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Michelangelo Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point"
June 25, 2009 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Pauline Kael called it "a huge, jerry-built, crumbling ruin of a movie". Roger Ebert called it "such a silly and stupid movie... our immediate reaction is pity". Few directors of Michelangelo Antonioni's stature have followed a film as acclaimed as Blowup (1966) with one as reviled as Zabriskie Point (1970).

While what merit the film has is found chiefly, if not solely, in Antonioni's characteristically striking visuals - particularly its concluding explosion sequence set to Pink Floyd's "Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up" (previously) - the movie has been YouTubed in its entirety here. (related)
posted by Joe Beese (30 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Never seen it, but I always enjoyed reading its entry in my parents' book about the fifty worst films of all time. I will try to check this out later! I enjoy spectacular failures.
posted by Neofelis at 11:39 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


According to IMDB trivia
Michelangelo Antonioni's leftist politics made the film controversial from the start. The production was harassed by groups opposed to the movie's alleged "anti-Americanism." FBI agents tailed cast and crew members. Filming locations were besieged by right-wingers protesting an alleged scene of flag desecration, which never happened. Militant anti-establishment students worried they were being "sold out". The sheriff of Oakland, California, accused Michelangelo Antonioni of provoking the riots he had come to film. Death Valley park rangers initially refused to allow Michelangelo Antonioni to shoot at Zabriskie Point because they thought he planned to stage an orgy at the site; it was conceptualized, but never seriously considered. The U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento opened grand jury investigations into both the film's alleged "anti-Americanism" and possible violations of the Mann Act, a 1910 law prohibiting the transportation of women across state lines "for immoral conduct, prostitution or debauchery," during the Death Valley filming. The investigation was dropped, reluctantly, when they learned that Zabriskie Point was at least 13 miles west of the California-Nevada border.
Hippies on the left of him, establishment on the right, there he was.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:40 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Soundtrack is awesome though.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:46 AM on June 25, 2009


I had a bootleg soundtrack to this movie when I was younger and loved it. It was my introduction to John Fahey.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:47 AM on June 25, 2009


He returned to Europe in 1975 for a movie featuring Jack Nicholson: The Passenger/Professione: reporter. Good movie.
posted by acro at 11:52 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


If the main characters of Zabriskie Point had been photographed running in front of the explosion sequence, we could blame him for inventing Michael Bay movies.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2009


Zabriskie is still not available on DVD apart from a bad Russian transfer.
posted by bhnyc at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2009


I believe I shall go buy some explosives.
posted by HuronBob at 12:02 PM on June 25, 2009


If the main characters of Zabriskie Point had been photographed running (ADD: IN SLOW MOTION WITHOUT TURNING TO LOOK BACK) in front of the explosion sequence, we could blame him for inventing Michael Bay movies.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on June 25, 2009


The main reason this title popped out at me was because of an excellent relatively-recent Pink Floyd documentary where you are told that a beautiful instrumental version of what eventually became "Us and Them" on the Dark Side of the Moon album was rejected by the director as being too sad. Richard Wright reworked it and a classic was born.

Here is that clip, with a now-sadly-gone Richard Wright explaining the thinking behind the music.
posted by jscott at 12:08 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, re-watching that clip, I forget what I was working on, what this story was about, or what the weather is. I'm just happy, and I miss this guy.
posted by jscott at 12:10 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something tells me the film's original ending, a plane sky-writing "FUCK YOU AMERICA", wouldn't have helped the critical reaction much.
posted by Spatch at 12:19 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Zabriskie is still not available on DVD apart from a bad Russian transfer.

Actually, this is no longer the case.
posted by hoboynow at 12:21 PM on June 25, 2009


I LOVE Zabriskie Point. I remember watching it in college amazed and delighted, thinking... how could anyone make a movie like this? And the soundtrack is simply fabulous. I never understood all the hatred lavished on Zabriskie Point (sure, terrible acting, fine).
posted by Auden at 12:21 PM on June 25, 2009


The Actually, this is no longer the case link is NSFW.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2009


See, I never really got the attraction to Blow Up, either. Bored the crap out of me.
posted by koeselitz at 12:27 PM on June 25, 2009


Zabriskie Point. Good movie.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:37 PM on June 25, 2009


great!, it was released a few weeks ago- amazon (sfw)
posted by bhnyc at 1:08 PM on June 25, 2009


With all the talk about the studio changing the soundtrack at the last minute... Youtube apparently flagged the music in the film, and rather than lose the whole section 6 (whole film link), the uploader just added a different song ("DAVID GILMOUR'S JOKER WILD" called "WALK LIKE A MAN"!)
posted by acro at 1:13 PM on June 25, 2009


i've been studying some bergman films lately, and for the last few days the final scene from zabriskie point kept intruding on my mind. it was great to see it here. it is the visual equivalent of ginsbergs "howl", an amazing few moments of cinematic poetry that is still unrivalled in any film i can think of, with the possible exception of the end of "doctor strangelove".
posted by kitchenrat at 1:17 PM on June 25, 2009


Zabriskie is still not available on DVD apart from a bad Russian transfer.

Actually, this is no longer the case.


yea i saw this DVD review from the avclub :P
By the time the movie arrived in theaters in 1970, critics and hip moviegoers were growing weary of anti-establishment screeds on the silver screen, so Antonioni got hammered for his already-dated take on hippie revolutionaries, as well as for his insistence on using a cast of inert, mumbly non-professionals. Then in the ensuing decades, Zabriskie Point’s critical standing improved, as directors like Gus Van Sant and Bruno Dumont paid homage...

But not enough attention was paid in 1970 to the movie’s innovative soundtrack, which mixes folk-rock, electronic drone, and near-complete silence into an aural representation of what Antonioni is trying to say about the natural and the synthetic. And maybe Antonioni intended the moviegoers of the time to roll their eyes at Frechette and Halprin’s “We’re just misunderstood, beautiful people” chatter...

Perhaps all the gorgeously shot explosions and the talk of armed insurrection in Zabriskie Point were never meant to be admired. Maybe those scenes—like the film’s centerpiece “orgy in the dust” sequence—were only ever meant to show that even the most idealistic Americans were as crude in their philosophy and behavior as the culture that spawned them.
cheers!
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on June 25, 2009


A recent Believer Magazine has a DVD title 'Godard in America' [Jean Luc, that is.]. In one of the short films Andrew Sarris asks Godard what he thought of Zabriskie Point and Godard looked down at an ashtray and said, "That’s like asking me what I think of this ashtray."

His main criticism actually was that the budget was too big.

For those who know the movie there is a good footnote about the musical ending here [got to the bottom half of the page].

Also there was a long and very insightful article in the Sept/Oct 1992 Film Comment about the film by Beverly Walker who was on the set. Seek it out.
posted by Rashomon at 1:54 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I liked Zabriskie Point. I didn't think it was a great movie, but it was okay. I expected it to be storyless -- I had seen Blow Up and l'Avventura (which bored me to tears) -- and I didn't expect it to be any more coherent than Easy Rider or, later, Penn's Alice's Restaurant were. There was something about the era that caused good filmmakers to go to pieces when they tried to make a movie about it. But the central concept, the confusion about violence and change, was well-presented. I also agree with John Fahey (in one of the two good articles cited in the FPP) that the desert orgy scene was just another skin flick, but gratuitous flesh was de rigeur for movies then (and I don't mind it today). Anyway, if you watch Zabriskie Point now, you may be surprised that it's nowhere as bad as you've been led to believe.
posted by CCBC at 1:58 PM on June 25, 2009


Well, it is hard to make a movie in America when you hate everything about America. In that respect it seemed that Antonioni was going to make an ugly movie, a really ugly movie, and show that the counter-culture movement was just as shallow and fake and ugly as the establishment and in the end it doesn't matter if you're a developer or a hippy in America, you're fucking ugly.

When I first saw it I thought, "God the early 70s and late 60s were an ugly time for design," until I realized that is merely a farce. He's captured modernism beautifully, lovingly and with respect. In this movie he essentially takes a shit on it and says, "See when you commercialize it turns into a bad Xerox copy," which is really too bad. It is sort of if Bill O'Reilly were to make a movie about San Francisco, that if he even tried to capture the real San Francisco an objective way it would still turn out bad because he's Bill O'Reilly and there's no way he can hide his hate of "West Coast values."

Maybe I need to watch the new DVD transfer, I hope I'm missing something, but god, every shot in this movie was intentionally shot to be ugly. How can you love something like that?
posted by geoff. at 2:29 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


What Netflix movie came to my mailbox today? Zabriskie Point! I can't wait. Perhaps I'll like it; perhaps I'll hate it. All I know is that I had to watch "The Passenger" 3 times before I decided I liked it. Great crane shot.

Sorry. You can't mention "The Passenger" without then saying "Great crane shot".
posted by acrasis at 4:47 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


. . . it seemed that Antonioni was going to make an ugly movie, a really ugly movie, and show that the counter-culture movement was just as shallow and fake and ugly as the establishment and in the end it doesn't matter if you're a developer or a hippy in America, you're fucking ugly.

Right, so skip Zabriskie Point and listen to The Mothers' We're Only In It For The Money.
posted by Herodios at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2009


It was a great crane shot. Likewise you can't mention Zabriskie Point without something about the 'splosions at the end. I went to a dirty almost abandonned art house theatre just the see the 'splosions. You kids have it easy now with your youtube and what not...
posted by SageLeVoid at 5:46 PM on June 25, 2009


You can hear some of Pink Floyd's other music for the film here. It's really good.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 5:57 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great film -- but seeing it for the first time, it's important to be in college and on controlled substances.

I believe that IMDB trivia is incorrect, and in conflict with their full cast page which says Harrison Ford is the airport worker (who asks Mark Frechette what he's doing, and then is heard later being interviewed by the police.) [What's with the IMDb, anyway? The format of its pages is all screwed up now.]

More interesting trivia about Mark Frechette was how he was convicted later in the 1970s of bank robbery and while in the slammer died in the weight room, supposedly an accident where he was found on a bench with a barbell on his neck.
posted by Rash at 6:08 PM on June 25, 2009


The bizzare thing about this is that I was going through some old casettes and found a tape of the soundtrack on Sunday. Then this post came up. So I went to iTunes and sure enough, there it was. So I'm listening to it this very moment on my iPod. It is really good.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:24 PM on June 25, 2009


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