Michelangelo Antonioni is a fitfully brilliant director whose best, and basic, insight is that the fashionable cultivation of boredom can break down our ability to feel and love. In the 1950s, it seemed to him, people became so shy of spontaneity that they lost the knack. His characters were so alienated and spiritually exhausted they could hardly even get through breakfast together.
We loved it.
Eclipse (1962) had us leaving the theater feeling deliciously betrayed and alone. Blow-Up (1966) was even better. It was set in swinging London and left us feeling betrayed, alone, and with-it. In between, Antonioni gave us The Red Desert (1964), possibly the most passive and empty serious movie of the decade. That was Antonioni’s thing, anyway, and he knew where he was going with it. But something caused him to fall victim to that plague of personal directors, involvement. He had been getting his material out of his own instincts, but now he decided to do a “committed” movie about American society and the radical movement.
He is not remotely an activist in his personal style, but he decided to make Zabriskie Point anyway and cast his lot with the militants, who cast it right back at him. This is such a silly movie, all burdened down with ideological luggage it clearly doesn’t understand, that our immediate reaction is pity.
There’s a clumsy sequence during which the hero maybe kills a policeman (the murder in this one is as iffy as the one in Blow-Up). Then the hero steals an airplane, flies into the desert, sees the girl’s 1952 Buick, buzzes it a couple of times, lands, and they go into the desert and make love. They make love, in fact, at Zabriskie Point, which is the lowest point in the United States.
The love scenes are obnoxiously true to all the corrupt love scenes Antonioni copies them from. There is no feeling of liberation, or delight, or anything else other than a long, ridiculous time when lots of people roll around in the sand. Then, the hero paints the airplane in psychedelic colors, flies it back to Los Angeles, and is killed by cops. Period. Antonioni attempts to flesh this out with thousands of yards of outdoor billboards, which are supposed to show America being corrupted by advertising and capitalism, I guess.
Antonioni has tried to make a serious movie and hasn’t even achieved a beach-party level of insight.
Excerpted from: Roger Ebert, 1970.
Zabriskie Point may have been panned, but the desert scene with slim, tanned, long-haired Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette is the first image that popped into my mind when I started thinking about Fat Lizards. Fat Lizards is an art clay copper piece whose components were made in Heather Bell Denison’s workshop at BeadFX last weekend.