Zabriskie Point (1970) Michaelangelo Antonioni

Production Budget: $7 million

Worldwide Gross: $1 million

Antonioni achieved success in the Italian Neorealism movement with his trilogy of L’avventura, La Notte, and L’eclisse.  He then received international success with his first English release Blow Up.  Zabriskie Point was to capitalize on the success of Easy Rider and be a further statement on American counterculture at the time.  Production was problematic from the start.  Due to the politics of Antonioni and of the film, protests followed the shoot everywhere.  The police attempted to shut down shoots due to the disturbances and shooting at Zabriskie Point was halted because of the infamous orgy scene at the location.  There were even the possibility of charges being brought against Antonioni from the Mann Act which was a statute about transporting women across state lines for sex acts.  The film was released about five years after first conception which meant it was already past its time and received scathing reviews by critics.

I’m really at a loss for what I can say that can be of substance here.  Usually that is the hallmark of a great Antonioni film.  It is easy to say nothing happens but they are about deeper issues.  L’avventura and Blow Up are about a woman disappearing and a person being murdered however you never find out what happened to either.  They end up being about the ennui of the upper class and a guy finding passion in his work again.  Now much like Zabriskie Point I’ve long since forgotten what my original point was and am just trying to pretentiously prattle on as if this will have some substance.

I guess my point was that his previous films were more carefully constructed and his subtext was a little more coherent.  Here I don’t know what the fuck Antonioni is trying to do.  It seems like Antonioni is the kind of person who agreed with the sentiment of the hippies he is portraying and was trying to show the counter culture in a positive light.  But that being said, the hippies are portrayed so moronically in this film that it makes you think he hated hippies and all their pretentious bullshit, or like Inception, is trying to go even deeper with some bullshit subtext.  I’m leaning toward the idea Antonioni was trying to be sympathetic, but I clearly have a deep seeded hatred for hippies.

I don’t think it is a matter of portraying hippies negatively but genuinely hating their drug fueled (hate to use this word so much but fuck it) pretentious crap.  I mean I’m a liberal so it’s not like I’m on some political polar opposite from them.  But within the first five minutes of this film I’m stuck in a meeting of protesters bickering about who would die more for the cause and how everyone needs to read Karl Marx and wondering why they even need meetings in the first place because they are so bourgeois and I find myself rolling my eyes and agreeing with Patton Oswalt that “hippies need to die off“.

That’s really the majority of this movie; dealing with annoying hippies.  The first third we are mainly following Mark as he takes part in meaningless protests and then tries to murder police officers (our hero ladies and gentlemen!).  Mark then steals a plane and meets Daria who is on som spiritual journey or some such crap.  They then go to the titular Zabriskie Point where they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about absolutely nothing.  Most of their banter is on par with Barbara Walters “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?“  They then fuck, and their fucking is somehow pretentious and boring as well.  I could ramble some more but I think you get my main problem with the movie.

I will give the movie the credit where it is due.  Zabriskie Point is beautifully shot as it is the one thing Antonioni can always be relied upon to do well.  The soundtrack is also well done as Antonioni worked with the big bands of the time to capture some of the music of the time.  Plus this movie has one of the best explosions ever.  Yeah, I’m watching an art film by Michaelangelo Antonioni and I am talking about an explosion like it is a Transformers movie but it is that awesome.  In the end Daria has a dream where she blows up a mansion which is some symbol of bullshit materialism.  Let me tell you, this mansion blows…the fuck…up.  I’m not joking when I say they used most of the budget on this explosion.  I’m serious.  Most of Antonioni’s other films are extremely cheap but most of the budget was used in building a full scale mansion and blowing it the fuck up.  You see every dollar as you see it from fifteen angles, multiple times, and in super slow motion.  If it were in any Expendables movie it would surely make you jizz in your pants.

The acting of the film is not any good.  Antonioni hired two non-actors for the lead roles in Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.  Both have a great look which is why they became sex symbols of the counter culture.  They received a lot of exposure prior to the films release and were on the cover of Rolling Stone.  However having the look is not as important as knowing how to say a line or to be a convincing character.  Despite being icons they could not get much work after as actors.  Frechette  went off the deep end by robbing a bank as what he calls a revolutionary act then died in minimum security prison of a “weight-lifting accident“.  Not really anything to do with the movie but I found it interesting.

Everyone made mistakes in the 60’s from clothes to music to hair so I can give a pass to Antonioni for Zabriskie Point.  ZP is not a good film.  Sure it’s well shot and has a great soundtrack but that’s all there is.  Antonioni tried to be deep but it only seems that way if you are high as the crew was upon making this.  There are other Antonioni films worth watching, and there are other beautiful films with actual content as well.  Skip the film but watch the house blowing up on YouTube.

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