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Michelangelo Antonioni Is Dead, and It's All My Fault

I'm not kidding. He didn't die because he was 94 years old. He died because of me.

This evening I was winding down at work with some desultory websurfing. Click, click, click. Hm, an obituary. Click, scroll. Antonioni Died Monday. Click. Save.

Getting home half an hour later, I reached into my mailbox and pulled out a Russian copy of his film Zabriskie Point. The only DVD copy I have ever been able to find.

I got it for the ending. I have never worked so hard to find a movie just so I could see the ending. I think all that straining might have done something to Antonioni's soul. Enough to part it from the rest of him, anyway.

I hope I don't have his soul. He probably deserves better. Better, anyway than this obituarist is willing to grant:

"As with later Antonioni films, the settings were stark, the scenes fussily composed, the shots held a few beats longer than necessary."

Now hold on there. Just hold on. If -- like this guy -- you've seen L'Avventura and Blow-Up and are salivating to write their maker off as artsy, hang on a second before you chew him up and swallow.

In a not-well-known novel called Who's Who In Hell, the characters play a game called "Oliver". The game is to think of something, then give your partner some clues to help them guess what you're thinking of. In the case of Oliver, the clues are the opposites of the words you'd normally use to describe what you're thinking of.

So. An Oliver for Antonioni:


Your classic Antonioni film does not move fast. Even if the plot calls for death, no one is in physical danger. In place of danger, people look at people, or look at things, or say things to each other. Amusement is attempted, ennui is felt. People want more, or less, or nothing. In showing what is unable to fill the soul, the soul is defined.


Antonioni's movies are the speed at which the soul moves. In an Antonioni film, as in real life, Heaven is a place where nothing happens. And Hell is a place where the same thing happens, over and over and over.



You want to see how fast the soul can move?

Watch Zabriskie Point.

I've written about this movie before. Basically, the movie is a mess that critics of the time loathed and moviegoers of the time didn't go to. It's yet another Antonioni movie about defining the soul through soullessness, only with a bigger budget and less Italian upper class.

Zabriskie Point is a place near Death Valley, California. Nothing grows there. According to the movie, however, it's a good place to fall in love because it's one of the few places on earth that human beings don't monkey with. Love is found, the desert is survived. It's when people leave it that the world goes back to killing them.

But -- unlike the classic Antonioni ending of accommodating the soullessness through resignation, or finding some small peace -- something is done. Instead of greeting yet another day after yet another party that's worn down the part of you that looks for anything in any other human being, instead of fading away in a field after losing your grip on a crime you couldn't have done anything about anyway, and, instead of doing something, fading away while watching mimes fake a game of tennis: something is done. Something is finally, finally done about all that soullessness.

I can't tell you what that ending does to me. I've tried to explain it, but I can't. If you ever find the movie and get through the first part, and the second part, and the third part -- and there are things to like in the messy desert of each -- then you're home.

Watch the part just before the famous ending. In the desert, there is a comfy vacation stop for land developers. These developers hope to turn the place into a whole colony of vacation spots. Proposals are made and denied, prices are haggled over. Rights are trotted out: land rights, mineral rights, water rights, inalienable rights. All kind of rights go flying around. Whee!

Meanwhile, the people who used to call this desert home now serve these vacationers. Bring their food and water, change their beds, wash their plates and cups and underthings. In exchange they receive an income barely sufficient to rent a room, let alone buy beads and blankets and booze. They receive just enough for a crisp white uniform.


On top of this, all possibility of love has just been annihilated.

Now. Something must be done.

Sleep well, dear Michelangelo.