31 July 2007

Antonioni & Bergman

While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest parity between the talents of these two towering figures in the history of 20th-century filmmaking, nevertheless there is something fitting in the news that Michaelangelo Antonioni has died just a day after the death of Ingmar Bergman -- in the fact that his death will be obscured by the parade of tributes and retrospectives given in Bergman's honor.

While both of these directors (along with Fellini and Godard) came to symbolize foreign, “art house” cinema for American audiences of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Antonioni’s stature and notoriety paled in comparison to Bergman’s. That’s undoubtedly appropriate. The depth and significance of Bergman’s work are (arguably) second to none in the history of film. Period. But whilst Antonioni’s films were light and accessible by comparison -- no chess-matches with death for this Italian -- they have been, I think, somewhat short-changed.

Dumbfounded by Vanessa Redgrave and the swinging mania of 60s London, it is not difficult to overlook the fundamental questions raised in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). At its core, this film is a remarkably deep interrogation of our preconception that perception is essential to the apprehension of reality: as deep a topic as any raised by Bergman. Not that you’d know it from the trailer ...

Likewise, the incandescence of Jack Nicholson’s presence in The Passenger (1975) obscures (as he does in all of his appearances) the light Antonioni is attempting to shed on the dangers of a fluid conception of identity.

These are serious issues worthy of -- dare we say it -- Bergman. And so they were, but so were they also for this Italian auteur, dead at 94, just hours after the Swedish master.

Other Antonioni films of note:
  • L'avventura (1960)
  • L'eclisse (1962)
  • Zabriskie Point (1970)
  • Beyond the Clouds (1995, with Wim Wenders)
A few recent tributes, etc.:
UPDATE: The Guardian picks up the scent.

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