| Subjects | Settings
| Visual Style | Classic Italian Film
Films: N.U. | L'amorosa menzogna
| Sette canne, un vestito
| Cronaca di un amore / Story of a Love Affair | I vinti / The Vanquished
| Le Amiche | Il Grido
| L'Avventura | La Notte
| L'Eclisse | Red Desert
| I tre volti: Il provino / The Screen Test | Blowup
| The Passenger | Beyond the Clouds
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Mathematics and Visual Style | Color in the Arts
Hamish Ford, Richard Peņa and I took part in a discussion of Antonioni, hosted by Dan Schneider:
Part of the Dan Schneider Video Interviews.
Readers might want to check out:
Michelangelo Antonioni: Subjects
Characters, Work and Society:
- Men who make or build things, or who are good at machinery
(factory workers: Sette canne, un vestito,
mechanic also works as model: L'amorosa menzogna,
construction workers: Italian episode of I vinti,
skilled construction worker: Le Amiche,
mechanic: Il Grido,
skilled technicians: Red Desert,
sound equipment expert, photographer: Blowup)
- Men who are writers or artists (creators of fumetti: L'amorosa menzogna,
poet, reporter: English episode of I vinti,
ceramicist, painter: Le Amiche,
architect hero: L'Avventura, writer hero: La Notte,
writer Riccardo: L'Eclisse,
filmmakers: Il provino,
photographer, painter: Blowup,
reporter: The Passenger,
film director: Identification of a Woman)
- Photography studios, darkrooms (fumetti studio: L'amorosa menzogna,
fashion photographer: Blowup)
- Businessmen, dynamic, virile - but not socially responsible in their behavior
(factory owner husband: Cronaca di un amore,
insurance executive: Italian episode of I vinti,
industrialist: La Notte,
stock broker: L'Eclisse,
factory manager, Richard Harris as construction company owner: Red Desert,
Rod Taylor: Zabriskie Point)
related (business woman heroine: Le Amiche)
- Massive groups in business (fashion show: Sette canne, un vestito,
book party: La Notte,
stock exchange: L'Eclisse)
- Groups become frenzied (stock exchange after crash: L'Eclisse,
rock concert after guiltier smashing: Blowup)
- Discussion groups (recruiting workers for Patagonia construction: Red Desert,
student radicals: Zabriskie Point)
- Working women (barge worker, harvesters: Gente del Po,
fumetti actress, typist: L'amorosa menzogna,
fashion models: Sette canne, un vestito,
typist in newspaper office: English episode of I vinti,
business woman, artist: Le Amiche,
hero's mother in wineshop, store clerk, seamstress Betsy Blair, woman runs gas station: Il Grido,
actress, film studio workers: Il provino,
antique store owner, hero's assistant, models: Blowup,
heroine works for real estate developer: Zabriskie Point,
gynecologist, actress: Identification of a Woman,
clothing store clerks: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Nuns, typically seen briefly and respectfully in pairs in a public place (on street: N.U.,
on street: L'amorosa menzogna,
on train: Le Amiche,
three nuns on street near hero's home, nun on church roof: L'Avventura,
on street seen from Piero's apartment: L'Eclisse,
in white habits on street: Blowup,
heroine plans to be nun: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- People who emigrate to or work in distant countries
(boyfriend did military service in Africa: Cronaca di un amore,
dreams of going to Canada, Algeria: French episode of I vinti,
husband who went to Australia, woman at gas station wants to see world,
man talks about his trips to Kenya, Venezuela, Chile: Il Grido,
man in shack back from thirty years in Australia: L'Avventura,
white African expatriate: L'Eclisse,
business venture wants workers to go to Patagonia: Red Desert,
heroine born abroad but working in Italy: Il provino,
antique store owner wants to emigrate to either Nepal or Morocco: Blowup,
reporter: The Passenger)
- Assistants handle phones and aid protagonist (Piero and assistant in phone booth at stock market: L'Eclisse,
heroine: Il provino,
hero at his studio: Blowup)
- Worthless people who live to consume goods (wife: Cronaca di un amore,
Piero more concerned about damage to car than about dead man: L'Eclisse,
attack on consumer goods at end: Zabriskie Point)
- People flee an area in panic, avoiding trouble (students flee after shooting: French episode of I vinti,
friends flee after plague flag raised on ship: Red Desert)
- People who abandon their social conscience, for money or drugs (architect sells out for money: L'Avventura,
writer gets big offer to do book on businessman: La Notte,
drugged partygoers refuse to take action on murder: Blowup)
- Racially prejudiced characters, criticized for their attitudes
(white African expatriate: L'Eclisse,
protagonist mistreats Africans with his car: Blowup)
related (black militants at opening meeting: Zabriskie Point)
Happy people and activities:
- Characters with troubled relationships (Cronaca di un amore, Il Grido, L'Avventura,
La Notte, L'Eclisse, heroine: Red Desert, main couple: Identification of a Woman,
Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Adultery which leads to disaster (Cronaca di un amore, Le Amiche, contemplated: La Notte)
- Men who exploit women (young aristocrat paints only nude women: L'Avventura,
Piero employs call girls and treats them disreprectfully: L'Eclisse,
protagonist harasses woman model employee and women who want modeling jobs from him: Blowup,
big businessman Rod Taylor puts sexual pressure on temp employee: Zabriskie Point)
- Adults and their mothers (hero: Italian episode of I vinti,
hero: Il Grido,
heroine talks on phone with mother: Il provino)
related (protagonist and grandmother: English episode of I vinti)
- Women who reject everyone around them, disappear, and start
new lives (Cronaca di un amore, Il Grido, L'Avventura)
men with new lives (The Passenger)
- Women leave their slightly older boyfriends and take up with younger men (Alida Valli: Il Grido,
heroine: L'Eclisse) related (alleged un-filmed screenplay scenes of Vanessa Redgrave's character and younger lover: Blowup)
- Women concealing murderous intrigues (heroine: Cronaca di un amore, Vanessa Redgrave: Blowup)
- Likable young men who are experts in high technology (boat race: Il Grido,
toy rocket launches: La Notte,
young man tries to fix sound equipment at Yardbirds concert: Blowup)
- Planes, speed boats, racecars, toy rockets
(glider: French episode of I vinti,
boat race: Il Grido, toy rocket launches: La Notte,
airplane: L'Eclisse, airplane: Zabriskie Point)
related (toy robot, gyroscope toy: Red Desert)
- Sports (rugby team practicing, ex-jock hero: Cronaca di un amore,
soccer game: Italian episode of I vinti,
tennis game, hero has rackets in room: English episode of I vinti,
horse riders: Le Amiche,
boxing: Il Grido,
Tai chi, footraces in Beijing: Chung Kuo - Cina,
public swimming pool: Identification of a Woman)
- Social perceptions corrupt (police pressure smugglers to change story: L'Avventura,
Adorno mentioned respectfully: La Notte,
social pressure put on people not to remember outcry in shack: Red Desert,
mimes' tennis game perhaps symbolizes social lies that persuade people: Blowup,
people in commercial for upper class housing development shown as mannequins: Zabriskie Point)
- Looking but not understanding (street cleaners not understood by upper classes according to narrator: N.U.,
events in park seen but not understood at first by hero: Blowup,
not understanding the Sun: Identification of a Woman)
related (clueless reporter works for newspaper The Daily Witness, but doesn't understand what he sees: English episode of I vinti)
- Skepticism about words (hero tells heroine words are pointless: L'Avventura,
"No Words" painted on airplane by hero: Zabriskie Point)
- Superstitions (documentary on primitive Italian superstitions: Superstizione,
mother scatters salt at stock exchange for luck: L'Eclisse)
- People compared to robots (hotel employee jokingly compared to robot: L'Avventura,
Antonioni compares cold rationalistic husband to kid's robot: Red Desert,
people in commercial for upper class housing development shown as mannequins: Zabriskie Point)
- Respect for Art, including writing
(readers mesmerized by fumetti: L'amorosa menzogna,
heroine and Irma met on trip to museum in Ferrara: Il Grido,
visitors rapt in art gallery: L'Avventura,
discussions on writing and book, book party: La Notte,
painter talks about painting: Blowup)
- Disrespect for Art (girl disdains painting in gallery: Le Amiche,
smashing guitar: Blowup)
related (smashing shack: Red Desert)
- Corruption of the arts for money (architect hero who sells out: L'Avventura,
proposal to "write" public relations about business: La Notte,
corrupt fashion photography: Blowup)
- Cultural elites who control "high" art, mainly seen sympathetically (art gallery: Le Amiche,
art gallery: L'Avventura,
publisher and cultural elites at book party: La Notte,
publisher of photo book: Blowup)
- Newspaper offices (England: English episode of I vinti,
Italy: Il provino)
- Pop music bands (music combo at nightclub: Cronaca di un amore,
piano and guitar play at party: Italian episode of I vinti,
band at local dance hall in Blair sequence: Il Grido,
Yardbirds concert: Blowup)
- Street performers (little girl: L'amorosa menzogna,
street singer at start: French episode of I vinti,
buskers play Londonderry Air on street: English episode of I vinti,
- The Bomb - and anti-military protests
(attack on munitions factory: original Italian episode of I vinti,
protests against destroying town to build airbase: Il Grido,
nuclear arms race in finale: L'Eclisse,
ban-the-bomb peace marchers: Blowup,
Vietnam causalities announced on radio, "NO WAR" painted on airplane: Zabriskie Point,
concern over arms dealers and Third World conflicts: The Passenger)
- Violent student radicals who act alone and get critiqued
(original Italian episode of I vinti, Zabriskie Point)
- Bad news in newspapers (smuggling and killing: Italian episode of I vinti,
sabotage of munitions factory: original Italian episode of I vinti,
atomic war mentioned at finale: L'Eclisse)
related (hero reads own obituary in paper: The Passenger)
- Ecological problems (pulling down tree at sold farm: Il Grido,
industrial region, pollution: Red Desert,
real-estate development of natural areas, smog in Los Angeles vs clean air in desert: Zabriskie Point)
- Desperate poverty (river people: Gente del Po,
street cleaners: N.U.,
shacks of very poor near end: Il Grido,
homeless men at "doss house" shelter: Blowup)
- Hunger among poor (hero and prostitute at end: Il Grido)
- Left wing writers mentioned, not necessarily admiringly (protagonist always carries copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems: English episode of I vinti,
scholar writes article on Theodor W. Adorno: La Notte,
left wing journals in Riccardo's study: L'Eclisse,
student radical gives his name as Karl Marx to police: Zabriskie Point)
- White liquids (food dished out to street cleaners: N.U.,
viscose developing in factory: Sette canne, un vestito)
- People try to get sandwiches in odd ways (heroine buys worker's partly eaten sandwich: Red Desert,
hero begs sandwich in shop: Zabriskie Point)
- Fruit vendors in street (fruit market: L'Eclisse,
painted gray: Red Desert)
Mystery and Crime:
- Blowing devices (fan next to Riccardo at start, fan also blows heroine's hair, ceiling fan at stock exchange: L'Eclisse,
steam blown out of factory, something blows heroine's hair at factory: Red Desert,
wind machines on film set blow at heroine: Il provino)
- Flames blowing in wind (factory flames blowing in wind direction: Red Desert,
wind machines on film set blow candle flames in candelabra: Il provino)
- Wind causes sound in objects (wind causes flagpoles to make sounds: L'Eclisse,
wind chimes outside desert mansion: Zabriskie Point)
- Sound equipment, often attached to cars (miniature radio discussed by lovers on train: L'Avventura,
tree-like structure of loudspeakers at stock exchange, long distance phone calls by brokers: L'Eclisse,
loudspeaker on car talking to strikebreaker, radio telescope to "listen to the stars": Red Desert,
reporter's car phone: Il provino,
hero's car radio, sound equipment at rock concert: Blowup,
microphones from police cars used by police at protest, Rod Taylor's intercom on desk: Zabriskie Point)
- Viscose: a synthetic fabric (documentary on viscose manufacture: Sette canne, un vestito,
company called Viscosa involved in stock market crash: L'Eclisse)
- Plant products used in industry (Arundo donax reeds harvested to make viscose: Sette canne, un vestito,
hero works in sugar refinery: Il Grido)
related (workers harvest plants: Gente del Po)
- Little boys and science fiction (heroine's son has robot toy, plays with gyroscope with his father: Red Desert,
film director's son suggests he make a science fiction movie: Identification of a Woman)
- Photographs and mystery (Cronaca di un amore, Blowup)
related (reporters make photos in attempt to identify mysterious actress arriving at studio: Il provino,
hero switches passport photos as part of plot: The Passenger)
- Film with first part about mystery of a woman's life, second part adultery (Cronaca di un amore, Le Amiche)
- Other mystery (murder: English episode of I vinti,
- Crime without mystery (murder: French episode of I vinti,
smuggler kills policeman: Italian episode of I vinti,
sabotage: original Italian episode of I vinti,
radicals vs policemen: Zabriskie Point,
hero switches identity: The Passenger)
- Multi-part episode films (I vinti, Beyond the Clouds)
related (series of vignettes about different girlfriends: Il Grido)
- Films start and end with same subject (tower: Il Grido,
- Segments within film which evoke Trilogy (story of island has rocks like L'Avventura: Red Desert,
blown-up black-and-white photos recall Trilogy: Blowup)
- Non-professional actors, often playing men in skilled jobs (stockbrokers at exchange: L'Eclisse,
Milan lawyer plays factory manager husband: Red Desert,
Soraya, Dino De Laurentiis play themselves: Il provino,
lead couple: Zabriskie Point)
Michelangelo Antonioni: Settings
Apartments and Homes:
- Lavish office buildings with guards at entrance (film studio: Il provino,
corporate headquarters: Zabriskie Point)
- Buildings under construction (zone of new buildings being built: Italian episode of I vinti,
fashion shop interior: Le Amiche,
buildings being built near father's villa at start: L'Avventura,
building in finale: L'Eclisse,
heroine's store interior, hero's construction company plans Patagonia project: Red Desert,
plane being painted: Zabriskie Point,
props and scaffolding on church front: The Passenger)
- Buildings at narrow intersection of two streets (opening shot: French episode of I vinti,
- City parks, with greenery, gates, steps and fences
(Milan: Cronaca di un amore,
hill and park with pool in EUR region of Rome: L'Eclisse,
London: Blowup, Munich: The Passenger)
related (antique park with statues: Bomarzo)
- Outings to the countryside (French episode of I vinti,
murder flashback: English episode of I vinti,
sea side: Le Amiche,
boat trip: L'Avventura,
shack: Red Desert)
- Old stonework and walls (ruins: Bomarzo,
narrow outdoor paths at start: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Businesses on street (news stand: L'amorosa menzogna,
birds in cages in Barcelona: The Passenger)
- Shacks (poor river people: Gente del Po,
street workers sleep: N.U.,
shack at gas station, prostitute's shack, poor village of shacks: Il Grido,
meeting place: Red Desert)
- Industrial landscapes (factory: Sette canne, un vestito,
near where smuggling occurs: Italian episode of I vinti,
ruined factory: original Italian episode of I vinti,
refinery with tower, gas station, area with huge spools: Il Grido,
water tower seen from Riccardo's apartment: L'Eclisse,
many scenes: Red Desert)
- Gas stations (near river: Le Amiche,
hero works: Il Grido, Milan: La Notte)
related (car salesmen: Cronaca di un amore,
sandwich shop: Zabriskie Point)
- Hospitals, often showing people arriving there (heroine takes wounded hero: Italian episode of I vinti,
couple visit dying friend: La Notte)
- Drug stores (in town plaza: Gente del Po,
tracking missing woman: L'Avventura,
investor buys tranquilizer: L'Eclisse)
- Trolleys (N.U., Rome: L'amorosa menzogna,
Cronaca di un amore, Italian episode of I vinti,
trolley bus: English episode of I vinti, La Notte,
Beijing: Chung Kuo - Cina)
- Complex churches, with public plazas (L'Avventura, Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Roofs (factory: Sette canne, un vestito,
woman seen on roof from heroine's balcony: Italian episode of I vinti,
student protesters on roof: Zabriskie Point,
Gaudi building: The Passenger)
- Balconies on building facades (Rome: L'amorosa menzogna,
buildings in back of courtyard: Le Amiche,
buildings in background of father-daughter, art gallery, princess' villa, hotel, seen from side on building in finale: L'Avventura,
many apartment buildings, finale: L'Eclisse,
desert mansion: Zabriskie Point,
building near church, Gaudi building: The Passenger)
- Cross walks, and other markings painted on streets (markings around pillar near hero's home, crosswalks used by hero and reporter: L'Avventura,
first panorama of Milan: La Notte,
cross walk in street: L'Eclisse,
region of London with antique store and park, near hero's studio: Blowup,
triangular marking below helicopter site: Zabriskie Point,
airport crosswalks, pedestrian crosswalks: The Passenger)
- Modernistic homes of intellectuals and writers, centering
on their study (hero: L'Avventura, hero: La Notte,
Riccardo: L'Eclisse, home office: The Passenger) related (student's room: Italian episode of I vinti)
- Modernistic homes of intellectuals contain modern art (Riccardo: L'Eclisse,
hero's painter friend across the street: Blowup)
- Old money homes, with traditional paintings and lavish old-fashioned furnishing
(parents: Italian episode of I vinti, L'Avventura,
Alain Delon: L'Eclisse)
- Homes full of photographs on the walls (Martha: L'Eclisse,
hero fills home with photos: Blowup)
- Kitchens (numerous homes with traditional Italian kitchens: Il Grido,
painter's house, hero's studio: Blowup)
- Brief glimpses of kitchens seen from other rooms (modernist kitchen in Riccardo's apartment: L'Eclisse,
worker wife's kitchen seen through door: Red Desert,
from student radical discussion room at start: Zabriskie Point)
- Decadent British anti-heroes in the arts (poet: English episode of I vinti,
fashion photographer: Blowup)
- Publishers, far more respectable (newspaper office: English episode of I vinti,
hero's photo publisher: Blowup)
related (tv newsroom: The Passenger)
- Eerie crimes in green areas (English episode of I vinti, Blowup)
- Telephone booths, outdoors on streets (English episode of I vinti, Blowup)
- Rail lines (railroad cutting through countryside crime scene: English episode of I vinti,
near doss house exit: Blowup)
- People walking dogs (angry woman: English episode of I vinti,
gay couple: Blowup)
- Tennis games, shown at the end of the films (final game, hero has rackets in bedroom: English episode of I vinti,
mimes play imaginary game of tennis: Blowup)
- Rocky or desert areas (volcanic isles: L'Avventura,
island in heroine's story: Red Desert,
California: Zabriskie Point,
desert at start: The Passenger)
- Small controlled campfire-style fires (Rome street: N.U.,
campfire in countryside: French episode of I vinti,
hero's backyard in England: The Passenger)
related (fire in shack where wall is demolished to fuel: Red Desert)
- Trees blowing in wind, often eerie or atmospheric (heroine watches wind in trees at finale: L'Avventura,
- Oceans (country visit: Le Amiche,
trip to islands, seen from train: L'Avventura,
viewed from shack, around island in story: Red Desert,
execution on beach in Africa: The Passenger,
flashback to boating in Wales: Identification of a Woman,
seaside shop, boat basin: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Ponds (country: French episode of I vinti,
in park where car winds up: L'Eclisse,
hero sees: Red Desert)
- Rain (finale with storm approaching: Gente del Po,
in city: N.U.,
afternoon outing with Betsy Blair, at night with prostitute: Il Grido,
opening at factory: Red Desert,
city streets: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Couples making love - on the ground outside, in barren areas
(lovers on the beach: Le Amiche, in a crevice: Il Grido, at end: La Notte,
multiplying couples: Zabriskie Point)
related (killer has girlfriend victim lie on ground: English episode of I vinti,
lovers lie on ground in park side by side to talk: L'Eclisse)
- Public cleaning, sometimes with water (street cleaners the main subject of documentary: N.U.,
street cleaner not using water: Italian episode of I vinti,
street cleaner with broom and pan in town street at start after women throws bucket of water into street, bus driver shines bus: Il Grido,
water washing away a splash of earth in finale: L'Eclisse,
cleaner picking up trash in park: Blowup)
- Throwing away papers (letter torn up and discarded then picked up by cleaner: N.U.,
hero throws away papers after studying Spanish on outdoor staircase: Il Grido,
newspapers thrown off yacht, pamphlets tossed from sound truck onto street: L'Avventura,
mother throws notebook at stockbrokers in anger: L'Eclisse,
newspaper falls into street with heroine's shop: Red Desert,
hero loses anti-war protest sign from car: Blowup)
Michelangelo Antonioni: Visual Style
Geometry and Architecture:
- Long, straight line country roads (Cronaca di un amore,
getting off the bus: French episode of I vinti,
road near factory: Red Desert,
outside desert cafe: Zabriskie Point,
Spain: The Passenger)
- Straight rivers or canals, often with elaborate structures on their banks (Po: Gente del Po,
canal next to walking couple: N.U.,
opening shot near factory: Sette canne, un vestito,
under bridge, with seats: Cronaca di un amore,
Po: Il Grido,
canal: Red Desert)
- Straight rail lines (opening with train: N.U.,
in countryside along which characters run: French episode of I vinti,
railroad cutting through countryside crime scene: English episode of I vinti,
near doss house exit: Blowup)
- Rectilinear, urban architecture
(construction zone: Italian episode of I vinti,
Milan: La Notte,
modern apartment buildings: L'Eclisse,
London streets: Blowup)
- Striped walls (diagonal stripes on gas station: Il Grido,
Avis car rental with horizontal stripes: The Passenger)
- Parallel horizontal lines: like stripes (slats on farm trucks: Sette canne, un vestito,
metal wall with regular horizontal lines near where heroine collapses: Cronaca di un amore,
wooden boards in sides of truck carrying hero: Il Grido,
crosswalks used by hero and reporter: L'Avventura,
crosswalk markings, striped markings at start of airport landing strip: L'Eclisse,
white outdoor wooden sidewalk boards near worker wife's apartment: Red Desert,
many poles of newspapers on rack in hallway at start: Il provino,
red-and-black striped clothes on mimes at start, striped shutters on front of restaurant building: Blowup,
fence where students hide during protest: Zabriskie Point)
- Pyramidal shapes (on Riccardo's desk at start: L'Eclisse,
lamps in store: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Octagonal buildings (courtyard plaza used by mimes at start: Blowup)
- Polygonal areas (building next to swings: L'amorosa menzogna,
rotating factory machine: Sette canne, un vestito,
roof of refinery stair tower, building and sidewalk after hero puts daughter on bus: Il Grido,
large nearly round building in Riccardo's neighborhood near start, strange polygonal roof or dome of building seen by lovers near finale: L'Eclisse,
base of huge red cylinder at factory, oil-rig platform, fences on curved decks of ship seen from oil-rig: Red Desert,
police area behind grill, airport control tower top, desert mansion with curving polygonal facade: Zabriskie Point,
funicular: The Passenger,
angled corner of building seen through window of Peter Weller's apartment: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds,
fountain basin in church courtyard: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Umbrellas (people walking in rain: N.U.,
over tables in sidewalk cafe: French episode of I vinti,
people watch boat race in rain: Il Grido,
on patio with piano music in park, over tables at Verona airport cafe: L'Eclisse,
inside in hero's photography studio: Blowup,
over tables: Chung Kuo - Cina,
at cafe, over tables at roadside cafe: The Passenger)
- Complexly shaped corners (hero's curved studio at start: L'Avventura,
street where hero waits after doss house: Blowup)
- Circular architectural forms (large corkscrew-shaped structure near water, wheel area and funnels on barge deck seen from above, semi-circular Milano barge sign: Gente del Po,
building with rounded front, plaza, circular fountain, truck, curved street with steps: N.U.,
huge industrial chimneys, harvester, storage towers, factory equipment, corkscrew machine, circular platform at fashion show: Sette canne, un vestito,
many arched doorways, clock dial in ruins, round planter on top of huge statue of woman: Bomarzo,
curved stonework where victim crawls, arched sign seen through window during final confession, curving apartment stairs: French episode of I vinti,
doctor's building entrance: Italian episode of I vinti,
subway escalator tunnel, curving front of building, curved road near phone booth: English episode of I vinti,
front step at country house: Le Amiche,
tower at refinery, big cylinders at refinery, curved tire tracks seen from refinery tower,
curved street seen under director's name in credits,
arched doors at hero's house, circular bars on school gates: Il Grido,
church dome, arch over street, waterway arches, arches in hero's apartment, hotel corridor arches, huge high curved plaza at finale: L'Avventura,
fountain, street, gas station, swimming pool: La Notte,
tower with round top at start, concentric circular railings on small platform at stock market, pillars at stock market,
arched arbor at airport: L'Eclisse,
curved street with heroine's store, towers, smoke stacks, red cylinder, spherical tanks, pipes, curved decks of ship seen from oil-rig,
peaked two-curved roof near worker wife's apartment building: Red Desert,
curved roads, curving stair in lobby, spiral staircase on film set, curving maze: Il provino,
paths and flowerbeds in park, curved corner of restaurant building facade, arches on street near doss house: Blowup,
guard's desk at start, circular stands of guns in store, curved drive used by Rod Taylor to approach building,
curving roads in lovemaking scene, overlook platform in desert, huge white sphere at airport,
curving swimming pool, curving path through rocks leading to desert mansion, entranceway with arched ceiling in mansion: Zabriskie Point,
hotel's curved reception desk at start, quarter-circle bannister between houses fronts, Gaudi bench, curving roads, huge arch in lobby of hotel: The Passenger,
arched gallery: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
rounded doorways seen in distance from bar, arches in bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
lens-shaped fountain, circular fountain in church plaza, round windows in stairwell: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Curved streets with perspective views (street seen under director's name in credits Il Grido,
street with heroine's store: Red Desert)
- Round objects (food containers where liquid food is ladled, curved grater found in trash: N.U.,
hairdryer, paint disks, klieg light, viewer used by director: L'amorosa menzogna,
head masks worn by farm workers: Sette canne, un vestito,
oval structure near tennis coach, pillar top,
open small circle decorations on bridge railing: Cronaca di un amore,
circular table in cafe: French episode of I vinti,
kitchen pots and pans, bicycle in home, hanging basket in mother's wineshop,
circular gas station signs, lights at gas station, huge spools near where couple make love: Il Grido,
circles on hero's balcony grillwork, lantern on yacht, containers in hardware store: L'Avventura,
fan at Riccardo's apartment, tree of loudspeakers at stock exchange, ceiling fan at stock market, striped cushion, close-up of light in final shot: L'Eclisse,
silver hard-hat, gyroscope toy, loudspeaker used by strikers,
paint cans in heroine's shop, baskets in Patagonia recruitment room, circular glass vase in hotel room, round white hanging lamp in room: Red Desert,
rounded silver lamp with arched stem in Dino De Laurentiis office, red light bulb in maze: Il provino,
flashing cylinder in street, coffee mugs with rings in hero's kitchen, lights in hero's photography studio, drums at rock concert: Blowup,
earrings of black student radical at start, gas mask, water tank for car radiators, ship's steering wheel in mansion: Zabriskie Point,
green tables outside bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
round designs and snake patterns on relief of column on building corner at end: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Spheres (globe in private eye's office, spheroids on pillars outside heroine's apartment: Cronaca di un amore,
lights in cafe: French episode of I vinti,
stone sphere over fountain where hero drinks, streetlights near hospital: Italian episode of I vinti,
stone spheroids outside father's house, on hero's bedpost: L'Avventura,
huge tanks, blue glass spheres, on hat of Turkish sailor: Red Desert,
huge white sphere at airport: Zabriskie Point,
trees of street lights near bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
spheres on top of road posts: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Rotating objects (man turns crank and rear door of truck swings open: N.U.,
huge wheel on farm harvesting machine, factory equipment, corkscrew machine: Sette canne, un vestito,
fans, roll of paper in Piero's adding machine, airplane propellor: L'Eclisse,
gyroscope toy: Red Desert,
typewriters that turn up on hinges: Il provino,
rolling tear gas canister, orange-white-green rotating tags at car dealership, plane propeller: Zabriskie Point,
ceiling fan in hotel, revolving door: The Passenger)
- Barrels, cylindrical (trash cans in cleaners' carts: N.U.,
barrels at refinery: Il Grido,
barrel outside father's home at start: L'Avventura,
water barrel in finale: L'Eclisse,
red barrels under steam clouds at factory, finale with heroine and boy in front of factory and stacked barrels: Red Desert,
barrels in execution: The Passenger)
- Elaborately tiered hats (hat of Turkish sailor with blue and black rings with shape of cylinder and cone and sphere: Red Desert,
papal mitre of statue: Lo sguardo di Michelangelo)
- Dials (dashboard of Piero's sports car: L'Eclisse,
factory control room, weight scale of fish-vendor: Red Desert,
dashboard of hero's car: Blowup)
- Red circular lights on cars (tail lights of hero's car seen when first parked at his studio: Blowup,
lights on top of police car: Zabriskie Point,
tail lights of hero's truck at start: The Passenger)
- Circular ceiling lights in long rows (over fashion show runway at end: Sette canne, un vestito,
over factory control dials: Red Desert,
hallways: Il provino)
- Spirals (hero's bedstead, grillwork doors at staircase head at villa, on heroine's hotel bedstead, balcony grillwork at end: L'Avventura,
grillwork gate of mansion: Blowup,
church grillwork, behind heroine in Barcelona hotel lobby, base of window grill in long-take finale: The Passenger,
on bannister in apartment stairs: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- People stand in front of paint-splattered walls like abstract art, especially Jackson Pollock (hero talks to heroine in garage: Italian episode of I vinti,
Richard Harris in street with heroine's shop, Harris and green wall in shack with red paint: Red Desert)
related (five street-cleaners stand in front of light-colored wall with patterns: N.U.,
hero and heroine in front of wall with just a few poster fragments: L'Avventura,
splattered earth on ground as water slowly washes it away in finale: L'Eclisse,
heroine throws ink at screen: Il provino,
hero and heroine at window in hotel outside wall with elaborate color patterns: The Passenger)
Modules and Repeated Structures:
- Y-shaped line diagrams (radio telescope towers, marking on gyroscope toy: Red Desert,
buildings with Y-patterns on their facades seen from park: Blowup)
- X shapes (legs of table on barge: Gente del Po,
X's in top of metalwork structure over train tracks at start, X's in balustrade of steps outside church door: N.U.,
X-shaped supports on bridge: Cronaca di un amore,
boards on building behind father at start, on balcony grillwork of art gallery: L'Avventura,
a few X's on crane that hoists car, on tower metalwork, small X-shaped shadows on wall from Piero's elevator grill: L'Eclisse,
X's on tower emitting flames at start, X-shaped legs of kid's table in bedroom, on power-line pylons, X's on metal-work pillar near shack: Red Desert,
X on wall hanging for blowup: Blowup)
related (combined with diamond lozenges on doors where hero and heroine first enter street: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Starburst patterns (on phone booth doors at stock exchange, heroine's bed spread: L'Eclisse)
- Zig-zag shapes, vertical (sides of metalwork structure over train tracks at start: N.U.,
gate of apartment where heroine moves at start: L'Eclisse,
belt of heroine's dress: Zabriskie Point)
- Zig-zag shapes, horizontal (repeated V's on bridge make zig-zag in boat-race episode: Il Grido)
related (paving on patio at villa: L'Avventura)
- Diamond lozenge shapes, arranged in a grid or lattice (in background window of sidewalk cafe, gates of railroad crossing: French episode of I vinti,
door curtains at Betsy Blair's, cyclone fence at refinery: Il Grido,
on window in opening shot, window grill and shadows on top of hero's entrance hallway, window grill inside art gallery: L'Avventura,
on bathroom tile when Riccardo shaves, window outside near stock exchange, two panels in street near Piero's office shot through both ways,
screens on either side of Martha's bed, fence around pond with wrecked car, Piero's elevator grill, wallpaper in Piero's bedroom,
small stone paving around corner with barrel in finale: L'Eclisse,
overhead grid through which men are filmed at factory, door and windows of heroine's shop: Red Desert,
hero's bathroom window in studio, lattice work on white wooden hall exiting studio, on veil of model with strange collar,
on front of equipment at rock concert: Blowup,
grillwork around police desk where suspects are searched: Zabriskie Point,
on doors where hero and heroine first enter street: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Snowflakes (worker makes snowflake pattern out of paper: N.U.)
Stairs and Walkways:
- Repeated structures or modules (pair of funnels on barge: Gente del Po,
cleaners' carts: N.U.,
buildings in street: L'amorosa menzogna,
smokestacks in opening, convoy of farm carts, factory building sections, bays with steam in factory, multiple factory machines: Sette canne, un vestito,
wall panels in private eye's office, benches on river bank, segments of bridge: Cronaca di un amore,
seats on bus: French episode of I vinti,
indoor phone booths in subway: English episode of I vinti,
stages of staircase around tower, windows at refinery, boxes and shelves at municipal office, repeated V supports on bridge, huge spools: Il Grido,
hardware store items, bells and pillars on church roof, plaza architecture, corridor arches and lamps in hotel at end, hotel windows and mirrors: L'Avventura,
pillars and phone booths at stock market, flagpoles making sounds in wind, paired screens around Martha's bed, tables and chairs at patio in park,
sections of fence around pond in park,
pair of grills outdoors near hero's office, row of three small buildings in finale, blinds over building under construction: L'Eclisse,
strange shaped building roofs at end of credits, jutting gray factory walls in front of cloud of steam, barrels below steam cloud,
large spherical tanks, blue glass spheres and fence sections behind them, hotel corridor,
radio telescope, panels in oil-rig floor, staircase on oil-rig: Red Desert,
sections of road lights, parts of maze, racks of newspapers on poles in hallway, rows of reporter desks, mirrors in make-up room, row of wigs,
corridors with doors and ceiling lights, ceiling panels, two wind machines, film set lights: Il provino,
buildings in plaza with mimes at start, ceiling panes in studio, skyscrapers hero drives toward, five panels with models in studio,
hinges on white door at painter's home, many London buildings,
row of buildings seen from park, fence rails and posts in park, posts and grills of tennis court, three sets of windows in mansion where hero wakes up: Blowup,
bright red pair of outdoor toilets: Zabriskie Point,
shelves and cases in newsroom library, green signs and salmon chairs and lockers at airport, shelves in home office,
Brunswick Centre, many arched niches in building and many bars in long-take finale shot: The Passenger,
row of suits of armor: The Mystery of Oberwald,
arched gallery: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
row of doors and awnings and dock posts on street with shop, lamps in store, green chairs and tables outside bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
shelves in apartment: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds,
arches in church, chairs in church: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Streetlights in rows (opening shot, street with poles at end: N.U.,
morning street: L'amorosa menzogna,
opening shot, couple drives, near hospital: Italian episode of I vinti,
dog track, street: English episode of I vinti,
outskirts of Milan: La Notte, L'Eclisse,
on buildings in street: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Lights: long lines of light on edges of regions (lights on fashion show runway and platform: Sette canne, un vestito,
road lights: Il provino)
- Lights go on at night (town lights turn on seen by hero when leaving home town: Il Grido,
streetlights seen lit in new shots as night falls in finale: L'Eclisse)
related (eyes of robot glow in the dark: Red Desert)
- Wires (electrical lines above train, other wires over Rome: N.U.,
hero and heroines drive towards cruise, over train at station: L'Avventura,
over factory passing through huge steam clouds, over street with heroine's shop, power lines across countryside and huge pylon towers: Red Desert,
power lines stretched across LA street murals: Zabriskie Point)
- Repeated low railings outside (around three strange buildings in finale: L'Eclisse,
on street in front of ultra-modern apartment near trees: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
Rope and cords:
- Staircase shots (steps leading up to dike: Gente del Po,
outdoor stairs, staircase in front of church door, curved street with steps: N.U.,
steps on street and leading to buildings: L'amorosa menzogna,
outdoors near riverbank seats, stairs leading up to bridge where hero enters and exits: Cronaca di un amore,
in street in opening shot, apartment building at end: French episode of I vinti,
hero's home, heroine's apartment building: Italian episode of I vinti,
parent's home, courthouse steps, subway escalator: English episode of I vinti,
hotel, outside in country, in building off arcade, home foyer: Le Amiche,
staircase on outside of tower, mother's wineshop, at dance hall up to balcony,
outdoor stairs where hero and friend study Spanish papers: Il Grido,
at villa, inside hotel seen through doorway, huge steps in plaza: L'Avventura,
outdoor stairs near hospital: La Notte,
heroine's apartment building, dogs on outdoor stairs, steps leading down to pool,
last sequence of heroine as she descends staircase at Delon's office: L'Eclisse,
factory, heroine's apartment, briefly seen tower with staircase winding outside it,
worker wife's apartment lobby, oil-rig platform, lobby of hero's hotel: Red Desert,
lobby stairs, circular staircase on film set: Il provino,
hero's studio, outdoors in park: Blowup,
outdoor stairs at university: Zabriskie Point,
outdoor steps in Brunswick Centre, hero's house, hotel, two Gaudi buildings, roof steps on Gaudi building: The Passenger,
apartment hall at start: Identification of a Woman,
hotel stairs, woman's home: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
hero seen on outdoor stairs in opening shot: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
circular camera movements looking up stairway: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Vertical climbing (down ladder inside boat: Gente del Po,
hero climbs down tall wooden structure: Italian episode of I vinti,
hero climbs down ladder from gas tanker truck: Il Grido,
climbs up ladder to ship: Red Desert)
- Walkways: elevated pathways hanging over space (over factory pools and pits: Sette canne, un vestito,
plank to boat, narrow bridge where murder occurs: Italian episode of I vinti,
walkway or platform over areaway in victim's neighborhood: English episode of I vinti,
to mother's wineshop from high bank, plank to dredge: Il Grido,
ramp from yacht to island: L'Avventura,
plank to top of giant red cylinder, gangplank ramp to ship with Turkish sailor: Red Desert,
around upper walls of studio: Blowup,
entrance walkway to desert mansion: Zabriskie Point)
related (causeway opened into two parts so ships can pass through: Gente del Po)
- Bridges (Rome: N.U.,
lovers meet on bridge: Cronaca di un amore,
where murder occurs, in background during smuggling: Italian episode of I vinti,
river: Le Amiche,
river: Il Grido,
couple drives over bridge seen as railings: L'Avventura)
- Towers joined by bar near top, like an upside-down rectangular U (metalwork structure over train tracks at start: N.U.,
towers in opening: Sette canne, un vestito,
across street with workers at start: Red Desert,
multi-colored thin tower structure approached by reporter: Il provino)
related (entrance doorway to factory grounds used by hero at end: Il Grido,
gate at apartment: L'Eclisse)
Reflection and mirrors:
- Wash on lines (back streets: L'amorosa menzogna,
woman seen hanging laundry on roof: Italian episode of I vinti,
yard in village at start and finale: Il Grido,
roof of Gaudi building: The Passenger)
- Cords (swings hanging on sidewalk: L'amorosa menzogna,
yarn on factory machines: Sette canne, un vestito,
hanging light bulb, hanging cords of venetian blinds: Le Amiche,
cord for ferryboat: Il Grido,
bell ropes on church roof: L'Avventura,
ropes hoist car from pond: L'Eclisse,
plague flag raised on ship, swing seat gets hero to oil-rig platform, cords hanging on orange ship-side in background: Red Desert,
cord with clips in hero's studio: Blowup,
bell chimes at desert mansion: Zabriskie Point)
- Flags raised for medical communication (isolated woman puts up flag for doctor: Il Grido,
plague flag raised on ship: Red Desert)
related (yacht flag discussed: L'Avventura)
Looking through windows and panels: transparency:
- Mirrors, usually used by women (beauty parlor, make-up room: L'amorosa menzogna,
dressing table, wardrobe front: Cronaca di un amore,
man combs hair in wardrobe door mirror, above fireplace in apartment: French episode of I vinti,
in phone booth used by reporter: English episode of I vinti,
bathroom, closet door, home, bedroom: Le Amiche,
Irma looks at herself in small mirror, small mirror in kitchen used by gas station woman, larger mirror in prostitute's shack: Il Grido,
on dressing table in villa, in boy's room at villa, heroine sees herself in full-length mirror on stairs landing in villa,
in bedstead which reflects other mirror in hotel room, full-length mirrors in hotel room, heroine slowly moves to see herself in mirror: L'Avventura,
heroine shown in large mirror in hall of Riccardo's apartment,
mirror behind bar and bottles, three mirrors in mother's home over bureau with photos and on wardrobe door and over hall table,
elliptical mirror in Piero's apartment: L'Eclisse,
long low mirror over sideboard in wife's apartment, in shack: Red Desert,
make-up room, full length multipart mirror: Il provino,
octagonal mirror over hero's sink, full length in hero's studio, large panel in studio where hero ties shoes: Blowup,
mirror in home reflects magenta shade, foyer, shoeshine stand in Barcelona: The Passenger,
on wall near table and candles: The Mystery of Oberwald,
full length mirrors in clothing store, small mirror near store entrance: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
couple on bed reflected in wall mirror, mirror in bathroom used by Fanny Ardent: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Mirrors in motion (on wardrobe door that opens and closes: French episode of I vinti,
on door in parent's home: Italian episode of I vinti,
mirror on truck in street: Le Amiche,
reflections in hero's car visor as he drives: Blowup,
reflections in rear-view mirror in car: Zabriskie Point)
- Reflections in shop windows (Rome: N.U., Milan: La Notte,
London streets: Blowup,
hero seen in grocery store: Zabriskie Point,
boats reflected in store window with heroine inside: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
Paris street (building might not be store): Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds,
in antiques shop with furniture in window: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Reflections in other surfaces (reflection in camera, in basement entrance door of studio, door of saloon (Salone): L'amorosa menzogna,
in glass shelf in cafe, glass panels in train, in widow at party: Le Amiche,
hero reflected in cabinet doors in his kitchen, Irma reflected in inside glass door in kitchen,
reflections in bar door after hero sends daughter on bus: Il Grido,
hero reflected in door after kiss, in train windows, heroine reflected in cabinet doors at villa: L'Avventura,
heroine's legs seen in shiny floor of Riccardo's apartment, in Piero's paired office windows when opened,
in glass door at Piero's apartment: L'Eclisse,
husband at night in window at home, hero in open door of heroine's shop, heroine seen in hotel window: Red Desert,
studio office windows, plastic maze panels, glass cabinet door panels on film set: Il provino,
waiting model reflected in panel, Redgrave in panel, hero in panel after he discovers body, five models in panels, phone booth, glass coffee table top: Blowup,
shiny walls of corporate building, boardroom table: Zabriskie Point,
reflections in window of parked car, large glass panel near wall in wife's home, glass covers of wall pictures,
hitman dimly reflected in glass shutter during long-take finale: The Passenger.
hero reflected in open glass door of store: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
wall of apartment building lobby, reflections of walking legs in apartment windows: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Reflections in curved surfaces transform image (in eyeglasses of man in finale: L'Eclisse,
rectilinear ceiling lights make curved reflections on car roof and window: Il provino,
facade of hero's studio building reflected upside down in parked car: Blowup)
- Looking through panels (windows brought in off construction truck: Le Amiche,
shots through glass-panelled door in couple's house at start: Il Grido,
hero and heroine seen through glass case with books: La Notte,
seeing and kissing through glass door in Piero's apartment: L'Eclisse,
plastic panels of maze, glass doors and windows of lobby, glass cabinet door on film set: Il provino,
see-through panels used by photographer, translucent panel in studio, shop windows, glass doors in painter's house: Blowup,
through glass-walled offices of Rod Taylor's company: Zabriskie Point)
- Opaque panels: can't see through (sheets of viscose moved in factory: Sette canne, un vestito,
orange panels over machines at newspaper building, opaque panel held over part of heroine's face for screen test: Il provino)
- Views looking out through windows or doors to exteriors
(from doorway of shack: Gente del Po,
shop window: N.U.,
heroine seen through glass door panels, fans peek in window to fumetti making: L'amorosa menzogna,
Professor's room in Ferrara: Cronaca di un amore,
father seen below in street, elevated train in view of city, other views: French episode of I vinti,
girlfriend's apartment: Italian episode of I vinti,
newspaper office, family home: English episode of I vinti,
street from bar, restaurant, art gallery, outside in grounds from party: Le Amiche,
from store in town at start, daughter seen through small window, through door at Betsy Blair's,
through bar door after hero puts daughter on bus, Irma and baby see hero in street at end: Il Grido,
from hero's apartment window and door, from window in island shack, hero seen through yacht corridor and door,
from train windows, through villa door to upstairs patio, from boy's window at villa to see landscape, from hotel balconies: L'Avventura,
hospital room, apartment, from car: La Notte,
Riccardo's apartment, heroine's apartment, from apartment in other apartment,
Piero's office at night, bar at airport, Piero's apartment: L'Eclisse,
spherical tanks, trees, boat, housing complex from wife's window, from boy's room: Red Desert,
glass doors and windows of lobby: Il provino,
buildings seen through restaurant window, trees and buildings seen through studio window, from antique store, trees seen from mansion window: Blowup,
highway seen from gun store, from boardroom, from Rod Taylor's office, from hero's room, from control tower, from cafe: Zabriskie Point,
flashback to hero and dead friend shot through window, from doors and window over doors at hero's home, funicular,
from bar after leaving Barcelona, back-and-forth pan in roadside cafe shot through window and door, finale: The Passenger,
from apartment: Identification of a Woman,
looking out from dining rooms, doors to hotel balcony, windows of hero's room: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
dock seen from store: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
Paris seen from apartments: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Looking through windows and bars (fans peek in window to fumetti making: L'amorosa menzogna,
Professor's room in Ferrara: Cronaca di un amore,
father seen in street below through balcony bars: French episode of I vinti,
plaza steps seen through balcony bars: L'Avventura,
Riccardo seen through bars from heroine's window, Piero seen through bars from heroine's window: L'Eclisse,
barred balustrade of wife's balcony seen through window: Red Desert,
finale: The Passenger,
view from window with barred balcony balustrade: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Blinds (raised and lowered on inside doorways: Le Amiche,
Piero's office window, blind-like coverings on building: L'Eclisse,
in restaurant, inside painter's home: Blowup)
- Views looking into buildings from outside or the street (at party: Le Amiche,
view into prostitute's shack, hero looks into home and sees Irma with baby: Il Grido,
looking into upstairs corridor at villa, hotel stairs seen through doorway: L'Avventura,
apartment foyer where heroine moves seen through glass doors and windows, heroine's apartment, bar at airport: L'Eclisse,
glass doors of factory control room, glass windows looking in to sailor in room on oil-rig: Red Desert,
reporter looks into office building: Il provino,
party guests seen through upstairs window at mansion: Blowup,
into desert cafe, into desert mansion: Zabriskie Point,
through revolving door, long-take in finale looking into rooms: The Passenger,
into store and heroine through glass: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Men frustrated by locked glass lobbies into which they can see but not enter, to follow women (Riccardo at heroine's apartment: L'Eclisse,
reporters at studio building: Il provino)
- Views into front and out through back of transparent structure (looking through gas station and out rear window: Il Grido,
bus at finale: L'Eclisse,
glass elevator: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- People seen in windows from outside (woman beating rug: Gente del Po,
first view of hero: L'Avventura,
hero and heroine in hotel: The Passenger,
heroine seen by hero at end: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
related (workers seen in mouth of smoking statue: Bomarzo)
- Views through obstacles (shutter: L'Avventura,
heroine throws ink at screen: Il provino,
telephone booth makes red grid: Blowup)
- Bars or beams (ceiling bars in hero's apartment: L'Avventura,
through wooden beams in Piero's office staircase at end: L'Eclisse,
through pipes, past blue rail in heroine's home, through pipes on oil-rig, through red bedstead rail: Red Desert,
yellow beams in hero's loft: Blowup)
related (complex bunch of framework objects in background of fumetti studio: L'amorosa menzogna)
- Huge vertical obstructions round which characters are shown (pillars at stock exchange: L'Eclisse,
cylindrical red tank: Red Desert,
rock walls along path at start: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Modernistic towns, buildings or stadiums
(riverside sports complex: Cronaca di un amore,
stadium seen through heroine's window, buildings under construction: Italian episode of I vinti,
building in Turin: Le Amiche,
deserted planned town: L'Avventura,
housing complex seen through wife's window: Red Desert,
film studio: Il provino,
Economist plaza with mimes, housing complex, skyscrapers: Blowup,
corporate headquarters, Art Deco skyscraper seen from Rod Taylor's office, another building seen from Taylor's window: Zabriskie Point,
new town: The Passenger,
apartment building: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Artificial environments created within larger space, often surrealistically (film set: Il provino,
white area with five panels for photo shoot at studio: Blowup)
- Fumetti (documentary: L'amorosa menzogna,
Antonioni's story for The White Shiek)
- Movie references (poster for To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen): N.U.,
theater playing Stars in My Crown (Jacques Tourneur): English episode of I vinti)
- Drawing on photographs (captions and touch-ups drawn on fumetti photos: L'amorosa menzogna,
heroine writes on magazine photos: L'Avventura,
woman paints on photo with brush at start, hero marks out region on blown-up photo: Blowup)
- Op Art, sometimes linked to public festivals (complex striped round cushion: L'Eclisse,
mime in checkerboard hat and garb, on walls and ceiling of rock concert exit corridor: Blowup)
related (rectilinear pattern on hero's sweater: L'amorosa menzogna,
checkered flag and striped buoy in boat race: Il Grido)
- Murals and large art objects (painting on barge prow: Gente del Po,
screens and huge picture in home: Cronaca di un amore,
abstract designs on heroine's driveway wall: Italian episode of I vinti,
on walls of villa used by police: L'Avventura,
large paintings in Riccardo's apartment: L'Eclisse,
abstract designs in factory outside control room, zebra painting in husband's old house, kid's paintings in heroine's home: Red Desert,
behind writers at newspaper, huge film office photos: Il provino,
abstract sculpture in plaza at start, photo-murals in hero's studio, large paintings in painter's home, paintings in antique store,
drawings of faces and words on walls at rock concert: Blowup,
farms painted on LA building walls outdoors, billboards, paintings on airplane: Zabriskie Point,
elaborate door in Gaudi building, Gaudi mosaics on roof: The Passenger,
large abstraction over hero's bed: Identification of a Woman,
stained glass in church: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
related (large fossil panels on museum walls (deleted scene): L'Eclisse)
- Repeated posters on walls (on walls: N.U.,
for fumetti: L'amorosa menzogna,
on walls: original Italian episode of I vinti,
on wall: Le Amiche,
behind heroine, in train waiting room: L'Avventura,
outside Yardbirds concert: Blowup,
on building: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Vertical neon signs (on shop where prostitute goes at night: Il Grido,
bank sign in Gloria Perkins crowd but not turned on: L'Avventura,
on newspaper building at start: Il provino)
- Maps on walls, linked to men and their work (Italy map on private eye's wall: Cronaca di un amore,
police station on wall: Italian episode of I vinti,
Patagonia map on wall during Richard Harris' recruiting session: Red Desert,
stylized map on boardroom wall, relief map on Rod Taylor's office wall: Zabriskie Point)
related (map hanging from ceiling of bus: French episode of I vinti,
Riccardo's painting of city is map-like: L'Eclisse,
businessmen shot through transparent map in mansion: Zabriskie Point)
- Paper maps, hand held and used mainly by women (man driver uses map supplied by woman gas station manager: Il Grido,
folding map used by couple: Red Desert,
folding map used by heroine in car: Zabriskie Point)
- Street numbers (heroine's apartment building: L'Eclisse,
husband's decrepit old house in county: Red Desert,
hero's studio: Blowup)
- Stock quote boards (stock exchange: L'Eclisse,
Rod Taylor's office: Zabriskie Point)
- Giant statues, used for advertising (giant liquor bottles: Cronaca di un amore,
giant man over LA street at Smog Inspection Station: Zabriskie Point)
- Giant statues, historical from 1500's (garden of huge animal and creature statues: Bomarzo,
Michelangelo's statue of Moses: Lo sguardo di Michelangelo)
related (lion statue over Rome fountain: N.U.,
rocks on island in story look like Bomarzo statues: Red Desert)
- Plumes (on horses' heads as festive decoration: N.U.,
used to pose with fashion models: Blowup)
- Fashion (concluding fashion show: Sette canne, un vestito,
heroine tries on wig at villa: L'Avventura,
heroine made up in many clothes and wigs for screen test: Il provino,
fashion photography: Blowup,
rack of clothes among exploded objects at end: Zabriskie Point)
Mist and Out-of-focus shots:
- Influence of neorealism (Ossessione: Cronaca di un amore,
Ossessione: Il Grido,
- Influence of Anthony Mann? (hanging light bulb set swinging like "Desperate": Le Amiche,
tower with outside staircase winding around like "Border Incident": Il Grido,
rocks in island like "The Naked Spur": L'Avventura,
staircase shots like "Desperate": Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Out-of-focus opening credits (Red Desert, Zabriskie Point)
- Out-of-focus shots (out-of-focus background surrounding in-focus view of heroine reflected in camera: L'amorosa menzogna,
beautiful multi-colored abstract out-of-focus pan in finale: Red Desert)
- Translucent views (translucent entryway of worker wife's apartment building: Red Desert,
plastic panels of maze: Il provino,
translucent panel high up in studio: Blowup,
mainly out-of-focus views of Paris through translucent windows: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Mist (steam and smoke from barges, dust from bags at start: Gente del Po,
smoke from train at start: N.U.,
white mist at factory, steam: Sette canne, un vestito,
steam from mouth and eyes of huge crocodile statue: Bomarzo,
smoke from campfire: French episode of I vinti,
steam from bathtub at start, dust seen in road through gate: Le Amiche,
fog at start, people's breath on cold day, steam from pot at prostitute's shack: Il Grido,
clouds plane passes through, spray from sprinkler at finale: L'Eclisse,
smoke from chimneys, smoking trash heap, huge cloud of smoke emitted at factory,
radio telescope recedes into mist, people disappear in fog,
near spherical tanks, steaming machinery and boy at end: Red Desert,
dust blown in antique store: Blowup,
tear gas used by police at protest, sand clouds stirred up by running couple in desert,
mist over desert after lovemaking: Zabriskie Point,
night journey in fog: Identification of a Woman,
misty day at start: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Pans through long arcs, both interior and exterior (horse runs, harvesters, around plaza,
life on barge, woman carries child before storm, final shot of wetlands: Gente del Po,
man on bicycle turns at corner: L'amorosa menzogna,
over roof of factory at start, up pipes: Sette canne, un vestito,
past statues: Bomarzo,
outdoors: Cronaca di un amore,
many shots: Il Grido,
art gallery, islands: L'Avventura,
streets in first half: La Notte, many shots: L'Eclisse,
hero walks through stacked blue spheres: Red Desert,
final shot of trees and lighted rails: Il provino,
Valerio runs to his mother then both walk at film beginning, medical van arrives for ship near shack: Red Desert,
hero talks to men in road then gets in car around corner at start, around street corner with nuns,
hero leaves antique store with first view of park in background, trash collector in park,
first view of tennis court in park, suspect and Africans in street, London streets in finale: Blowup,
heroine drives by Joshua trees in desert: Zabriskie Point,
hero and bird cages on Barcelona street, back and forth pan in bar: The Passenger,
characters on narrow outdoor corridors at start, heroine first walks to bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Complex, thrashing camera movements in rooms, that look out
through barred windows to exteriors (Professor's room in Ferrara: Cronaca di un amore,
finale: The Passenger)
- 360 degree movements (lovers on bridge: Cronaca di un amore,
hero walking in town center: Il Grido,
finale: The Passenger)
- Movements which go above gaps in partitions between two rooms (studio and make-up room of fumetti makers: L'amorosa menzogna,
man turns on high-level light in shack: Red Desert,
overhead shot follows hero in studio after blowups are stolen: Blowup)
related (shot moving over pig pens: N.U.)
- Complex interior camera movements (many shots: Cronaca di un amore,
up stairs and to left corridor in princess' villa: L'Avventura,
hero enters store: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
in church as hero wanders around: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Exteriors looking down roads or alleys, with the camera slowly
shifting from perspective down one wall to the other (alley between two ancient buildings in Sicily: L'Avventura,
outdoors long arched gallery and road: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
related (track past three buildings which shifts view of spaces between: L'Eclisse,
five models and panels form indoor corridor: Blowup)
- Camera follows path of pipes (factory: Sette canne, un vestito,
oil-rig platform: Red Desert)
Costumes and Color:
- Paint on light-colored background: (heroine's shop with wall sections experimentally painted: Red Desert,
painter with color splashes on shirt: Blowup)
related (heroine tries to buy can of blue paint, hero's compromise as architect symbolized by dispute over red floor: L'Avventura)
- Huge brightly colored structures (huge red cylinder at factory, blue rail and wall at heroine's home,
pink housing complex seen from worker wife's window through green curtains and frame,
blue shack, red wall and green walls inside shack, yellow ship with green sections seen at rig,
red and maybe dark green Tulipa ship,
orange side of ship with Turkish sailor: Red Desert,
orange wall in newspaper office, large orange panels on newspaper machinery, orange wall in studio lobby and hall,
red curtains as background, wall of pink-orange doors and panels reporter tries to open: Il provino,
street with red shops, blue house, studio office with dark green walls, magenta door and green door to hero's darkroom,
light magenta backdrop in studio: Blowup,
off-yellow walls and grill of police area, blue wall of Rod Taylor's office, red walls of portable toilets: Zabriskie Point,
blue walls of hotel at start, aqua blue walls and magenta shades of home, Avis car rental: The Passenger,
green walls of hotel: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
orange outside walls of bar: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds,
blue walls of apartment: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Red-and-white color schemes (oil-rig platform: Red Desert,
white cylinder flashes red then nuns in white then guardsman in red coat with white trim, red-and-white arrow picture on studio wall,
red-tile-and-white building near hero's studio, row of red shops with white lettering,
building left of antique store, red-brick-and-white building seen from restaurant,
man in red shirt and white pants, hero wakes up in mansion on bed with red-and-white spread and white pillows: Blowup,
student at radical meeting in red shirt over white tee shirt, montage of red-and-white signs seen from hero's truck near start, red curb and light-colored sidewalk,
car wash facade near gun store, stop sign and plane at airport: Zabriskie Point,
priest and altar boy after wedding, red switch and white wall,
front of Barcelona white truck with red grill below, pink-red truck with white trim seen in Barcelona shoeshine mirror,
Avis car rental with stripes and giant letters: The Passenger,
theater with red curtains and yellowish-white walls: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
checkerboard red-and-whitish-pink bed cover and red and white pillows: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Red-green color schemes: complementary colors (pink housing complex seen from worker wife's window through green curtains and frame,
green shacks and red-orange sections across street after leaving worker wife's apartment,
red wall and green walls inside shack: Red Desert,
studio office with dark green walls and red painting, first view of Redgrave on hill with green plants and reddish ground,
Permutit storefront before rock concert, woman's clothing store after rock concert: Blowup,
hero's red plaid shirt and green slacks at start, first view of heroine in green near red rail,
green signs and red signs and salmon chairs at airport, African uniforms green with red berets,
green wall and red wall at Avis car rental, red-green umbrella and red chair and green table at roadside cafe: The Passenger,
green hotel walls and reddish wood trim: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds,
red walls and green doors outside shop: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Orange-green color schemes (orange panel near green curtains in worker wife's apartment,
many green-sided barrels with orange-ish tops in finale with heroine in green coat: Red Desert,
orange-white-green rotating tags at car dealership: Zabriskie Point,
wife's green dress with orange neckline area: The Passenger,
orange bar building with green chairs and tables in front: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Red-yellow-blue color schemes: the primary colors, sometimes linked to the juvenile or artificial (factory shot with Monica Vitti and equipment in the three colors,
boy in blue shirt with yellow gyroscope and red object behind him: Red Desert,
beach ball in commercial, golfing family's clothes in commercial; graph on wall during watching of commercial: Zabriskie Point,
young boyfriend in yellow slicker and red-blue shirt: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Red-and-yellow color schemes (hero seated in front of stacked soda pop cases at cafe: The Passenger)
- Brightly colored vehicles (hero's dark blue sports car: Il provino,
blue bus and yellow truck on London street, red bus, little red car near protest: Blowup,
hero's red truck, yellow Corvette, blue truck and light-blue trailer with family: Zabriskie Point,
hero's blue truck at start, pink truck seen in Barcelona shoeshine mirror: The Passenger)
- White vehicles (Piero's sports car: L'Eclisse,
car used by strikers at start, Richard Harris' car: Red Desert,
car driven by second newsman: Il provino,
cars in long-take finale: The Passenger)
- Cars of hero with emphatic interior colors (light gray: Blowup,
red: The Passenger)
- Metallic colors (silver coffee service and urn in mother's home: L'Eclisse,
silver pipes in factory, silver posts near steam clouds, silver hard-hat, silver constructions behind boy playing with gyroscope: Red Desert,
gold-trimmed maze, silver lamp in Dino De Laurentiis office, gold-trimmed phone on movie set,
spectacular copper-colored car near finale: Il provino,
gold-topped jars over hero's washstand, gold clock and gold rail above it at hero's studio,
model in silver turban, metal sculptures in antique store, silver drums, woman dancing in silver coat at rock concert: Blowup,
gold fixtures on German church altar, complex gold-trimmed door in Gaudi building: The Passenger,
silver hallways of apartment building: Paris episode of Beyond the Clouds,
gold statue in church: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Men in blue (Richard Harris' blue overcoat in heroine's shop: Red Desert,
hero's blue shirt, hero's blue-gay shirt at start, man in shiny blue vest at rock concert: Blowup,
hero in blue jeans, student radicals at start in blue shirts, arrested history professor in light blue sport coat,
man who owns plane in blue sweater and shirt: Zabriskie Point,
dead man's blue shirt taken over by hero, hero's white shirt and blue pants: The Passenger)
- Men in brown jackets (husband's suede jacket: Red Desert,
hero in brown jacket and scarf: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Young men in light pants (fighting boy in light pants: La Notte,
reporter hero's light pants with sports coat: Il provino,
hero in white pants, man in street in red shirt and white pants, guitarist in white pants: Blowup,
hero's faded jeans: Zabriskie Point,
dead man's white pants, finale with Nicholson in red shirt and white pants: The Passenger)
- Men remove work clothes from lower part of body (overalls: L'amorosa menzogna,
apron: Il Grido)
- Heroes disguise themselves in costumes (model wears many costumes for fumetti: L'amorosa menzogna,
hero as tramp at start: Blowup,
hero takes over dead man's clothes: The Passenger)
- Transparent covers over clothes (transparent raincoats worn at start: Red Desert,
plastic garment bags over rack of model's costumes in studio: Blowup)
- Shiny clothes (rock musicians, man in shiny blue vest at rock concert, technical expert in shiny purple shirt: Blowup,
boyfriend in yellow rain slicker: Portofino episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Masks (offensive mask fished out of trash: N.U.,
polygonal head gear of farm workers: Sette canne, un vestito,
tear gas masks worn by police: Zabriskie Point)
- Phallic objects (rod emerges from factory machine: Sette canne, un vestito,
swimmer with knife in scabbard, spear-fishing and snorkel: L'Avventura,
spiked pyramid structure in front of Riccardo on desk at start, mushroom-shaped tower, horse cart, sprinkler at finale: L'Eclisse,
towers, radio telescope: Red Desert,
hero's camera on tripod at studio, fence post in front of hero while photographing in park: Blowup,
rounded posts on street where hero leaves at end: Ferrara episode of Beyond the Clouds)
- Sweaters worn with suit (model in fumetti: L'amorosa menzogna,
painter: Le Amiche,
Richard Harris in last visit with heroine at her shop: Red Desert,
reporter Beppe in newsroom: Il provino)
related (husband wears sweater with suede jacket and tie: Red Desert)
- Middle class men in conspicuously plain but well-tailored coats (Richard Harris: Red Desert,
reporter: Il provino)
- Working class men in dramatic coats (lover in elegant overcoat: Cronaca di un amore,
hero's trenchcoat wrapped around murder victim: English episode of I vinti,
trenchcoat of working class boyfriend: Le Amiche,
double-breasted coat of worker Orlando taking girlfriend to shack, workers at Patagonia meeting: Red Desert)
related (man in fancy jacket walks with man in elaborate raincoat in Rome: N.U.)
- Fancy uniforms (uniformed man crouching towards fire at start: N.U.,
19th century traditional dress uniform worn by fumetti actor: L'amorosa menzogna,
police: Italian episode of I vinti,
man in uniform-like shirt at art gallery, soldier on island, police Lieutenant and men at Coast Guard villa: L'Avventura,
bus driver in shiny uniform coat, motorcycle cops in leather coats: Il Grido,
young guy admired by heroine in uniform-like fashion clothes: L'Eclisse,
guard in black leather uniform coat: Il provino,
scarlet-coated guard patrolling on street, men at rock concert in mod versions of uniforms: Blowup)
related (hero in black leather jacket and all-black clothes: Aix episode of Beyond the Clouds)
Classic Italian Film
Michelangelo Antonioni's films are part of a major tradition of Italian cinema.
This tradition includes Italian neorealism, and later films which derive from neorealism.
Classic Italian Film is often realist. It often accurately depicts some aspect of the real world.
Classic Italian Film most often shows extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
These extraordinary people are not the sort of folks we encounter every day.
Some of these people often included in Classic Italian Film:
Classic Italian Film often systematically presents information about such people and their world.
This becomes an educational, informative experience. Watching such films can seem like reading
a high quality news article. The information conveyed is new to most viewers,
outside of their everyday experience of typical life.
- The very poor.
- Civilians trapped in bad circumstances by war.
- Social reformers.
- Political radicals.
- Great figures in the arts and humanities, including writers, philosophers and the opera.
- People carrying out major construction or industrial projects.
Classic Italian Film centers on well-developed characters,
whose thoughts and feelings are vividly conveyed to the viewer.
The characters are brilliantly acted,
often by extraordinarily charismatic performers like Anna Magnani and Marcello Mastroianni.
Audiences often identify with such characters, and see the world through their perspective.
The film theory book Film as Film (1972) by V.F. Perkins sympathetically explores
the idea of Participant-observer:
the way viewers identify with characters in film, and see the world from their point of view.
Classic Italian Film is complex. It offers elaborate depictions of people and society,
as well as often very complex visual style. It is the opposite of "minimalist".
Links to Other Traditions
Classic Italian Film resembles traditional Hollywood films of the studio era, both in its complexity
and its vivid characters, seen by audiences as participant-observers.
Complexity and well-developed characters are also widespread in classic drama,
such as Hamlet and Antigone.
Complexity is an important value in Classical Music.
Complexity is a value in classic prose mystery fiction.
N.U. (1948) is short documentary about the street cleaners of Rome.
Looking but Not Understanding
The narrator states that people often look at street cleaners in Rome, but don't understand their work,
and barely "see" them. This anticipates Blowup, where the hero looks at events
in the park, but doesn't understand them till much later, when he studies photos of them.
In Blowup, this theme is perhaps philosophical, making a general statement about human understanding
or its failures. In N.U., it has a political dimension: the street cleaners
are poor members of the working class, hence "invisible" and not comprehended by people in upper classes.
In both films, this "looking but not understanding" emerges as a key Antonioni theme.
Some classic mystery short stories center on related themes:
G.K. Chesterton's "The Invisible Man" (1910),
Karel Capek's "The Blue Chrysanthemum" (circa 1928?).
N.U. opens with an setting that reverberate through Antonioni's cinema:
a street at dusk, with numerous street lamps lit up, in rows down the road.
It is a haunting and beautiful image. It seems to suggest profound feelings.
N.U. ends with a related image: a street or street-like path of some sort,
with rows of posts down it. It is unclear what sort of "street" this is,
or what the posts are. This sort of ambiguity runs through N.U.,
where we don't always understand what we are seeing. Perhaps the Italian audience in 1949
understood the settings better. But today, many of the images have a mysterious quality.
Previously, in Gente del Po, Antonioni showed the shacks of the river people.
N.U. depicts the tiny urban shacks of the street cleaners. These seem hardly bigger than
We also get more of water imagery, with what looks like a canal.
And the staircase imagery in Antonioni, with outdoor steps.
The food dished out to the cleaners looks like some variety of cottage cheese.
Both the food and its distribution process seem mysterious. And a bit haunting.
The truck, with its circular equipment in the rear, is an early example of
circular imagery in Antonioni.
We also see the circular basin of a fountain.
Fumetti: Comics Made of Photographs
L'amorosa menzogna (1949) is short documentary about "fumetti":
Italian comics made out of photographs of actors, rather than drawings.
The production of fumetti reminds one of the making of Old Time Radio drama.
Shots in the first section show the intense love the public has for reading fumetti.
This anticipates the public's interest in painting in L'Avventura.
Links to Blowup
L'amorosa menzogna anticipates Blowup. Both films show:
The photographic activity in both films can be seen as a metaphor for film directing.
- Professional photographers working in a popular, commercial field:
fumetti in L'amorosa menzogna, fashion photography in Blowup.
- Models being photographed in a studio, in staged photos directed by a professional in the field.
- Darkrooms and photographs being developed.
However, Blowup is a fiction film and serious in tone, while
L'amorosa menzogna is a documentary, and upbeat and even comic in feel.
The fumetti-makers are also much more sympathetic than the photographer in Blowup.
There is a good deal of camera movement in this little film. They are not as elaborately long take
as some on Antonioni's 1950's fiction films. Still, they are noticeable.
Shots of the heroine's dressing room are inventive:
Scenes of people in the street often incorporate camera movement.
- We first see the room, when an overhead camera pans from the main studio into the dressing room.
Apparently, the room's simple partition does not go up to the ceiling, enabling this striking shot.
- The camera moves past reflections of the heroine in her mirrors, to focus on the heroine herself.
Sette canne, un vestito
Sette canne, un vestito (1949) is short documentary about the manufacture of viscose.
Antonioni likes circular forms, and they recur throughout his films.
Sette canne, un vestito is especially rich in them. It's a festival of circles.
Some are fixed architectural forms: chimneys, towers, pipes, a platform at the fashion show.
Others revolve: many factory machines, a big wheel on the harvester in the field.
Industrial films are an underrated genre. Some of my favorites:
- Westinghouse Works (G.W. Bitzer, 1904)
- Sunshine Gatherers (George E. Stone, 1921)
- Auto-Lite on Parade (J. Cullen Landis, 1940)
- Sette canne, un vestito / Seven Reeds, One Suit (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1949)
- Le chant du styrene (Alain Resnais, 1958)
- India Matri Bhumi (Roberto Rossellini, 1959)
- The Four Elements (Curtis Harrington, 1966)
- SX-70 (Charles and Ray Eames. 1972)
- Turbo-Encabulator (Bud Haggart, Dave Rondot, 1977)
Cronaca di un amore / Story of a Love Affair
Cronaca di un amore (known as Story of a Love Affair
in English) (1950) is Michelangelo Antonioni's first feature length dramatic film.
The Two Halves of the Film - and an interlude between
The tone and structure of the film changes in its two halves:
I found the first half a lot more enjoyable than the second half,
which crawls forward on a pre-determined, predictable path.
- The first is a mystery story, in which a detective researches
the hidden past of the film's heroine, and we meet the many people
who've known her. This half recalls Orson Welles'
Citizen Kane (1941). By the end of the first half, most
of the mysteries have been resolved.
- The Interlude. In between the two halves, is a segment about
trying to sell the industrialist a car. This includes both the
night club, and a much reproduced image of two giant liquor bottles
serving as advertisements on a deserted road. This segment is
a look inside Italy's consumerist society. I liked these parts
too, although not quite as much as the mystery sequence which
form's the film's first half hour.
- The second half of the film turns into an account of the heroine's
adulterous affair. This second half recalls James M. Cain stories,
about trashy but glamorous women married to wealthy, older husbands,
who cheat on them with poorer boyfriends, and who eventually want
the boyfriend to kill their husband. Luchino Visconti
had previously shot James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings
Twice as Ossessione (1942), so Cain was very much on
The heroine, seven years before, had broken off completely with
her earlier life, and started a new one. This is like the heroines
to come of Il Grido, and L'Avventura. However, in
those films we see the heroine's earlier life, and her future
after she disappears is a mystery. In Cronaca di un amore
the audience perspective is different. We gradually learn about
both parts of the heroine's life: her current life in the present,
and what she did as a girl before the big change. This is a bit
like The Passenger, in which we learn about Jack Nicholson's
new and old lives throughout the film.
Characters: Good Businessmen versus Selfish Consumers
The wife in this film is a colossally unappealing person. She
expects others to give her everything, and gives them nothing
in return. She has no interest in life, other than buying fancy
clothes and ordering servants about. The wife's thirst for luxury
goods must have seemed especially offensive, in a country as poor
as Italy was in 1950. There are several pieces of dialogue, in
which working people complain about the Italian economy.
The older husband, usually an unsympathetic person in Cain plots,
is actually quite likable. He loves to go to the theater, concerts
and night clubs, and to socialize with other couples. All of these
are activities that the wife interferes with, twice in the film
- she is a real killjoy. The husband is also the first of the
sympathetic businessmen that run through Antonioni's films. He
owns numerous factories, makes business deals, and is trying to
explore new markets and products. He is a producer; the wife is
a consumer. Antonioni likes to show how dynamic and exciting business
is. The husband here is honest, and treats his wife well; she
lies to him and exploits him, being interested only in his money.
The boyfriend's apparent economic status changes in the two halves
of the film. At first, he is well dressed in a good suit and overcoat,
and says he is a car dealer. Eventually, he says he has exaggerated,
and turns into a penniless drifter sponging off the rich woman,
as in James M. Cain tales. The feel of economic decline anticipates
Il Grido - although that hero really declines in fortune,
while the hero here merely lies about his real status at first.
The boyfriend seems a lot more likable in the first half, when
he seems gainfully employed. In a modest, middle class way, he
seems like another of Antonioni's businessmen. Even the detectives,
engaged in a somewhat sordid business, get brownie points from
Antonioni for being in there and trying.
However, this is not the full story about the boyfriend. The professor
in Ferrara dismisses him as a "good looking boy", and
says how much he hates good looking boys. This seems like jealousy,
perhaps, at the time. But future developments shows the boyfriend
to be little more than a good-looking front who exploits other
people. The heroine was attracted to him at once - he is as much
a sex object as she is. And both are gradually revealed to be morally
corrupt. The hero is also depicted a an ex-jock, successful at
sports when young, but a failure at all grown-up activities.
Cars and Trolleys
The car salesmen in Cronaca di un amore anticipate the
gas station in Il Grido. In both films, cars provide employment
for the hero. We get a look in both films at the emerging car
culture of Italy in the 1950's. Cars still co-exist with trolley
lines that are everywhere in Milan, in Cronaca di un amore.
The trolleys are used by the masses; the rich have numerous cars,
such as after the concert near the opening of the film. While
the hero tries to sell cars, he himself takes the trolley, the
poor person's transportation.
The heroine's designer clothes are strikingly ornate. But they
also seem cold and chilly, as if she were some sort of Ice Princess.
The cape in which she is wrapped during her first entrance in
the film, anticipates a "look" that one will later see
on the heroine of Alain Resnais' L'Année dernière
The heroine looks drastically different, in the old photos that
represent her before her current incarnation as a socialite.
Links to Blowup
The heroine and boyfriend are shown plotting in a park in Milan.
Eventually, they leave by the park's ornate metal gates. This
anticipates the park to come in Blowup. There is also a
park (or maybe a tree filled private yard) at the end of the street
where the heroine lives; it hangs high over the street, with gates
at the end of the road, just like the park entrance in Blowup.
The Milan shop windows the heroine passes later also remind one
a bit of the London shops in Blowup.
The music combo at the nightclub anticipates the rock band in
Blowup - both were probably cutting edge pop ensembles
in their day. The nightclub suggests that Antonioni was interested
in La Dolce Vita long before Fellini.
In some ways, the heroine here is like the Vanessa Redgrave character
in Blowup. Both turn out to be involved in murderous intrigues,
although both enter their films simply as sexy, desirable women.
We learn all about the heroine's actions in Cronaca di un amore,
however, while Redgrave's character is permanently mysterious,
involved with some desperate, murderous intrigue, of which we
never learn the details.
The mystery investigation in Cronaca di un amore is triggered
by some old photographs of the heroine. This is similar to, but
less elaborate than, the way the photographs of Redgrave are explored
in Blowup, for clues to the mystery.
Landscape and Imagery
We see a rugby team practicing. This anticipates the boat race
in Il Grido, and the rocket launches in La Notte.
These are all images of happiness in Antonioni.
There are also shots along rivers, a perennial Antonioni image.
One river landscape, with different kinds of steps along both
sides of a road parallel to the river, is especially striking.
One wonders if this is some sort of riverside sports complex.
There is a huge curving white structure revealed at one point.
This could be a set of sports bleachers. In any event, its curvature
makes it seem like a very strange example of modern architecture.
It is like a dream, or a Giorgio de Chirico painting. The hero
and heroine wander all alone in it, as they will later wander
alone in the deserted modernist village in L'Avventura.
The many shots along roads also anticipate Il Grido. These
roads tend to be long and straight, stretching both directions
in a flat, empty countryside.
It is hard for me to tell for sure, not being a resident of Italy,
but it looks as if Antonioni is showing many of the same streets
and buildings in Milan, as he will show a decade later in La Notte.
When the detective is talking to a man who seems to be a tennis
coach, near the start, there is an oval, egg-shaped white structure,
perhaps the base of a sign or post. We soon see a small pillar
on a Ferrara street, with a rounded, oblong hemispherical top.
Both of these geometric figures are unusual. Later, in front of
the heroine's apartment, there are two oblong spheroids on very
short pillars, on either side of the door. They echo the egg imagery
at the start of the film.
Cronaca di un amore is full of camera movement. Many of
the interiors show Antonioni's camera prowling all over the set,
partly following the characters in the scene, and partly exploring
the set in free form. The set explorations anticipate the pans
to come in Il Grido, which also twirl around the interiors,
showing every detail of the sets to the audience. However, the
pans in the later film Il Grido are systematic - pans circling
around interiors - while the camera moves in Cronaca di un
amore are elaborate, complex, and varied. The purpose and
feel of the camera movements are the same in both films - to show
interiors to audiences - but the actual movements are quite different.
There is also a feeling of stasis, and being trapped, that comes
through in both films. We are used to seeing Max Ophuls'
camera moves, which follow people as they walk great distances
through long paths. There is little of this in Antonioni - only
the walk from the garage to the nightclub, with the boyfriend,
model and car agent is of this form. The camera here will explore
all over a room, but it is trapped inside, and goes nowhere. It
is like a bird fluttering around inside a cage. This trapped feeling
is even more pronounced in Cronaca di un amore. At least
the steady pans of Il Grido give a feeling of some sort
of progression. Here in Cronaca di un amore, the camera
lurches all over a set, but never really gets anywhere.
In the Professor's room in Ferrara, the camera suddenly moves
towards the window. In between the window-bars, we eventually
see the detective walking in the street below. Then the camera
moves back from the barred window, and resumes its exploration
of the room. This shot anticipates the celebrated final long take
of The Passenger, which actually moves between the bars
of its window, out into the street.
Outdoors, there are numerous pans. One shows the overhead of a
complex intersection in Milan. It is a fascinating panorama, which
combines the features of a map, with a look at the actions of
many people below. There is a policeman standing on a small platform
directing traffic. Such overhead looks at cityscapes will be especially
plentiful in L'Eclisse.
I vinti / The Vanquished
I vinti (1953) is a three episode movie, with each section telling
a different sorry about different characters. Each episode depicts young people
committing a crime.
With young people committing murder and robbery, I vinti is often described as being
about juvenile delinquency. This is true to a degree: the film's opening depicts
youth crime as being a growing social problem. However, the killers in the three stories are some of
the cinema's most respectable-looking "delinquents",
middle class and often neatly groomed in good suits and ties!
They tend to plot "perfect crimes". All in all, the atmosphere is not like
The Blackboard Jungle, but rather like a neorealist version of
Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948),
a film which shows wealthy young men attempting a perfect murder.
The episodes also recall the planned crime in Antonioni's own Cronaca di un amore.
The film's opening looks at apparent real-life newspaper accounts of youths committing crimes.
Most of these young people are also nicely dressed. However, two photos are of
youths in black leather jackets: much more typical of the image most people have of "juvenile delinquents".
We don't see these sort of toughs in the rest of the film.
I vinti is often known as The Vanquished in English.
However, a better translation of "I vinti" might simply be "The Losers".
Unfortunately, "The Losers" is a title that would keep many folks away from the film.
Americans want to see films about winners, not losers.
Anticipating Later Antonioni Films
The original version of the Italian episode, anticipates Zabriskie Point.
Both deal negatively with none-too-smart student radicals who act alone and disastrously,
and who wind up dead for their actions.
Both act independently of political parties, as the films emphasize:
perhaps a cause of their mistakes. This episode and Zabriskie Point should be considered
as a closely linked pair of films.
The English episode is quite different in both its plot and central character from Blowup.
But both films' depiction of England have much in common:
- Decadent British anti-heroes in the arts.
- Publishers, far more respectable.
- Eerie crimes in green areas.
- Telephone booths, outdoors on streets.
- People walking dogs.
- Tennis games, shown at the end of the films.
Antonioni films are full of characters who move to other countries, sometimes to get work.
The young people in the French episode of I vinti talk of moving to Canada or North Africa.
These are wild pipe dreams, unlike the actual job moves in some other Antonioni films.
Landscape and Imagery
The French episode shows a group outing to the countryside, anticipating the one
in Le Amiche.
The outing includes a depiction of a glider plane. Like other depictions of flying
in Antonioni, it is happy and joyous. It offers a welcome respite
from the downbeat crime plot.
In the French episode, the camera moves through an apartment room, to a huge window.
Through the window, we can see characters moving in the street below.
This is a kind of shot that runs through Antonioni.
Le Amiche ("The Friends") (1955) at first seems like something of an anomaly
in the director's work. It is relentlessly grim, dealing with
the most downbeat subjects imaginable. It is too depressing to
recommend to anyone, unlike most of the rest of the director's
work. Some of the feminist subplot is interesting and worthwhile,
And looked at abstractly, the camera movements and visual style are often fascinating.
The many staircase shots, especially of a outdoor stairs system at the beach, are excellent.
Le Amiche splits into two halves, which have some structural
similarities to Cronaca di un amore. The first half of
both films deals with exploring the mystery of a woman's life.
We gradually learn more and more about her, and all the mysterious
hidden events of her life are revealed to the audience by the
end of part one.
The second half of both films depicts a disastrous adulterous
affair. There are no mysteries here, just a steady progress towards
The Business Woman Heroine
More interesting than the adulterous couple is the straight-laced
business woman heroine of Le Amiche. One wishes more of
the film had been about her.
The heroine is faced with a choice at the end, between continuing
her successful job, and getting married. I confess I did not understand
this at all. I was born in 1953, and have vivid memories of 1950's
America being full of married women who worked - most of my school
teachers, for example. Were things different in 1955 Italy? No
one ever suggests that it might be possible for the heroine to
get married, and keep on working at her job.
The heroine is faced with a grim choice: a life of loneliness
but employment at her job, or a life of extreme poverty as the
stay-at-home wife of the working class man she loves. Since she
desperately needs the money, why can't she get married and keep
her job? Would people in Italy have shot her down in the street
if she tried to do this? Her genial, puppy dog like boyfriend
hardly seems like a man with ego-driven demands, for his wife
to quit work or anything else. He in fact seems like a man who
she could lead around by the nose. Unfortunately, Antonioni never
clarifies the sociological context in Italy of the heroine's situation.
The film does make clear that in 1955, working class Italians
still lived at the grim poverty levels shown in Bicycle Thieves
(1949). The main alternative to such poverty is a relentless work-ethic
lifestyle, in which would-be middle class Italians plunge ahead
with total determination at some business or job. This is the
route taken by the heroine. Antonioni shows the downside of such
a committed, joyless life. But he does not caricature the heroine.
She works hard, is honest and truthful, treats her customers fairly,
and is honest in her dealings with her employees. While she thoroughly
chews out the behind-schedule workmen she employs, the film also
makes clear that they are in the wrong: they have been lying to
her about the schedule they committed to. She is also the only
character in the film who tries to help other people, taking practical
steps on their behalf.
Later Antonioni films will present ambiguous images of big businessmen:
part glamorized wheeler-dealers, part socially irresponsible capitalists.
But the heroine here is not at their financial level. She is working
her business so diligently, simply as a form of economic survival.
Her alternative is life in a Bicycle Thieves-style slum.
The business woman heroine who rejects her boyfriend, and the
working class boyfriend who is a skilled construction worker,
anticipate Il Grido, and the working class mechanic who
is rejected by his girl friend.
Le Amiche takes place at a moment in social history: women
have started to take on jobs and professions once restricted to
men - but they have no support in a society that seemingly lacks
any sort of organized feminist movement. The woman artist sees
every success she attains as a threat to her relationship with
her worthless artist boyfriend-with-the-fragile-male-ego - and
few more worthless men can ever have been fought over so hard
by a pair of women. The business woman cannot even get married.
What a society! These women are on the verge of nervous collapse.
And no wonder: society is crucifying them just for working hard
and behaving honestly!
Many other Antonioni films contain mysteriously dissatisfied upper
class heroines. By contrast the women in Le Amiche work
for a living, and their dissatisfaction is anything other than
mysterious. It comes directly from social mistreatment.
The windows being brought in off the construction truck anticipate
the see-through panels used by the photographer of Blowup.
The lovers on the beach, recall couples making love on the ground
in other Antonioni films.
Relationships to other Antonioni films
An industrial landscape near the Po. Il Grido (1957)
contains ideas and images that will reappear in Antonioni's later
works. The look of the film is close to that of Red Desert (1964).
Both films take place in industrial landscapes.
Both have many scenes of canals and waterways. Both take place
in or near the Po valley region in Italy's Northeast, also the
home of Antonioni's first documentary, Gente del Po (1943
- 1947). Both films' interiors are of ordinary, traditional looking,
non-upper class dwellings. Both films contain a small child who
wanders around lost in these landscapes. Both films have much
mist. Both show a flag raised to summon a doctor (Grido)
or to declare quarantine (Red Desert). Both show rough
shacks used by working class people. In many ways Red Desert
seems like a remake in color of the images in the earlier film.
Antonioni was born in Ferrara, and went to school at the University
of Bologna. So this is his home region of Italy. This region,
which looks like nothing else on Earth, is a major draw for Antonioni's
films. Antonioni likes to film his stories in photogenic areas
that are not much explored by other film makers. We have the islands
of L'Avventura, the Death Valley landscapes of Zabriskie
Point, and the industrial buildings of Red Desert.
The gas station in Il Grido anticipates the sandwich shop
in Zabriskie Point.
Emigration. Both Il Grido and Red Desert
concern people who emigrate to far distant lands in the Southern
Hemisphere (Australia, Patagonia) to perform industrial work.
There is also the man in the shack in L'Avventura, who
has just come back from thirty years in Australia. The antique
store owner in Blowup wants to emigrate to either Nepal
or Morocco. The boyfriend in Cronaca di un amore did his
military service in Africa, and talks about the stars there.
A woman who rejects. Many of the personal relationships
in Il Grido seem to anticipate Antonioni's next film, L'Avventura
(1959). Both films open with a woman who rejects her entire current
life, who takes off and disappears. Both films show her absolute
but somewhat mysterious distaste for everything around her. The
remainder of both films show the negative effect of this on the
people around her. In both film the hero has a series of affairs.
He cannot remain faithful to any woman, and he experiences a personal
disintegration, a sense of guilt over his inability to love and
Hi tech vehicles. The boating scenes here anticipate those
of L'Avventura. Antonioni obviously loves this sort of
high technology craft - one also recalls the airplane of Zabriskie
Point, and the rockets in La Notte. They represent
an interval of joy and excitement in the hero's otherwise pervasive
Men who make things. In both Il Grido and L'Avventura
the hero takes to the road, constantly shifting from place to
place. Both film's heroes are men who make things - they have
a constructive role. The working class hero of Il Grido
is a mechanic. He is outstanding at his job, and can repair any
mechanical device. The much more upper class hero of L'Avventura
is an architect. He too is a builder, very good at his job, and
very successful. Both men's jobs show them in direct relationship
to the world about them. In both films, the hero is someone who
helps build the world around him, whether it is houses or machinery.
Everywhere he goes, he encounters objects that his profession
allows him to relate to, whether they are buildings or machines.
Unfortunately, both film's heroes suffer a degenerative relationship
to their profession. The hero of Il Grido quits his steady
job near the beginning of the film, and takes up a series of menial
ones, to support himself on his wanderings. The hero of L'Avventura
has abandoned his youthful idealistic dreams before the film has
opened, and worked on a series of lucrative commercial projects
instead. The writer hero of La Notte is considering abandoning
Making love - in the earth. There are also images in Il
Grido that anticipate Zabriskie Point. The scenes of
lovemaking in both films are similar. In Il Grido, the
couple makes love in a crevice in a vast sea of mud. They are
the only living figures in a vast expanse of dead earth. This
anticipates the famous desert love scene of Zabriskie Point,
where the couple makes love on the dead sands of Zabriskie Point,
the lowest point in the United States, and part of the arid wastelands
of Death Valley. Here, too, the couple is in a crevice in the
Earth - in both films it looks like an area that is the now dried
up path of a water runway. The couple making love at the end of
La Notte also are on the bare ground, outdoors but very
The political finale. The finale of Il Grido counterpoints
its despair laden hero with political activists: a similar balance
will be struck in Zabriskie Point. I confess I did not
like this finale of Il Grido at all: it ruins what was
otherwise a good movie.
Camera Movement: Mainly Pans
The camera movements in Il Grido seem to consist almost
entirely of pans. Antonioni uses pans both indoors and without,
and in a large proportion of the shots in the film. Often times
the pans follow a walking character, a not infrequent use of pans
in film history. Occasionally the pans are extended at the end
by small movements of the camera, or perhaps a small zoom. The
pan in the restaurant adjusts itself in the middle, in order to
properly align the second half of the pan. Usually the pans are
horizontal, but Antonioni regularly pans diagonally as well if
he can get the image he wants. One particular pan in the town
square turns through nearly 360 degrees. The pans often disclose
a surprising new image at the end, such as a building, bridge
or waterway. The viewer rarely knows what is going to happen during
a pan. Almost all of the landscape shots are the viewer's first
glimpse of the scenery they depict. So every turn of a pan tends
to reveal something new.
Occasionally Antonioni tracks backwards. A beautiful shot of this
nature occurs under the portico after the boat race. The camera
watches two young lovers kiss, then tracks backward to reveal
the hero and heroine, also in a romantic mood. It is a clever
and joyous shot, one that conveys high spirits and joie de vivre,
just like the characters' emotions at this time.
Kitchens - and staging
The interior scenes in this film concentrate on kitchens. Only
rarely do we get into other rooms of the house. Each kitchen is
decorated completely differently, and the varied decor seems to
express the personality of each of the four women with whom the
hero is involved.
The first kitchen is seen completely in the
round, with all four walls displayed. It is easy to reconstruct
its spatial coordinates, especially on a second viewing of the
film. Antonioni almost never stages two scenes in it at exactly
the same camera angle. Each shot shows the interior at a slightly
different angle or point of view from anything that has gone before.
The idea seems to be an attempt to avoid monotony. Also, to find
an angle which subtly suggests the "right" emotion for
the scene. The angles, while varied, tend to be at recognizable
variations on each other.
We are remote here from Fritz Lang,
who attacks each new set-up in his interiors from a startlingly
new angle, and who often makes it difficult for the audience to
deduce the precise spatial coordinates of his shot. The fact that
Lang's camera tends to be fixed in static composition for each
shot, while Antonioni's is nearly always panning, also causes
key differences in effect. For one thing, it is much easier in
Antonioni to regard a current shot as a variation of the preceding.
Performances: Steve Cochran
Although this is an Italian film, its cast incorporates such American
actors as Steve Cochran and Betsy Blair, both of whom are excellent.
Steve Cochran looks remarkably like the contemporary actor Matt
LeBlanc. The resemblance is heightened by the naiveté of
his character, which reminds one of LeBlanc's character on Friends.
One might compare Cochran's performance here with those in two
American noir films: Felix E. Feist's
Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) and Don Siegel's
Private Hell 36 (1953).
Aspects of Cochran's Hollywood persona also play a major role in Il Grido:
- Cochran was noted for his passionate, emotional performances.
He often played men whose romantic relationships to women were all important.
This makes him an ideal choice for the hero here, whose life is entirely wrapped up in his female loves.
- He often played men who were extremely impulsive, who followed their instincts blindly.
- His characters tend to be working class,
vulnerable men without any sort of middle class support network.
Il Grido and Visconti
Many elements of Il Grido recall Luchino Visconti's
pioneering neorealist film, Ossessione (1943):
- Both films have a working class mechanic as a hero.
- In both he wanders around
as a bum from location to location, taking odd jobs.
- In both films,
he is drawn to unhappy romantic affairs that cause his emotional
disintegration. Both films look at the dark side of promiscuity.
- Both films have a major setting in a road side business in the
country side: the restaurant in Ossessione, the gas station
in Il Grido. Both directors get much visual mileage out
of creative shots of the road along the business.
- Both films have
many inventive pans, that are staged to reveal vivid locations
in small town and rural Italy.
- Both films have important scenes
in kitchens, seen as the domain of heroines in the film, and used
to characterize them.
- Both films are set in the Po region of Italy,
an area with a distinctive look.
Il Grido and Anthony Mann
The tower at the refinery somewhat resembles the one in Anthony Mann's
Border Incident (1949). Both have staircases which wind along their outside.
The famous real-life Leaning Tower of Pisa also has a staircase which
emerges on the tower's outside in a section.
The visual style in L'Avventura tends to focus on very
pure compositions. Each region or object is very clearly outlined.
When Antonioni is at the island, the rocks on the island are clearly
outlined. So is the sea, any water in the shot, any island in
the background, the sky, and any clouds in the sky. Each forms
a clearly outlined, purely geometrical region. So are any regions
within the rocks: if there is a level piece of shelving on a cliff,
or a hollow within the rocks, it too forms a separate, clearly
outlined region within the screen.
Similarly, on land, when Antonioni shows an outdoor landscape,
each object of the landscape is clearly portrayed, and forms its
own separate region within the screen. There are rarely any obstructions
in front of it. If Antonioni shows a building, we see its facade
clearly, in one section of the screen. A tree will be all by itself,
clearly outlined against a bare sky.
There are usually just a handful of such objects/regions on the
screen. The viewer can take all of them in at a glance, although
they are beautiful to linger on, as well. A composition might
contain five regions, each one clearly and purely outlined.
Such pure compositions, with each region of the screen strongly
outlined, recall traditional Japanese paintings. Early Renaissance
Italian art of the 1400's also shows such a pure compositional
L'Avventura and Rossellini
Just as Il Grido recalls Luchino Visconti's neorealist
film, Ossessione (1942), so too does L'Avventura
recall Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli
(1949). Both films take place on the rocky volcanic islands north
of Sicily. Both also show much traditional architecture in the
Sicilian region. It is as if Antonioni wanted to revisit the classics
of Neorealism, shooting films with subject matter similar to the
neorealist masters of the past.
Some of the early shots in L'Avventura have a visual organization
that recalls Rossellini's technique in Stromboli. In that
film, Rossellini often included a horizontal band full of architecture
in the upper regions of the screen, while the lower portion of
the screen was devoted to an open area through which the characters
moved. This open area was sometimes just a big empty space; but
it could also include rigorous, even maze like paths down which
the characters wander. (Please see the discussion of Stromboli
in the article on Rossellini for details.) The opening shot of
L'Avventura has a similar approach. The upper portion of
the screen shows the heroine's house. It is architecturally complex,
with two sides of the house visible, regularly repeating windows,
and a circular arch. The lower portion of the screen is a more
open area, down which the heroine walks. It has a diagonally depicted
path between two hedges, just as Rossellini sometimes showed a
diagonal path between two low walls.
Similarly, when the heroine leaves the house and has the talk
with her father, the lower portion of the screen shows an open
field. It too has a conspicuous path, receding straight down to
a vanishing point in the distance. Soon, a workman will walk down
this path. Meanwhile, an upper rectangular portion of the screen
shows architecture: a series of buildings in the distance. Most
of these buildings are rectilinear examples of modern architecture,
but one is a traditional dome of what is apparently a church.
This church is conspicuously placed near the vanishing point of
the path, as if it were a spiritual destination in our lives.
Its prominently circular shape is just as conspicuous in this
composition, as was the circular arch in the opening shot.
Circular Arcs - and the Study
Circular arcs are prominent throughout the opening compositions
in L'Avventura. The waterway, against which both women are
often framed, contains huge circular archways, through which the
water flows. These shots combine rectilinear forms such as pillars
and the banks of the waterway, with these prominent circular arches.
Similarly, the hero's home is full of circular arches. These
are worked into the compositions, which often contain one vast
circular arc in a sea of rectilinear forms. These interiors match
the many early exteriors which also combine an arch and rectilinear
architecture. Such a repeated design pattern gives both unity
and intellectual depth to the compositions early in the film.
The shot with the most circular forms is the one showing the hero's
desk and study. Here, numerous circular arches repeat all over
the upper reaches of the room, making a spectacular composition,
and one of the richer curvilinear shots in film history. The complexity
and beauty of these circles suggests the complexity of the hero's
mind. It is a picture of the inner workings of his thinking processes.
The human mind is very rich and beautiful. Here, Antonioni has
found a visual correlative, one suggesting its richness, wonder
and complexity. The hero's study is often an important region
in Antonioni's films. The novelist's study is La Notte
is a beautiful library, filled with books. It too seems to be
a real work area of a major thinker. Both of the heroine's boyfriends
are shown at their desks in L'Eclisse, as is the photographer
in Blowup, and we see what seems to be the hero's study
in The Passenger. The desk seems to be part of professional
identity in Antonioni, signifying the hero's work visually. All
of these characters are male, and of middle class status or higher.
His films contrast with those of Fritz Lang,
where it is chiefly villains who are shown working at their desks.
The overhead view of markings around the pillar outside the hero's
home also has curvilinear forms. These are like pie shaped
regions, perhaps marked out for parking. These regions are complex
visual forms, and a shape we rarely see in the movies. Antonioni
shows two nuns making their way across this region.
The opening image of the heroine's house has some special properties.
As noted, it shows two sides of the house. These two directions
are further underscored by the arch, which is parallel to the
front of the house, and the hedge, which extends the direction
of the side. The image forcefully reminds us that perpendicular
directions exist. The windows are in the same position on the
front of the house and the side. It is as if the front has been
rotated to form the side of the house, underscoring the theme
of two dimensions. The whole is a strong image, showing that space
extends in multiple dimensions. Staring at this image gives rise
to meditation of the dimensional quality of space, the deep mystery
that space is constructed out of dimensions. This is one of the
great subjects of mathematics and physics. Many mathematicians
have given their lives to develop the matrix algebra and three
dimensional calculus that explore the wonders of multi-dimensional
space. The fact that these dimensions are familiar to us, does
not lessen their huge importance and deep significance and complexity.
Staging: Indoors and Out
The opening scenes of L'Avventura continue the traditions
of Il Grido. The interiors tend to start with people entering
doors. We see people approaching from outside, going in the building,
cuts to entrance halls, entry into the building, going in to other
rooms. It is a whole process, designed to show as much of the
architecture of the buildings as possible, and also to allow Antonioni
to create many interesting compositions.
Once inside the buildings, Antonioni shows as much of the landscape
outside through the windows as possible. Characters sometimes
appear through these windows, as well. We also see shots from
the outside of buildings, looking in through the windows; these
anticipate the scene in L'Eclisse, where the heroine is
going home at night, and we see into her apartment. Later, there
are shots of the characters going down long, narrow corridors
to the artist's room. When they return later, after the scene
in the room, we see these corridors from outside the building,
through the windows. Both within and without, these corridors
seem like unusual architectural features. Antonioni loves this
inside/outside dual perspective; it will be found again in L'Eclisse.
Outside, Antonioni favors scenes where the characters are standing
in front of a hill. This allows the landscape to rise up behind
the characters, and form their background. There are often buildings
or other features at the top the hill, which appear over the characters'
heads. Antonioni also uses canals and other human structures to
form a "landscape" background for his performers.
Ozu specialized in scenes in which overlapping,
transparent wires, trolley lines, power grids, laundry lines,
etc., make geometric patterns in the sky above. Antonioni tends
to avoid this kind of shot; he tends instead to show non-overlapping
buildings or trees in his landscapes. One of the few shots of
wires in L'Avventura occurs when the hero and both heroines
are driving away towards the cruise. Here such wires gradually
emerge in the sky, as the car drives along the curving road. They
make a richer and richer pattern, and eventually fill the shot
over the car.
The Water Scenes on the Boat
Antonioni has a favorite camera angle for his boat scenes. It
is slightly sloping down, and shows a long expanse of waterscape
behind the characters' His yacht scenes try to show as much water
behind the actors as possible. Unlike some directors, who would
tightly close up his performers after some establishing shots,
Antonioni tries to include the waterscape at all times. There
is a "Psychological" aspect to this. If the landscapes
of the film represent emotional moods, then adding water to them
greatly increases the complexity of those moods. Humans respond
intensively to water; the water adds a whole new dimension of
feeling to the landscapes.
Antonioni organizes his pictures of the island into different
series. When the people first land on the island, most of the
scenes show the cliffs, with the water lapping below. The cliffs
tower over the characters' head, and the island looks quite inhospitable.
There is a sense that the characters have not penetrated very
far inland. Most of these shots are face on to the island, or
even looking up a little bit.
After Anna disappears, we see scenes showing the interior and
top of the island for the first time. The texture changes - instead
of volcanic rock walls, the landscape now looks like sand with
boulders and small rocks. The characters are now entirely engulfed
in the island. Many of these shots have no water at all - they
simply show the island's interior.
There are also shots beginning here, which show the coast, but
from the point of view of some one on the top of the island, looking
down. The most spectacular of these shots shows a channel between
two rock cliffs, from above. After we have panned to the right
along the channel, we see Sandro enter the frame from the right.
Then the camera pans slowly up, till we see the top of the island,
and the sea in the background. It is one of the most complex pans
in the film. The final view is typical of the "top of the
island" shots we have been seeing. But the shot as a whole
shows the complexity of the island, and what has been underlying it.
After all this, we begin to see shots with more water in the background.
There is also a shot of the hill, with the shack on top. Another
shot shows an island as a whole. One wonders if this is the island
we have been on - it always looks this way to me when I watch
the film. But no - it is simply another island. The camera begins
panning, and we see the top of our own island, and familiar characters
The progression of shots - starting looking up at the rocky
cliffs from below, then moving to the top of the mountain, then
looking down the cliffs from above to water beyond - recalls the
ascent of the rocks in the opening scene of Anthony Mann's
The Naked Spur (1953). Mann's rocks are inland, in Colorado,
and the water nearby is a river, not the ocean, but the organization
of the shots is quite similar in both films.
In The American Cinema (1968), Andrew Sarris pointed out that there were resemblances
between Mann's and Antonioni's visual styles.
A classic shot shows Sandro searching the island's coast from
a boat. This is one of the few tracking shots in the film - most
of the camera movement consists of pans. We get a more detailed
shot of the hill with the shack, but this time with some of the
shore line included - so we are pulling back a bit. These shots
show the coast walls head on, so they are somewhat similar to
the opening series of shots of the coast line, when people first
came to the island. The shot suggests that Sandro is retreating
from the island, and becoming more distant from the search. This
is perhaps not fair - using the boat to search is a good idea.
But still it suggests a perhaps subconscious withdrawal on his
part. The camera moves past a channel leading into the island,
between two cliffs. The boat eventually moves into position so
that we can see the channel head on, receding from the front to
the back of the screen. This is a common function of camera movement
in L'Avventura. A similar shot in a square with move the
camera so that we get a direct look up a narrow street next to
a basilica. The camera in that shot will in fact move so that
we see both the receding street, and later the building along
the right hand side of the street. Similarly, the shot of Anna'
father near the beginning of the film shows an old road receding
directly back from the viewer. Antonioni loves such perspective
Whatever Antonioni thinks about Capitalism, he is clearly fascinated
by businessmen. He also makes business look like intense fun.
Whether it is Alain Delon trading on the Rome Stock Exchange in
L'Eclisse, or Rod Taylor wheeling and dealing in Zabriskie
Point, the films suggest that it is very enjoyable. His businessmen
are always dressed to the teeth, in good suits, and are figures
of romance and glamour. They might not make good husbands or life
partners, but they clearly are attractive. They also work in glamorous
places: the dramatic looking Stock Exchange, or the chrome and
glass office building in Los Angeles that is Taylor's corporate
headquarters. The Gabriele Ferzetti character in L'Avventura
is related to these men. He too has a financially lucrative job
and a glamorous life style. However, he seems much more dissatisfied,
and sees himself as a failed architect, not as a pure businessman,
unlike the Delon and Taylor characters. We never see him at work,
also unlike the other two men. There are suggestions that the
encounter with his boss at the end depresses him, triggering the
final Gloria Perkins episode of the film.
The early scene at the art gallery is shot in a single moving
camera take. It starts out by showing the outside through the
door of the gallery, including the circular trapezoidal makings
on the road we saw from above in a previous shot. We then follow
Monica Vitti in her progress through the gallery. Most of the
camera movement seems to consist of pans, but there also seems
to be some tracking to get around a partition between two gallery
sections, near the middle of the shot.
The characters in the gallery are significant. We see some Americans,
talking in English about art. These seem to be serious intellectuals,
and they are treated respectfully by the director. They show that
the milieu of the film is not restricted to Italy, but rather
encompasses educated, modern people all over the world. Even more
revealing are two men we see next, staring raptly at pictures
in the gallery. Their overwhelmingly intense expressions convey
the idea that art is the most important thing in the world. Such
an intense interest in art was typical of the 1950's and 1960's,
when many educated people regarded it as one of the most important
things in life. One often saw such deeply engaged expressions
in real life galleries and museums.
The Mystery Plot
The mystery plot of L'Avventura resembles in some ways
that of a now largely forgotten mystery novel, The Affair of
the Scarlet Crab (1937) by Clifford Knight.
Knight was an American author, whose mystery books took place
against a variety of exotic settings. The Affair of the Scarlet
Crab transpires during a scientific expedition to the Galapagos
Islands. The expedition is funded by a wealthy philanthropist,
and takes place aboard his luxury yacht. Knight's book at one
time was quite popular; it appeared in paperback during the 1940's.
The main similarities are as follows: Both works open aboard a
luxurious yacht trip; both then visit frighteningly barren volcanic
desert islands. Both contain an eerie disappearance. Both contain
an elaborate search through a rocky, deserted island for a missing
person. After the mysterious events occur in both works, the yacht
moves to another island in the chain to report the events to the authorities.
There are some differences, as well. There are three murders in
The Affair of the Scarlet Crab. The first is the disappearance
(Chapter 6). This takes place on board the yacht, in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean. One of the characters simply vanishes in
the middle of the night, and is never seen again. The next morning
the other members of the party notice his absence, search the
boat for him unsuccessfully, and gradually come to the conclusion
that he must have fallen overboard. This whole experience is disturbing
to the reader. Nothing conclusive gets established, and no direct
evidence of what happens is discovered. The character might just
as well have evaporated into space. The disappearance resembles
in its frustrating inconclusiveness the one in L'Avventura.
The desire of the other characters to forget about it, to blank
it out of their emotional memories, also recalls the film. Although
the disappearance is eventually explained at the end of the book,
this explanation comes many weeks later for the characters, and
hundreds of pages later for the reader. The whole thing has some
of the inconclusiveness of Antonioni's film. Also, the events
sneak up on the reader, just as they do in the film. There is
no clear line of demarcation. Ordinary story events just begin
to include a character who is not present. Eventually worry begins
to snowball, and people gradually realize something is wrong.
The second murder in the book is the one that takes place on the
island (Chapters 16 - 18). This too starts out as a mysterious
disappearance. It triggers an elaborate search of the island,
just as in the movie. The searchers call out the victim's name,
just as everyone cries out "Anna!" in the film. Unlike
the film, this search culminates in the discovery of a body. However,
before this, the second crime also has the appearance of a mysterious
disappearance, just like the first. Knight's mise-en-scène
of exploring a volcanic island is not dissimilar to Antonioni's.
There is a shore line approached by small boats, flat places,
hills and peaks.
The film's plot is more compact. There is only one event, the
disappearance on the island. It is like a combination of the two
first murders in the novel. Knight gives a complete resolution
of all his mysteries at the end of the book; there is no modernist
refusal to explain, which was such an innovative feature of the
film. Also, there is no sense in the book that either victim might
be still alive, as there is in the film.
The rich people aboard Knight's yacht live in Los Angeles; many
have ties to Hollywood. They also have many romantic entanglements.
They are not quite as modern and decadent as Antonioni's jaded
socialites, but they have something of the same feel. They have
a languid, sun-soaked quality, and a sense of erotic pre-occupation.
Some of the characters are rich people whose lives involve both
scientific research and being a member of Society. They are not
conflicted about this as is Antonioni's architect turned businessman,
but they do have a dual role in their careers.
Mysteries Without a Solution
Karel Capek's collection Tales from Two Pockets (1928 - 1929)
contains a number of mystery short stories without solution:
"Dr. Mejzlik's Case", "Footprints", "The Old Jailbird's Story".
These tales sometimes attempt to suggest philosophical meanings in their lack of solution.
Such works anticipate the mystery without solution in L'Avventura.
L'Avventura had been a terribly difficult movie to shoot,
with the under-funded crew filming in inaccessible locations.
La Notte (1960) is the complete opposite: it takes place
in pleasant buildings and streets in and near glamorous, civilized
Milan. Aside from a scene of teenagers sending up rockets, it
has nothing requiring a special effect: just people talking. One
suspects that these conditions might have made its filming pleasurable
for Antonioni and crew, after the rigors of their previous film.
Marcello Mastroianni had just given his star making performance
in Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1959). So he was a natural
to play a sophisticated writer with contacts in the world of the
wealthy, just as he did in Fellini's movie. Mastroianni radiates
glamour from every pore here.
A Hopeful Film
The relationship in La Notte seems different from the way
it is presented by many critics. This is clearly a marriage which
is in trouble due to apathy and the decay of the couple's romantic
feelings. Perhaps even more from the problems of modern life.
But we do not actually witness "the break-up of a marriage",
as so many commentators put it. The couple treat each other decently.
They are much nicer to each other than most couples in contemporary
movies. Neither has any animosity, both are gentle, both seem
like decent people. The Night which has descended on the couple
is not a horror of hatred; instead it is a trouble which is exhausting
their souls and their hearts. The couple actually has a lot of
By 1960, rockets had already been used to send men into space.
So rockets were no longer just a toy. They were the most high
tech form of travel available. The scene where the boys shoot
off rockets is quite serious. It shows a group of nice young people
experimenting with technology that Antonioni thinks is the wave
of the future. In this it resembles the robot in Red Desert:
both show high technology being used as a toy by young people,
symbolizing technological advancement and the future. The rocket
scene also reminds one of the boat race in Il Grido. Both
the rockets and boats are exciting means of technological adventure.
Both scenes take place in public, with a lot of sympathetic spectators
looking on. Both are among the most light hearted and optimistic
scenes in their movies.
The wealthy industrialist offers the writer a job doing public
relations for his company. He wants to commission a history of
his firm. In the United States in the last twenty years, such
books are common, usually written by a professional writer and
commissioned by a corporation or its CEO. I have no idea if they
were equally common in Italy in 1960, or whether this was made
up for the movie. What is different here is that the industrialist
also offers the writer an executive position with the firm, as
a public relations expert. This is an offer that carries enormous
social prestige and financial rewards. It is consistent with the
fascination Antonioni shows with business executives throughout
his films. They are always glamorized, and their lives are depicted
as being full of excitement. Antonioni also associates such an
offer with selling out as an artist, the way the architect did
in L'Avventura. Once again, it is unclear whether writers
in 1960 Italy ever received such offers in real life. In today's
United States, such an offer would be atypical. The writer would
get a book deal and an advance, but no job offer with the firm.
The industrialist makes a speech about how his companies are works
of art, which he lovingly built up for the joy of it. This suggests
that capitalism has become a form of art. Unfortunately, the writer
makes no declaration in the film of any love he has for writing.
He seems jaundiced and exhausted. The offer made by the capitalist
suggests that business might be replacing art in the modern world,
or that business might be becoming the main art form of our world.
The behavior of the wealthy guests at the party is a bit hard
to place sociologically. They are certainly not the sort of stuffy
Society figures one associates with the 1930's rich or J. P. Marquand's
satiric novel The Late George Apley (1937). They behave
more like a group of unruly children or fraternity kids, playing
party games, squealing, running around in the rain, and jumping
into the swimming pool with their expensive clothes on. Their
behavior definitely seems infantile. However, there is little
sign of any indecent behavior here. The party, however wild and
uninhibited, seems G-rated. Both the hero and his wife do spend
a lot of time with other people, and are clearly contemplating
having affairs. However, there is little indication that the other
party guests are up to this sort of activity. Instead, the guests
seem to be figures of wealth, who lead a life of frivolity and
mindless amusement, but who are not actually up to anything sinister.
Nor do the guests ever exhibit any signs of aggression to each
other. They are a bunch of rich people who can indulge their whims.
They are not out to pick a fight. They are self-indulgent, not
Rectilinear Visual Style: First half-hour of La Notte
The first half La Notte largely takes place in Milan; the
second half at the party. Each half has its own distinctive visual
The first half-hour of the film is deeply architectural in its style.
Its many exteriors often feature the city's buildings. A typical
shot shows a city street or landscape.
Both the interiors and exterior shots are typically organized
in a common pattern. The screen will be broken down into vertical
sections. Each section or region of the screen will feature a
different building or object in its background. These regions
are dominated by a series of strong vertical lines. The lines
reach from the top to the bottom of the screen. They mark off
a series of rectangular sections of the screen. At the left of
the screen, we will see the first region. It is a rectangle stretching
from top to bottom of the screen's frame. Immediately to its right
is another rectangle. It too reaches from top to bottom of the
screen. Then follows a third rectangular region, and so on, until
the right hand side of the screen is reached. Each rectangle is
bordered by a left and right vertical line, one that reaches from
the bottom of the frame to the top. The regions remind one of
the vertical sections of the Italian or French flags.
The regions are of varying widths. Some are quite wide, taking
up half of the screen or more. Others are narrow vertical strips,
containing a single narrow skyscraper building or small section
of a window. Antonioni shows a pleasing variety in the rectangles.
They are always organized into the most harmonious compositions
The above description shows what the screen looks like, considered
as a flat rectangle, a two dimensional photograph projected on
the screen. The actual composition is more complicated, however.
It usually consists of a three dimensional area of Milan, such
as a street. One can think of such a film image in two ways. One
can regard it as a two dimensional composition on the screen,
or as a three dimensional arrangement in space. Nearly all of
Antonioni's images can be looked at in both ways. He clearly intends
for the viewer to examine the images using both approaches. The
images are designed to be fascinating, and full of visual interest,
when looked at with both methods of seeing.
What do the images in La Notte look like, when regarded
as 3D constructions? It is best to start with the numerous street
scenes. Antonioni often shoots down a street. It has a strong
perspective effect. We often see the street extending back into
a great distance, from the front to the rear of the frame. Antonioni
generates a strong sense of typical Renaissance perspective. The
street often extends to a traditional "vanishing point"
in the background, just as in a classical Renaissance painting
that features strong perspective. Antonioni underscores the perspective
effect by his choice of buildings on the streets. They often contain
repeating elements, such as windows. As the series of windows
or doorways repeats over and over again, each time looking smaller
and smaller as they repeat down the street and towards the vanishing
point, the compositional perspective effect is strongly underlined.
It is like a classical perspective composition, heightened to
the nth degree.
Antonioni often shows a building reaching from the top to the
bottom of the frame. Looked at as a 2D image, this building forms
one of the rectangular sections of the screen. As a 3D object,
the building has a strong perspective effect, with its windows
and other repeating architectural features contributing to the
perspective view which dominates the composition.
The above discussion emphasizes Antonioni's strong vertical lines.
But there is a counter-balancing feature to his compositions.
The lower part of his frames also often include long horizontal
blocks. Outside, these horizontal blocks are often made up of
long, low buildings. These buildings tend to stretch part way
across the screen. They rarely extend all the way across the screen.
Rather, they extend across a few of the vertical sections of the
frame. Looked at as part of the 3D construction, these buildings
tend to add to the perspective effect. They tend to stretch out
along the street, underscoring the classical Renaissance perspective
Looked at as part of the two dimensional flat projection on the
screen, the buildings add a new element to Antonioni's composition.
The screen will principally be composed of a series of strong
vertical sections and lines. The handful of horizontal blocks
on the lower region of the screen will offer a counter-balancing
force, allowing Antonioni to complete a graceful, forceful geometric
The whole first half-hour of La Notte is built around such strong
compositions. It is as if in each image, we were seeing a gigantic
piece of sculpture, made up of a series of rectangular blocks.
Most are vertical, a few are horizontal on the lower part of the
screen. The characters can wander around in these giant sculptural
environments. The viewer's eye can wander around too. Antonioni's
camera lingers over the scenes, in his famous slow, exploratory
style. It invites such a visual exploration of the scenes Antonioni
displays. The use of the pause button on a video player allows
an even more leisurely examination.
The structures in the film's first half are almost entirely rectilinear.
They buildings are strictly rectangular blocks. The whole thing
is constructed on pure geometric lines. It reminds one of Constructivist
art movements of the early Twentieth Century, such as De Stijl,
or the architectonic sculpture of Kazimir Malevich.
Antonioni's interiors in the first half-hour of La Notte are
constructed on the same geometric principles as his exteriors.
They too are made up of strong vertical blocks. Here the blocks
are composed of doors, window sections, standing characters, parts
of rooms, bookcases and so on. These objects are smaller than
the buildings seen in the exteriors, but they function in almost
exactly the same manner, to produce geometric compositions. Antonioni
also gets perspective effects out of long corridors, stretching
to the rear of the frame. All in all, the interiors of La Notte
have the same effect of wandering around in a giant Constructivist
sculpture as do the exteriors.
When the heroine Lidia reaches the outskirts of Milan, the visual style of the film changes.
These outskirt shots are mainly constructed on different principles
than the opening half-hour of the film. The outskirt scenes have a brief interlude in their middle,
showing the hero back at his apartment. This apartment interlude in closer
in style to the first half-hour of the film.
There are a few memorable pure circles introduced by Antonioni
into these rectilinear environments:
There are also a few curved forms:
- A fountain with a circular basin is one of the most beautiful
images in the films.
- Also outstanding: an aerial view of a curving street in Milan.
It combines the strong perspective effect of the other street
scenes, with the curving line of the boulevard. It is very beautiful,
and extremely striking.
- The gas station scene is one of the most beautifully composed
in the film, with the rounded gas station contrasting with a large
rectilinear building on the left of the screen.
Later, the swimming pool has a complexly curved shape.
- Arched building openings are seen across the street, from a window in the hospital.
- A slightly curved fence eventually appears in the background,
of a shot showing an outdoor staircase near the hospital.
- There is an arched doorway to the building with the book party.
- Later, we see some curving grillwork, near what might be the same arched doorway.
- There is a curved wall to an inside corridor in the hero's apartment building, on the lower floor.
- Curved plaques are on an apartment wall.
Mixing interiors and exteriors: shots through windows
The interiors in La Notte often include "exteriors",
because we see the streets of Milan through the windows. These
streets are full of the same geometric buildings as the genuine
exteriors. Antonioni employs deep focus here. The buildings in
the background seen through the windows are in the same sharp
focus as the events in the room. We often see pedestrians or cars
moving through the streets of Milan in these window shots. There
is even a helicopter in one memorable image, anticipating both
the rockets we will see later, and all the airplanes in Zabriskie
Point. All of the high tech devices suggest the world of tomorrow,
a future of technological progress.
Antonioni's exteriors sometimes include "interiors",
as well. He likes to shoot through windows of buildings, showing
us lobbies or apartment rooms of buildings in the background of
exterior street scenes. This is a mannerism that will be greatly
extended in his next film, L'Eclisse. The effect is interesting.
But it is also often hard to get a clear image of these interior
rooms, as seen through glass windows on the street. In both films,
the viewer really has to strain to see what is happening in these
"interior", through-the-window-from-the-street shots.
Both the interiors and exteriors are often photographed by Antonioni
using elevated camera angles. These angles outline the separate
objects, and show them clearly to the viewer.
The first half of La Notte continues Antonioni's interest
in panning shots. Several shots start out with Antonioni showing
us one street, then having the camera pan over to a second street.
One beautiful image integrates the camera movement with the progress
of a both a trolley car and an automobile down the street. Another
shot integrates the movement of Jeanne Moreau and other pedestrians
down a sidewalk, with the movement of Antonioni's camera.
Other panning shots are vertical. When the characters leave the
hospital, there is a beautifully framed image, that includes a
row of trees in the background of the picture. As the car moves
towards the rear of the image, Antonioni pans up to show a group
of even larger trees in the background. Both the opening and closing
images of the pan are among the most beautiful in La Notte.
The opening image is especially lovely. The closing image is quite
forceful. The vertical lines of the trees have a similar effect
as all the strong vertical lines of the buildings in the rest
of the movie.
Other Antonioni Films and La Notte
Some scenes in La Notte echo other Antonioni movies. Jeanne
Moreau encounters a small crying child here, just as in Il
Grido. Also like Il Grido, we briefly see a man working
in a gas station, just like the protagonist of that film. The
man is prominently featured, with a medium close-up. He is one
of the few working class characters in this movie which focuses
on the upper middle classes. The man is quite handsome and dignified.
He has the sort of presence one associates with a movie hero.
The book party recalls the stock exchange scenes in L'Eclisse.
Both are full of large groups of excited, animated, standing figures,
crowded together in a single large room. Both are working at some
job or intellectual profession: writing or publishing here, stock
trading in L'Eclisse. People are dressed in business suits
in both scenes. Both scenes are basically upbeat. Both show their
characters as big successes in their profession. Both also contain
undercurrents of social doubt: is this sort of public success
really of any lasting value?
One should resist suggesting that the hero of La Notte
is similar to the compromised architect of L'Avventura.
The writer seems to be genuinely gifted artist, who writes good
books. His friend Tommaso thinks his latest novel is his best.
He also seems to be respected by the Nobel Prize winning author
whose book he inscribes at the literary party. This is the latest
of several books. The writer seems to work full time at his writing.
He has a study crammed with books, and seems to be a serious intellectual.
Our hero seems to be doing nothing to compromise his artistic
integrity. He is suffering from a decline in confidence, however.
As his dialogue states, he has run out of inspiration, and is
not writing currently. He also has doubts about the future of
literature and writing. He is not sure if it is still relevant
or meaningful in today's world. This is more a portrait of a good
man afflicted by an artistic crisis, than a man who has compromised
his integrity, as was the case of the protagonist of L'Avventura.
I think in general that Antonioni is less negative than many critical
accounts suggest. Some studies of Antonioni suggest that his films
are constantly pointing the finger at his characters, indicting
them for materialism, commercialism, infidelity, etc. Actually,
Antonioni seems deeply sympathetic to the people in La Notte.
They seem more like heroes than villains or case studies.
The party guests seem low-brow. The writer remarks that none of
them would have read a serious book.
La Notte and Nicholas Ray
The characters and milieu of La Notte somewhat resemble
those of Nicholas Ray's Born to
Be Bad (1950). The male hero of Ray's film is a writer, and
both films contain a literary cocktail party. Both films mix the
intelligentsia with the rich, with many scenes set among the cultured
and the sophisticated. In both films, adultery and romantic triangles
form the main engines of the plot. Both films climax with a scene
in which a character is at a frivolous social occasion, instead
of being at the deathbed of a loved one. In general, both Ray
and Antonioni have many artist and writer characters among their
films, and both probe deeply into neurotic problems and psychological
alienation of their characters.
The final scene is a touching dialogue between the hero and heroine.
It takes place in a large outdoor area. This area does not seem to be a public park.
But its vast expanse of green fields anticipate the park in Blowup.
Both have green areas that seem to recede deep into the distance: a haunting, atmospheric sight.
Vittoria and Riccardo: A Rejected Man
L'Eclisse (1962) opens with a situation that recalls the
plot premises of Il Grido and The Passenger. The
heroine Vittoria no longer wants any part of her boyfriend Riccardo,
and is leaving him despite his pleas. Riccardo is handsome, successful,
has a high IQ, treats Vittoria like a princess, says he will do
anything to make Vittoria happy, and wants to marry her. All to
no avail - Vittoria is dumping him. Riccardo is an exponent of
rationalism, and business-like behavior, such as goal-setting.
He tries to set goals: he will do anything that Vittoria wants.
She's not interested. He tries to get her to explain why she is
rejecting him. She says she doesn't know, and that it is impossible
to understand or explain. Riccardo, an exponent of reason, feels
everything has a logical cause, and is helpless in the face of
such anti-rationalist assertions.
Anti-rationalism is often fashionable among the intelligentsia.
Rationalism, which is associated with science and business, is
often looked down upon. People often seem quick to assert what
Vittoria does here: that she has strong feelings that she cannot
explain in words, and which have no cause that can be explained
or mollified. But in many ways, I think Riccardo is behaving much
better. He is trying to reach out to another human being;
Vittoria is not. He is trying to change his actions, if Vittoria
will just give him some clue; she is inflexible. One also notes
that tens of millions of women stuck in abusive relationships
would love to find a man with all of Riccardo's care and good
treatment of the heroine. Being a Good Guy seems to be earning
him nothing in this relationship. After a certain point, Vittoria's
anti-rationalism seems like a form of abuse. It is being used
to hurt a man who is treating her decently. Admittedly, love is
irrational, and cannot be fully controlled by reason or actions.
But it can be explained and influenced by them, and Vittoria is
Riccardo is characterized in terms of traditional masculinity.
He is dressed in a suit and tie. He is seated at a business desk
in his apartment. He is sitting in a business-like leather chair;
later he moves to a black leather chair that seems like the archetypal
seat of the chairman of the board of some vast company. Antonioni
has cast an actor (Francisco Rabal) who oozes a traditional masculinity.
Later, we see Riccardo driving a fancy but business-like car -
not a sports car. He is well groomed, has a haircut that would
look good in any corporate office, and is seen shaving during
a lull in his discussion with Vittoria - a masculine activity.
Riccardo differs from the heroes of Il Grido and The
Passenger, in that he apparently refuses to go to pieces after
Vittoria leaves. He is perhaps a bit too quick to accept her departure,
and try to come to a bittersweet acceptance that their relationship
is over. He might be criticized for a lack of passion. But we
have already seen the disaster that befalls other Antonioni heroes
when dumped, and one has to feel relief that Riccardo has some
inner reserves of strength and sense. Later we see Riccardo
trying to contact the heroine at night, at her apartment. One
hopes this is not the start of a downward slide for him.
Later, the heroine will ogle a young man in the street, understandably
upsetting her boyfriend (Alain Delon). This young man is of a
physical type anticipating David Hemmings in Blowup. He
seems even younger and more of a pretty-boy than Delon, and is
not in a suit, unlike Delon's usual dressy business suits.
Rabal was around 35 when L'Eclisse was shot, Vitti 30,
and Delon 25. It is clear in the film that Vitti starts out with
a slightly older man, the standard social pattern of marriage
in 1962, and soon is dating a younger man, a slightly daring thing
for a woman of the time. Antonioni modifies this a little by ensuring
that Delon is always seen in grown-up roles: we mainly see him
doing his businessman's job at the stock exchange, he is always
dressed up to max in spectacular business suits, we never see
him with his parents or in any context that mark him as a child
in his family, unlike the heroine's many scenes with her mother.
He is definitely in an adult's role at all times, never that of
an over-grown adolescent.
Contrasting Characters and Rooms
The two boyfriends in L'Eclisse embody different backgrounds.
Riccardo at the beginning seems to be a writer. He has an intellectual's
study, like the writer hero of La Notte. The stockbroker
the heroine will soon meet comes from old money. His apartment
is full of old paintings, while the writer's is full of modern
art. This dichotomy between intellectuals and the big money rich
also shows up in L'Avventura, with its architect hero mixing
in with the jet-set representatives of Italy's old aristocracy,
and La Notte, with its writer hero winding up at a party
thrown at the lavish home of one of Italy's top businessmen. In
all of these films, we see the contrasting home bases of the intellectual
and moneyed characters, locales that play a key role in Antonioni's
A third kind of apartment decor in L'Eclisse is that of
Martha, which is filled with photographs of Kenya. These three
types of homes in L'Eclisse will recur in Blowup.
The hero's painter friend across the street is an articulate intellectual
and an artist, and his home is full of modern paintings; the party
near the end will be in a house that typifies Britain's upper
class old rich; and the hero's initially barren building will
eventually be full of photographs put up on the walls.
Martha, the white African expatriate, is deeply prejudiced against
black Africans. Later, in Blowup, the British protagonist
will go out of his way to mistreat a group of African men he sees
on the street. Antonioni's condemnation of European prejudice
against Africans echoes that of Roberto Rossellini
in Paisan (1946). Both directors clearly feel this is a
major social failing among Europeans. Antonioni will return to
African characters in The Passenger (1975).
The finale will refer, hauntingly, to the nuclear arms race. The
film was made in the days leading up to the Cuban missile crisis
in the fall of 1962, the most horrific nuclear episode of modern
times. Antonioni clearly suggests that this is a deep part of
the malaise felt by his characters, and modern society in general.
In Blowup (1966), the protagonist will encounter ban-the-bomb
peace marchers on the street. In L'Eclisse, too, the nuclear
issue is read by a man getting off a bus, who walks down the street.
It is just a much a part of everyday life as the woman with the
baby carriage. This shows how deeply it is permeating into modern
The Windows in the opening scenes
The windows of the apartment mainly show trees and greenery, like
the windows of the London house towards the end of Blowup.
But they also show what seems to be a huge water tower. This tower
is one of the most outrageously phallic-looking structures ever
seen in a movie, and it seems to trouble Vittoria greatly every
time she sees it. It also is strikingly futuristic in its architecture.
These shots look forward to Red Desert, and its heroine
(also played by Monica Vitti), who is disturbed by the industrial
landscape around her.
Jonathan Rosenbaum's analysis of the stock market scenes in terms
of their multi-character, multi-focus visual structure is the
key insight here. (This is found in his essay for the Criterion
Collection.) He aptly compares the film to Tati's Playtime
(1966). Such multi-focus films, with many characters and characterizations
all going on in the background at once, were perhaps more common
in early narrative film. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (Billy
Bitzer, 1905) is a multi-focus early short film, one that has
been famously analyzed in a longer 1969 film of the same name
by Ken Jacobs. One can see traces of the same approach in the
restaurant episode of The Mothering Heart (D. W. Griffith,
1913) and the early club scenes in The Spiders (Fritz Lang,
1919). The way that Vincente Minnelli often
coached each extra in his crowd scenes, to create dozens of little
mini-dramas and characterizations in the background of his films,
is also relevant here. The black-and-white artist's ball in An
American in Paris (Minnelli, 1951) is especially delirious
with its multi-focus approach.
The first stock market scene climaxes with its characters all
standing in concentric circles, during the moment of silence.
Huge circular pillars are also prominent in the building, throughout
the sequence. The film's other most important piece of circular
imagery is the barrel of water at the construction site, later
in the movie.
The second episode instead climaxes on shots of the big board
as a whole, rising over and dominating the traders below. The
board's rectangular grid anticipates the equally rectilinear scaffolding
on the strange building under construction in the finale, which
also rises over the people in the street below.
Trapezoids (known as trapeziums in Britain) do not show up much in the stock market sequence, but
they are prominent in the basilica roof behind the couple's outdoor
discussion in the later part of the film. This seems to be a modern-architecture
church. Many of the Roman buildings seen from the air also have
trapezoidal outlines, when viewed from above in the airplane sequence.
All of this recalls the trapezoidal road markings in L'Avventura.
The finale takes us back to locales and imagery we have seen in
the second half of the film, always in connection to outdoor courtship
scenes between the two leads.
The famous finale is unusual, to say the least, and widely commented
on. The two leads do not appear at all, and their story is not
resolved. But the finale is not a collection of arbitrary images,
either. Everything in it is directly tied to locales or minor
supporting characters we have previously glimpsed in the film.
It develops this imagery in completely logical ways, allowing
us a deeper understanding of what we have seen before. It other
words, the finale is a full, logical climax to the film - but
of a drastically different aspect of the film than a traditional
movie. The logical connections here develop the locales and minor
characters - not the plot and major characters.
If Antonioni had just slapped seven minutes of arbitrary footage
on the end his film, the effect would have been startling, but
not too deep. It would have been a one time stunt, something with
a bit of a shock effect that violated the traditional rules of
storytelling. There is a shock effect in what he actually did,
but it is coupled with a deeply logical development of the previous
bulk of the film.
Antonioni is trying to keep viewers informed, as well. Antonioni
includes some vast panoramas taken from a high angle, both here
in the finale, and in earlier scenes in the film. These show viewers
the locales in the film as a whole. These deepen the viewers'
understanding of what they are seeing. So does the finale's in-depth
look at "minor" characters and locales seen previously.
Paradoxically, while the finale violates traditional norms of
storytelling, it is deeply committed to logical understanding
Imagery in the Finale
Much of the finale centers on a building under construction. This
anticipates the industrial landscapes to come in Red Desert.
There is something eerie and strange about this building. It looks
utterly unlike anything I have ever seen, being covered with some
sort of ribbed wrapping that looks a bit like window blinds, as
well as being full of protruding metal bars or ribs that are apparently
scaffolding. These have a startling geometric regularity. The
over all effect is of some strange construction from another world.
It also is vast - a huge structure that dwarfs much of what is
around it in its neighborhood. Towards the end, it has one of
the few non-street lights burning in front of it. The effect is
something like a votive candle in front of some strange religious
The building stands on a corner of two streets, that are at right
angles to each other. It is often shown from different angles
of the streets. This gives the scene a 3D quality. So do the pans
that move from one street to the other.
The finale shows the building blocks we have seen earlier. Here,
the blocks are divorced from the fence, against which we and the
heroine saw them earlier in the film. The hollow blocks recall
the shots of Rome buildings seen from the air earlier in the film.
The buildings are largely built around empty courtyards, just
like the hollow rectangular blocks. The numerous, piled-up blocks
also echo the numerous buildings crowded together in the aerial
shot. It is a sort of visual pun or doubling, something Antonioni
The shots in the finale tend to be either pans or static shots.
Pans have also been used extensively throughout the film as a
whole, recalling Il Grido.
There are three genuine tracking shots in the finale. Tracking
tends to be used when Antonioni "has to" use it - when
there is no other way to record the movement of characters or
objects he is trying to film. Earlier in the movie, Antonioni
had tracked when his characters had walked across the street in
the crosswalk, only to stop halfway across the street. This track
was a spiritual journey for the characters - the hero has announced
they will kiss when they finish crossing the street, and the heroine
symbolically stops them when they are halfway there, indicating
the half-hearted commitment they bring to their relationship.
This crosswalk will be one of the major locales of the finale,
and one of its main compositional motifs.
The finale contains an equally symbolic tracking shot, showing
the progress of water gushing out of the barrel, moving downhill
across the earth, and disappearing into the gutter. This is a
frightening metaphor for the brief progress of a human life, from
birth to death. It recalls the other end-of-life imagery involving
water, the drunk and the sports car. Once again, tracking is used
to record a spiritual journey.
There also seems to be some tracking in the last shot of humans
in the finale, showing the group of people leaving from the bus,
as night falls.
Earlier, we see a lateral track past three small, really odd shack-like
buildings. I have no idea what these buildings are used for. The
track moves past corridors between the buildings, giving us glimpses
of an apartment house across the street. The track causes the
perspective down the corridors to shift constantly and change.
This recalls the shifting perspective down streets caused by camera
movement in L'Avventura. This too is an Antonioni tradition.
At the end of the lateral track, there seems to be a final pan
downward. This is one of the most complex shots in the finale.
Some of the human beings in the finale seem so sad. Even a baby
seems melancholy. The ferociously angry or sad woman standing,
perhaps waiting for a bus, is especially memorable. The women
here recall the angry woman investors at the stock exchange.
Some of the imagery in the finale echoes modern abstract art:
- A shot of water washing away a splash of earth recalls Abstract
Expressionist paintings, only animated as the water slowly takes
effect. (These resemble a bit the paintings of the hero's friend
across the street in Blowup.)
- Shots of the balconies of an apartment house form pure geometric shapes that
recall some boldly simple abstractions.
Red Desert (1964) is Antonioni's first color film.
A Film about Technology and Industry
Red Desert is a film deeply concerned with technology and industry.
Please see my list of recommended non-science-fiction films about science and technology.
Red Desert is in the sublist of Environmental Dramas and Mysteries.
In general, Antonioni is more interested in technology and industry, than he is in science, strictly speaking.
The same is true of Red Desert: it looks at industry in great depth, and illustrates technology like
robots and the gyroscope. However, Red Desert does take a look at one scientific device:
the radio telescope. Even here, we learn little about how the telescope is used scientifically by astronomers,
and more about what it looks like as a technological machine.
There is nothing inherently good or bad about an artist like Antonioni being more interested in
technology than science - or vice versa. All artists have their subjects of interest, and of disinterest.
I am merely trying to clarify what Antonioni's subjects and interests are.
Non-science fiction books and films dealing with science and scientists in a realistic way
are sometimes called "Lab lit". They are a subject of widespread interest today.
Lab lit is a sort of first cousin to science fiction.
See the Lab Lit web site (not by me) for lists of books and films.
Red Desert is not quite Lab lit, because it focuses on technology and industry rather than
Lab lit's core subject of science and scientists.
Government vs. Private Enterprise
Aspects of industry shown in Red Desert might be obscure to contemporary viewers.
I for one learned about them from David Forgacs' commentary on the DVD of Red Desert.
Forgacs discusses the industrial background of Red Desert:
The radio telescope is run by the University of Bologna: also a public or quasi-public institution.
- Some of the industry shown in Red Desert is run by the Italian Government.
The factories and petrochemical industries shown are often public.
Some factory administrators shown are Government administrators.
As one remarks briefly in the film, "This is a government agency".
- And some of the workers are public employees.
There are brief references in Red Desert to laws that protect them from being fired.
The main private enterprise shown in Red Desert is the construction company owned by Richard Harris.
We see Harris, and learn about his contract to build infrastructure in Patagonia. But never see
Harris' actual headquarters or facilities. The ruthless businessman Max at the shack also seem to be in private enterprise.
It is unclear whether the husband works in private industry or for the government.
Since the 1970's, endless libertarian conservative Republican propaganda has emphasized entrepreneurs
who create companies: supposedly the main model of business. However, such entrepreneurs are
not in Red Desert: Harris inherited his company from his father - he did nothing to create it.
And some factory runners are Government administrators.
Much of the spectacular innovation we see in Red Desert is from the Italian Government.
During the 1960's, much of the most important and productive enterprises were Government run.
The US space program funded the creation of the microchip: the foundation of all later computing.
Much innovation in computing and technology in general came out of government-funded labs and research.
Red Desert reflects this world of Government enterprise and technological innovation.
An informative book on this subject is The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths (2013)
by British economist Mariana Mazzucato. It shows in detail how most technological innovation is government
sponsored and funded. It also shows how most people's ideas on "innovations from business" are just plain wrong.
The Story Told By the Heroine
The heroine tells a story to her little boy. It is dramatized, and forms a "film within the film".
The story takes place on an island, like the opening of L'Avventura.
Photography of rocks and water around the island recall L'Avventura.
The narration (accurately) compares the shapes of the rocks to flesh.
The rocks do indeed recall the painting tradition of biomorphic abstraction:
abstract art whose forms invoke those of the human body.
Despite their prestige in the world of painting, biomorphic patterns only occasionally show up in film:
The flower the little girl examines looks like a member of the Amaryllis family.
See Amaryllidaceae on Gerald Carr's great botany website.
- The Russians' chain mail and helmets in Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein, 1938).
- The fronds in the opening dream sequence in Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1948).
- The curving architecture in Street of Shame (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956).
I tre volti: Il provino / The Screen Test
Il provino (1965) is a roughly 30-minute short film, the first third of the feature-length anthology I tre volti
(the rest of this anthology film is directed by people other than Antonioni).
Il provino means The Screen Test in Italian, and is indeed the story of a would-be film actress' screen test.
Il provino can also be translated as The Audition, which would also be an OK translation.
It is not as good, because the actress already "has the role", apparently.
Her screen test is instead an attempt to draw her out and photograph her in different situations.
So this is not an "audition" in the strict sense, where a performer tries to get a role.
Nearly a Documentary
Il provino is almost a documentary. It is a staged work of fictional events -
but one involving real people playing themselves, in situations close to reality.
The actress in the film is playing herself.
Film executive Dino De Laurentiis is seen as himself - and is indeed the producer of this film.
One suspects that several other characters are also real people in the Italian film industry.
Paese Sera is a real Roman newspaper of the era. The reporter is played by an actor.
But one wonders if some of the other news workers might be real people playing themselves.
Il provino has a simple, largely superficial plot line. But Il provino
does allow Antonioni to document what working in the Italian film industry was like in 1965.
It forms a momento of a period and location in film history.
Similarly, L'amorosa menzogna documented the fumetti industry.
Both films are light-hearted, nearly comedies in tone.
Il provino takes place against lavish, ultra-modern film studio buildings.
These make a startling contrast to the poor, old, traditional Italian building
where the fumetti makers worked in L'amorosa menzogna (1949).
That earlier film showed the poverty of late 1940's Italy; Il provino shows the wealth
generated by 16 years of dramatic economic growth in Italy.
Tradition has been supplanted by modernism.
The Maze: Transparant Panels, Curves, Modules
Il provino has a maze. Mazes are hardly standard parts of modern day office buildings!
But they are fascinating, and it is a good thing that Antonioni incorporated one in Il provino.
Having characters wander through maze-like regions is common in Fritz Lang,
Roberto Rossellini and Edgar G. Ulmer films
(please see these articles for details).
The maze is made of transparent plastic walls. This allows the "shooting through transparent panels"
loved by Antonioni. Il provino is also full of scenes shooting through glass doors:
another common and related Antonioni technique.
The man gets reflected in the maze panels. There are also shots of people reflected in office windows, elsewhere in the film.
Reflections are an Antonioni tradition.
Also a key Antonioni motif: the maze is entirely curvilinear. Antonioni loves curving architecture.
More curved architecture in Il provino:
The maze is made up of modules. Repeating structures are common throughout Antonioni. Others in Il provino:
- Spectacular curved roads lit up at night by lighted guard rails.
- The curved staircase in the building lobby.
- A spiral staircase on the film set where the test takes place.
The maze has gold trim, and is over a floor with gold elements.
Also metallic: the phone with gold receiver and earpiece on the film set,
and the spectacular copper-colored car seen parked outside during the final scenes.
Metallic colors are prominent in Curtis Harrington.
- Lights on rails bordering the road.
- Rows of reporter desks.
- Mirrors in the make-up room.
- The row of wigs.
- Corridors with doors and ceiling lights.
- Ceiling panels outside the studio, through which we see the reporter.
- Two wind machines.
- Stands of film set lights.
The film building anticipates the corporate headquarters where Rod Taylor works in Zabriskie Point. Both:
The guard in Il provino wears a dramatic black leather coat as part of his uniform.
Unlike some filmmakers, Antonioni was not interested in having his heroes wear leather clothes.
In Il provino it is a supporting player, the guard, who is in leather, not the young reporter hero.
- Are lavish, ultra-modern office buildings that proclaim power, wealth and success.
The buildings are so lavish that they seem to symbolize Capitalism.
- Have entrances to their ground floor controlled by uniformed guards.
You don't get the standard men's leather jackets popular in other filmmakers in Antonioni either.
Instead, we get this unique, very dressy uniform. It recalls the black leather uniforms
worn in Fritz Lang silent films, such as Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922),
Spies (1928), Woman in the Moon (1929).
Blowup (1966) represents a disconcerting change of pace
for Antonioni. Its characters are much nastier than those in the
director's previous Italian films, and its visual style seems
very different. Its colossally unattractive protagonist is an
abuser and harasser of women, and the main woman he meets (played
by Vanessa Redgrave) is pretty unpleasant herself. These characters
form a contrast to the warm, highly sympathetic leads of his previous
pictures. Antonioni hardly embraces these characters; in fact,
the film can be read as a sustained attack on the behavior of
Some aspects of the protagonist seem like a degenerate version
of earlier heroes. His tawdry work as a photographer recalls earlier,
more noble heroes with artistic gifts in Antonioni. And the protagonist's
useless purchase of a propeller recalls the interest in helicopters,
boats and rockets that gave a sign of hope to previous heroes.
Visual Echoes of L'Avventura
One can see a few echoes of Antonioni's previous visual style.
When the protagonist makes a call from a typical British phone
booth, the director photographs a London street scene through
the bright red grid of the booth. This recalls the shot in L'Avventura
where the hero closes a shutter over a view of the plaza in Noto,
and the shutter grid becomes superimposed over the image. In both
cases, the director makes a rich visual pattern.
Similarly, the yellow beams in the protagonist's loft through
which Antonioni shoots recall the ceiling bars in the hero's apartment
at the start of L'Avventura.
The Blowup sequence: Links to the Trilogy
The title of Blowup comes from the sequence in which the
photographer protagonist makes larger and larger blowups of details
of images he shot earlier in the film. The photographic images
are the parts of Blowup that are closest in visual style
to the director's Italian trilogy. They show a couple expressing
deep emotions, while photographed against a lyrical background
of nature: the core subject and approach of the trilogy. These
images look as if they could have been taken from L'Avventura
or La Notte. The fact that they are in black and white
further heightens their resemblance to the trilogy. They photos
are spread around the walls of the hero's studio, and resemble
Martha's room in L'Eclisse, whose walls are covered with
giant prints of photos from Kenya.
The blowup sequence is one of the few scenes in which the protagonist
behaves in admirable fashion. Here he is using his genuine skills
as a photographer. He also shows imagination, and the use of reason,
while he discovers more and more interesting information embedded
in the pictures. He is searching for truth, a truly admirable
goal. His behavior represents that of a detective: a person who
uses reason to uncover hidden truths.
Blowing up photos to obtain clues has a long history in mystery fiction.
There are at least three 19th Century mystery short stories about enlarging photos.
Please see this detailed list and history,
part of my history of prose mystery fiction.
Joseph H. Lewis' The Big Combo (1955)
is an important mystery film using enlargement of photographs to discover truth.
Nuns are seen walking in Blowup. They make similar brief appearances in other Antonioni films.
Blowup and other Antonioni films do not have an obvious "meaning" for the nuns,
or attitude towards them.
In his book, Peter Brunette regards the nuns as a symbol of sexual "repression".
He also makes an interesting comparison between the nuns' habits and the uniforms of soldiers
seen in Blowup.
One can suggest some other possible meanings of the nuns, far more sympathetic to them:
- Moral: the nuns symbolize eternal moral values, otherwise often obscured
by everyday life and the protagonists' sometimes corrupt values.
- Economic: the nuns live lives of poverty and service.
They are thus outside of the "consumer good society" and greed that Antonioni so condemns.
- Feminist: the nuns are more examples of the working women that run through Antonioni films.
- Diversity: many different people make up society. Nuns, because of their distinctive habits,
express this diversity visually - and are thus suited to the film medium.
They remind us that society is full of people who are "different".
The Park - and the finale of L'Eclisse
The region of London containing the antique store and park has
some resemblances to Antonioni's treatment of the EUR region of
Rome in the finale of L'Eclisse:
L'Eclisse shows several people in the background who make
visually striking cameo appearances, such as the nursemaid, and
the man driving the horse-cart. Some of these return unexpectedly
in the finale, where they become the center of attention, against
all conventional storytelling traditions. The area around the
antique store and the park in Blowup are also full of people
walking in the background, similarly vivid bit players apparently
creating atmosphere. These include the gay couple walking their
poodles, the uniformed woman attendant in the park picking up
trash, and Vanessa Redgrave and the man, wandering around the
park holding hands. Just as these apparent extras unexpectedly
assume center stage in the finale of L'Eclisse, so will
Redgrave and the man erupt from the background unexpectedly, and
become major characters in Blowup.
- Both are somewhat suburban areas of great cities.
- Both include streets without much vehicular traffic, a fair
number of pedestrians, and crosswalks.
- The strange looking park sits ominously and unexpectedly in
the middle of this London street area, just as the strange building-under-construction
does in L'Eclisse. These constructs dominate their areas,
and cast a strange eerie atmosphere over everything.
- There are park-like areas of EUR seen earlier in L'Eclisse,
too. Broad steps go down to a big reflecting pond or pool in a
park in L'Eclisse, the one where the car is found; the
park in Blowup is full of narrower outdoor staircases.
- The hero and heroine of L'Eclisse have a conversation
on a fairly hilly region; we first see Redgrave and the man on
a hill in Blowup.
- L'Eclisse is full of fences, for example those around
the heroine's apartment building; the park in Blowup is
full of fences. In both cases, the fences are around similar,
medium height, and are easily seen through. The staircases, parks
and fences in both films give the regions visual similarity.
The gray-haired, dignified man Redgrave is with looks somewhat
like the middle aged man with the glasses we see in the finale
of L'Eclisse. The man in L'Eclisse seems full of
mystery, but then so does everyone in the finale of that film.
We just get a brief fairly close look at the man in Blowup.
Both men have thick, heavy, straight and well-combed gray hair,
and a general distinguished air.
Both films contain shots of the wind blowing through trees and
shrubs. This is one of the most striking and eerie kinds of image
in the films. These shots contain nothing but leaf-covered tree
branches, blowing in the wind.
The protagonist is shown driving to the region with the antique
store, at the start of the sequence. The older, British style
buildings are mainly quite different from the modernistic ones
in L'Eclisse, and the film's emphasis on the buildings'
colors is a further difference here. However, there is a three
story building with repeated geometrical motifs of square windows,
that recalls the equally geometric apartment houses in L'Eclisse.
This building is in the neighborhood that is undergoing construction.
The London Sequence
The finale of the film is visually rich. First there are a series
of linked sequences, showing life in London.
Rectilinear buildings. The hero searches through a shopping
district in London. These scenes recall the first half of La
Notte, which also centers on urban buildings. The shots here
are made up of a complex series of rectangles, formed by shop
windows, signs, and architectural parts of buildings. They recall
the similarly rectilinear compositions formed by Milan buildings
in the first half of La Notte.
Colors. Throughout, colors of red and gold predominate,
mixed in with black and white and other neutral tones.
A Permutit store has a bright red sign pasted on its window, as
well as a reddish background for its window display. Along the
street, we see a young man walking. He is dressed in a style similar
to the hero, with white pants and a dark jacket, but his shirt
is a bright red. It echoes the red of the shop window (and the
red buildings on the street the hero drove through on the way
to the antique shop, earlier in the film). First we see this man
from the side, in a brief shot that creates a burst of intense
color. Then we see a longer shot that shows this man from the
front, pans over to reveal an elegant alley, then pans back along
the street. This young man is a kind of "double" for
the hero, a man whose physical look, clothes and attitude match
that of the hero.
The hero next attends a Yardbirds concert. Both the band and several
men in the audience are wearing shiny shirts. These tend to be
in shades of red, in keeping with the red and gold of the whole
London section of the film's finale. So are other audience costumes,
as well as being in plainer black and white. The many blond heads
of men in the crowd both echo the hero's thick mop of blond hair,
and keep with the gold color scheme. There is also a shot
of a man in a shiny blue vest, that makes a pleasant color contrast
with the dominant schemes of red and gold.
These spectacular clothes underscore one of the main principles
behind the whole Swinging London era: it is in many ways essentially
a fashion statement. Swinging London centered on people dressing
in a bright, mod style that had never existed before. Its most
famous locale was Carnaby Street, center of a new fashion industry
that became a world-wide sensation. The hero of the film is himself
a fashion photographer. And we see a dazzling array of new mod
fashions throughout the film, helping to create its visual style.
High technology. We eventually move back to focus on the
band. There is trouble with the sound equipment, and a young man
who is a technical expert steps forward from the crowd, trying
to fix it. He is in a long tradition of sympathetic Antonioni
males who love modern technology, like the boat racers in Il
Grido, and the rocket launchers in La Notte. He is
also another sort of double for the hero, wearing a dark jacket
too. His pants are also dark, unlike the hero's white, and his
shirt is both shiny and a shade of purple.
The corruption of Art. The Yardbirds make destructive gestures
towards the sound machinery. The young technical expert tries
to prevent this. He only staves the band off for a short spell,
however. Soon a band member is smashing his guitar, which drives
the audience into an excited, admiring frenzy. Antonioni is fascinated,
but also appalled. This represents another desecration of art,
like the hero's corrupt fashion photography. Like the degradation
of writing in the second half of La Notte, and the corrupt
architect in L'Avventura, Antonioni is making a statement
about how the modern world is coming up with new, anti-art forms.
The only bright spot in all this is the sympathetic young technical
expert, a kind of man Antonioni has always admired. The way this
man is dressed as another one of the hero's "doubles"
adds another layer of meaning to the scene.
Back on the streets: a visual climax. We see the hero back
on London streets, for more well-done rectilinear compositions.
These center on a shop window displaying women's fashions. These
wonderfully complex shots also echo the early fashion photography
scenes at the hero's studio. The windows are full of mannequins
wearing bright. mod dresses, like the models wearing chic clothes
in the fashion shoot. The shop windows form vertical translucent
panes, echoing the vertical see-through panels the hero used in
the fashion shoot. We also see the hero mirror reflected in the
shop windows, adding a further sense of visual complexity. These
shots climax the London street scenes, and form visual summations
of the film, at once showing London streets, Swinging London fashions,
make an echo of the hero's fashion shoot, and reaching a summit
of visual complexity for the whole London finale sequence.
The Party: Social commitment versus sinister drugs
The hero next find his way to a mansion with a party. There is
a well-composed shot showing the curved iron grill gate of the
Inside the mansion, the party at first looks far more respectable
- or at least upper crust - than the rock concert. People are
talking, and all the men are in suits and ties. But we also see
that everyone is dressed in trendy, mod versions of a suit, much
like the hero's fancy sport coat.
Soon, however, we track over to a pot party, in which everyone
is zonked out of their minds. This look at upper middle class
characters behaving in a decadent way recalls the shack scene
in Red Desert. All of the drug users have been reduced
to an animal level of existence. This includes a girlfriend, and
the hero's friend Ron. Both have been reduced to withdrawn idiocy,
including an exchange with the girlfriend that is perhaps the
film's most frightening line of dialogue. The hero tries to tell
Ron that a murder has been committed. But the friend is too drugged
to understand or care. The hero's desperate urgings about the
importance of the murder are rebuffed. Antonioni is making an
anti-drug statement, showing how escapist drug use is destroying
people's ability to make any sort of useful commitment to much
needed social action. It is a scene of spreading social implication
and commentary. It anticipates the way the unsympathetic male
protagonist of Zabriskie Point rejects organized social
protest and commitment, and instead embarks on a private series
of wanderings and violence, which Antonioni condemns as futile.
The more admirable hero of Blowup rejects an offer of drug
use himself, and instead tries to get his friends to take meaningful
action. But falling back into his fatal inertia, he falls asleep
on a bed, one that re-echoes the red and gold color scheme of
the whole London sequence.
The hero wakes up next morning. We see through windows to the
outdoor world - an Antonioni specialty. It is now daylight, and
we see mountains of green trees through the window. These are
the first major green in the whole London sequence, although there
was a woman at the rock concert with a greenish-tinged dress.
This brilliant green foliage reminds the hero of the park, to
which he sets out, bringing the London sequence to a close.
The Park Finale: Conformism and thought control
The final tennis sequence has perhaps been misunderstood. It often
seems to be described by critics as a metaphysical statement,
purporting to suggest that Antonioni believes that truth is relative,
unknowable, etc. Perhaps this is the right interpretation, or
one right interpretation.
But the scene can also be read another way. It can be read as
an attack on the way society and conformism control thought, and
destroy independent behavior. The mimes are a large group of people,
all miming a tennis game with an imaginary ball. The hero is slowly
seduced into watching the game. Soon, the mimes indicate that
the imaginary ball has "landed" near the hero. First
the young woman mime, then all the mimes, put pressure on the
hero to act as if the imaginary ball is real. They stand there
glaring with angry insistence at the hero, demanding he pretend
the ball is there as well. The hero chooses to take part in the
game, partly out of conformism, and partly yielding to social
pressure. He throws the imaginary ball back into the game, which
stands for society. Soon we see the hero, "watching"
the imaginary game. The soundtrack makes actual noises now of
a ball being hit. This represents that the hero is actually "hearing"
the ball. His perceptions have now been altered so he is accepting
the ball as real.
It is a frightening example of social brainwashing. Conformity
has made the hero support lies told by society, and accept things
that are nor true and not there as reality itself. Soon the hero
disappears, quite literally through special effects. This symbolizes
the way he has lost his identity and ability to have independent
judgment, and is essentially destroyed as an individual, and as
a person who can take moral action or perform social change.
It is hard not to see in 2005 that this sort of behavior is prevalent
in the US-led Iraq war. First the Bush Administration, then over
half the United States population, all committed themselves deeply
to believing in Weapons of Mass Destruction that never existed.
It shows the frightening power of sinister social forces to brainwash
people into seeing an imaginary "reality" that does
not exist at all - just like the symbolic, non-existent tennis
ball in Blowup.
If the scene is read this way, Antonioni is not suggesting anything
metaphysical about truth, or attacking the very concept of "truth".
Instead, he is condemning social conformism, and its way of keeping
people from seeing important truth. His protagonist, who has often
abandoned his art for superficial social acceptance, is symptomatic
of what Antonioni sees as destructive social conformance in society.
The episode is thus a logically meaningful finale to the film,
summing up the film's meaning, showing truth being lost to the
hero through his conformity on the one hand and corruption as
an artist on the other.
The Passenger and other Antonioni films
The Passenger (1975) resembles in plot two of Antonioni's
biggest previous successes. Like L'Avventura, it tells
the story of a person who mysteriously disappears in a remote
setting, and the search for them by those left behind. Here, however,
we see things from the point of view of the disappeared, and there
is no mystery about the vanishing. Both films have an architect
character, the hero in L'Avventura, the female architecture
student here. Both films eventually concentrate on a man and a
woman traveling around Southern Europe, and both visit some real-life
Like Blowup, the English hero works in a photographic profession,
here a maker of documentary films for television. Being a documentary
filmmaker makes this protagonist even closer in profession to
Antonioni than the fashion photographer in Blowup. However,
Antonioni has never been an onscreen newscaster for a TV network,
as far as I know - his documentaries have been more self-contained
cinematic works than the newscaster's in the film. As in Blowup,
examples of the hero's work become films-within-the-film. Antonioni
includes some intriguing transitions between scenes showing the
hero, to his wife and producer watching documentary footage of
these scenes on their television monitors. These resemble similar
transitions in Orson Welles' F For
Fake (1974). However, The Passenger never builds up
the dramatic contrast between art and life that is so potent in
One can see echoes of Il Grido as well. Both have a male
hero who is apparently disturbed by his wife's or girlfriend's
infidelity. In both, the hero gives up his steady work at his
long standing profession, and adopts a new wandering life style
on the road, one that turns out to be psychologically destructive.
However, the working class hero of Il Grido has much less
to lose than the wealthy, famous reporter in The Passenger.
And he seems a lot more convincingly upset by his beloved's actions.
The hero of The Passenger seems more beset by some inner,
total alienation, than anything so human as being too emotionally
involved in a bad marriage. The behavior of the reporter in The
Passenger, never really becomes psychologically plausible,
to me at least. I just can't imagine anyone giving up all the
advantages this hero has.
I am a bit cynical about this film's ties to previous Antonioni
films, despite all of the above. The film never develops the deep
interest previous Antonioni films have in their characters and
plot situations. The plot here seems superficial, and little more
than an excuse to hang the visuals, which are the film's chief
Jack Nicholson is hardly the first American actor to be implausibly
cast as a Brit on screen. Rock Hudson was a scarlet-tunic wearing
soldier in the British Raj in Bengal Brigade (Laslo Benedek,
1954), and Rudolph Valentino played wealthy English nobleman "Hector,
10th Earl of Bracondale" in Beyond the Rocks
(Sam Wood, 1922). I confess I enjoyed all three of these performances:
it is all part of the magic of the movies, that allows people
to play act at being members of different heritages. Similarly
Englishman Cary Grant could portray a New York advertising executive
in North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock,
1959), and Christian Bale could essay the American detective hero
of Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005).
There are also occasional stylistic similarities here to L'Avventura:
The green street scenes in Munich, and the entrance into what
looks like park-like regions, recall the entrance to the park
in Blowup. Both are dominated by leafy green trees and
- The opening desert here recalls the desert-like volcanic isles
- Some shots with rocks sticking up out of the desert directly
recall shots of the equally level ocean with rock-like islands
emerging from it in L'Avventura.
- The scene on the rooftop of the Gaudi building recalls the
church roof scene in L'Avventura. The lines of clothes
here echo the lines of bell-ropes in the roof in L'Avventura.
- The way Antonioni's camera looks down from the Gaudi roof
to the fascinatingly curved balconies below, however, recalls
not the church roof scene in L'Avventura, but the opening
island and the looks down its cliffs.
- The episode here in the new, modernistic town, full of empty
streets and white futuristic buildings, recalls the similar episode
in the deserted, planned town full of white buildings in L'Avventura.
The two scenes are striking visual echoes of each other.
- The shots of the couple in the car, tearing down a country
road, recall the opening drive to the boating weekend in L'Avventura.
Beyond the Clouds: Links
Some scenes anticipate Beyond the Clouds:
- The African hotel in the beginning anticipates the hotel interiors in the later film.
- The church wedding, in a baroque traditional church,
anticipates the church services in the later film.
The finale includes a famous long-take camera movement.
This shot embodies several key Antonioni approaches.
- The long-take finale recalls Antonioni's love of interior shots
that include exteriors seen through windows.
- A whole series of such Antonioni "views through windows" also include barred regions.
- The shot develops into another Antonioni favorite: shots outside buildings looking in through windows.
Repeated modules in architecture:
- We see a dim reflection of a hitman in the open glass shutter to the right of the window.
- A mirror is above the wash stand - although it plays little role in the shot.
Jack Nicholson's white pants are an Antonioni tradition.
His red shirt and white pants recall a young man seen on the streets of London in Blowup.
- The building has a series of arched niches in its facade.
- The window bars also form repeated modules.
Beyond the Clouds
Beyond the Clouds (1993) is Antonioni's most recent feature
length film in wide release. In some ways it is a throwback to
his great success, L'Avventura. Like that film, it largely
consists of men and women walking around having intellectual and
romantic conversations, while traveling in old towns filled with
traditional, even fairly ancient architecture. It is as if Antonioni
is trying to produce more in the rich vein of the earlier movie.
The film is not quite at the same level as his earlier masterpiece.
But it is still an outstanding movie, whose beauty should thrill
any lover of cinema.
Antonioni's camera relentlessly explores the architecture of these
old towns. The film consists of four separate stories: the first
in Ferrara (Antonioni's home town), the second in Portofino, the
third in Paris, and the fourth in Aix-en-Provence. The third episode
is the weakest; it is also the only one that does not focus on
ancient architecture and public places. Like L'Avventura,
there is a documentary quality to the film, as Antonioni shows
us some celebrated locale in detail.
The first episode opens with a perspective shot down a long arched
gallery. The gallery is outdoors, parallel to a road. Antonioni
gradually shifts his camera to the left, showing us the road,
and the gallery from the outside. This is similar to a small lateral
track in L'Avventura, which also shifted perspectives slightly
on an alley between two ancient buildings in Sicily. That perspective
shot was first focused on one side of the alley, then on the other.
It is a striking demonstration of the mathematical effect of perspective.
Once Antonioni is shooting down the long road, we see a shot similar
to the images of Milan streets in La Notte. The episode
closes with a similar perspective shot, straight down a Ferrara
street. Both here and in La Notte, these shots are haunting.
They suggest all sorts of things. The final street has small white
pillars regularly spaced down its side, just as the opening street
had the gallery arches. These underscore the perspective effect.
This first episode echoes the last in the film. Both deal with
relationships that never really start up between two people. Both
take place in historic towns. Both wind up in the woman's home.
Both homes include spectacular staircase shots, in which Antonioni
makes fabulous compositions out of the stairways. Both stairway
sequences recall the complex staircase shots in film noir, such
as Anthony Mann's Desperate (1947)
and Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly
(1955). Somehow, Antonioni's compositions seem gentler than those
of his noir predecessors, which is appropriate for a romantic
drama such as Beyond the Clouds. Also, Antonioni is shooting
in color, whereas those noir films are in black and white. The
rich colors of the staircases seep into the composition.