Michaelangelo Antonioni has commanded too much of my lifetime film-watching – way-y-y-y too much.
I think I saw his L’Avventura about 1971. I loved it and I loved Monica Vitti in it. I’ve seen it three or four times since and still love it and her.
The next Antonioni flick I saw was Zabriskie Point. What happened? This was one of the most tedious cinematic experiences in my life. Oh sure, the explosion’s cool, but repeated 821 times? It was like a visual Philip Glass score. I’m pretty sure nothing was left on the cutting room floor here.
Still, I really liked L’Avventura. I reasoned I should go back and see the films he made right after that film. I watched La Notte. I watched L’Eclisse. (In the background I could hear the loud buzzer and the announcer’s voice braying; “Thank you for playing”).
Tonight it’s one more swing at Mr. Antonioni; Red Desert (which sounds ever so much better in Italian; Deserto Rosso).
I’m encouraged. Red Desert also features Ms. Vitti. This was the flick she made before she played the title character in Modesty Blaise (think James Bond movie with Bond girls but no Bond. I know, I know guys, that doesn’t sound half bad, but trust me, go have lunch at Hooters instead).
Red Desert is bleak. It’s shot in a polluted industrial quarter of Ravenna. The skies are grey when you can see them. Mostly you see smoke of various un-reassuring hues and fog, lots of fog. The ground barely exists. It’s unhealthy-looking mud and marsh and industrial seaport. Everything is tastefully furnished in mid-twentieth century factory debris. Dante and William Burroughs would be impressed. The Ravenna Department of Tourism is less so.
The people are also bleak.
Ms. Vitti works hard and is effective, but at what? Her character must drive this film, but how? She’s a bewildered victim buffeted from husband to lover to infant son, fearful of everything (“…colors…”) to the point of incapacitation. This is the focus of the whole film. John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands did this far better in A Woman Under the Influence.
And then there’s Richard Harris (yes, that Richard Harris). He acts as if he thought he was in film by Alain Resnais. Look around you, Mr. Harris. This is Ravenna, not Marienbad.
And I gotta let ya know up front. The desert’s not red…it’s not even a desert. It’s a rocky beach with pinkish sand and adds no discernible value for the viewer except as visual relief from the ravages of Ravenna.
No, the film’s not as dreadful as Zabriskie Point, but it coulda used a few hundred explosions…and…I think I’ve invested enough of my time in Mr. Antonioni.
Besides, Scream of the Demon Lover is comin’ up next in my queue. You just know that’s gonna be choice.