Hard Clarity, Vaporous Ambiguity: The Fusion of Realism and Modernism in Antonioni’s early 1960s Films
Hamish Ford March 2015 Feature Articles Issue 74
Cinema today should be tied to the truth rather than to logic. And the truth of our daily lives is neither mechanical, conventional nor artificial, as stories generally are, and if films are made that way, they will show it.
– Michelangelo Antonioni, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Roma, 16 March 1961 (2)
A beautiful, vaguely dissatisfied woman wanders on screen through a modern, monolithic environment adjacent to her sleek new apartment building. This is the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma), an originally Fascist-era, now rejuvenated district comprising both 1930s and late ’50s–early ’60s modernist design on the then outer reaches of the Italian capital.(3) Having first entered a concrete-dominated pedestrian and recreation zone with neighbours while looking for a missing dog, the film’s strongly etched yet psychologically elusive protagonist is suddenly alone. Hearing odd and somehow vaguely communicative noises, she seeks out their source to find a long row of flagpoles swaying in the nocturnal breeze of a deserted, almost absurdly grandiose boulevard. The spatial, aesthetic and conceptual dimensions of this encounter are soon revealed in the image above.
Our singularly privileged human subject becomes very quickly engulfed by – or rather reduced to being – a quite objective part of an abstract space and rich audio-visual field comprising the EUR milieu glimpsed on screen and the precisely framed cinematic image as watched by the viewer. This sound-image strongly emphasises shape, line, and historically significant material forms comprising the natural and the artificial, the earthly and the cosmological, the prosaic and the sublime – from the human body and its seemingly quite ‘inhuman’ built environment to a singular scaffold-reliant tree and ink-black sky, all rendered by way of increasingly dense chiaroscuro gradations set against an unforgiving celestial abyss. With the woman turning her back on us to look at all this and more, we once again lose an already tenuous and always-threatened sense of reality as traditionally centred, defined by, and finding meaning through, a privileged anthropocentric presence. The result is a much-expanded definition and charting of reality, the gaze, and the moving image. If, perhaps counter-intuitively, less rather than more ‘knowledge’ seems to result from such a cinematic experience, the bearer of this look – the viewer – is gifted with something immeasurably greater.
This brief, enigmatic moment I have described from Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962) is an entirely typical interlude within the Italian director’s remarkable, long shadow-casting cinema. Such an emblematic sequence offers up a sense of the always grounded yet incessantly rich and epistemologically elusive nature of life and human experience that is always both everyday and even banal, while at the same time sublime and philosophical. This is a genuine cinema of immanence and exclusive concern with the secular – and hence of endless fascination, permutation, unknowability, proper mystery, and subtly vertiginous impact. It is here that we find the special aesthetic and thematic apotheosis of Antonioni’s work, at the heart of which is a very particular invoking and forging of ambiguity. Seemingly inherent to the minutiae of everyday experience and the world, this is an ambiguity that floods every image, sequence, and film, linking in inextricable ways the particular reality portrayed on screen and the revolution of feature film form and aesthetics enacted by this director.
Here realism and modernism are anything but distinct, oppositional, or in fact differentiable. This should not in itself surprise us (though it often does), if we take on board Fredric Jameson’s connected points that in the special case of film such historical-cultural developments are notably ‘out of joint’ with the equivalent epochs and movements in other modern arts, and that cinema’s very technical make-up as an inherently modern, artificial yet at the same time epistemologically seductive form undermines any such distinctions. The story that cinema – and thereby modernity itself – forces upon us, Jameson suggests, is a dialectical rather than linear and evolutionary one.(4) As I hope will become apparent ahead, I think Antonioni’s cinema both demonstrates yet also goes further than this. The films enfold the inherent dialectical tension of the realism/modernism relationship into an especially tight, impossible-to-unpack expression, all the while exemplifying in an unusually developed state Jameson’s point when it comes to a given artwork’s necessarily entwined aesthetic form and thematic address, properly encapsulating and responding to contemporary history in the most immediately felt and critical sense.
This article explores the ways in which Antonioni’s work constitutes a historically embedded, yet still radical cinema in which the filmmaker’s famous modernism and a highly developed form of realism coexist in provocative and generative ways. Despite the considerable and diverse claims of his other work, in my view Antonioni’s first four 1960s films – L’avventura (The Adventure, 1960), La notte (The Night, 1961), L’eclisse and Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964) – remain the epicentre of this remaking of the cinematic image, and will be the focus ahead.
A modernist recasting of realism
Describing what he sees as the central contradiction and enabling antinomy of modernist works, P. Adams Sitney writes that they “stress vision as a privileged mode of perception, even of revelation, while at the same time cultivating opacity and questioning the primacy of the visible world.”(5) He later quotes a passage from Maurice Blanchot that illustrates the resulting material, aesthetic, and conceptual reality: “(P)resent in its absence, graspable because ungraspable, appearing as disappeared.”(6) Such is the paradoxical, inherently dialectical enunciation of the overtly modernist recasting of realism exemplified by Antonioni’s mature cinema of the early 1960s. This is made possible partly by the immanent, far from rarefied on-screen reality that floods these films, incorporating a very real post-war Italy. But it is also brought about by means of the filmic image itself. Rather than continuing debates concerning metaphysical schemas of religious or secular values, Antonioni’s cinema is concerned with larger yet also more quotidian forces. As transformed by post-war modernity, it is space and time that make up the historically specific world both portrayed and exemplified by these films: the only reality on offer.
Describing the director’s remarkable first colour feature, Il deserto rosso (1964), Peter Brunette writes: “There is no sense of spirituality here, no redeeming transcendence.”(7) The spatial, temporal, and experiential conditions of modern Italy become these films’ prime visual concern – a singular reality impossible to epistemologically define and understand. Implicitly disabling or showing as anachronistic both ‘traditional’ pre-war modes of life – religious or secular – and of cinema, and exhibiting no clear interest in any alternative visions of redemption, Antonioni’s cinema closely and subtly examines modern Italy’s post-war sense of confidence, amnesia, and investment in material progress. Overriding focus on the question of what constitutes this modern reality only increases the unavoidable sense of perceptual, ethical, political, and existential confusion and feeling of mystery. The result is a very challenging ambiguity. Il deserto rosso and the other films do not proselytize contemporaneous technologised reality and its economic-industrial dictates, nor do they morally decry the modernity essayed on screen in favour of a different vision. This is the key reason why Antonioni’s cinema is ultimately not only of no solace when it comes to religious or metaphysical perspectives, but is also very difficult if we look for clear-cut political advocacy.
L’avventura, La notte, L‘eclisse, and Il deserto rosso demonstrate modernity’s inherent oppositions and unreconciled problems at the same time as presenting reality in increasingly stylised ways. The last film famously visualises the world it portrays as rather uninhabitable, environmentally but also conceptually, for the humans who build and administer it. This has led to Il deserto rosso’s growing reputation as “the first ecologically minded movie of world cinema,”(8) and an early cautionary tale about the potential results of unchecked industrial development for climate change.(9) Seen today, it seems to invite such interpretations. Certainly the mise en scène of this and other films by Antonioni – notably Il grido (The Outcry, 1957) – often feature the presence of what Karl Schoonover calls “technology and materials of waste management,”(10) highlighted by framing and lingering shots of what would typically be seen as the uninteresting or ugly detritus of industrial capitalism. Il deserto rosso’s first few images following the credits are the most extreme, almost science fiction-like post-apocalyptic example of this. Nevertheless, the director’s own comments on such apparently foreboding industry, with its environmentally calamitous outcomes, should also be kept in mind.
In extensive interviews at the time of the film’s Italian release, Antonioni did not suggest a clear denunciation of the reality in and around industrial Ravenna so vividly essayed by Il deserto rosso. His much quoted explanation remains worth recalling:
In the countryside around Ravenna, the horizon is dominated by factories, smokestacks and refineries. The beauty of that view is much more striking than the anonymous mass of pine trees which you see from afar, all lined up in a row, the same colour. The factory is a more varied element, more lively, because behind it one can detect the presence of man (sic) and human life, his dramas and hopes. I am in favour of progress, and yet I realize that because of the disruptions it brings, it also causes trouble. But that is modern life, and the future is already knocking at our door.(11)
Here is perhaps the ultimate cinematic work on the aesthetic fascination of industrial factory design. The open fascination with what in 1964 appeared cutting-edge material forms of the modern industrial world at its point of manufacture is what remains so striking. To reduce the film to being a warning about pollution seems to short change its layered ambiguity, even in this case where Antonioni’s cinema seems most abstract, exaggerated and formalist. Even for climate change aware twenty-first century viewers, the uncomfortable fact is that this on-screen world is the source of real, conflicted fascination, no matter our conscious feelings about the socio-political and environmental facts once a human presence enters the frame. Its distinctly modern, and therefore amoral, beauty as framed by Antonioni’s camera does, I suggest, continue to compel us more than nature. When it comes to his cited preference for modernity, perhaps the distinction or justification for the viewer in this case becomes that the human element which moves us is less the architects and designers of Ravenna’s factories than the artistry responsible for Il deserto rosso, both behind the camera and in the form of Monica Vitti as Giuliana, its crisis-ridden protagonist.
Il deserto rosso, 1964
Il deserto rosso, 1964
Il deserto rosso, 1964
Il deserto rosso, 1964
Problematic Alienation meets everyday ambiguity
Increasingly, the critical tenor in Antonioni scholarship is to try and avoid or heavily bracket talk of what was once often described as his characters’ primary existential affliction. Alienation is now often understandably seen as a dangerous simplifying cliché by recent commentators such as Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes,(12) following Brunette,(13) who instead favour (as is the trend in recent academic film studies) detailed historical contextualisation. In his prescient book, Brunette argues that the long familiar description of Antonioni’s famous early 1960s cinema as offering vaguely existentialist and ahistorical fables about alienation and loss of identity tends to undersell the importance of the films’ historical and political embeddedness, and subtly radical social commentary. In stressing unknowability and incommensurability, he writes that “nothing ever seems to add up in these films … beyond a vague sense of uneasiness and alienation, and thus most critics have this to be what they are about.”(14) Yet while treatment of this once very familiar and arguably oversimplified trope as the key to understanding Antonioni’s most influential work can easily have the effect of curtailing the films’ thematic suggestiveness, social critique, aesthetic form, affective impact, and their place within an Italian historical and political context, there remains a more precise historical reason for its application.
Coincidentally written on the eve of post-war European cinema’s long-brewing modernist apogee – the announcement of which is famously marked by the troika of L’avventura, Breathless (À bout de soufflé, Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) and Hiroshima, mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959) – Henri Lefebvre argues in a long 1958 forward to the second edition of his Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1 that the products of “modern man” – using the gendered language – and “his works function like beings of nature. He must objectify himself… (I)f man has humanized himself, he has done so only by tearing himself apart, dividing himself, fragmenting himself.”(15) In the main text that follows, from 1947, Lefebvre reads as if directly addressing the disconnect, but also the ambiguous possibility, apparent in Antonioni’s work, no matter our critical position: “Man attains his own reality, creates himself through, within and by means of his opposite, his alienation: the inhuman.”(16) Carefully considered in light of the director’s idiosyncratic realism, alienation can be one legitimate conceptual means to a historically grounded understanding of the films.
This once perhaps overdetermined concept cannot itself escape the ambiguity that floods through Antonioni’s cinema. To treat alienation in any kind of universalising way is a problem (especially in light of the bourgeois socio-economic milieu privileged in Antonioni’s work), but so is being too sure about its implications, how it plays out, and even what it means. The concept becomes especially oversimplified and artificially excised from the films’ stress on ambiguity if we conflate the alienation of the characters themselves with the relationship between film and viewer (a distinction to which I will return ahead). It is problematic to assume that alienation inherently leads to despair and cessation of all progress. And yet it is certainly often experienced as an effect, or weapon, of capital and power within the modernity essayed by these films. But drawing attention to this reality is the opposite of a hopeless, passive gesture. More precisely, the films themselves also illustrate that alienation can also potentially be harnessed to pursue very different re-forgings of reality and the human – a possibility exemplified by their own complex aesthetic and spectatorial effects.
The four early-’60s films trace out pressing challenges at the heart of everyday reality through unique sound-image incarnations. This filmed modernity is no less real – in fact more genuinely so – for appearing in the form of often-abstract aesthetic patterns. Think of the spatial and temporal impact resulting from L’avventura’s placement of privileged post-war figures within both primordial nature and the historic built environment of Sicilia; La notte’s framing of its world-weary middle-aged couple, together and alone, against the diverse architectural surfaces and spaces of Milano and its surrounds; the intimate exchanges of L’eclisse’s protagonist with the environments and textures of a palimpsestic Roma across historic centre and modern periphery; or Il deserto rosso’s variously manipulated colour palette and depth-flattening camerawork visualising the troubled central character’s experience of Ravenna’s industrial region, quay, and centre. Confronted with often-mysterious situations and irresolvable problems, the films’ characters grapple as best they can with their phenomenally undeniable yet conceptually vertiginous reality. As often discussed, the camera frequently offers a slightly removed perspective on all this.
L’eclisse, for example, portrays the Borsa (at the time, Roma’s stock exchange) as an architecturally commanding space housing an intriguing but difficult-to-comprehend reality. With the film’s famous stock market crash scene, this locale – previously used for both religious worship (Pagan and later Christian) and a marketplace, now in the post-war era the centre of secular worship of Italy’s economic miracle – is treated by the camera with fascinated detachment for a full fifteen minutes, as if watching an archaic or futuristic ritual about which it offers no inside knowledge. The architecture and escalating activity of an unattractive, fascinating human drama gradually eclipse any sense of narrative, making us forget the purpose of the scene. As the slowly percolating action develops into an ‘event’, more documentary-like yet immaculately composed images take over the film, framing the graphic attractions of seemingly chaotic movement within an ancient Roman built environment renovated for modern purpose. When our presumed protagonist, Vittoria (Monica Vitti), arrives very late in the scene as the stock market crisis reaches its crescendo, her appearance is quite a surprise.
By its closely embedded historical nature, Antonioni’s project necessitates a remaking of realism. As articulated in the epigraph quote at the top of this article, this means that in its classical Hollywood narrative, Italian neorealist, documentary, or politically revolutionary forms, realism no longer appears realistic in terms of what its shows and how. To confront this challenge the director explores everyday reality’s uncanny and sometimes bizarre appearance as powered by rapid economic, technological and environmental change – including, and as reforged by, the image – in sustained and diverse portrayals of this modern world’s physical and perceptual conditions. Such rendering of form and experience via a medium reflexively acknowledging its own crucial role in the re-conceiving of reality as inextricably marked by radically enhanced ambiguity is arguably the central event offered by this cinema.
Far from a rarefied philosophical issue, Antonioni’s films demonstrate that ambiguity is at the very heart of the modern everyday in all its confusion and provocation. Lefebvre sees ambiguity as “a category of everyday life, and perhaps an essential category” of contemporary modernity, continuing with a highly resonant passage:
It never exhausts its reality; from the ambiguity of consciousness and situations spring forth actions, events, results, without warning. These, at least, have clear-cut outlines. They maintain a hard, incisive objectivity which constantly disperses the luminous vapours of ambiguity – only to let them rise once again.(17)
Lefebvre’s words evoke uncannily well both the post-war reality charted in Antonioni’s peak modernist cinema and the fundamentally paradoxical lens through which we see it on screen, in an image simultaneously realist and abstract.
Politics in and of the real
One of the most historically important discussions of ambiguity in the cinema occurs within André Bazin’s account of Italian neorealism, in which he influentially argues that the late 1940s films of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio de Sica, and Luchino Visconti “transfer to the screen the continuum of reality.”(18) This much-heralded, still highly influential Italian cinema of the immediate post-war years is in part famous for innovations later expanded upon by Antonioni. Of particular importance is the concurrent liberating of both space and time from the dictates of narrative movement so as to stress, or forge, a much more ambiguous image. The deep focus textures of such an image, Bazin argues, allows the viewer an enhanced perceptual realism and therefore a much more ambiguous kind of cinema to aesthetically explore and thematically interpret.(19) But this ambiguity does not do away with broadly felt political engagement and commitment, traditionally seen as essential for any realism worth its name.
Just as Antonioni’s early-’60s cinema heightens neorealism’s emphasis on ambiguity, the political emphasis seems to have receded. This is in one sense important to emphasise for marking both a significant shift of cinematic language and socio-historical change within Italy. But it is not as simple as may initially appear, especially to non-Italian audiences. As neorealism itself demonstrated, expanded ambiguity does not necessarily override politics per se. It can in fact lead to a deeper level of insight. The price is a debilitating, if in many ways familiar, one exemplifying modern experience itself: the undermining of surety and purpose.
While the kind of political, social or humanist idealism that so many viewers still find inspiring in neorealist cinema seems in very short supply in the films that are my focus, they do offer significant, if slightly subterranean and usually elliptical, historical commentary on Italy’s social and political development. In addition to the attention the films lavish on the spatial and material elements of contemporary reality, their special realism can also be found through quiet attention to political transformation. But while there is a more specific engagement with such transformation than may initially seem the case – and even at times a strain of critique – it works to further enhance the films’ foregrounded ambiguity, by providing multiple strands of realist clarity through which modernism’s vapours take effect.
Antonioni’s essaying of political and cultural change typically emerges through rather brief details of dialogue, character, or mise en scène. Some kind of lingering leftism is often faintly invoked, but it usually comes across as out-of-step with – or impotent in the face of – a resurgent capitalist Italy reaching prominence as an increasingly significant European economic and political power. The trajectory portrayed in the films is of a national culture, often portrayed both through characters’ occupations and ages but also the details of their physical environments, shifting from the left (associated with the war years and those immediately following thanks in part to the prominent Communist role within the anti-Fascist partisan resistance) to the right (Italy’s subsequent capitalist expansion under a series of strongly US-aligned conservative governments). This can be seen in the form of individuals’ own apparent transformation, or through the replacement of one previously prominent cultural type with a newer model.
In La notte, for example, the very bourgeois Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) is a writer with apparently leftist interests (he praises his dying friend Tommaso’s recent article on Adorno), who appears to lament lost idealism. His almost comical ennui and muted crisis results in considering a surprising offer of work by a rich industrialist whose lavish and decadent mansion party he and his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) spend the second half of the film attending. In L’eclisse, the story of this political shift comes not just through a quip made by Vittoria’s stock market-obsessed mother at the Borsa during the crash – “It’s all the fault of the Communists” – but also in Vittoria’s choice of lovers. Guido Bonsaver points out that the prominent presence of Communist cultural journals on Riccardo’s desk in the film’s first scene suggests the home office of a leftist intellectual, while Vittoria’s subsequent drift into an affair with the unabashedly capitalist Piero (Alain Delon) “takes her to the other end of the political spectrum.”(20) Even without viewing Vittoria as reductive national symbol, the fact that her rejected lover, Riccardo, is middle-aged and rather pathetic in his lingering, unwanted advances, while the dashing stockbroker is strikingly youthful and handsome – although, it turns out, similarly impatient (even rather sexually predatory in the scene where they visit his parents’ apartment) – fits the notion of Antonioni portraying a progressive intellectual class as ageing and marginalized (Riccardo lives in the EUR), left behind by a resolutely urban and youthful capitalist culture.
L’eclisse far from passively embraces such a shift, contradicting familiar cultural sentimentalising of urban centre over periphery. Moving between both spaces, our protagonist also lives in the EUR and seems slightly more comfortable there. Her vocation as a translator and overall temperament place Vittoria ultimately closer to Riccardo’s left-intellectual milieu. Meanwhile neither she nor the film seem capable of understanding Piero’s job and world – the lure of the stock market (located at the heart of the ancient metropolis’ historic centre) that has her mother and so many others in its thrall. While we can certainly detect such incompatibility in snatches of dialogue and expression, this odd couple’s essential mismatch is largely played out through contrasting temporalities. As a creature of the new market economy, Piero never stops moving and seems always to know what he wants. As the observer of this strange new world – and the figure with which the camera largely aligns itself – Vittoria is his exact opposite.(21)
The apogee of Antonioni’s heroines in this regard, Vittoria is an apparent beneficiary of Italy’s post-war economic boom (we glean that her family has poorer origins) and the expanded personal freedoms afforded a new middle class less tethered to the traditions of family and Church than was the case for women and men of the pre- and immediate post-war periods. But she doesn’t know how exactly to utilise this freedom, if not wishing to become a fully paid-up follower of what appears the default modern religion of market capitalism. Startlingly passive and tenuous in her wandering and gaze, the female protagonist at the heart of L’eclisse and the other early-’60s films is something of a gentrified, updated and gender-appropriated version of neorealism’s wandering male seers. No longer part of an agrarian, proletariat, or impoverished family fighting for external survival or broad based revolutionary change, the now seemingly well-educated and notionally single female protagonist exemplified by Vittoria comes across as much more modern than her forebears. She is thereby also, however, newly riddled with ambivalence, concurrently intrigued by and fundamentally dissatisfied with the modernity of which she is a direct product.
Facing a quandary that would become ever more widespread within most Western countries in subsequent decades, the newly ‘liberated’ subject passively moves through and observes her post-war world with no essential sense of direction, unable to conceive definitive or desirable action within it. This figure is at once gifted with genuine agency and choice, and shackled by debilitating doubt. She is also much more intimately felt than the often heavily archetypal, non-individuated characters of neorealism. Yet the realist-modernist fusion of Antonioni’s early-’60s films at the same time entirely fails to support the ontological inscribing of subjectivity and its gaze. Subjectivity is both more strongly sensed and portrayed as operating from a position of spiralling uncertainty, a crisis itself fuelled by an uncertainty as to what constitutes the objective world.
When it comes to both subjectivity and mastery of the objective environment, Antonioni’s cinema presents a world made up of conditions effectively described by Jean-François Lyotard: “Modernity, in whatever age it appears, cannot exist without a shattering of belief and without discovery of the ‘lack of reality’ of reality.”(22) The director’s radical updating of realism has the inevitable effect that physical and human reality looks increasingly strange and stylised, hence his cinema’s portrayal by some critics as primarily interested in pictorial effects rather than content. While often challenged by Antonioni’s defenders, like the matter of alienation, this response can also be too quickly dismissed or oversimplified.
The abstract, autonomous image
There is certainly a lot to be gained from reading Antonioni’s films as precise, deeply embedded historical portraits with much to tell us about Italy’s post-war changes. Yet in the process we can also easily underplay the radical impact of the director’s formal and aesthetic innovations. The early-’60s films’ peak modernist style both intimately investigates a distinct grounded reality and transcends it. In this sense they become mysterious and virtual texts that evoke what Martin Heidegger in his famous 1935 essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art” called the “solitary” work that seems to stand apart from the rest of the world, having “cut all ties to human beings.”(23) This cinema is certainly interested in the great human drama examined through very precise samples, but the given means of presenting the subject, its immediate spatial reality, and the inextricably bound relationship between the two, requires significant viewer input to make sense of and ‘feel’, thereby also bringing into play a very different set of contexts increasingly removed from the films’ own. Such aesthetic engagement at the heart of this cinematic event both feeds off history and escapes it. In Heidegger’s words, something very new, different, perhaps even “extraordinary” is in the process “thrust to the surface” by distinct formal construction while “the long-familiar” is “thrust down.”(24)
The crucial abstract, ineffable aesthetic-experiential dimension of Antonioni’s cinema is not, however, ultimately in contradiction with the fact that it emerges from precise historical conditions and maps a very specific human reality with considerable responsibility. It is the films’ uncommonly developed and rigorous means of visualising the latter that can make them look so strange and ‘cold’, in the process collapsing viable distinctions between their formally advanced aspects (to which we can apply Heidegger’s rarefied terms above) and those of the earthly world they visualise. Responding to the already familiar description (and frequent criticism) that his cinema was characterised by a coldness, long-time Antonioni champion and scholar Renzo Renzi argued as early as 1957 that such a gaze “is in fact a sign of self-conscious responsibility, aware of the shortfalls of moral judgment and clear annunciations about the reality from which the films emanate.”(25) Once more collapsing the theoretically contradictory requirements of realism and modernism, but also political art as it is frequently understood, this lack of judgment is concurrently moral and epistemological: not only a refusal to proclaim how things should be but also how they are. Both are cut down through an emphasis on the vagaries of audio-visual perception faced by the viewer.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes of perception that it responds “to a situation and to an environment which are not the workings of a pure, knowing subject.”(26) Fundamentally marked by the moral, political, and perceptual ambiguities of their respective corners of post-war Italian reality, these films’ female protagonists as played by Vitti in L’avventura, L’eclisse, and Il deserto rosso, plus Jeanne Moreau in La notte, are not “knowing subjects”. I would suggest that neither, quite differently, is the viewer, who does not confront perceptual problems with the characters of these films – even if we sometimes feel closer to them than the male protagonists of Antonioni’s later features.(27) The camera’s gaze embodies and offers to the viewer an unusual opportunity to seek out details, textures and environments adjacent to or even outside the human drama.
In his influential essay, “The Cinema of Poetry” (drawn from a 1965 lecture), Pier Paolo Pasolini draws attention to a moment in Il deserto rosso, a film he presents as exemplifying the modern cinema of poetry. During a scene in which Corrado (Richard Harris) attempts without apparent success to entice potential employees sitting in a Ravenna warehouse to sign up as workers for his new Patagonian oil venture, the camera seems to lose its already shaky interest in these human events. The viewer is then presented with what Pasolini wonderfully describes as:
… a stupendous close-up of a distressingly ‘real’ Emilian worker followed by an insane pan from the bottom up along an electric blue stripe on the whitewashed wall of the warehouse. All this testifies to a deep, mysterious, and – at times – great intensity in the formal idea that excites the fantasy of Antonioni.(28)
This description is very precise in emphasising the shift from a “distressingly real” worker’s face to the sheer abstraction of a coloured line. But the cut between the two is in fact less a shift of perspective and focus than a mark of continuity. The camera’s egalitarian gaze treats a decontextualised painted line on a wall and the weather-beaten visage of a human being as of equal graphic and objective interest. With the cut between the human and the inhuman, realism and modernism dissolve into one image.
Meanwhile, the “insane pan” isn’t the end of what seems like the jolting distraction away from already fragile and contestable narrative shards and human vestiges. The film then cuts to a space presumably outside the warehouse dominated by bright blue science fiction-looking bottles stacked on straw bedding. Initially seeming to conclude the remarkable sequence by further enforcing abstraction, when Corrado wanders into this striking installation-like composition from the back of the frame, dwarfed by his surroundings, we are reminded that such a futuristic-meets-historical environment is in fact the same confusing reality within which the human figures live. With such apparent diversions into physical, spatial and graphic reality, no matter how its abstract appearance and compositional effects, important narrative information goes missing. In its place, the viewer is treated to veritable aesthetic and conceptual explosions. Another striking example is when, with far greater attention than initially afforded the human bodies that will become the film’s central characters, Il deserto rosso lingers on huge eruptions of steam (recalling the film’s first post-credits shot of what looks like poisonous gas billowing into the air) emanating from an entirely ‘artificial’ landscape as if from a primordial fissure in the earth’s crust. At the centre of this image small human figures can just be made out, concurrently masters and protagonists of this strange reality but also confused spectators gazing upon it.
The only home we have
John David Rhodes writes of the Chinese Government’s outraged response to Antonioni’s extraordinary 1972 documentary Chung kuo, Cina: “In a sense, the Chinese officials – whether they knew it or not – were saying something true about Antonioni’s cinema: it was often looking at what seemed to be the wrong things. But such looking constitutes his style.”(29) Through “looking at the wrong things,” narrative (or ideological) attenuation and what seems like perceptual diversion generates room for so much else: necessarily elliptical and selective detailing of an always elusive reality. Coming at the considerable cost of its habitual epistemological privilege, the potential opening up of the gaze, this never getting a sense of control over the on-screen world we see, paradoxically enables a much clearer and more properly inhabited vision of what modern reality looks and feels like, as characterised by opacity and fragmentation.
One quiet, rather unostentatious example is provided by a sequence from La notte. In a brief interlude away from the long mansion party sequence that comprises the second half of the film, rather than giving us conventional audio access to the car in which Lidia and a young man appear to talk and flirt, the viewer is offered only the sound of beating rain. We are left to watch the slowly moving vehicle for over a minute, during which the general tenor of what looks like an extremely amiable and increasingly amorous conversation can be ascertained as remotely played out on Lidia’s face distorted by water pouring down the window.
While the viewer can interpret her apparent pleasure at this hermetic, private encounter away from the decadent upper-class gathering, La notte’s notional female protagonist and her problems have been so little fleshed out in the film – now nearing its end – that our attention to both narrative and character development risks badly drifting from already very unstable moorings when denied dialogue in this formally very beautiful scene.
As so often with Antonioni’s work, the already threadbare remnants of traditional form and drama are in this brief sequence from La notte forcibly replaced by another register, with much surer grounding in the reality right in front of our eyes: the moving image. Rohdie describes the above shift as “the camera losing interest in the drama inside the car and the meaning of that escape” from the party, replacing it with “the drama of the form of the car, the rain on the windscreen, the distortions of spaces by light and water and shadow.”(30) The viewer is given an opportunity exemplary of Antonioni’s cinema, to explore the densely textured monochrome gradations and modulating patterns made by streaks of flowing water on the dark vehicle’s glass and chassis as a formal and ‘dramatic’ event eclipsing literary (and ultimately non-visual) elements of story and character. Once more, any distinction between modernist tendency to abstraction and realist interest in a particular environment and temporal moment emerge as entirely artificial, their fusion now absolutely seamless.
Taking a more ‘auteurist’ line, we may of course seek to interpret La notte’s refusal to take us inside this would-be couple’s temporary adulterous bubble for what it might suggest of Lidia’s individual frustrations, or the class she represents. But such immediate tweaking of the sound-image into an authored or socio-historically revealing text to be read not only involves consciously felt hermeneutic work. The will-to-interpretation also seems to commit real violence upon the image in all its rich materialism and elusiveness, its properly ambiguous reality. While different readings of the sequence in the context of this narratively slack film can provide genuine pleasure – and likewise fruitful accounts of the reality offered by La notte as a portrayal of northern Italy’s business winners alongside the film’s more anguished protagonists from the intellectual sphere – such interpretive and analytical frames are also preceded and arguably overwhelmed when it comes to spectatorial experience by the undeniable cinematic facts: constantly shifting patterns and transforming shapes brought about by a slowly moving car in the rain, undulating chiaroscuro effects of a flashing traffic light, and the background architecture of a quiet street.
Rohdie argues that the true productivity of Antonioni’s films lies in “the new shapes, the new stories, the new, the temporary, subjects which they permit.”(31) He immediately follows with a crucial distinction between the dramatic dictates of the sporadic diegesis and its spatial and historical reality versus that of the film itself, and by implication the viewer’s experience. “To lose perspective, to lose identity, which are often open ‘tragedies’ for Antonioni’s characters,” he writes, “are opportunities for the films.”(32) Yet things are, as ever, not so clear. In L’eclisse’s famous final minutes and throughout L’avventura’s entire final two-thirds it is the audience who is challenged to overcome the tragedy of protagonists evicted from the film. This risky film-viewer relationship had been most prominently inaugurated two years earlier by L’avventura, which caused initial scandal before remarkably quick canonisation for the same essential reason (it was voted the second best film ever made after Citizen Kane in Sight and Sound’s 1962’s poll of international critics).
At the May 1960 Cannes festival premiere of L’avventura, the audience infamously jeered and shouted at the screen, before a second screening was arranged following a petition circulated by Rossellini, Janine Bazin and other European cinema luminaries declaring the film’s importance.(33) But for its initial audience, and for many subsequent viewers, L’avventura’s island sequence clearly outstays its welcome in narrative terms. The search for Anna (Lea Massari), who has already disappeared from the film, enters into a realm of increasingly abstract and de-narrativised thematic essaying.
The framing and choreography of bodies within this sublime space comprised of volcanic rock can generate enormous interpretive opportunity for the viewer watching these privileged figures of post-war Italian modernity (marked by the continuity of historically inherited wealth and power) dragging weary and cynically maintained human investments across primordial ground, dwarfed by the overwhelming environment of the stormy Aeolian sea which may have taken one of their number. There is, however, a more modern and logical – and in a way more unnerving and ambiguous – answer to the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, one only available to the viewer. She has simply left the film; or more precisely still, it has left her.
Taking the place of L’avventura’s sublime nature and epoch-spanning Sicilian built environment, Milano’s urban architecture utterly dominates La notte’s first hour from its famous opening credit sequence featuring a lengthy travelling shot down the then-new Pirelli tower’s endless glass façade, upon which is expansively reflected Italy’s northern metropolis and business centre. This sleek world, however, is no more comprehensible or reassuring than what William Arrowsmith calls nature’s “deep primordial time” in reference to Antonioni’s “nature” indexes, such as L’avventura’s volcanic edifice that so looms over the feeble human presence.(34) In a still more overtly reflexive fashion, formal play with line, focus, texture, bodies – human and otherwise – and above all colour, dominates Il deserto rosso. Yet the historically grounded modernist realism, and with the latter film the absolute flattening of distinctions between historical and filmic realities, means that none of these rather tactile, at times seemingly ‘3-D’ or ‘virtual’ images are beyond reality per se. Rather, they portray and exercise the various shocks and radical modifications of familiar experience within this technologised world, irrespective of how different we feel our gaze to be from that of the film’s troubled, closely felt yet never truly accessible protagonist.
In each of these films, it is the image’s particular material-aesthetic autonomy that is a crucial part of this cinema’s distinction. Each shot in L’eclisse, for example, has an undeniable solidity and clarity in its rendering of a specific material reality within Roma’s various inner and outer regions (plus the small Verona airport where Vittoria enjoys a lyrical interlude), all the time emanating ambiguity’s ubiquitous vapours. With the film’s final minutes, in which the audience is denied its protagonists, we are confronted with the most famous loss of fullness, character and drama in Antonioni’s cinema. The viewer is left to pursue other interests that, while seeming new are in fact comprised of the same environment that dominated much of the film. But now this environment takes a starring role. Highlighting just one brief moment, the camera looks into a rusty barrel within which floats debris, including what looks like a piece of wood that Vittoria had earlier tossed in at an awkward moment of indecision and stasis with potential boyfriend Piero.
Following a cut, an extravagant tracking shot shows water leaking out from the barrel along the ground. Other images of the immediate surrounds follow, including some shots featuring human figures that, as filmed from the back, could be our protagonists, but upon turning around are revealed as strangers. Another interior shot of the barrel is followed by two decontextualised close-ups, presumably of the leakage on the ground as it forms a slick, made up of increasingly abstract shapes. In the wake of the earlier barrel and water tracking shots, this miniature sublime double-image crystallises the way the whole sequence replaces narrative and thematic development with a descriptive and inherently ambiguous detailing of the immediate world.
The images of L’eclisse’s seven-minute concluding sequence comprise a freshly dripping canvas offering up the challenge, or chance, to wash away our memories of the recognisably human, by looking directly upon the phenomenal world by means of the camera’s ‘documentary’ or ‘experimental’ presentation of material space transforming through time. The familiar EUR street corner and milieu now emerge as an ever-modulating set of material facts, the contours of which are changing beyond recognition before our eyes. Concurrently unremarkable, confronting and revelatory, this physical reality is shown as always in flux and beyond our grasp, cosmic, while being absolutely quotidian, apparently ‘post-human’ yet entirely immanent. In other words, the only home we have.(35)
Like an enormously elongated incarnation of Pasolini’s “insane pan,” as well as what others have called temps mort or ‘dead time’ – those moments where time is most strongly felt, typically at the end of a scene that continues despite events pertaining to the central story having apparently concluded – L’eclisse’s ending remains Antonioni’s boldest sequence. Yet it merely makes explicit what is present throughout: the reality of the filmed world as very consistent, epistemologically destabilising ground upon which a genuinely modern realism is forged.
Subjectivity and the objective gaze, intensity and dispersal
I have suggested that while Antonioni’s early-’60s films offer very loosely character-based narratives, the tentative presence of feeling and meaning as construed by the viewer is tethered less to the characters and their drama, and ultimately more to the nexus stressed by Walter Benjamin in his endlessly quoted essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”: the camera.(36) Yet emphasis on this cinema’s fundamentally technological and formal, seemingly less ‘human’, dimensions should not entirely override the complicating fact that there are a great many crucial moments throughout these films where the viewer can seem to feel Claudia, Lidia, Vittoria or Giuliana as within reach. Whatever the given shot’s precise formal characteristics, the precise nature of human bodies’ placement within their surrounding world, be it nature or built environment, is crucial. Here we reach the apex of Antonioni’s concurrent evoking of elusive but palpable subjectivity within what nonetheless remains a seemingly objective gaze, in the process bringing both to a point of intensity and dispersal.
In L’avventura, Claudia’s (Vitti) anguish is quite palpable starting with Anna’s disappearance on the island – sometimes seen and felt up close but more usually at a respectful distance. Gradually, Claudia comes to replace her both as Sandro’s girlfriend and the film’s chief protagonist. But we never really comprehend her actions or even discover basic biographical information, despite becoming incrementally more invested in her fate. This is at the expense of Anna, whose potential return right near the end of the film we may also come to fear along with Claudia when, not being able to sleep, she runs down the corridor of a high-class Taormina hotel in panic at the idea – one of the shots greeted at the Cannes premiere by shouts of “Cut! Cut!” from the frustrated audience.
In the early-‘60s films Antonioni’s camera travels along nearby the favoured human figures, observing them, Ian Cameron suggests, not from a clearly subjective perspective, but rather from “deep-not-quite-subjective-shots”(37) that can appear to offer, but never totally allow, identification, in part because there are no “convincing characters” on screen. If L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclisse feature a kind of mid-way camera position whereby the viewer is lured into the work of seeing some sense of character – albeit forever lacking in ‘classical’ terms – with Il deserto rosso a heightened sense of subjectivity seems both more palpable and dysfunctional. Through what can appear a kind of neo-expressionism, a sense of protagonistic intensity is here at a dual apogee and crisis point from which it will not recover. In addition to both exaggerated and denuded colour, out-of-focus and deep-focus shots, flattened depth-of-field (resulting from extensive use of the telephoto lens), and compositions mixing high-tech industry and polluted nature, this also plays out within unhomely, decidedly sterile ultra-modern interiors.
If such aesthetic form might initially be seen (or justified) by way of expressing Giuliana’s experiential reality as the most ‘neurotic’ of Antonioni’s protagonists, Seymour Chatman asks of the film: “But who is the subject? Subjective can refer to the psyche of the character, or to that of the camera, the film’s mute narrator, or to both concurrently.”(38) To this list I would add the viewer. Even where we might seek to order and explain the filmic reality in front of us as accessing our protagonist’s psyche, she is concurrently never more in doubt or felt as so directly borne of the film’s unique formal construction. Emphasising such distinct reflexive foregrounding, Rohdie argues that “though the camera is often subjective” – even as what this means is never truly clear – “that subjectivity and subjective look is in turn ‘objectively’ regarded; Giuliana’s subjectivity is more an ‘object’ observed than a subjectivity to identify with.”(39) Regardless of how objective or subjective the gaze or doubling thereof can appear in a given instant, Il deserto rosso and the other films make perceivable the actuality of such a moment as generated for the viewer through special cinematic procedures.
Like the heavily qualified enactment and skirting of subjectivity, objectivity for these films is also an always-ambiguous domain of lived experience. Merleau-Ponty describes the capacity for “objectively observable behaviour” as a site for meaning, provided that “objectivity is not confused with what is measurable.”(40) No matter how seemingly objective they become, Antonioni’s films never equate the gaze with measurability. Their dissolution of distinctions between objective and subjective gazes, realism and modernism, drama and abstract ‘documentary’ interests, space and intentional graphic detailing, both challenges and energises perspective. Pascal Bonitzer writes of the importance of what seems like a non-human perspective shared between the camera and viewer with L’avventura:
Beyond the basically human point of view incarnated in the protagonists, there is another point of view. That abstract point of view is picked up in a nonhuman way by the camera in random movements – explosions, clouds, Brownian motions, spots, indeed, a neutral space filled with any movement whatsoever within which the flow of Antonioni’s film comes to rest.(41)
While strongly marked by a sense of autonomy and non-anthropocentric concerns, this “other point of view” in which the films come to rest is still ultimately human, but in a very unfamiliar sense.
For Gilles Deleuze, all Antonioni’s shots, including what he calls the most seemingly “inhuman” or objective images, offer an “invisible subjectivity”. Objectivity, Deleuze writes, is “formed through becoming mental, and going into a strange, invisible subjectivity … of feelings which go from the objective to the subjective, and are internalised in everyone.”(42) The films allow us to gaze upon bodies in and of the world, human and otherwise, so as to see this reality for all its oscillation of clarity and ambiguity, in the process internalising objectivity – including its most alien, subject-challenging elements – just as subjective desire transforms our understanding of the objective, material world.
In each of the early-‘60s films, the world is portrayed through a focus on the places, spaces and forms of a physical reality in front of the camera as transformed by its inherently artificial gaze – a new but now essential component of modern reality and how we see it. Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier wrote of L’avventura at the time of release: ‘In Antonioni’s work the world is never merely a setting or a symbol.’(43) Throughout the films, specific environments in all their objective power and genuinely mysterious resonance seem to overwhelm the characters, dwarfing the human drama but also any symbolic or interpretive frame the viewer may seek to affix. Ground zero in terms of ‘nature’ remains L’avventura’s island. But the film goes on to enact reality’s even more challenging, often human-derived power as the architectural and topographical spaces of Sicilia overwhelm the original purpose of Claudio and Sandro’s road trip – to find Anna – with creeping, everyday nihilistic effect. If there is a central passage in this extraordinary development it begins with the brief, much-celebrated scene in which they visit a Fascist-era, never occupied workers’ village, concluding with a palpably eerie gaze and sense of presence evoked by a slow tracking shot down an exterior corridor towards the couple as they get in the car and drive away.
A very surprising, genuinely radical cut then immediately ushers in their first embrace. Shot first from a low angle against blank sky, as they lie on a grassy knoll and kiss, the new lovers’ bodies are made into material things through the camera’s flattening emphasis on textural combinations made up of biological, manufactured and natural elements. Shot from directly above, an image comprising only clothing, hair, disembodied fingers and dry grass makes for a decidedly depthless but intricately patterned mass entirely outside this potentially dramatic moment, distracting us from it. With a subsequent side-on view, human faces are seen, but they become fragmented and objectified anew by a too-close camera emphasising the materiality of skin, skull and jaw shapes, and tactile strands of hair. The combination of these adjoining scenes featuring the ghostly workers’ village and hillside love play has long fascinated film scholars as marking a nexus point example of the insidious violence forged by Antonioni’s cinema. The sequence and its crucial, jarring cut also best explains Deleuze’s description of the director’s films as uniquely taking up “the Nietzschean project of a real critique of morality”.(44) Any such philosophical account can only come about, however, because the filmed reality of Sicilia, a deserted 1930s-built village and the stretched tracking shot through its stark, never-used modernist contours, followed by the shock of a spatially and temporally indeterminate ellipsis into the untrammeled but spatially and conceptually vertiginous euphoria of a coupling, can be read as ‘forging’ this quietly confronting event.
For this cinema’s protagonists, and even for the viewer watching images that give an unprecedented role to the power of primordial, ancient, and modern time, along with natural and human-made space – all such distinctions voided by the technology of film – the world seems, to borrow Merleau-Ponty’s description of experience, “already there before reflection begins – as an inalienable presence.”(45) Antonioni’s films suggest this in the prominence given to the world in all its quotidian imminence and ubiquitous sublimity, its historically located modernity and intimations of ‘deep time’ prior to, during, and particularly after the humans have played out their drama. “By tying perception to the actual shape and status of the external world,” Rohdie writes, Antonioni “made them both equally subject of his films, and equally ambiguous and tenuous.”(46) This joining makes neither any less impactful. On the contrary, reality as viewed becomes more imposing and ineffable than ever.
The overwhelming importance of objects
The presence and primacy of the physical world is emphasised in these films through the unusual prominence given not only to the diverse space and time of different environments, but also to objects themselves. In Theory of Film, Siegfried Kracauer characteristically describes “the tremendous importance of objects,” writing that “the actor too is no more than a detail, a fragment of the matter of the world,” and pointing out the potential in showing “real life complexes which the conventional figure-ground patterns usually conceal from view.”(47) The first image of L’eclisse strikingly evokes this effect with a very surprising kind of establishing shot: a graphically dense composition featuring a desk lamp, books, journals, and various cluttered objects flattened against a textured wall crowded with artworks. The subsequent pan reveals part of the object-mass of this quotidian yet strange-looking reality to be the sleeve-covered arm of a male body, which we now see staring off screen right yet in remaining immobile retains the appearance of an object.
The lack of distinctions in such an image between form and content, subject and object, fiction and documentary, figure and ground, narration and reflexive thematising, demonstrates the central tenets of Antonioni’s re-conceived realism as both challenging and genuinely liberating, in the sense Bazin described of deep focus and time’s entry into the filmic image. This results in aesthetic juxtapositions that, to borrow Kracauer’s advocacy of cinema as objective realism irrespective of any purported fictional or dramatic content, and illustrating once more the intimately bound historically grounded relationship between modernist and realist aesthetics, reveal “configurations of semi-abstract phenomena.”(48) The majority of Antonioni’s “semi-abstract phenomena,” including his most painterly or abstract images, do not in fact thereby show something strange. Rather, the historical palimpsest of post-war Italy is photographed in a way that brings out both the startling modern beauty and flattening power of its interconnected spaces and constituent object worlds, their origins or intended purpose notwithstanding.
This procedure works in extreme long shot just as much as fragmentary close-ups. In an early image from La notte, Lidia/Moreau is transformed into a tiny figure barely visible in the far bottom-left slither of the frame, almost evicted by the objective weight of a giant expanse of stark concrete wall as seen from many floors above – a possible vantage point that may or may not be the apartment in which her husband listlessly lies. If the angle of Giovanni’s subsequent gaze out the window suggests the preceding image is not easily understood or recoupable as his point-of-view (if we assume the conventions of continuity editing), the ambiguous combination of these two images demonstrates again the true and quietly confronting intimacy of human and object worlds. It also puts the notion of a distinct protagonist, or even plural subjects, whose gaze and actions the viewer could utilise to pull the film’s diverse graphic and perceptual elements together, further into doubt.
As viewers of Antonioni’s films, our engagement with the world as presented on screen is one in which – to once more utilise Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological language, so suggestive of cinema’s virtual power – “the mind goes out through the eyes to wander among objects.”(49) To indulge the visual in all its confronting and enabling ambiguity is at the core both of this modernist cinema’s re-configured realism and enormous ongoing seduction. Antonioni says that his visual technique involves “moving from a series of images up to a state of things.”(50) The viewer also collates these images into a whole “state of things.” Each of us brings not only customised order but also heavily qualified, fragile meaning to the reality of this film-world. More than usual, however, in the process we also realise that such an engagement remains both highly tenuous and viable only for an audience of one. What remains and prevails are the space, time and material details of the world in all its ambiguity, as manifest both on and as the film.
In his famous “Dear Antonioni” open letter celebrating what he called the director’s “fragility”, Roland Barthes saw in these films a “discernment” that never confuses “meaning with truth.”(51) With Antonioni’s cinema of the early 1960s, modernism and realism thereby achieve the richest and most historically appropriate union, driven by and prompting still challenging enunciations of clarity, ambiguity, and freedom.
This article has been peer reviewed.
1. This article is a substantial reworking and peer-reviewed updating of an earlier essay, “Antonioni’s Ambiguity: Challenging Realism in the Early 1960s Films,” published in the Italian journalCinemascope. It, Special Antonioni Centenary Issue: “Antonioni and the Mystery of Reality,” Issue 18 July-December 2012.: online currently unavailable.
2. Michelangelo Antonioni, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema eds. Carlo di Carlo and Giorgio Tinazzi., New York: Marsilio, 1996, p. 26. This discussion between Antonioni, film critics, scholars and students was subsequently published in a 1961 edition of Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’s monthly journal Bianco e nero. Its English translation first appeared in Film Culture no. 24 Spring 1962., reprinted in The Architecture of Vision.
3. Incompletely built under Mussolini’s orders to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Fascist Italy and due to open on the occasion of the never-eventuated 1942 World’s Fair cancelled due to the war, the EUR was later renovated from its largely dilapidated state and refashioned as a mixed-zone commercial and residential area in the years prior to the 1962 Roma Olympics and L’eclisse itself.
4. Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible, New York & London: Routledge, 1992, p. 6.
5. P. Adams Sitney, Modernist Montage: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 2.
6. Ibid., p. 102.
7. Peter Brunette, The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 105.
8. Guido Bonsaver, “Geometry of Feelings,” Sight and Sound, July 2005: http://old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/321
9. See Karen Pinkus, “Antonioni’s Cinematic Poetics of Climate Change,” in Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes eds., Antonioni: Centenary Essays, London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 254–75.
10. Karl Schoonover, “Antonioni’s Waste Management,” in Rascaroli and Rhodes, eds., Antonioni: Centenary Essays, pp. 235–53.
11. From an interview with François Maurin in Humanité dimanche, 23 September 1964, translated by Andrew Taylor in The Architecture of Vision, p. 286.
12. Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes, “Interstitial, Pretentious, Alienated, Dead: Antonioni at 100,” Antonioni: Centenary Essays, London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 1–17.
13. Brunette, The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni.
14. Ibid., p. 3.
15. Henri Lefebve, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1 trans. John Moore., London/New York: Verso, 1991, p. 71.
16. Ibid., p. 170.
17. Ibid., p. 18.
18. André Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” in Hugh Gray ed. and trans., What is Cinema?: Volume I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, p. 37.
19. Ibid., p. 39.
20. Bonsaver, “Geometry of Feelings.”
21. In addition to space, the important connection between Vittoria and Antonioni’s camera and throughout L’eclisse is the film’s remarkable temporal power. For my extensive discussion of this topic, see Hamish Ford, Post-War Modernist Cinema and Philosophy, Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 7–9 and 143–248.
22. Jean-François Lyotard, “Acinema” trans. Paisley Livingston., Wide Angle 2:3, 1978, p. 77.
23. Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, trans. Albert Hofstadter, in Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger, ed. David Farrell Krell, Routledge: London, 1993, p. 191.
25. Quoted in Sam Rohdie, Antonioni, London: BFI Publishing, 1990, pp. 92–3.
26. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays, trans. William Cobb, Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1964, p. 4.
27. Rohdie, Antonioni, p. 141.
28. Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Cinema of Poetry,” Heretical Empiricism, trans. Ben Lawton and Louise K. Barnett., Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2005, pp. 178–9.
29. John David Rhodes, “Antonioni and the Development of Style,” in Rascaroli and Rhodes, (eds.), Antonioni, p. 297.
30. Rohdie, Antonioni, p. 52.
31. Ibid., p. 2.
33. Roberto Rossellini, et al., “An Open Letter,” L’avventura Criterion Collection DVD booklet, 2001, p. 8. The film was subsequently awarded a custom-made Jury prize “for the beauty of its images and for seeking to invent a new cinematic language”, a moniker prefacing its Criterion DVD presentation.
34. William Arrowsmith, Antonioni: Poet of Images, ed. Ted Perry, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 55.
35. For more extensive analysis of how L’eclisse radically recasts notions of home followed by detailed discussion of its final minutes, see Ford, Post-War Modernist Cinema and Philosophy, pp. 216–228.
36. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, trans. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, reprinted in Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy eds., Film Theory and Criticism 4th edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 672.
37. Ian Cameron, “L’avventura,” from Ian Cameron and Robin Wood, Antonioni, London: Studio Vista, 1968, p. 10.
38. Seymour Chatman, Antonioni, or The Surface of the World, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. 131.
39. Rohdie, Antonioni, p. 185.
40. Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, p. 24.
41. Pascal Bonitzer, “The Disappearance on Antonioni”, trans. Chris Beyer, Gavriel Moses, and Seymour Chatman, in Seymour Chatman and Guido Fink eds., L’avventura: Michelangelo Antonioni, Director, New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1989, p. 217.
42. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989, p. 8.
43. Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier, “L’avventura”, trans. Seymour Chatman and Renee Morel, in Seymour Chatman and Guido Fink eds., L’avventura, p. 194.
44. Deleuze, Cinema 2, p. 8.
45. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith, London: Routledge, 1989, p. vii.
46. Rohdie, Antonioni, 72.
47. Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, London: Oxford University Press, 1960, pp. 45 and 53.
48. Ibid., p. 54.
49. Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, p. 166.
50. Quoted in Giorgio Tinazzi, “The Gaze and the Story,” preface to the Italian edition of Michelangelo Antonioni, The Architecture of Vision, p. xvii.
51. Roland Barthes, ‘Dear Antonioni’, trans. Nora Hope, re-printed in Seymour Chatman and Guido Fink eds., L’avventura, pp. 209–10.