD. ed.

ISSN 1712-9559 http://offscreen. Antonioni): A Scene by Scene Analysis of a Troubled Masterpiece – Offscreen © 1997 – 2015 Offscreen.6/20/2015 Zabriskie Point (1970.com/view/zabriskie_point_1970 21/21 .

Related Interests