I Saw a Film
Michelangelo Antonioni makes films the way Murakami writes novels. So trained are we on clear and simplistic plot and genre that anything that breaks that format seems to many of us wholly incomprehensible or at least too difficult. Always the fastest way to get complaints about films is to deviate from common storytelling techniques. Maintaining them is how to get complaints from me, as things too familiar are soon sleep-inducing. Put on a favorite CD to hear a favorite tune, and more often than not that tune goes by without my having noticed it. Things too familiar are often hard to pay attention to. Which, I think, is why children love to talk to almost anyone who isn’t their parents at some young stage of development. We naturally crave newness and unfamiliar experiences, and this is why a film-maker like Antonioni, and others like Brunuel, Godard and Noe are essential to the art. If every writer were as stark and direct as Chandler, literature would be a sorry state of affairs.
At the center of this film is a fashion / art photographer (lucky guy) played by David Hemmings, who, while larking about a park taking pictures (He is working on a photobook, and looking for the perfect photos to finish it). AT first he thinks he’s found the peaceful pictures he wants, but then when he enlarges the pictures something is revealed in them. What he realizes is that the young woman, with the older man, is looking at something in shock, and when he traces the line of sight, he realizes he’s captured a man with a gun. At first imagining he stopped a killing, but then slowly he realizes he’s also got a body on the ground.
Vanessa Redgraves looking like a desperate housewife tries to force the photos from him, literally trying to bite him like a wild thing to get them. But this is just one part of our protagonist’s long day, he also wrestles a couple of young, naked model wannabes, briefly follows a character who seems to be watching him, and yells at some gawky models during a photo shoot. He’s a bit of an ass in some of his circumstances, and his powerful self-justification when challenged is surprising. Young and handsome and around ladies all day, he gets a lot of action. A bit of a fantasy position.
At various points in the film, a band of revelers dressed like circus clowns intersect with the protagonist and a variety of street protests, that seem to always be going on. These apparently give him some pleasure. I’m really not sure if we’re supposed to glean any further meaning from these moments. At one point an anti-war protest marches by with signs that read NO! No! While another sign reads On! On!, like I said I’m not sure it’s meant to be more than just visual interest.
He goes and finds the body in the park, following the clues from his photos, though he doesn’t bring his camera, for whatever reason, and when he later tries to relocate the dead man, he’s gone. There’s a lot of frustration about this as he doesn’t really call anyone but an acquaintance he works through with his photos. And this is pretty much all you’re going to get.
A highlight of the film is a short moment of the Yardbirds featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page doing “Train Kept A Rollin’” on a little stage for a bunch of young people. Beck does a bit of acting as his amp (a lovely old Vox) gives some trouble (I don’t believe it! It’s a Vox!) and he beats his guitar to pulp. It’s a lot of fun to see this old band in this sequence, an out-of-place jolt of enjoyable sixties kitsch and psychedelic rock.
The ending is as odd a thing as you’ll ever see used for a film ostensibly a murder mystery, and I won’t give it away here, but you’ll be left wondering, as I’m sure is the intention.
He would follow this movie with Zabriski Point which I liked better as it was a piece kind of detailing American idealism and corporate breakdown while following a young couple as they have individual and then combined adventures. Though Blow-up would be much more successful for Antonioni. I’ll probably revive that one for a review soon.
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