“You dance better here than in London,” he said quietly. “But they dance even better in my film.” And then he left.
Gene Youngblood, legendary reviewer and cultural theorist who died in April 2021, began a series of film reviews in the LA Free Press in 1967. Many of these reviews formed the basis of parts of his book ‘Expanded Cinema‘ which is now seen widely as a foundational document of post-psychedelic cinema. Blackmass Movies is proud to begin the process of collecting Youngblood’s reviews in one place for the first time. Youngblood’s TV interview with a young George Lucas is here.
There was a party for Michelangelo Antonioni at a photographer’s studio in Beverly Hills the night before “Blow Up” premiered. The Beautiful People were there: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Roz Russell, Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings, Rex Harrison, Rock Hudson, even Christopher Isherwood. The birds were in silver; the boys not in drag were in Sebring and DeVoss. It was all very chic and hip. Strobes flashed, the society-circuit combo did its best at acid rock, and if you sniffed past the Micrin and Canoe and Gilbey’s you caught a faint odor of pot wafting pungently through the din.
A suntanned, turtlenecked publicity man swore he’d seen every film Antonioni had made and then asked how to pronounce his name. Another wag pounded the director on the back and called him Mike. It was Hollywood’s singular way of telling Antonioni he had arrived. The man who once begged for money to film “L’Avventura” — the man who has done more for cinema in 10 years than Hollywood has in 50 — was now himself a star. So they all shook his hand and then left him standing alone in a corner. He watched the dancers, his facial tic jerking fiercely at the left side of his mouth. “You dance better here than in London,” he said quietly. “But they dance even better in my film.” And then he left.
“Obscene,” sneered a man from Variety after the screening of “Blow Up” next night. “I want to know what happened to the body,” complained another reviewer. Yvette Mimieux gushed breathlessly, “Oh Mr. Antonioni, it’s so profound!” David Hemmings, seeing the film for the first time, and realizing it would make him a star, sat stunned in his seat. Then he gave a dozen hectic interviews, extolling the genius of the master Michelangelo.
In any event, The Tivoli Plaza is exhibiting “11 Grido” (1957), “Eclipse” (1962) and “Red Desert” (1964). They’re calling the program a “trilogy,” and of course that could not be further from the truth. Each of these films comes from a distinctly different period in Antonioni’s artistic evolution. “Il Grido” reveals that 10 years ago he was far ahead of everyone else. It was a transitional piece, a refinement of his style, a dress rehearsal for the historic break-through of “L’Avventura” three years later. “Eclipse” came as the ultimate refinement of Antonioni’s style and themes of love and alienation. It is one of the director’s most personal and abstract films, and among the most visually striking. It is his favorite. “Red Desert” represented a complete abandonment of Antonioni’s previous concerns and opened a still unexplored realm of experiment in relating style to content. As a sociological statement and as a work of cinema it is without precedent or peer. It is the finest color film I have ever seen.
Certainly there are impressive sequences in “Blow Up”, typical Antonioni sequences that linger in the mind long after. But in the three films at the Tivoli there are sequences of historic importance, moments when cinema is raised to the highest levels of artistry, sophistication, personal vision.
In “II Grido,” for instance, there is the almost magical way in which an aura of pathos pervades the figure of Steve Cochran without any overt exposition to guide the viewer: Antonioni doesn’t tell, he shows. The classic scene between Aldo and the prostitute on the barren mudfluts of the Po Valley is one of the most eloquent and subtle statements ever on the subject of alienation.
“Eclipse” Is virtually a film poem. Like much of the New American Cinema, it is impossible to describe in words because it is so tenuously connected to anything concrete. The stock exchange and the airport sequences are among the most delicate examples of visual exposition in the history of cinema; and the final seven minutes of the film — a wordless montage of a modern apartment neighborhood — is touched with genius in its bold, experimental eloquence and visual strength. I cannot think of a modern love story more pertinent or honest than “Eclipse.”
“Red Desert,” of course, has pretty well reached the saturation point in screenings around Los Angeles, But it deserves repeated viewing, especially in the wake of “Blow Up.” Here is an almost purely visual film without being silent: every shot, every cut, every seemingly insignificant movement, glance or gesture of the actors holds meaning that must be “read” by the viewer almost as symbolic graphic art. Thematically it is hard-core intellectual, but technically it is breathlessly stunning.
Antonioni told me he was impressed with Andy Warhol’s “The Chelsea Girls,” and with Jean-Luc Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou.” Following the conversation about Godard, Antonioni said his own next film, “Introspections of a Woman,” will be “very abstract and very violent and not at all like ‘Blow Up’.” With each new Antonioni film the art of cinema advances. Catch the program at the Tivoli and see how it got where it is today.