Michelangelo Antonioni, Director: 1912-2007

Michelangelo AntonioniItalian director Michelangelo Antonioni died yesterday, the same day as Ingmar Bergman. He was 94.

If the Swedish filmmaker was a cornerstone of 1950s international cinema, the same applies to Antonioni in the 1960s. Along with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and others, Antonioni was one of the filmmakers who helped expand the conventions of movie making. His films broke the rules of what had come before. They were aggressively vague, elusive and eliptical. They were dreamlike and seemed to have little interest in small details like telling a traditional story. They were truly art films and for me, they’ve always been a challenge.

When I first saw Antonioni’s Blow-up many years ago, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Here was one of the most talked about movies in cinema history and I didn’t get it. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of Antonioni’s more accessible films and it was lost on me. I had a similar frustration over Godard’s Breathless and between these two films I decided it was time to start filling in some of the huge holes I still had in my film education, especially in foreign cinema. Over the next few years, this urge to understand inspired by Antonioni and Godard would take me through 40 years of European films: Renoir, Ophüls, De Sica, Rosselini, Carné, Bergman, Resnais, Dreyer, Bresson…anything I could get my hands on, one decade at a time.

When I finally got to the 1960s, Antonioni’s films would still prove to be the most difficult for me to digest. The truth is, they remain at something of a distance from me even now. They’re more accessible than Godard, but they’re no easier for me to penetrate. I’ve watched a lot of movies between my first Antonioni and my last, but I still feel I’m only scratching the surface of his films. I may never get to the bottom of them. Though he continues to confound me, I owe Antonioni for the whole world of cinema his challenge inspired me to open up and for a kind of journey I’m still on today.

I won’t even try to compete with the NY Times in terms of Antonioni’s biography or his significance. You can read their obit here. I expect Roger Ebert will have something to say on Antonioni as he has on Bergman. In the mean time, you can read his terrific appreciation of L’Avventura here. Jeffrey Wells has a nicely worded piece here. [UPDATE: Roger Ebert’s thoughts on Antonioni are here.


6 thoughts on “Michelangelo Antonioni, Director: 1912-2007

  1. I had the same problem with Blow-Up when I first watched it, probably about ten years ago. He’s one of those filmmakers whose advances have been so influential as to become part of the basic fabric of art film, which also means that it’s hard to tell what was so radical about his films when they were originally made. Today I feel like I have much greater affinity for Godard’s films – maybe I feel like I’m in on the joke with him – but Antonioni’s films have an undeniable force.

  2. Godard rubs me the wrong way, I’m not discounting the talent or originality, but there’s an off putting (for me) feeling of superiority to his work. I’m embarrssingly unschooled in both Antonioni and Bergman, I’ve only seen five films between them (The Seventh Seal, Persona, Scenes From a Marriage, Blow-Up and something else).

    But I’ve seen enough to get the acclaim and effect these men have had on a medium I love, and I look forward to playing catch up.

  3. A lack of appreciation for why Blow-Up was so radical is probably the main reason I wanted to go back and watch a bunch of old foreign films…to get a better sense of the status quo in order to appreciate the whole New Wave thing a little better. I’m not sure to what extent it had the intended effect, but I saw a lot of really great movies I probably never would’ve gotten around to otherwise.

    As for Godard, maybe we need Hickenlooper to come in and lecture us on Post Modernism. Or maybe not.

    Also Chuck, there’s always catching up to do. I’m not sure I’ll ever actually see all the movies that I think I need to see. Would you believe I’ve never seen a single John Cassavetes film?

  4. I can believe it. I watched Shadows and Faces in high school and declared them “boring” but things have certainly changed since then. I love Cassavetes’ studio for hire performances in things like The Fury, Dirty Dozen and, of course, Rosemary’s Baby.

    I seem to remember Buscemi stating that Cassavetes was a major influence on his Trees Lounge, which I think is a neglected masterpiece, one of the best films about alcholism that I’ve ever seen, primarily because TL doesn’t wallow in that theme, it sneaks up on you like a vine as the film progresses.

    Which leads me to this, have you L.A. guys seen Interview yet?

  5. I hope I’m better equipped to get something out of Cassavetes than I was 20 years ago.

    As for Interview, I’ve heard some pretty good things about it, but I’ve managed to miss it so far. I skipped it at LAFF thinking it was going to be released soon after, then it came out while I was on vacation and since I’ve been back I just haven’t made it to the theater much. It’s playing the bargain theater here already so maybe I should hit it this weekend.

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