Monday, February 7, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #6 - Zabriskie Point (1970, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)

I probably shouldn’t admit that my favorite Michelangelo Antonioni film is Zabriskie Point, lest somebody revoke my film snob card. I’d be better off sticking to his more agreed-upon masterpieces of meditative cinema, such as Red Desert, Blow-Up or L’Avventura. But I can’t help it. I’m an American. And a rock-n-roller. And Zabriskie Point was the Italian director’s rockin’ rage through the U.S.A. His answer to Easy Rider. His psychedelic contribution to a revolution that still seemed possible in 1970, when the film came out.
I have to concede that it’s kind of corny in parts, more than a little dated, like when Daria, the female lead, played by Daria Halprin (who
was married to Dennis Hopper for four years in the 70s), takes a hit of grass and says, “So anyway. So anyway ought to be the name of a place. Like a river. The So-anyway River.” Or when Mark, the male lead, played by Mark Frechette, strengthens his revolutionary resolve after a buzz-cut deli owner refuses to give him a sandwich for free. But for me this out-of-style stuff is part of what makes the film so cool. It’s like finding a perfectly outrageous hippy shirt at a thrift store.
And it is an Antonioni film—so beautiful it practically makes your eyes ache. It contains some of my favorite moments in the history of film: when Mark steals an airplane and rises above the smoggy sprawl of L.A. with the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” screaming on the soundtrack; a totally far-out sex scene, in which Daria and Mark’s canoodling in the desert magically blossoms into a full-blown orgy of naked hippies going at it amid clouds of dust (to the accompaniment of some lovely Jerry Garcia noodling); and the best of all, super-slow-motion shots of televisions and refrigerators stuffed with food and wardrobes full of clothes being blown to bits by explosives while Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Ax, Eugene” blares away. It even has a boy-meets-girl scene to end them all, with Mark dive-bombing his plane toward Daria’s old beater car as she cruises across the desert. She pulls to the side of the road and gets out and he throws a red sheet down at her so she can play like a bullfighter with a flying bull.
Zabriskie Point makes a simple but profound point about social change and the revolutionary spirit that was alive at the time of its release, and that is that the most transformational force is the power of imagination. Kind of like the old adage, “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” but deeper, full of beauty and conviction. It’s a notion that never really went away, thank goodness, no matter how many guns and cans of teargas the pigs have at their command.
- Joe

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