Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The end of the era continues . . .
"Tell me you love me. I love you. Tell me you don't. I don't love you." Monica Vitti in L'avventura.
Hard on the heels of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) died yesterday. His elegantly arid vision of our modern moral limbo is, well, hard to warm up to, but also hard, once perceived accurately, to forget. The presence of Monica Vitti in his films (she became his second wife) was enough in many quarters to justify his fame, but there's really so much more - the strange sense of empty space that he conjures within the picture plane in L'avventura; the trees whispering above the assignation that never happens in L'eclisse, and then again in the mysterious park in Blow-Up, where murdered bodies - and even, eventually, the hero - disappear into the silent grass.
Disappearance was perhaps Antonion's central metaphor - in his films, people often literally disappear, but more often they vanish morally and emotionally, into the landscape, into urbanity, or into their own rudderless ennui, usually lured, and then betrayed, by sex or money or both. The title Red Desert eloquently summed up Antonion's central concern - the color of sex suffusing the landscape of death.
Of course he hadn't worked for years (aside from the intriguing Beyond the Clouds, which he directed despite the lingering deficits of a stroke), so in a way his passing is symbolic of a loss that has already happened (as is the case, to a lesser degree, with Bergman). The deeper critical question about both these greats is, why were they never replaced? Why did the cinematic whiz kids of the 70s - Coppola, Spielberg, and Scorsese - peak so early (and without ever reaching the heights of Antonioni and Bergman)? True, there are still real talents working in film - there's Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke, and a few more; but none has reached the level of international success that Fellini, Bergman, and Kurosawa enjoyed. I suppose the best answer is one once given by Roger Ebert:
Why don't we have movies like L'avventura anymore? Because we don't ask the same kinds of questions anymore.