Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)

The famed Italian director, died yesterday (ironically the same day as the equally legendary Ingmar Bergman) at the age of 94.

An excerpt from his New York Times obituary:

Tall, cerebral and resolutely serious, Mr. Antonioni harkens back to a time in the middle of the last century when cinema-going was an intellectual pursuit, when purposely opaque passages in famously difficult films spurred long nights of smoky argument at sidewalk cafes, and when fashionable directors like Mr. Antonioni, Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard were chased down the Cannes waterfront by camera-wielding cinephiles demanding to know what on earth they meant by their latest outrage.

Mr. Antonioni is probably best known for Blowup, a 1966 drama set in Swinging London about a fashion photographer who comes to believe that a photograph he took of two lovers in a public park also shows, hidden in the background, evidence of a murder. But his true, lasting contribution to cinema resides in an earlier trilogy — L’Avventura in 1959, La Notte in 1960 and L’Eclisse in 1962 — which explores the filmmaker’s tormented central vision that people had become emotionally unglued from one another.

This vision of the apartness of people was expressed near the end of La Notte, when his star Monica Vitti observes, “Each time I have tried to communicate with someone, love has disappeared.”

In a generation of rule-breakers, Mr. Antonioni was one of the most subversive and venerated. He challenged moviegoers with an intense focus on intentionally vague characters and a disdain for such mainstream conventions as plot, pacing and clarity. He would raise questions and never answer them, have his characters act in self-destructive ways and fail to explain why, and hold his shots so long that the actors sometimes slipped out of character.

It was all part of the director’s design. As Mr. Antonioni explained, “The after-effects of an emotion scene, it had occurred to me, might have meaning, too, both on the actor and on the psychological advancement of the character.”

Mr. Antonioni broke other conventions, too. Many of his cuts, scene lengths and camera movements were highly idiosyncratic, and he frequently posed his characters in a highly formalized way. He employed point-of-view shots only rarely, a practice that helped erect an emotional shield between the audience and his puzzling characters.

What is impressive about Antonioni’s films is not that they are good,” the film scholar Seymour Chatman wrote. “But that they have been made at all.”

You can read the complete obituary here.

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