Saturday, August 04, 2007

Echo Chamber - Antonioni Moving, Reflecting, Passing


Our place in the world is unnecessary. Roving sparks of dying energy, bouncing like aimless, dimming embers against the cold, hard planes and the streaming seas of numbers that comprise the planet's surface. Retracting into ennui, or reaching out in desperation, humanity makes its own mysteries.

Michelangelo Antonioni's films document those deepest mysteries of human existence; what space lies beyond a draped picture window, behind each pillar, around each corner; the inability to leave imprint where we have walked, loved, quarrelled, wept, moved. The mystery of L'avventura is not an unresolved disappearance but the unresolved continued existence of everything, of form and of void. The puzzle of Blow-Up is not a beguiling amateur sleuth story, but a genre implosion, demolishing the entrance and exit points of detection drama.

Not anti-mystery: ur-Mystery.


If we say Antonioni died on July 30, 2007, or was born September 29, 1912, it is to trace a narrative with selectivity. It speaks to a compulsion to give shape to a matterless tour through one plane of sight, sound, experience. But the sands of a red desert are at once unintegrated granules, restless and shifting, and members of a vast, open, sun-blasted expanse; the unified field image of a photograph at once the objective frieze of a moment in time and space, and a death-mask reproduction, built of microscopic chemical blobs, depthless, unmoving. The harder we insist on giving them shape, imbuing them with meaning, the greater the margin of slippage, until, indeed, in the fluoroscopic light off the eclipsed sun, it may be said that Antonioni was never here at all.


The master image of Antonioni's filmmaking is the glacial mask-face of Monica Vitti, staring into some middle distance, beyond herself, and back into herself. Feeling too much (Red Desert) or too little (L'avventura), the space she occupies simultaneously a non-space hole where a woman was-not / is soon to not-be, and the inside-out nexus of her body, molecules in continuum with the architecture, the landscape, the universe, the net of maths stretched into the infinite. What moves behind those black eyes, what world can be shut out by the drawn draperies, what fracture can there be between lovers, when they are all isolated, but intrinsically connected? Like the subatomic push-pull that unites/tugs at all things, mirrored large scale by the bind of gravity, the looping orbit of astronomical objects bound on track but never meeting , the affirmation of 1, negation of 0, Antonioni pierces the illusory continuity of a life-as-narrative, of the character as collected traits moving to resolution, of the cinema as the device to capture a world in motion, and finds beyond the veil, a deeper continuity; mystery surviving resolution, unresolvable.


Mastroianni and Moreau on the flat, ordered stage of a golf course in La Notte, wander the corridors of their marriage, and land in the soft, disordred hazard zone of a sandtrap. She reads a love letter, plucked out of a lost pocket in a version of their story that could-have-been. He asks who wrote it, and she tells him: "You did," and they are lost and found, all possibilities and dead threads of their story before and continuing beyond the film at once preserved, and gone in the loose doom of the sandtrap.

The all but wordless romantic breakup that opens L'eclisse is the death of a relationship, but to join the stream as it closes existence indicates it once existed. Alain Delon and Vitti in languor, posed in pain, moving only long enough to freeze once more, but the undulating trees outside the window, the oscillating electric fan, signal invisible movement the audience cannot see or feel: air, moving in time, around the eroding bodies and objects on the motion picture screen.


Monica Vitti sat on this sofa. This street lamp stood upon this corner. This loaf of bread filled this movie screen in Zabriskie Point. Michelangelo Antonioni was born 1912, died 2007. These grains of sand surrounded this pool of oily water in this desert. And BOOM, they were gone. Some were chosen for documentation as they passed through, but none were Truer than the others. Which caused the others? Which stories are over? Where are they now? To isolate the image, movement, object, life, drains it of context; to imply its place in even an unfathomably large whole is to superimpose a beginning, end, solve it, reduce it, conscribe it to history. To say Michelangelo Antonioni is gone is to say : Michelangelo Antonioni was here, and thus always here. Time shuffled the molecules of Michelangelo Antonioni into form, and pressed outward on that form until they dissipated once more.

4 comments:

dandiacal said...

I cannot agree more with what this columnist has to say on the career of Antonioni. Antonioni indeed follows Oscar Wilde's dictum that the mystery is in the visible. And his work escapes every attempt to freeze them into genres - whether mystery, romance, or "existential" drama. In Galen Strawson's formulation Antonioni is an episodic rather than diachronic artist.

The Shamus (formerly TLRHB) said...

On a totally off-post point, when are you going to offer up a review of The Darwin Awards, starring you-know-who...

Edward Copeland said...

I've still not warmed up to Antonioni. I liked Blowup, thought L'Avventura was a bore and Zabriskie Point just silly. Since his passing, I've given him some more chances. The Passenger didn't impress me but I'm really liking L'Eclisse, which I've almost finished.

Luke said...

I for one am offended at diandical's joking response to this serious piece. Spam filter, plz.

Oscar Wilde wouldn't know what invisible mystery was if it was right in front of him.