Thursday, September 6, 2007

Overnight to Distant Cities, Never Closing the Spaces Between Us

September 29, 1912--July 30, 2007

Red Desert (1964). This was Antonioni’s first film in color, and its scenes of belching factory smoke, and overall muted, depressive palette, are unforgettable. These hideous colors are only accented by their contrast with the one fantasy sequence, the story Monica Vitti tells her son about a paradisaical beach: here the lighting and the colors are excessively bright and clear, too much so, with the airbrushed perfection of the most expensive advertising. This is the bourgeois vision of beauty as compensation and escape, as unrealizable ideal: Antonioni shows it to be only the flip side of the industrial pollution that dominates the rest of the film. Antonioni’s own aestheticism resides, rather, in the waste and pollution itself. I think of his use of the color red, as in the scene in the cabin, where Vitti tries (unsuccessfully) to transform herself into orgy mode; and also the scene in the hotel room, her tryst with the engineer, where the wall subtly changes color behind them as they writhe on the bed. Related to that, in turn, though with a different palette, is the scene in the ship yard, at night, where Vitti wandering alone is briefly propositioned by a foreign sailor: not speaking Italian, he tells her, in English, “I’ll love you, I’ll love you,” as she passes by. It’s a scene that could be an epigraph for all of Antonioni’s movies, with their pain and blocked eroticism, and with the force of the disinterest by means of which Antonioni transfigures them.

Read the rest of this very astute analysis of Antonioni's oeuvre, by Steven Shaviro, here .

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