ENDNOTES

Note 1

     One might discover the reason(s) that underlie Japan’s love of L'eclisse in the unusual “documentary-philosophical meditation,” Chris Marker’s celebrated film, Sans soleil. In the film Marker refers to the “poignancy of things” in Japanese culture and belief, a concept referred to in Japanese as “mono no aware” and related to one of the central doctrines of Buddhism, “anicca,” the notion of the impermanence of all things.  An Internet site, <http://www.karakuri.info/perspectives/> (retrieved 21 May 2004), states, “Buddhist thought is the view of the universe in constant flux, which emphasizes the idea that all living things perish or are transformed in the chain of existence.  From this view comes a feeling for the ‘poignancy of things.’ ”

     Marker briefly films an annual Japanese ceremony involving the burning of toy dolls as described on the Internet site <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/jshoaf/Jdolls/hina.htm>
(retrieved 10 April 2006):

Doll burning ceremony’ (<http://www.hirotaya.com/kuyou.htm>) is a Japanese-text site that shows some kind of ceremonial cremation involving dolls. ‘Burning Dolls in Ueno Park’ is a (<http://www.planettokyo.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/detail/navid/6/cid/4/>)  ‘traveler's tale’ of stumbling upon the annual September 25 ceremony in Tokyo.  Another site, which is now gone, described in English the burning of dolls in hopes of conceiving healthy children. These ceremonies are quite separate from the March 3 casting of dolls on the water.

The Japanese hold ceremonial burnings of many types of objects--needles and umbrellas, dolls and toys, papers, letters, and various other tokens of work accomplished during the year.  In some places there is an annual burning of  Daruma dolls, which represent the year's undertaking.

To me, as a Westerner, the idea of crafting elaborate and beautiful dolls intended  for destruction--by water or by fire--is strange, an idea to think about when I look at these delicate creatures which have a life of their own.”

     In the voice-over narration of Sans soleil regarding the burning of dolls we learn:       

And when all the celebrations are over it remains only to pick up all the ornaments--all the accessories of the celebration--and by burning them, make a celebration.  This is dono-yaki, a Shinto blessing of the debris that have a right to immortality--like the dolls at Ueno.  The last state--before their disappearance--of  the poignancy of things.  Daruma--the one-eyed-spirit--reigns supreme at the summit of the bonfire.  Abandonment must be a feast; laceration must be a feast.  And the farewell to all that one has lost, broken, used, must be ennobled by a ceremony.  It’s Japan that could fulfill the wish of the French writer who wanted divorce to be made a sacrament.

     In Kurosawa's Ikiru, the heartbreaking poignancy of objects and things is presented inconspicuously in the background of a shot taken in the Tokyo home of Watanabe during his wake.  In the background behind a medium shot of Watanabe’s son and daughter, we see lying discarded in a closet-like storage space the remains of a life, objects devoid of ostensible value, mute, the remaining bits of debris that trace the outline of an entire existence:  a framed certificate attesting to Watanabe’s work efficiency, his alarm clock . . . and the small, wind-up, white toy bunny--a doll of sorts--that led to his redemption.  These worthless objects—floccinaucinihilipilification—are so priceless, approaching the significance of talismans, that Kurosawa subsequently shows us the briefest of insert shots of these objects, reemphasizing their inestimable value.  

     Japanese viewers may also have regarded the mutual failure of both Vittoria and Piero to keep their appointed rendezvous at the conclusion of L'eclisse in a different, more positive manner than Western audiences.  The phenomenon of the “double suicide” of lovers has existed in Japanese culture for at least 400 years, dating back to the famous play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Double Suicides at Sonezaki (See Mori, Mitsuya.  “Double Suicide at Rosmersholm.” Internet citation: http://www.ibsensociety.liu.edu/conferencepapers/mori.pdf [retrieved 28 May 2008]).  In Japan, there has been a time honored custom condoned by some elements of society to commit Shinjū (“double suicide,” translated literally in Japanese as “inside the mind”) as a method to idealize star-crossed lovers, allowing such impossible love to transcend societal constraints or prohibitions related to caste, money, and the like.  To this day there have been multiple film treatments of the subject, memorably Masahiro Shinoda’s 1970 Double Suicide. Vittoria and Piero may be seen as performing a kind of metaphorical, shared self-immolation at the conclusion of L'eclisse, one that frees them from the horror of the Borsa, from the “pathologic family,” from an Italy that itself had become part of a fallen world.  (See Chapter 3 of this book for my discussion—from a more Western standpoint—of “the impossible ‘double-bind’:  that for Vittoria and Piero--or any couple for that matter--to possess one another, they must break apart.”)   

     With the notable exception of The Passenger, Antonioni’s films are largely secular meditations.  In L’eclisse, however, the Japanese viewer may have regarded the bowl of water that is the water barrel, and the objects within--the piece of wood, matchbook, and other jewels--as a Shinto shrine.  Japanese admirers of L'eclisse may have seen the conclusion of L'eclisse as an Italian version of the recitation of dono-yaki that takes place in the Eur quarter of Rome on or about September 10 as opposed to September 25:  the blessing of the debris that have a right to immortality, a broken piece of wood, a matchbook, a woman, a man.

     There is a rich Occidental tradition regarding the “fragment” that informs Western literature, art, philosophy, architecture, and psychology.  A 10-week course entitled “Fragments: Theory, History, Visual Culture” was given by Professor Sophie Thomas in the fall of 2007 at the University of Sussex in the UK.  As of March, 2008, the 10-page syllabus was still accessible on the Internet and alluded to the mind-numbing number of academic and other works devoted to, for example, such important “passwords” of deconstruction as “trace, brisure, différence, espacement . . . .”

( http://www.sussex.ac.uk/gchums/documents/fragments_final_2007.doc [retrieved 19 March 2008].)

     A hardback book entitled, Romanticism and Visuality : Fragments, History, Spectacle has also been written by Professor Thomas and published in 2008 by Routledge.

 

Note 2

     Thematic and stylistic continuity is a feature of all of Antonioni’s films.  To offer but one early example from an entire career filled with such examples, I vinti--a film made by Antonioni over 50 years ago--contains within the first of its three episodes many of the principal themes and characteristics that will reoccur in all of Antonioni’s films to follow.  The first shot of I vinti is that of an unidentified beggar singing a cappella a love ditty in the streets of Montparnasse: 

Mettez la tête par la fenêtre . . . Vous entendrez parler d’amour . . .

     In the background a nun holding the hand of a child are seen climbing the stair walk of Passage Cottin.  The camera will soon climb above the streets of Montmartre to an apartment where two young and hungry men plot the robbery and murder of their friend in order to finance a half-baked adolescent fantasy of escape with beautiful girls to Tangier.  (Towards the conclusion of The Passenger, David Locke-Robertson proposes that the Girl flee to Tangier--a storied city in life and art for its connection with espionage--where he will rendezvous with her, a rendezvous like that of Vittoria and Piero which will never be kept.)  The apartment is located directly across from an elevated train platform.  Trains will be seen and heard through the window of this apartment at both the beginning and end of the episode as well as throughout the story.  These beautiful and absolutely empty young men and women retreat with their unsuspecting victim to an Elysian forest in Varennes--outside of Paris and out of time--that will someday be transformed in Antonioni’s universe to a park southeast of London.  A glider suddenly, unexpectedly, mysteriously swoops in over our shoulders and into the movie screen flying perilously close to the heads of the heroes and heroines to land in a clearing in the wood:  a beautiful and thrilling image of flight that like so many of Antonioni’s images is so utterly gratuitous.  The carnivorous heroine, Simone, encourages her would-be lover, André, to carry out this murder in Elysium, at the same time entreating him (in the version of the film dubbed in Italian), “Portami via!  Portami via!”  (“Carry me off!  Take me away!”).   Some two minutes later Simone finds herself alone in the woods with the intended victim, Pierre, to whom she repeats the exact same fickle mantra, “Portami via. . . .”  André will soon shoot Pierre, the vanity of the act revealed by the discovery that the money found on Pierre’s body, like Pierre himself, is fake.

     It is, of course, all there, the themes, the images, the seeds of everything that will follow in all of the remainder of Antonioni’s films.  The offhand love song, a member of the clergy and a child, the desire for a different life in another place, anywhere but here, anyone but me.  The sounds and images of the vehicles of escape, trains, planes.  The disaffected.  Deception, betrayal, and adultery.  And finally, death in the afternoon, death--as John Freccero reminds us--in Arcady, the French episode concluding in early evening as darkness envelopes the world, a train passing nearby in the night.  (In the third and last episode of I vinti, a train passes in the background just before Aubrey Hallen strangles the prostitute in the park of Saffron, England.  All three of the film’s episodes concern a murder.  The last word of the film--uttered by the London journalist, Ken Wotten--is “death.”)

     If I vinti, made in 1952, looks forward to all of Antonioni’s subsequent movies, then Antonioni’s last complete film, Par-delà les nuages--made in 1995 in collaboration with the German director, Wim Wenders--may be seen as a movie which looks backwards, a kind of catalog of the various cinematic gestures that Antonioni has made in a career of more than 50 years, a vanity project approaching caricature.  The film consists of a series of vignettes, all of which concern perhaps the most abiding of Antonionian themes, the failure of love between a man and a woman.  The first vignette with the apt title, “Cronaca di un amore mai esistito,” harks back to the title of Antonioni’s first feature film made in 1950, Cronaca di un amore, and repeats essentially the story of Vittoria and Piero:  an attractive young man and woman fall in love and separate for unclear reasons.  Other, more trivial similarities between Par-delà les nuages and L'eclisse include a kiss across a pane of glass between the characters played by Fanny Ardant and Peter Weller, reprising the similar sterile kiss between Vittoria and Piero that occurred twice in L'eclisse thirty four years earlier.  (In Busby Berkeley’s musical extravaganza, Gold Diggers of 1935, in the dream sequence of “Lullaby of Broadway” the character played by Dick Powell kisses the Wini Shaw character across a plane of a glass door; the Powell character then opens the door accidentally pushing the Shaw character off a skyscraper’s balcony to her death.  A “kiss of glass” also occurs in the legendary 1950 Japanese film regarding tragic wartime love by Tadashi Imai, Till We Meet Again [Mata au hi made], as well as the box office Italian comedy hit of 1957 by Dino Risi, Poor but Beautiful [Poveri ma belli].)

     Many similarities and repetitions exist between L'eclisse and other films by Antonioni.  Piero, for example, reminds us of other male protagonists in Antonioni’s films such as Sandro (L’avventura).  Similarly, Vittoria reminds us of both Claudia (L’avventura) and Lidia (La notte).  Indeed, the problematic issue of love between a man and a woman is a central concern in virtually every film Antonioni has ever directed.  In the second documentary Antonioni made in 1948, Nettezza urbana, there is a brief scene-shot of a man and woman engaged in a heated argument--Antonioni’s proverbial couple-in-crisis--while crossing the Ponte Cestio, the piazza of the Basilica di S. Bartolomeo on the Isola Tiberina in the background.  The man tears up a piece of paper, the remnants of which are then swept up by a “dustman,” the same image—bits of paper which will be cast to the wind—seen in other films of Antonioni (Il grido and L’avventura).  The couple’s argument occurs in front of the very piazza where in 1960 in L’avventura stands Sandro’s apartment.  This couple of Nettezza urbana are the forebears of Claudia and Sandro, of Vittoria and Piero, the summary statement for all of the failed couples in all the films to come.  In Antonioni’s contribution, “Tentato Suicidio,” to the omnibus film, L’amore in città, the suicidal woman “played” by Rita Josa stands by the Ponte Palatino with the Isola Tiberina again in the background while an unidentified man ogles, almost salivating, at this tragic woman, someone he does not know.  What to this needy man is a mere piece of ass is, instead, a human being who wishes to die.  (See the Internet site, retrieved 17 November 2009:  <http://www.isolatiberina.it/Movie_i.html> ©Copyright by Bruno Leoni for screen shots of the Isola Tiberina taken from the above and other films.)  The theme of metamorphosis and transformation in L'eclisse, especially as suggested by the segment of the Drunkard, occurs in Il mistero di Oberwald (in which the queen played by Monica Vitti first sees Sebastian, her would be assassin, as he crashes through a door on which is painted an image of her dead husband, the king) and foreshadows all of The Passenger .  Effacement and disappearance characterize the endings of both L'eclisse and Blow-Up.  Both Vittoria and Piero suffer the same fate as Anna (L’avventura) and Mavi (Identificazione di una donna):  they vanish.  Flight and escape are a leitmotif of many of Antonioni’s films, and are explicitly highlighted by travel in a small plane in both L'eclisse and Zabriskie Point.  A concern with nature with great emphasis placed on trees and the wind occurs in L'eclisse and Blow-Up.  After our last view of Vittoria we see the object of her regard, a wall of trees, which is also the panorama that opens the film immediately following L'eclisse, Il deserto rosso.  The beginning of L'eclisse--which takes place at dawn--also follows upon the heels of Antonioni’s immediately preceding film, La notte, which also takes place at dawn.  In this regard there is no seam between the end of one film and the beginning of another.  Il deserto rosso also portrays a universe of factories, machines, and things, has a hut one wall of which is painted with an African mural with zebras, and in the Sardinian fantasy has rocks which resemble human beings.  The opening film credits of both L'eclisse and Il deserto rosso contain musical elements of both the human voice and modern instrumental music.  Seemingly tiny repetitions occur such as the old man of Lisca Bianca (L’avventura ) and Marta (L'eclisse), both of whom speak their hybrid “Itanglish,” or the word “bestiaccia/bestiola” which is pointedly used to describe an Italian Greyhound in L’avventura and a woman in L'eclisse.  In the early documentary, La funivia del Faloria, Antonioni gained experience in filming atop the cabin of a ski tram at Cortina d’Ampezzo, experience later put to use filming atop the aerial tram from which David Locke spreads his wings above Barcelona’s harbour in The Passenger.  In a larger sense, L'eclisse--like so many of Antonioni’s films, beginning with his first feature length film, Cronaca di un amore--is a mystery.  Lastly, because there are not even rigid boundaries between one Antonioni film and another (one speaks of the “tetralogy” of L’avventura, La notte, L'eclisse, and Il deserto rosso, as if they were separate chapters in a single work), one might wonder if there was a wry smile on Antonioni’s lips as he linked the amphora, ashtray, and guitar across a distance of 1000 miles between Lisca Bianca and London, over a duration of 7 years?

 

Note 3

     Bruce Kawin in his remarkable book, Mindscreen, discusses in detail the 1966 film by Godard, Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle.  It is almost as though Kawin were writing of the 1961 film by Antonioni, L'eclisse.  This may not be surprising if one remembers that Godard himself interviewed Antonioni in 1964, and presumably was greatly influenced by him.  Kawin writes:    

Among other things, [Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle] offers a hard look at a political economy whose effect on character and society is such that objects seem more real than people, and people are treated, or treat themselves, as objects. Godard’s initial approach to these materials is to describe them ‘as both objects and subjects . . . from the inside and the outside,’ making no distinction between people and things.  The latter method suggests an excellent metaphor for prostitution, but has several further aspects.  The camera is as likely to study a beer tap as to hold on a human face, to follow a car through the wash as to record a conversation between the car’s owner and her friend.  One of the film’s most brilliant meditations is on the pattern of bubbles in a cup of coffee--bubbles that at once suggest galaxies and subatomic particles, not only commenting visually on the nature of creation but also supporting Godard’s monologue:  ‘Since I can neither elevate myself to Being nor sink into Nothingness, since I can neither get rid of the subjectivity that crushes me nor of the objectivity that alienates me, I must look around me at the world, mon semblable, mon frère.’. . . The people-as-things construct is examined throughout the film, most comprehensibly in  Juliette’s visit to her husband’s garage, at the end of which the camera isolates the leaves of a large tree growing behind the MOBIL sign (a juxtaposition of two signs, or two ways of life, that is profoundly unsettling) and Godard,  ‘overwhelmed by all these signs,’ and the difficulty of’ ‘rendering events,’ wonders whether he should have ‘spoken of Juliette or of these leaves.’  The culmination of this theme occurs near the end of the film, when Juliette gets in bed with her husband and, after a mild quarrel in which he exhibits his sexism (he treats her as an object no less than do her customers, or the economy, or the camera), lights a cigarette.  Godard cuts to an extreme close-up, underexposed to such an extent that nothing is visible except the tip of the cigarette, which fills the screen, and that only when it is being inhaled on.  The effect is that of a breathing cigarette, and it is an authoritative metaphor for Juliette’s life-process.

     Godard’s entire film bears striking similarities to L'eclisse, not the least of which is a curious emphasis on a construction site in a Paris that appears more modern and sterile than classically beautiful, as well as the image of a cheesecake photo of a woman--seen through a magnifying glass--whose clothes slide on and off.  As the hushed whispering voice of the film’s narrator--presumably Godard--tells us:

Objects exist, and if we pay them more attention than we do people, it is because they exist more than those people. . . Dead objects live on.  Living people are often dead already.  To create a new world where man and things are in harmony, that is my aim, as much political as poetic, for it explains this passion for expression.  Whose passion?  Mine:  writer and painter.”

     Although many directors have praised Antonioni’s filmmaking (Biarese and Tassone in their book on Antonioni list several directors including such discrepant filmmakers as Kurosawa, Rohmer, Tanner, Altman, and Satyajit Ray), it is less easy to define what specific influence Antonioni has had on these and other directors.  In particular, Angelopoulos, Tarkovsky, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Wenders have been described by various critics as directing films reminiscent of those of Antonioni.  In my opinion there are strong similarities in style and content between Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 and L'eclisse, both films made at approximately the same time.  Remarkable similarities also exist between the more recent 2005 film, La moustache, by Emmanuel Carrère, and both Blow-Up and The Passenger.  Likewise, Wenders’ 2008 film, Palermo Shooting, bears similarities to these latter two Antonioni films.  The title of the film, Palermo Shooting, may be both a play on words and an allusion to Blow-Up, the main protagonist of Wenders’ film being a fashion photographer with higher artistic ambition who is “shot”.  Palermo Shooting is expressly dedicated to both Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni which the credits of the film state both died on the same day during the preparation for Wenders’ film.

     I have already mentioned the disparaging explicit reference that the Vittorio Gassman character, Bruno, of Il sorpasso utters regarding L'eclisse (vide supra, Chapter 1).  The entire narrative of Il sorpasso roars with a tachometric rev when Bruno stops his sports car on a deserted Roman street during Ferragosto and drinks from a water barrel that for all intents and purposes was plucked by a crane from the construction site of L’eclisse and plunked into Il sorpasso.  As fate would have it, the water barrel is directly opposite an apartment building in a window of which Bruno spies the ingenuous, young, law student, Roberto, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant.  Bruno yells up to Roberto to ask if he may use his telephone to call the “burina” (“bestiola”), Marcella, whom Bruno was supposed to meet at 11.00 in the morning.  It is now midday, Bruno is running behind, and this missed rendezvous will, as in the case of L’eclisse, prove fatal.  

     Wikepedia (retrieved on 6 May 2007  notes another reference--in a different sarcastic vein--to Antonioni:     

“He [Antonioni] was referenced in an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus  when Eric Idle, playing Inspector Baboon of Scotland Yard's Special Fraud Film Director Squad, Jungle Division, arrests someone accused of impersonating ‘Signor’   Michelangelo Antonioni. He [Eric Idle] continues an academic discourse of Antonioni's film career as the credits begin to roll.”:    

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo_Antonioni>)

     The “discourse”--retrieved from a different Internet site--is:

            Inspector [played by Eric Idle]: “Shut up! (shoots her) Right, Akarumba! I'm arresting you for impersonating Signor Michelangelo Antonioni, an Italian film director who co-scripts all his own films, largely jettisoning narrative in favour of vague incident and relentless character study . . . (during this harangue the credits      start to roll, music very faint beneath his words) ... In his first film: ‘Cronaca Di   Un Areore’ (1950), the couple are brought together by a shared irrational guilt.    ‘L’Amico’ followed in 1955, and 1959 saw the first of Antonioni's world-famous trilogy, ‘L’Avventura’ - an acute study of boredom, restlessness and the futilities and agonies of purposeless living. In ‘L’Eclisse’, three years later, this analysis of  sentiments is taken up once again. ‘We do not have to know each other to love’, says the heroine, ‘and perhaps we do not have to love...’ The ‘Eclipse’ of the emotions finally casts its shadow when darkness descends on a street corner. (the credits end; voice and picture start to fade)... Signor Antonioni first makes use of colour to underline...Fade to black and then to BBC world symbol

Continuity Voice: And now on BBC another six minutes of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Dialogue retrieved from Internet site 6 May 2007
<http://www.ibras.dk/montypython/episode29.htm>

     The final line in the closing credits of the bizarre, comic satire, Life of Brian, is: “If you have enjoyed this film, why not go and see La Notte”?  Nasty little joke.

     Another rare, explicit reference to Antonioni is made in Ettore Scola’s C’eravamo tanto amati.  Marcia Landy notes that in this latter film--a movie which is replete with cinematic allusions--there are black and white movie stills of Monica Vitti appearing in L'eclisse (see Landy’s Italian Film, p. 362).

     Alcott, in a blog (http://www.toddalcott.com/movie-night-with-urbaniak-leclisse.html   [accessed 25 September 2012]) on L'eclisse states:  “In the closing moments of the movie [L'eclisse], a jet plane flies overhead.  The sound-effect geek in me cannot help but note that the ‘jet plane’ sound used is the exact same recording heard a few years later at the beginning of The Beatles’ recording ‘Back in the USSR.’ Coincidence or incredibly-obscure homage?  You be the judge.”  There is the sound of jet aircraft in the coda of L'eclisse and the beginning of “Back in the USSR,” but I have not independently confirmed Alcott’s assertion that they are identical.

     An allusion to L'eclisse is said to also be present in Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (see IMDb [The Internet Movie Database] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0211915/movieconnections Retrieved 19 January 2007)I have carefully looked at Amélie several times--but apparently, not carefully enough--for I cannot find any explicit visual, auditory, or other allusion to L'eclisse in the entire film.  (Remarkably, since 19 January 2007, the above IMDb page has been “corrected/revised/updated”; the “Movie Connections” page on the site now says as of 4 March 2007 that “The succession of kisses Amélie gives Nino at the end of the film mirrors the succession of kisses between Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in L'Eclisse.”)  I do not find this assertion compelling. Nevertheless, Amélie, the heroine of the film does remark with regard to explicit clips of films we are shown (including a clip from Truffaut’s Jules et Jim) that “Je aime bien les petits détails que personne ne verra jamais.” (“I like noticing details [in films] that no one else will see.”)  As the character Amélie utters this remark, a special effect in the cartoon-like pose that Amélie  presents itself is inserted by Amélie’s director Jean-Pierre Jeunet: with a red marker pen Jeunet (or if you will, the character, Amélie) circles the small “goof” of an actual insect  walking on a pane of glass in the background of a shot from Jules et Jim.   The insect literally seems to be walking between the lips of actors Henri Serre (Jim) and Jeanne Moreau (Catherine) who in a two-shot are about to kiss.  The insect finally seems to enter screen right into the very mouth of the character played by Moreau.  I suspect that the character, Amélie, would like L'eclisse very much, a film that lends itself to an extraordinary degree of flyspecking.   

     It would be exceedingly liberal on my part to state that Jeunet has placed in Amélie an allusion to L'eclisse that I missed entirely on repeated viewing and did not appreciate even when explicitly brought to my attention by the viewers and critics who contribute to IMDb.  The truth is that I do not embrace the view that “The succession of kisses Amelie gives Nino at the end of the film mirrors [in any meaningful manner, ironic or otherwise] the succession of kisses between Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in L'Eclisse.”  And yet, the density of allusion in L'eclisse--for example, just the works of art seen in the background of Vittoria or Riccardo’s apartment--is so thick that I assume that I have missed numerous allusions in Antonioni’s film, just as I “missed” or continue to not appreciate the supposed allusion to L'eclisse in Amélie.  (Note the paucity of artwork in Piero’s pied-à-terre; he, like Vittoria’s mother, isn’t the type who is interested in doodles of daisies on napkins nor reproductions of modern art on the walls of his apartment.)  As an example of how inconspicuous the allusions in L'eclisse may be, consider the shot of the unidentified man exiting a bus near the construction site of the Eur in the coda of the film.  Our eyes are drawn to the bold headline of the 10 Settembre 1961 periodical L’Espresso, “LA GARA ATOMICA.”   If, however, one zooms in closely at the lower right hand corner of the front page of the newspaper, a reference to the 1961 film,  L' Année dernière à Marienbad, is present (this “movie connection” is not listed in the IMDb site page concerning L'eclisse retrieved on 4 March 2007 from:

                          <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056736/movieconnections>).*

     Although L'eclisse is not explicitly referred to in the two companion films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, both of these latter films have multiple striking similarities to L'eclisse. These similarities, which are so notable, approach being direct allusions to L'eclisse. (Caution!: spoiler warning; plot and/or ending details about films to follow):

1. Before Sunrise concerns a one day “brief encounter” set in Vienna (occurring on June 16, Bloomsday) in which towards the conclusion of the film the couple flirts with the idea of making a vow to never see each other again. Nevertheless, the two would-be lovers finally agree to meet each other again in 6 months at the same Viennese site of their parting, a meeting that neither person will keep.

2. In Before Sunrise, the two main characters pause before a street poster advertising a Seurat exhibition. The character Celine remarks, “I love the way the people seem to be dissolving into the background. It’s like the environment is stronger than the people. These human figures are always transitory.” The film has a morbid concern with death, with the Delpy character visiting a cemetery where the bodies of those drowned in the Danube are interred (reminiscent of the Drunkard drowning in the Eur laghetto).

3. At the conclusion of Before Sunrise, the man and woman do disappear, “dissolve” into the background. However, the “autonomous camera” returns in the final minutes of the film, the “coda,” and makes a photographic inventory of the now empty spots where the two young people had spent the film.

4. The follow-up film, Before Sunset--a kind of Part II--concerns the two characters “accidentally” meeting again 9 years later. Before Sunset could be an alternative title to L'eclisse. Regardless, Before Sunset also ends on an uncertain moment as to whether the man and woman will ever meet again. “Part III” has not yet been made.

     The flip side of the question concerns which directors or movies have influenced Antonioni, a question I do not have a ready answer for.  (Although, for example, Antonioni’s films have been compared to those of Bresson, I find the comparison weak.)  Antonioni, himself, almost never overtly refers to other filmmakers or specific films within the confines of his own movies.

     In this note I first asked, “Which filmmakers has Antonioni influenced?”  I then asked, “Which filmmakers have influenced Antonioni?”  Finally, I now ask, “To what degree are the films of Antonioni self-referential?  How much do the films of Antonioni allude to each other?  How much has Antonioni influenced Antonioni?”  I have already discussed this issue in detail:  virtually all of Antonioni’s films concern similar content and style and “refer” back-and-forth to one another.  This is not to say, however, that Antonioni is ever “self-referential” in the concrete manner that, for example is evident in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle in which IMDb (20 April 2007) notes:  “In the scene where Juliette drops off her daughter at the day care/brothel, there is a painting on the wall of a screen shot of Nana (Anna Karina) in Vivre Sa Vie.”

(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060304/trivia)

     I will later discuss the similarities between Hitchcock’s films and those of Antonioni; these similarities do not include a penchant on Antonioni’s part for serial cameo appearances in his films, perhaps the most blatant and intrusive form of self-referencing a film director might enact.  In the case of David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Lean’s self-interjection into his film was not blatant and intrusive, but modest and discrete; Lean played the microscopic role of the British soldier seen in an extreme long-shot on a motorcycle on the far, western side of the Suez Canal.  The Lean character yells across the canal to Lawrence--who is on the eastern bank--what is perhaps the key question of the entire film:  “Who are you?  Who are you?”  (A question that plagues so many of Antonioni’s films, in particular, The Passenger, and the inscrutable girl with no name.)  The smallest, most enigmatic smile plays on the lips and in the eyes of the actor, Peter O’Toole.  (In Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the anti-hero of the film played by William Holden has adopted the identity of a dead man, an act that in Antonioni’s The Passenger will drive the entire film.)  One wonders, one wishes, that—like the character, Constance, played by Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock’s Spellbound—that Vittoria had asked Piero just once, “Who are you?” as Constance had asked of the Gregory Peck character, John, in Spellbound.  What possible, meaningful, true response could Piero have ever given to such a question from Vittoria?  As already mentioned, Antonioni is not interested in the opposite of “suspending disbelief”:  i.e., promoting the realization that a film is artifice, as in, for example, meta-cinema such as and its reminder to the audience that we are witnessing the production of a fiction.  Antonioni does not usually engage, like Velázquez and “Las Meninas,” in the ordinary sense of “mise en abîme” (unless, one considers that L’eclisse is itself, utterly and completely, the abyss).  However threadbare are the stories of Antonioni’s films, Antonioni is ultimately a quite conservative and traditional storyteller, adhering to a realist aesthetic (See Endnote #39).*


Note 4

     There are, however, at least 3 published “screenplays” of L'eclisse, all of which differ to some degree from each other, as well as from the completed film.  (Vide infra, Endnote #8 for further information regarding the definitions of “screenplay,” “script,” “shooting script,” “cutting continuity,” and “release dialogue transcript.”)  The “original” screenplay in Italian is contained in Lane’s 1962 book, L'eclisse di Michelangelo Antonioni.  This treatment both contains scenes that do not appear in any version of the final film as well as omits some scenes or dialogue that do appear in the film.  The two other screenplay versions--the 1963 Orion Press version in English and the 1964 Italian Einaudi version alluded to above--resemble each other more than they do the original 1962 version contained in Lane.  (Lane on p. 22 of his book also alludes to “bloc-notes” regarding L'eclisse contained in drawers in Antonioni’s apartment that I do not believe are presently available or have ever been published.)  A transcription of the actual dialogue from the film itself (a “release dialogue transcript”) in both Italian as well as an accompanying French translation has been published recently in L’Avant-Scène Cinéma, Février 1993.  n° 419.  To my knowledge, no direct transcription in English translation of the dialogue in any version of the completed film has ever been done.  It is noteworthy that all of the screenplays are quite “sketchy” in terms of many of the rich detail that characterize the completed film.  For example, many indications regarding shot composition or specific production details (such as Piero’s magnifying glass) are not indicated in any of the screenplays.  I know few of the specifics as to how Antonioni actually shot his incredibly detailed film.  Lane in his diary of the shooting of L'eclisse writes:

Gianni di Venanzo, director of photography of The Eclipse, never knows what camera set-up Antonioni wants until they come to the scene. The script-girl will not know until the scene has been shot and the ‘shooting script’ is written as the film proceeds (not just modified as in most films). Shooting a scene near the lake when Piero and Vittoria are walking, I noticed how, when one shot is completed, everyone leaves Antonioni alone. It is taboo to go near him as he meditates on how he wants the next set-up. When he is ready, he calls Di Venanzo and Indovina over and explains what he wants.

There seems, therefore, to have been an off-hand, improvisational quality to the making of L'eclisse that contradicts what I had originally assumed was an extraordinary degree of thought and attention to detail that proceeded the actual shooting of the film.  Lane writes that the “screenplay” for L'eclisse was written in only 15 days in the first half of July, 1961, only days before principal photography of the film was to begin on July 20.  Lane adds that an original “story”(“racconto”) was never put to paper.  (Bernardini writes on p. 189 of his book that “Il soggetto vero e proprio non è mai stato scritto.” / “A proper treatment was never written.”)  A seminal moment in the conception of L’eclisse occurred in February of 1961 at which time Antonioni was filming a real eclipse of the Sun in Florence.*  Incorrectly, I had formally suspected that Antonioni approximated Hitchcock in the sense that the latter’s films were essentially “shot” even before the camera ever began rolling.  For Hitchcock, the actual shooting of his carefully composed films was a kind of afterthought.  Detailed storyboards outlining in great detail the composition of individual shots and scenes were employed by Hitchcock.  This is no different from the elaborate preliminary work that many artists employ before placing brush to final canvas.  Standing opposed to my assumption regarding how much preparation may have occurred before principal photography began are Antonioni’s own words.  In an interview he gave for Cahiers du cinéma in October of 1960 (excerpted in Leprohon’s book, Michelangelo Antonioni, An Introduction), Antonioni stated that “Isn’t it during the shooting that the final version of the scenario is arrived at? . . . No one can fail to see that the shooting script has become less detailed than it was formerly. . . Sometimes I arrive at the place where the work is to be done and I do not even know what I am going to shoot. This is the system I prefer: to arrive at the moment when shooting is about to begin, absolutely unprepared, virgin.”

     Not only are there several different screenplays of L'eclisse, there are also several different final versions of the film.  Ted Perry in his Guide to references and resources has written that “Against Antonioni’s wishes, the Hakim brothers (the producers of L'eclisse) cut 14 shots out of the closing sequence of the film.  The U.S. distributor, according to several reports, made further cuts in this section.” (p. 109).  As I have already remarked in a footnote of chapter III (“being viewed in reverse”) of this book, Jonathan Rosenbaum has written that some U.S. distributors lopped off the entire coda of L'eclisse.  If I were compelled to choose between eliminating the coda or all of L'eclisse up to the point of the coda, I would choose the latter.

     There is a possible explanation as to why so little preparation seems to have preceded the making of so intricate a film.  The concepts, the themes, the world view embodied by L'eclisse may have been so grounded in Antonioni’s mind that a specific detailed script was largely unnecessary.  Antonioni knew what he wanted to “say” within the broad outlines of a relatively simple plot already in place.  By some collision of nature, nurture, and providence, Antonioni was that rare director who could paint the storybook of his film on the screen of his mind.  Given so “pre-determined” a sense of his film, so complete an understanding of the building blocks of L'eclisse--its themes--Antonioni could improvise, play with his characters or concepts with remarkable liberty.  Whether it rained or shined, whether the exigencies of shooting meant he couldn’t do this or that at a particular moment at a particular place, Antonioni could still only create a film that would look like L'eclisse.  The film might have been shot in 10,000 different ways and still remain entirely the same.

     Mancini and Perrella (p. 410) write:

The various versions of the script, the shooting schedule, and its variations, the choice of locations, the sketches of the settings and costumes, the screen-tests, the estimates, the various work schedules, the agendas, and then the unused material, the cuts, the reserve material, the editing copies, the censorship cuts, the dubbing and the various editions are only some of the material which is lost and which every archaeologist should try to conserve and catalogue.

     Mancini and Perrella conclude, as if they were true sons of Antonioni:  “This material is fatally destined to be lost, and not even a scrupulously conservative director like Antonioni can avoid this.”


Note 5

     As the curtain in Riccardo’s apartment is drawn and the “Fungo” revealed, the structure appears other-worldly.  Indeed, unless one is familiar with the Eur, a reasonable question that arises upon first seeing the water tower is, “What the hell is that?”  Furthermore, in later shots of the tower, Antonioni gives us no further information that allows us to clarify its identity.

     The opening shot of Ozu’s 1960 film, Late Autumn, is a view of the massive Tokyo Tower.  As is the case with the Fungo in L’eclisse, if one is unfamiliar with Tokyo and its  tower, the appearance of the structure in Ozu’s film is potentially startling.  One may ask oneself, again, “What the hell is that?”  In the case of Ozu, it is quite likely that he is opening his film with a view of the Tokyo Tower to present a kind of establishing shot to his predominantly Japanese audience who will be expected to be quite familiar with the famous tower (“Just as the Eiffel Tower is used in cinema to immediately locate a scene in Paris, Tokyo Tower is often used in anime and manga, especially if the anime or manga is set in Tokyo’s Azabu-Jūban district, or because it is produced by TV Asahi, which uses the Tower as a transmitting tower.”) 

            <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Tower>  retrieved 30 October 2007.
    
     I think it less likely that Antonioni is presenting the Fungo to our eyes in order to establish for either an Italian or  international audience that L’eclisse is set in the Eur quarter of Rome.  Contrariwise, I suspect that Antonioni’s focusing on the Fungo has both a primarily aesthetic and intellectual basis.  Nevertheless, both Ozu and Antonioni do share in common an interest in architecture and the presentation of the cinematographic image in a painterly manner.   Ozu’s films are replete with contemplative static long takes of buildings. 

     From Antonioni’s earliest documentaries such as La villa dei mostri, he is fond of populating his films with unusual buildings, an obvious concern with architecture in general that permeates his œuvre.  Examples include the Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, Sicilia, with its “Salone degli Specchi” (“Hall of Mirrors”) where the Sicilian fisherman are interrogated early in L’avventura.  (Antonioni “transforms” the Villa into a police station.) La Notte opens with an unusual tracking shot filmed from an elevator descending from the then tallest skyscraper in Italy, the Pirelli Building (il “Pirellone”) of Milano.  Il deserto rosso is replete with adoring and unusual perspectives of chemical factories near Ravenna, as well as the bizarre appearing series of radio telescopes of nearby Medicina, Italia.  Much of Chung Kuo Cina concerns exotic Chinese architecture.  In The Passenger we have the unusual architecture of Gaudí, particularly the Palau Güell and La Pedrera of Barcelona. Zabriskie Point terminates at the Hovgaard House in Carefree, Arizona, a perfectly named place for the Apocalypse to occur.  (No, the house wasn’t really blown up, but an expensive, full-scale mock-up near the original house.)  In Al di là delle nuvole, there is the unique Palazzo dei Diamanti in Antonioni’s hometown of Ferrara, as well as the striking portico, the Loggiato dei Cappuccini at the Santuario di Santa Maria in Aula Regia of Comacchio, which resembles an unidentified church, piazza, and portico in a town of the Po River delta which I have been unable to precisely identify (Comune di Pontecchio Polesine?  See:  http://www.polesinefilmcommission.it/storia.html [accessed 24 July 2012]) in Antonioni’s first major documentary, considered by many to be his first film, Gente del Po [1947].  A plaza and church at its base are explicitly referred to but not mentioned specifically by name in the screenplay of Gente del Po in Il primo Antonioni.  (“Il Po . . . appartiene al paesaggio della mia infanzia.  Il Po a quello della mia giovinezza .  .  . La sua forza, il suo mistero.  Appena mi fu possibile tornai in quei luoghi con una macchina da presa.  Così è nato Gente del Po.  Tutto quello che ho fatto dopo, buono o cattivo che sia, parte da lì”.  /  “The Po is the land of my infancy.  The Po has that of my youth .  .  . Its power, its mystery.  As soon as it was possible I returned to this land with a movie camera.  Thus was born Gente del Po.  Everything that I did afterward, whether good or bad, comes from there.”  Michelangelo Antonioni tratto da “Dei paesi tuoi,” intervista di Ennio Cavalli.  Thus, was Gente del Po the alpha and the omega of Antonioni’s film career .  .  . and life.  See also Internet site:  “Provincia di Ferrara, terra e cinema, land and cinema”    <http://www.emiliaromagnaturismo.it/it/pubblicazioni/download/Pubblicazioni_Misc/GuidaCineturismo.pdf>     [accessed 21 July 2012; in Italian and English].)  The principal characters of Antonioni’s segment of Eros--a characteristically troubled couple--reside in of all places, at the lakeside Torre di Burano in Capalbio (quite close to where Antonioni had shot La villa dei mostri in Bomarzo over 50 years earlier.)

     This aesthetic interest in architecture dovetails with a movie making side to Antonioni that is often overlooked:  his engineering-like interest in technological invention which is particularly prominent in Zabriskie Point (with the revolutionary “high speed/slow motion” cinematography of the destruction of the Hovgaard House and its contents), The Mystery of Oberwald (a film in which Antonioni seemed more interested in the video manipulation of colour than the movie itself), and the magisterial ending of The Passenger in which Antonioni used multiple gyroscopes and an approximately 30 meter crane to film a shot that would have been technically much easier with a Steadicam (the “modern” Steadicam invented shortly after Antonioni had finished The Passenger).  For Antonioni, cinema was as if a child’s toy box, not dissimilar to the enthusiasm he displayed with puppetry as a child, perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the science and engineering toys that Giuliana’s son, Max, plays with in Il deserto rosso.  As Antonioni emphasized when discussing Red Desert, he is not opposed to factories, industrialization, or advancing technology.  Instead, one might say that Antonioni is consumed by the aesthetics of technology.  In a filmed interview which Antonioni gave--contained within the documentary by Sandro Lai, Michelangelo Antonioni:  The Eye That Changed Cinema, a documentary which in turn is included as a supplement in the Criterion Collection DVD of L’eclisse--Antonioni speaks with almost breathless admiration of new computer technology employed by Spielberg and Lucas which Antonioni states he feels will someday not only revolutionize cinematography, but the way we regard life itself.


Note 6

     So important is this ostensibly unimportant intersection that Antonioni takes us there three times in L'eclisse, the last time at the very conclusion of the film.  It is the very banality of this spot, its seeming unimportance that makes “ground zero” so much more than nowhere or nothing.  There is, in short, a world contained within the water barrel.  The third time is not, however, charmed:  Vittoria, Piero, and ourselves have an appointment at eight o’clock, but as Sitney has written, it is we the audience who are stood up.  (The last time I saw L'eclisse at a cinema the thought occurred to me that I should walk out of the theater when Vittoria and Piero last embrace and promise to meet each other again at eight, and like the American distributors of the film, amputate the pain of L'eclisse’s coda.)

     José Moure in his study of Antonioni notes that half-finished structures are a recurrent motif in Antonioni’s films.  In addition to the half-finished apartment building in the Eur of L'eclisse, Moure also cites the “perpétuel chantier” of the house in La signora senza camelie, Clelia’s boutique in Le amiche, and Giuliana’s store-in-progress in Il deserto rosso. Moure also refers to L'eclisse and the stairwell in the office building of Piero, the elevator shaft of which is apparently undergoing some kind of repair or restoration.  Moure writes of Antonioni’s abiding interest in stairs and stairways and of Antonioni’s abandoned project of 1950 entitled Scale (Stairs), in which the director had wished to film a succession of brief incidents occurring on different types of staircases.  Moure writes (p. 19):

[Antonioni] a fait de ‘l’escalier’ un de ses espaces scénographiques et architecturaux privilégiés : un lieu symbolique, intermédiaire et vertigineux, qui travaille l’inconscient des personnages et de la fiction ; une parenthèse spatiale où, en supsension et entre deux endroits, les actions se nouent et se dénouent, les êtres se croisent, se rejoignent, se séparent, s’épient, se révèlent, s’abandonnent au vide ; un espace-limite où les consciences expérimentent le vertige de la faute et de l’égarement, les corps celui de la chute et de la mort, les regards celui de la disparition et de la perte.

[Antonioni] chooses “the stairway” as a favored and privileged architectural site: a symbolic place, intermediate and vertiginous, where the subconscious of his characters operates; a spatial parenthesis where suspended between two places, the actions of his characters form and become undone, beings encounter one another to form a union and then separate, spy upon each other, reveal themselves and then abandon themselves to the void; a place where people experience the vertigo of error and displacement, where the body undergoes a fall and a death, where our gaze discerns disappearance and loss.

     One remembers in particular the importance of the stairway and elevator shaft in Antonioni’s first feature film, Cronaca di un amore, the site of a literal death, around which the plot of the entire film is spun.  Nor can we forget Antonioni’s fixation on a spiral staircase in his last major film before his stroke, Identificazione di una donna, an image which Chatman chose as the emblematic cover for his major work on Antonioni,  Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World (Of all of the images ever taken by Antonioni, Chatman and Duncan chose an image of Vittoria and Piero--a still from L’eclisse--of Vittoria and Piero’s faces side-by-side in extreme close-up, as the cover for their 2004 book, Michelangelo Antonioni.  The Investigation. [“The Complete Films”]).

    In 1950, Antonioni made a 10-minute documentary, La funivia del Faloria, concerning the gondola (“tram”) that runs from Monte Faloria to Cortina d'Ampezzo.  Cameras were mounted perilously on the tops of these cable cars, a cinematographic feat that prepared Antonioni for a similar maneuver above the Barcelona harbour in The Passenger a quarter century later.  A restoration of this early documentary was recently done by the Associazione Philip Morris Progetto Cinema in which the short was cut to 4-minutes and renamed in Italy, Vertigine . . . “Vertigo.”


Note 7

     This omen, that of Vittoria separating the wood from the matches, is but one example of the larger phenomenon of adumbration-foreshadowing that characterizes all of L'eclisse which I discuss in Chapter 3, The Shape of Things to Come.*  There is the sense that L'eclisse not only begins at the end, but that the film is over before it has even begun.  So many dark signposts litter even the earliest moments of the film (e.g., Vittoria and Piero meet in the sepulchral Borsa at the moment when the death of a salesman is announced) that in hindsight one can bemoan that Vittoria and Piero never had a chance.  The film becomes a 2-hour exercise in the loss of a love never truly possessed, the obsequies held at love’s threshold.  Although in the first sentence of this book I write that “L’eclisse begins at the end,” the movie and its would-be lovers may be said to have ended even before it began, flaming out as matches and a piece of wood fall from the sky to drown in the the dirty water of a barrel at a tumble-down, all-fall-down construction site.

     A similar little Antonionian moment--one that should have alerted us to doom ahoy if we have come to know Antonioni at all--occurs at the beginning of L'avventura. I am not referring to the very opening scene of this latter film when Anna’s father explicitly warns his daughter that Sandro will never marry her.  (This warning isn’t a little gloomy signpost that one might overlook, but a warning flare in the night.)  Nor am I referring to the overt despair and depression that characterizes Anna as she drives with her friend, Claudia, to Sandro’s apartment on the Isola Tiberina.  Something smaller happens, a little utterance by Claudia that implies that things are finished before they have begun:  Anna, after not seeing Sandro for a month, stalls after arriving in front of the apartment.  She doesn't want to rush into the apartment into the arms of the man that both logic and the heart would suggest she should run towards.  Claudia immediately sees trouble ahead and mutters with small world-weary regret, “Eh, va bene.  Addio, crociera.” (“Oh well, all right then, so long, cruise.”)  In a deeply profound way, Claudia is not only sighing, “Goodbye, love,” but “Goodbye, film.  Goodbye, L'avventura.”

     Only seconds after Claudia rings the death bell of the film, “Addio, crociera,” Anna enters the front door of Sandro’s apartment, ascends the stairs, soon takes off her clothing, and--in the most desultory of manners--makes love with Sandro.  Yes, this is discourteous to Claudia, who is waiting in the street outside Sandro’s apartment.  But it is a kind of tacky discourtesy that conceals a deeper, more tragic disregard for both friendship and love.  Inexplicably, the front door of Sandro’s apartment is wide open.  Claudia enters the foyer, pauses for a moment and exits, so very deliberately shutting the door.  Claudia’s act of shutting the door is but another “addio,” as if a stage curtain had unexpectedly fallen not at the end of a play, but at its beginning.  Anna and Sandro are finished . . . as is--in some profound way--the film itself.  But the film trudges on, and towards its conclusion Sandro is now in a room with his new lover, Claudia, in the Hotel Trinacria in the heart of historic Noto, making love to the substitute for Anna, Claudia, in a manner that could meet the legal definition of rape.  So very unhappy, so very unfulfilled, Sandro, a man who has failed to meet the dream of his youth to be a great architect, stands at the hotel room’s window fronting Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, the architectural splendor of the jewel of the Spanish Baroque of Sicily before him.  And Sandro, as Claudia had done previously in Rome with Sandro’s very apartment door, closes the shutter, bringing down, yet again, the curtain on life before him.

     Ted Perry on p. 62 of his Guide to References and Resources concerning Antonioni, quotes from the screenplay of Antonioni’s 1949 short documentary Superstizione (which in turn is published in Carlo Di Carlo’s Il primo Antonioni). In this documentary the narrator describes a superstition said to bring good luck: “. . . you should throw a penny, a feather, scissors, one piece of iron and one of wood into a pail of water.” Vittoria may be performing just such a rite. Vittoria’s mother, an overtly superstitious person, performs her own rituals in Rome’s Borsa, scattering salt, for example, on the Borsa’s floor.

     The piece of wood and matches thrown into the water barrel of L'eclisse are also anticipated by another piece of wood and matches that appear in Le amiche. During the beach scene of this latter film, Rosetta is shown standing alone on the beach, her attention focused on a relatively small nondescript wooden crate floating, not in the water barrel of the Eur, but in the surf of the Ligurian Sea before her (a typical example of the distractability of Antonioni’s characters, their attention often drawn to seemingly unimportant and discrepant objects).  Nearby, Lorenzo, a failed artist (played by the actor, Gabriele Ferzetti, who will later play the failed architect of L’avventura), sits on the same beach doodling on the inside cover of a book of matches.  Antonioni shows us an insert shot of Lorenzo’s doodle, the sketch of a woman’s head, that of Rosetta.

     The scene concerning the second meeting between Vittoria and Piero at the construction site is a marvel of understated choreography, an ostensibly banal encounter whose small movements and pedestrian comments are charged with meaning.  Piero nonchalantly throws the empty matchbook into the water barrel. The next shot is a close up of the barrel in which we see that the matchbook has lodged underneath the piece of wood that Vittoria had previously thrown into the barrel.  The matchbook lies in such a manner that it is folded open with its outside cover lying face down in the water.  (It is only later in the coda of L'eclisse that we again see the matchbook floating in the barrel, this time with its cover mysteriously upright, a scene containing two Italian cypresses.)  In the corner of the shot is Vittoria’s hand resting on the barrel’s rim. The hand moves, and touching only the wood and water, separates wood from matchbox.  The camera then recedes to show Vittoria as she moves to screen left and turns around placing her back to the barrel as if to hide the act she has just performed.  Piero is apparently oblivious or disinterested as to why Vittoria would stick her hand in the dirty barrel to push the broken stick away from the matchbook.  In the background an unidentified woman darts past.  Piero asks Vittoria how she is doing (“Come stai?”) to which she replies in Italian, “Bene,” the English subtitle being “Fine,” a kind of accidental homonym indicating “well” in English and “The End” in Italian.  Piero informs Vittoria that he has bought a new car, a BMW.  Vittoria does not seem happy upon hearing this news, and turns her back to the camera. The shot is now broken as the camera films Vittoria and Piero from a new angle 180 degrees from that of the preceding shot.  Piero then asks Vittoria whether they should go somewhere, suggesting, “casa mia” (“my place”), to which she agrees, yes, “casa tua.”  (They go not to Piero’s place, but instead, to the funereal apartment of Pietro’s parents at Piazza Campitelli.)  A look of concern and foreboding persists on Vittoria’s face.  There can be little doubt that by accepting Piero’s invitation she is agreeing to soon make love with him “at his place.”  Vittoria appears to accept his invitation in a rather defeated manner, her bearing suggesting a kind of resignation or capitulation to the inevitable, an “all right, let’s get it over with” attitude.  (Shortly thereafter, in the apartment of Piero’s parents, when Piero tears her dress--or the dress tears itself--Vittoria retreats alone into the bedroom where she takes off her necklace and then begins to take off her dress, confirming that she fully anticipates and intends to cooperate with what she knows will be an imminent seduction. Indeed, who is seducing whom?)

     After agreeing to go to Piero’s “place,” Vittoria and Piero then turn around and head off to cross the street just as a priest and an unidentified man are seen walking together in the background.  The scene has taken place at the water barrel beneath a large sign that is just off screen above Vittoria and Piero’s heads.  (We will see the sign again when the old man of the coda moves off screen, his head having previously obscured the sign, the words of which are still difficult, if not impossible, to decipher.)

     A not so obvious, seemingly unimportant question is why Piero would throw the matchbook into the barrel in the first place?  One discards matchbooks when they are empty. No more matches.  No more Alfa Giulietta Spyder.  Soon, no more water in the barrel.  And in the end, no more Vittoria and Piero.

     A final mystery among other final mysteries is how, if the matches initially fall with their cover face-down, do the matches later appear face-up at the end of the film?  A simple answer would be that this is an error in cinematic continuity, a technical oversight that may have occurred over hours or days of shooting with the production crew continuously trying to maintain perfect, seamless continuity, and failing.  In a lesser film where large issues don’t matter, let alone small issues such as why a matchbook has flipped, such errors are meaningless.  If, however, one is a filmmaker attempting to make a movie in which everything counts, then accidents--whether careless or not--become hazardous; the temptation in interpreting such a film that strives for obsessive attention to detail is to attribute meaning to what may be merely a technical glitch with no meaning at all.  In Ulysses, a very obsessive work of art, “the man in the ‘mackintosh’ ” is spelled in several different ways; is this due to the fault of French typesetters in Paris who didn’t speak English, or was this deliberate on Joyce’s part—“intentional errata”—a small clue that may point to the path leading to enlightenment?* (As Stephen Dedalus remarks in Ulysses (the corrected text [342]):  “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”)   Another answer would be that the matchbook, like the gate through which Marta’s dog escapes, or Vittoria’s torn dress, has a life of its own, enjoying an attribute usually ascribed to living things, that of animation.  A less mystical solution, however, presents itself.  After Vittoria separates the matchbook from the piece of wood when she and Piero meet for the second time at the barrel, it is not until the end of the film in shot 4 of the coda (Criterion Edition [DVD] of L'eclisse, with shot 1 of the coda being that of the nursemaid and carriage with a panorama of the Eur in the background as an establishing shot) that we again clearly see the matchbook, this time with its cover face up revealing the two Italian cypresses.  In the coda of L'eclisse there are three distinct shots of the inside of the barrel.  In the first such insert shot of the barrel--shot 4 referred to above--we clearly see the matchbook, “cover face-up,” slowly circling counterclockwise.  The piece of wood is less prominently seen to screen right of the matchbook, neither wood nor book touching one another. The water in the barrel appears to be slowly circling (the barrel--somehow punctured--leaking water from its first presentation on stage from an exterior perspective in shot 3 of the coda).

     It is not until shot 19 of the coda that we again see the interior of the barrel.  We clearly see both matchbook and piece of wood, again neither object touching.  Both objects continue to slowly circle clockwise on the surface of the barrel’s water perhaps due to the smallest degree to the Coriolis effect.  We now more clearly see and hear the rupture of the barrel.  (In the subsequent shot 20 the camera follows the rivulet of water, a miniature Tevere or Zambesi River, as it falls off the curb into the nearby gutter, Vittoria Falls.  At the edge of the sidewalk, lies a small piece of paper which presumably, if turned over, would reveal a drawing of daisies.)

     Shot 39 of the coda is the last time we shall see the interior of the barrel.  The piece of wood and matchbook are no longer separated, but are again touching, “interlocked” as they continue to swirl ever faster.  The two objects, once deliberately separated by Vittoria, are now reunited even as Vittoria and Piero are now themselves undone.  Now, for the first time we see what appears to be two, perhaps three match sticks, perhaps spent, also adjoined to the piece of wood and matchbook.  (It would be “nicer” if there were but two spent matchsticks, the analogy to Vittoria and Piero thus striking.)  The matchbook is seen slowly tumbling end-over-end along its long axis as it is swept in the circling current caused by the water flowing out of the ruptured barrel.  It is perhaps this rupture, in turn caused by the unseen hand of Antonioni, that permitted the matchbook to flip over, revealing the image of a miniature, arboreal world.

Shot 39 of the Coda
Shot 39 of the Coda
I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space . . .

It may be surprising that the matchbook and piece of wood are still even floating on the surface of the water in the barrel at all.  By the time L'eclisse arrives at its coda, it is unclear how much time has elapsed since these two things were thrown by Vittoria and Piero respectively in the barrel, days or even weeks ago.  Why the matchsticks now appear suddenly on the scene is also unclear.

     Angelo Restivo in the context of Blow-Up writes in a Lacanian vein of the significance of the “partial or lost object.”  He includes among such objects the propeller that is bought in the antique store in Charlton, the once precious neck of the broken guitar left lying like discarded junk on Regent Street, and the placard, “Go Away!” that follows its own instructions as it blows away from the back seat of the Photographer’s Rolls Royce Silver Cloud as he races away from the “demonstrators” in London.  Restivo states that in Lacanian theory that when a thing is wrested out of its context, “the sublime object becomes the ‘gift of shit.’ ” Writing of Viaggio in Italia, Restivo continues to refer to such waste as “scraps of the Real, points at which meaning is occluded and the image becomes mysterious.  Retroactively, these scraps acquire meaning through the process of metaphor, but only after a traumatic encounter with the Real. . . .”  Although Restivo writes at some length of L'eclisse, he does not refer to those ultimate scraps of Roman “bricolage,” the broken piece of wood and book of matches discarded in the water barrel of the Eur.  The objective--or to employ language more appropriate to the context of L'eclisse--the market value of the wood and matches is zero.  They are also aesthetically worthless.  And yet, subjectively, such scraps are “sublime,” gold itself, glittering objects that are literally destined to spiral down a nearby Roman gutter to join the excrement of several million Romans on a voyage in an ancient sewer system, the cloaca maxima, to the sea.  In the dream iconography of Freud, gold is, of course, shit.


Note 8

     Although all three principal “screenplay” versions of L'eclisse (1962 Lane, 1963 Orion, 1964 Einaudi) as well as the English sub-title in the Criterion version indicate “un libro” (“a book”), in the film itself Vittoria seems, perhaps, to actually utter the word, “dito” (finger).  The issue is further muddled by the “fourth” screenplay of L'eclisse published in February 1993 in L’Avant-Scène Cinéma, n° 419, an Italian transcript that is taken directly from the film and then also translated into French.  This latter screenplay indicates that the Italian word spoken by Vittoria is “dito,” but translates this word in French as “livre” (“book”)!  If the confusion regarding Vittoria’s fundamental declaration is not yet sufficiently addled, David Giametti, in his 1999 study in Italian of Antonioni (p. 99), simply eliminates the third of the four items in Vittoria’s list.  A recent German study of Antonioni by Müller eliminates the second element and introduces a new verb, “(die Zeit) vertreiben”:  (“Es gibt Tage, da ist es mir gleich, ob ich mir mit Stück Stoff, einem Buch oder einem Mann die Zeit vertreibe.” / “There are days in which passsing time with a piece of cloth, a book, or a man are alike to me.”)  On the other hand, the 1963 Orion English translation adds a fifth item, that of “thread” (p. 296).  Debora Farina, in her 2005 book written in Italian, Eros is Sick, hears Vittoria’s vital declaration in a uniquely original manner:  “Ci sono giorni in cui una sedia, un tavolo, un libro, un uomo sembrano più o meno la stessa cosa.” / “There are days in which a chair, a table, a book, a man seem more or less the same thing.” (Italics added by author, dsr.)  One would not think that this utterance of Vittoria could be repeated and translated in so many different ways by so many different people.  If we cannot even agree on what Vittoria says, how can we begin to understand what is the meaning of her utterance or why she says it?  Perhaps Vittoria’s pronouncement may be heard as a kind mysterious aphorism, a sutra (which in Sanskrit may be translated as a “rope” or “thread”) which ties discrepant objects together?

     And what of the minute of silence for the death of a salesman?  What was the salesman’s name? Müller in his 2004 book on Antonioni’s films states that the dead man’s name was “Vittorio Domenico” (p. 105).  Müller evidently believes that it is significant that the dead salesman bears the masculine variant of Vittoria’s name (“Der Verstorbene ist namensverwandt mit Vittoria gewesen: Er hieß Vittorio.” [p. 113]).  L’Avant-Scène Cinéma (1993) transcribes the name, “Di Strozzi Domenico,” directly from the dialogue of the film.  But, inexplicably, in L’Avant-Scène Cinéma the French translation of the Italian--the two translations lying side by side on p. 29--identifies the dead man as “Domenico Vitrotti.”  Three other “screenplays”--from Sei film (Einaudi editore), Lane’s L'eclisse (Capelli editore), and Screenplays of Michelangelo Antonioni (Orion Press)--all identify the dead broker as “Vitrotti Domenico.” (Presumably, as is the Italian custom, Vitrotti is the surname.)  Who then was the dead man? Has the Borsa become the tomb of the unknown stockbroker, nomen nescio, ignoto, known only unto God?  As in the case of The Passenger has an exchange of bodies occurred?  Should the body, if it ever existed, be exhumed for proper identification?  All of this, of course, fits neatly with the abiding Antonionian concern with the fluidity or fragility of identity.  The Writ of Habeas Corpus has been suspended in both the Borsa of Rome as well as a dusty hotel room in Chad where the identity of a dead man is in question.

     The issue of how we look at and regard things is, of course, an abiding concern of Antonioni, one that concerns in particular his films, Il deserto rosso and Blow-Up. (I shall discuss later in a different context the more general issue of misperception chez Antonioni.  Misperception in an Antonioni film may be auditory as well, the mirage heard as well as seen [vide infra, note 12].)  As in all works of art, there may be as many perceptions of L'eclisse--read “interpretations”--as there are viewers of the film.  How we perceive a film by Antonioni becomes not merely a psychological issue, but one with an epistemological and ultimately ethical dimension.  Antonioni is constantly engaging us with the question, “Is there more here than meets the eye?”

     S. Staggs writes, “The terms ‘script,’ ‘screenplay,’ and ‘shooting script’ mean more of less the same:  a blueprint used first by art director, costume designer, and other specialized technicians, then by directors and actors.  If you read a published ‘screenplay’ or ‘script’ you’re reading something different from the actual dialogue you hear from the screen.  That’s because changes are made every day during filming--by producer, writers, director, or actors.  The only way to read the exact words spoken by actors in a film is from the ‘release dialogue transcript,’ a stenographic record of every utterance.  (The term ‘cutting continuity’ is sometimes also used to mean not only the dialogue as heard on screen but a precise written description of shots, camera angles, and the like.)” L’Avant-Scène Cinéma is to my knowledge the only document that approximates a release dialogue transcript or cutting continuity.  It is peculiar, however, insofar as the Italian dialogue adheres closely or is identical to that of the film, but the translation of the Italian dialogue into French--as noted above--is occasionally faulty.  Indeed, the French dialogue may actually quote lines never spoken by the actors.  For example, on p. 72 of the L’Avant-Scène Cinéma issue, the Italian dialogue is transcribed correctly, but the French translation inexplicably adds important words never uttered by the actors:  In this particular example, the French dialogue has Piero asking the Bestiola to meet him at “10 heures 10.30 heures et demi,” something Piero never says in the original Italian audio version of L'eclisse.  This is a doubly peculiar error in that Piero is arranging an evening assignation, one that would occur at “20 heures 20.30 heures et demi.”  This is an especially grievous error in light of the vital importance the precise hour of 20.00 casts in L'eclisseL’Avant-Scène Cinéma does not indicate which “version” of L'eclisse was used, e.g. the original Italian audio version, or perhaps a French dubbed version, or any version with possibly incorrect French sub-titles


Note 9

     I suspect that Antonioni deliberately placed these trees as props, or altered them in some way.  Biarese and Tassone (p. 75) write that while directing the French episode of I vinti in the woods of Varennes, Antonioni both cut down some trees as well as planted new trees.  Antonioni made similar dramatic alterations in both the landscape and cityscape of his other films, in particular, Il deserto rosso and Blow-Up.  Assheton Gorton, the art director of Blow-Up has said, “We must have painted half of London black, to neutralize and emphasize certain shapes.  Antonioni wanted to take a whole row of anonymous, grey London houses (about a 300-yard stretch) and paint them all white.  That is, London is not always London.  The London we see is the London we make.” (Wood, Gaby. Internet article. Guardian online, 2/14/99).  In a March, 1961 appearance at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Antonioni specifically stated that it was sometimes necessary to alter a “natural” setting by “adding trees.”  A preoccupation with trees, particularly pairs of trees, is evident in films by Antonioni antedating L'eclisse (and will reappear in later films such as Blow-Up) In La notte, Lidia and Giovanni walk through an arch flanked by two Italian cypresses in the scene near the Breda factory on the outskirts of Milan.  Later, in the final scene of La notte, the doomed couple stop momentarily beside two trees near the sand trap of the golf course.  Minutes later in almost the last image of the film, Antonioni captures Giovanni desperately trying to make love to a reluctant Lidia while both are lying in the pit.  Behind them are the same two trees filmed from a perspective 180 degrees removed from the original shot of the couple standing aside the trees.  According to an Internet site (“The Complete Rod Taylor Site; http://www.rodtaylorsite.com/zabriskiepoint.shtml [retrieved 13 April 2006]), Antonioni chose the Beneficial Plaza Building at 3700 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles as the headquarters for the businessman-character, Lee Allen, played by Taylor, “because of its facade and architecture based on the Italian renaissance.  But because it didn’t look like Los Angeles, Antonioni added palm trees.” (As the Allen character is seen walking in the lobby of the building he momentarily stops before a large electronic display board of the stock market quite reminiscent of the big electronic board that hovers above the Roman Borsa, both these boards vaguely reminiscent of the “Big Board” in the war room seen in Dr. Strangelove, as well as the ultimate motion picture screen of the Strategic Air Command Center showing bombers containing hydrogen bombs hovering like vultures above their “fail safe” points in Sidney Lumet’s movie of the same name)*  (Karen Pincus, writing of L’eclisse, notes that the “prices of the azioni (stocks) appear on a large board, changed by a flipping mechanism that causes a momentary eclipse”).  In the final moments of The Passenger, Antonioni’s “autonomous” camera fixates on an undistinguished landscape painting hanging above the altar of Locke’s bed in the Hotel de la Gloria.  The foreground of the painting is dominated by two trees joined at their base aside a lake, a building resembling a monastery visible in the background.

     If one follows the lead of the Photographer of Blow-Up, and carefully examines a still of the two trees of L'eclisse, one clearly sees oblique supports holding them both up. (It is unclear whether these two trees were actually “propped” up by Antonioni; such struts are also visible supporting a tree near the musical flagpoles that Vittoria encounters on the African night of searching for Marta’s dog.  Complicating matters further with regard to ostensibly summer trees that are leafless, note that although L'eclisse is set in the period June-September, filming began on 20 July 1961 and continued into October, the autumn of the same year.  Additionally, I am uncertain as to the kind of tree Antonioni employed, whether acacia, willow, or other.)

     Chatman has written that “The particular kind of interpretation demanded by the tetralogy is that which uncovers significance in the minutiae of appearance.” Or as Brunette has written, “(Antonioni’s films) seem self-consciously to present such a plethora of particular, irreconcilable textual details that critics are unable to escape a confrontation with the fact, the procedures, and the consequences of interpretation.” (Specifically discussing L’avventura, Brunette remarks that “. . . on a less exalted level, this sense of mystery is linked to the Barthesisan idea of the hermeneutic code of interpretation, by means of which we are led by every narrative, stupidly perhaps but crucially, to the solving of a riddle or puzzle.  Our will to interpret, to make sense of things, parallels the characters’ search for Anna. . . .”)

     There is a recurrent emphasis on images of trees throughout L'eclisse. This emphasis occurs in other films of Antonioni, notably Blow-Up.  In L'eclisse there are also recurrent shots of pairs of trees. As Vittoria and Riccardo walk through a rustic section of the Eur en route to Vittoria’s apartment, the human couple are at one point superimposed against a pair of trees in the background (see illustration #8 of Lane’s L'eclisse). As the couple walk in the direction of the two trees, Vittoria forcefully let’s go of Riccardo’s hand, as Riccardo inexplicably decides to trudge through dense, knee high underbrush while Vittoria walks along an unencumbered path.  (As we shall see later, in Antonioni’s iconography, Vittoria’s refusal to continue holding Riccardo’s hand constitutes a severe rejection indeed.)  In the peculiar exchange between Vittoria and Marta in the latter’s apartment, there is a photo of the Kenyan countryside hung on the apartment wall.  Marta points out to Vittoria where her African house is located, although no homes or buildings are visible in the photo.  There are, however, two solitary trees prominently jutting into the foreground of the entire right half of the frame.  Continuing in our search for recurrent pairs of trees, if one examines with a literal magnifying glass a still of the matches that Piero throws into the water barrel, the matchbook cover appears to bear a photograph of the silhouette of two trees, probably Italian cypresses, a type of tree that Italians commonly associate with cemeteries and death.  The value of exploring such minutiae in L'eclisse weighs as much as does any event taking place on June 16, 1904 in Ulysses.

     A particularly difficult tree to “explain” is seen early in L'eclisse shortly after Vittoria exits from Riccardo’s home in the Eur.  As Vittoria walks alone along the margin of a deserted paved road near the Eur water tower, there is a large tree in full foliage that is located virtually in the middle of the highway adjacent to where Vittoria is seen walking.  The tree has two horizontal “zebra” lines painted near the base of it’s trunk as if to warn approaching cars of the danger of a large tree planted in the middle of a highway lane.  I cannot imagine how an engineer of any road would permit the presence of such a traffic hazard; indeed, the tree in the middle of the highway lane violates the very notion of what constitutes a road or “free passage.”  (To Vittoria’s right is a wooden fence and possible construction site with rubble; Antonioni does not allow us to see whether Vittoria breaks off a piece of wood from either the fence and/or tree.)


Vittoria in Wonderland

I suspect that it was not the road’s original engineer, but a movie director who went to considerable difficulty to place such a large tree in such a strange spot.* (It was easier for Antonioni in Zabriskie Point to instruct Daria to drive down the wrong lane of the desert highway after she last sees Mark, and is heading to Carefree, Arizona.  Likewise, in The Passenger, while in Munich, Locke-Robertson inexplicably follows in his car a white horse-drawn coach; the peculiarity does not end there, for Locke-Robertson so doggedly pursues the coach that he follows it down a street which bears a German sign--that of a white circle with an outer red border--that is meant to symbolize in a universal, non-verbal manner:  “Verbot für Fahrzeuge aller Art” / “All vehicles prohibited”).  Why the director would do so is a matter of playful speculation, and as in all acts of such interpretation, of questionable consequence.  Vittoria is certainly “aligned” with trees, as are other Antonionian heroines.  The blockage of free passage is also a recurrent motif in the films of Antonioni.  It is interesting to note that at the moment Vittoria walks past the tree the faint sound of a train whistle is heard in the background, an easy-to-miss auditory detail presumably deliberately added by Antonioni in post-production.  The sound is explicitly identified in the sub-titles for the hearing-impaired on the 2002 Italian DVD of L'eclisse as the “fischio di un treno in lontanezza” (“the sound of a train whistle in the distance”).  As is usually the case with Antonioni, he appears to be mixing multiple favored motifs simultaneously, in this case, that of trees and trains.  As will be discussed (vide infra, note 27), trains are a recurrent motif in Antonioni’s films, and are often associated with death, rupture, or loss.  The “impossible” tree in the middle of a road--a metaphysical stumbling block--taken together with a train passing in the background is an Antonionian double whammy, tantamount to walking beneath a ladder as a black cat crosses one’s path.

There the Loves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways . . .

“The Two Trees”
W. B. Yeats

     Set design and seemingly small production detail may be as important in conventional Hollywood movies as they are in the auteur cinema of Antonioni . . . but for different reasons.  In the promotional documentary-publicity short, Darkness into Light, made to promote Vincent Minnelli’s film, Lust For Life, it is demonstrated that great effort and expense was expended to recreate the asylum at Saint-Rémy de Provence as Van Gogh had painted it in the 1889.  One particular tree is seen in Van Gogh’s painting of l'hôpital Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy that had been subsequently cut down during the Second World War.  Minnelli and his production company harvested a similar tree some 6 miles from the shooting site.  The tree was so large that it could not pass between the asylum’s gate, and it was necessary to acquire a gigantic crane from Marseilles 54 miles away to hoist the tree over the asylum’s wall.  As the narrator of Darkness into Light concludes, “One tree by a fountain for a ten-second scene, 20 men, a crane and an extra half-day of shooting,” all for a visual prop not critical for the plot development nor exposition of the film.  As if this were not already enough, Minnelli in another scene from Lust for Life placed a tree to the screen-left of the la mairie d’Auvers sur Oise (town hall of Auvers), as it appears in Van Gogh’s eponymous painting.  Minnelli was merely trying to faithfully recreate a lost Provence of the past for his film.  Antonioni, in L'eclisse, was trying to create a brand new world.

     In the 1955 Hollywood film, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, the two lovers played by Jennifer Jones and William Holden repeatedly meet at their own “solito posto,” a beautiful hilltop promontory overlooking Hong Kong.  The actual hilltop was at the former Fox Ranch, now Malibu Creek State Park north of Los Angeles.  Atop this otherwise relatively barren hill are two trees that appear to be fused at their base.  One of the two trees appears dead (there are no leaves visible on its branches), and there is a curious large hole in the main trunk of one of the two trees.  I had originally believed that there was little doubt that the trees, as was presumably the case for the two trees on the hilltop of the Eur in L’eclisse, were props placed strategically atop the hill against which the two actors playing lovers were manipulated into place.  In actuality, the two trees were even more “phony” than I had ever suspected:  the scene was partially shot on a soundstage with apparent rear projection of location photography from both Malibu and Hong Kong serving as a backdrop, resulting in a complicated mise en scène demonstrating the remarkable artifice of cinema and of art in general.


“Gather me into the artifice of eternity”

(Caution!: spoiler warning; plot and/or ending details about film to follow.)  The dead tree with the hole shot through its main trunk seems to represent an allusion to the Holden character, presaging his inevitable death at film’s end in the Korean War, shot through and through.  And yet, it is quite difficult for me to imagine that the director, Henry King, of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing would place the trees there for any other than an aesthetic, scenic, “framing” function.  I cannot imagine that the average viewer of this relatively conventional 1955 Hollywood theatrical production would view or interpret the trees in any symbolic manner, that the director and producer would care if they did or not, or that any party was concerned about the poetics of the intentional fallacy regarding this film.  And yet, if as I maintain, the two trees of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing were placed in so deliberate and refined a manner, then for whose intellectual--as opposed to aesthetic appreciation--were such subtleties intended? One might ask the same question of all of L'eclisse.

    Antonioni does not possess a monopoly on the cinematic employ of trees.  Whether on the silver screen or in the theatre, trees are so common a feature of the mise en scène that they might be referred to as a fundamental, structural, vertical, building element in set design; in other words, a girder.  The reasons for their ubiquity may not be limited to aesthetic, symbolic, literary, or biblical (Genesis 2:9,16-18) considerations.  As is the case with lovers, trees in movies tend to come in pairs.  Perhaps the ultimate, the paradigmatic expression of such an arboreal dyad appears in Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari (“Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain”).  The most beautiful, single image in this film--a film that is entirely consumed with frightening beauty--is that of two lovers in a state of emotional ecstasy, a vision of a paradise of romantic love, two trees in the background.


Paradise Lost

     Charles Thomas Samuels writing in Focus on Blow-Up observes, “Most films are to be looked at; Antonioni’s are to be inspected.” Or as James F. Scott writes in his essay in the same book:

Art fixates, transforms, enlarges, and in so doing shows us aspects of reality we could never see with an unguided eye. I discern in this a special message from Antonioni to his critics, those who have looked askance at the seemingly arbitrary imagery in some of his earlier films. Watch closely, gentlemen; trifles are not always a trifling matter.

     Again, from an essay in Focus on Blow-Up, Max Kozloff notes, “Few can vie with Antonioni in his epigrammatic isolation of ‘throwaway’ detail. . . .”

     We might also question what is causing the movement and clanging of the poles at the Palazzo dello Sport.  Although, presumably, it is the wind, why then is Vittoria’s hair not windswept (as it is by the fan in Riccardo’s apartment)? Furthermore, it does not seem immediately obvious that flag poles upon which there are no flags would sway so prominently in a light wind.  If one examines the photograph of the flag poles in Chatman’s book, Antonioni, or the Surface of the World (p. 95), one sees what appear to be two right hands grasping the base of the poles closest to the foreground. I do not know the provenance of the photograph in the Chatman book, but I suspect that it is a photographic still not taken by the camera that filmed the movie, L'eclisse. (The hands are not apparent in a freeze frame of the movie itself.)  It seems, therefore, likely that Vittoria was not alone on her nighttime walk. In addition to the director and crew that participated in the filming of the scene, as many as 20 or so people were presumably at the base of the poles acting in the capacity not as stage hands or true “grips,” but as musicians.

     Antonioni is well known for manipulating the physical settings of his films for thematic ends.  The same applies to Antonioni’s handling of actors, beings who in an Antonioni film may resemble puppets more than living creatures.  In the 1961 meeting with students and faculty at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Antonioni remarked, “I never let the actor do anything on his own.  I give him precise instructions as to what he is supposed to do.” See the photo dated “1955” in Fare un film è per me vivere of Antonioni himself in close physical contact with the lead actors of Le amiche as he choreographs the precise nature of their embrace, a directorial ménage à troi.  A similar photo of Antonioni directing the final embrace between the characters played by Vitti and Delon in L'eclisse is contained in the book on L'eclisse edited by Lane, plate 78.  Art imitates life in the photo taken from the early Antonioni short, L’amorosa menzogna, printed on p. 102 of Michelangelo Antonioni Architecture della Visione showing the same posture of a director carefully controlling the precise pose of a model, something the Photographer of Blow-Up does in a much more brusque and aggressive manner.


Living dolls and .  .  .


Exquisite Cadavers
[Antonioni on left side of photo directing lovemaking scene; from Lane. L'eclisse di M.A.]

With regard to Il deserto rosso, Rohdie writes, “(Antonioni) exercised intense, careful control not only on the elements for taking a scene, but on the colours of the scene itself: he painted the grass, the buildings, objects, or, as he related, an entire wood.”  In an article originally published in “Cahiers du Cinema,” January, 1967, and reprinted in English in the Lorrimer script of Blow-Up, it is noted that “Antonioni’s attention to detail is well known.  He is an absolute perfectionist as a director.  He carefully controls everything in his work, down to the last detail.  He uses the view-finder more often than most directors and sits in the operator’s chair more often than the camera operator himself.  Antonioni in fact almost always decides himself the framing and composisition of the shots.”  Antonioni’s obsessive control extends not simply to the shooting of the film, but to the elaboration of the seminal idea for the film and writing of the screenplay.  As quoted by Stefano Reggiani in an essay accompanying the Italian screenplay of Professione: Reporter, “The Passenger” was Antonioni’s first film in which in the original subject was not Antonioni’s, something that initially caused Antonioni no little concern.  Credit for “original story” was given to Mark Peploe, the screenplay was itself a typical collaborative effort between Peploe, Peter Wollen, and Antonioni, and as is the case for almost all literature and film, there was yet an earlier source in two of Pirandello’s novels, Fu Mattia Pascal and Stefano Gubbio operatore.  Antonioni’s attention to detail is such that John Francis Lane, a film critic present during the shooting of L'eclisse who kept a diary of events, has written that Antonioni told his production/art designer (“architetto”), Piero Poletto, “. . . to get a reproduction of a Vespignani painting for the wall of Vittoria’s room.”* In a similar vein, P. Adams Sitney has written that in L'eclisse Antonioni “faked” the view of the tower outside of Riccardo’s apartment with a large photograph placed outside of the apartment window.  As already noted, when we see Riccardo and Vittoria standing before this trompe l’oeil, immediately above Riccardo’s head is the phallic top of the Eur water tower, while Vittoria’s hair mingles with that of a tree, Vittoria transformed into Daphne pursued by Riccardo, a would-be Apollo.  In L’avventura Antonioni similarly places Claudia next to a travel poster affixed to the wall of the Milazzo train station, a poster advertising “Summer in Sicily.”  In the poster a cartoon figure of a man stands next to a tree, a tree in front of which Claudia stands and whose hair becomes foliage, Claudia transormed into Daphne pursued by Sandro, a would-be Apollo.  Antonioni is not, however, a photographer (as Kubrick had been prior to becoming a movie director).  He is, instead, a master painter who paints each scene--creates his own world--according to what Perez calls an “arranging consciousness.”  In the case of the two trees atop the hill near the Eur piano bar, if Antonioni did not intentionally place them atop the promontory, it may matter little.  In such a case it would then be the world that receives credit for presenting meaning and coincidence at every turn, not Antonioni.

     Because Antonioni so carefully manipulates and alters the objects in his frame, it may seem contradictory that he has been reluctant throughout his career to place his characters in fabricated sets in a studio (As opposed to the “control freak” nature of Hitchcock who went so far as to entirely recreate both the interior and exterior shots of the San Francisco restaurant, “Ernie’s,” on a sound stage at Paramount Studies in Los Angeles; for most directors, the “real” Ernie’s Restaurant would have served quite well, thank you).  In L'eclisse, for example, only one set was employed in the entire film, that of Marta’s apartment (erected at the Studio Incir-De Paolis; Via Tiburtina 521, 00159 Roma [now known as “Studios Srl”]).  There has also been a preference on Antonioni’s part to record sound “in presa diretta” (“live”) as compared to many other Italian directors of his generation who preferred to record in studio.  One might think that Antonioni would be drawn to the ultimate manipulation of the elements in filmmaking, that of a computer generated vision of the artist’s conception, the recreation of a world on screen representing that present in thought in the director’s mind.  But as I will discuss later, Antonioni has always maintained a desire to record events in the real world in a relatively “conservative” manner (even in his “experimental” Il mistero di Oberwald), a characteristic that one may trace back to Antonioni’s earliest roots in documentary film.  Although he may engage in an almost fetishistic manipulation of objects, the objects remain those that belong to--what we might call by common accord--the “real” world.  Even the rare “dreams” or “visions” that occur in Antonioni’s films, such as Giuliana’s Sardinian reverie in Il deserto rosso or Mavi’s projected “mindscreen” of her ocean kayaking in Identificazione di una donna, remain conventionally filmed (as opposed to, say, the reenacted “theatrical” dream sequences of the James Stewart or Gregory Peck characters in Vertigo and Spellbound, respectively).


Note 10

     A remarkably similar scene to that of the broken investor who doodles pictures of little flowers (daisies?) in L'eclisse occurs in Antonioni’s very first film, Cronaca di un amore.  Guido, the principal male protagonist of this latter film--like the investor of L'eclisse--finds himself in a bar.  Guido is attempting to close a shady business deal with a car salesman who is an early Antonionian prototype of Piero.  The salesman is accompanied by a girlfriend of sorts, also a prototype for Piero’s sometime girlfriend, the Bestiola, as well as the models of Blow-Up.  The salesman has nothing but contempt for the girl.  When asked by Guido, in an aside, who the girl is, the salesman responds, “Joy.  Niente.  Una mannequin.” (“Her name is Joy. Nothing, a model.”)  As Guido looks on, the salesman purchases for a woman named Joy who has just been equated with the void, a small, Italian candy, a “Bacio” (“Kiss”), that like a Chinese fortune cookie contains a small piece of paper.  Unlike the American version of Chinese fortune cookies, these little notes contain not auguries, but aphorisms.  Joy reads aloud, reciting:

"Tutto è amore.  L’universo non è che amore.  Foscolo.”

     She then turns to the car salesman and asks, “Who is Foscolo?” to which the salesman responds, “Era uno senza una lira” (“He was someone who didn’t have a dime”), an ironic description that applies also to Guido.  (To further underline a linkage between Cronaca di un amore and L'eclisse, Antonioni resurrects “Foscolo” in L'eclisse as the most minimal of minor figures, a man with whom Piero briefly discusses market prices in the second stock market “crash”sequence of L'eclisse; Piero literally screams across the Borsa to a man named “Foscolo,” beckoning the early nineteenth century writer--now reincarnated as a Roman stock broker--to come hither.)

     The scene in Cronaca di un amore that concerns Foscolo wrapped in a chocolate candy follows on the heels of an earlier scene with Guido and his illicit love, Paola, which had occurred at the Milano Planetarium.  Guido and Paola had been discussing in clandestine fashion the latest machinations concerning their affair, a conversation concerning the small details of their tawdry, amorous dealings set against a background of the universe and its stars.  As Guido exits the planetarium with Paola he remarks:  “Sembrava di essere in Africa.  Passavo notte entere a guardare le stelle.” / “It felt like I was in Africa where I spent entire nights watching the stars.”  (Evidently, Guido had served in Africa with the Italian Army, something one might expect that Vittoria could easily empathize with.)  In the largest sense, Cronaca di un amore, like L'eclisse and the majority of Antonioni's films, concerns lost love.* Indeed, “Cronaca di un amore” could have been an alternative title or sub-title for “L'eclisse.”  The entire sequence of events just described in Cronaca di un amore contains all of L'eclisse, written on a crumpled piece of paper inside the silver wrapping of an Italian chocolate called a Kiss.

     In L'eclisse, the childlike doodle of flowers resembling daisies also chimes in sympathetic harmony with a character in The Passenger named Daisy. (“Daisy,” from Old English, “dæges eage” (“day’s eye”); the petals of the flower opening at dawn and closing at dusk.)  This latter member of the cast--someone who is so insubstantial that she never appears in the film (unless one considers that the Girl may be Daisy)--is the person with whom David Locke is to rendezvous with at the Hotel de la Gloria on the day foretold for Locke’s death, written in red in Robertson’s black date book, the date the entire film has been driving towards.  When Locke meets the African guerrilla leader Achebe in the Munich church, Achebe asks Locke to give his regards to Daisy.* Just before the request is made, church bells begin to subtly chime in the background (as a bell is heard to chime outside the Hotel de la Gloria in the film’s coda).  Neither Locke, nor we, of course, know who Daisy is, nor is her identity ever directly revealed.  (Indeed, the gender of “Daisy” is ultimately uncertain, although Locke tells the Girl that he suspects that Daisy is a man.)  After Achebe asks Locke to convey his regards to Daisy, there is an abrupt cut to an apparent POV shot from Locke’s perspective of a large rococo altar near which he is standing.  The camera pans down from the top of the altar representing the firmament to that of a figure below surrounded by seraphim (I am uncertain whether this is the portrayal of the Ascension, the Assumption, or as Arrowsmith suggests, a Gloria, something which would be appropriate given Locke’s own imminent death and the flight of his soul through the barred window of the Hotel de la Gloria).  Locke’s POV shot of the altar--occurring in response to Achebe’s request that Locke give his regards to Daisy--suggests that Locke will be conveying such regards when he arrives in heaven, and/or that Daisy is God almighty Herself.  A small doodle of flowers in L'eclisse; a silly, little love song sung by a computer named Hal who is losing his mind as his spacecraft hurtles to “Jupiter and beyond the infinite”; a chocolate bon bon—a sweet nothing—in Cronaca di un amore; or an invisible character named after a flower in The Passenger may be as large as the universe itself.*

 

Note 11

When he was about ten years old, Michelangelo Antonioni began to design puppets and stick figures, but not in the way most children do.  He sketched architectural settings for them, with portals and columns, then daubed these very precise drawings with spots of violent color.  He also amused himself by building towns of cardboard or wood, or from his Erector set, and then filling them with little people about whom he made up stories. (Leprohon, Michelangelo Antonioni, p.13).

     Antonioni’s later attitude towards his actors appears much the same as his earlier attitude towards puppets.  (Hitchcock was known to pointedly refer to actors as puppets or even “cattle.”)  In an article written for L’express (28 February 1961), Antonioni clearly betrays that he is not an “actor’s director.”  For Antonioni, actors are but one component of the entire mise en scène, a component that may be particularly difficult to control.  Antonioni writes, “(The director is) the man who composes the scene, who has to decide upon and then judge the actor’s pose, gestures and movements.”  Writing of the Photographer in Blow-Up, John Freccero writes, “Models are puppets in his hand which, like Hoffman’s dolls, come to life only at his command.”  The same observation might equally apply to the Photographer’s creator and master, Antonioni.  Marcello Mastroianni is quoted as saying: “(Antonioni) hates actors, and I understand that.” (Dewey, Donald. Marcello Mastroianni: His Life and Art), [p. 116], 1993.)  Mastroianni’s co-star in La notte, Jeanne Moreau, is said by the famous film critic, Stanley Kauffmann,  “ . . . to hate Antonioni.  The one time I met Jeanne Moreau she told me she disliked Antonioni so much that she never saw [La notte]” (Cardullo, Bert. Conversations with Stanley Kauffmann, [p. 40]. 2003).  Moreau’s unfavorable view of Antonioni appears to have been shared by many, if not the majority, of the actors--both male and female--with whom Antonioni worked.  I do not believe that such a view is related to Antonioni being a particularly unkind or uncivil man.  Instead, I believe that actors, as a general rule, do not like to be reified.

     A convoluted irony exists insofar as the theme of reification is not limited to the confines of the movie, L'eclisse, but exists in a dimension outside the film itself:  it is not simply that characters within L'eclisse are “reified,” but that the actors of the very film itself have been turned into stone by Antonioni.  As suggested by the actress Monica Vitti, it was not only Vittoria, but Vitti who was transformed into an object:

I film di Antonioni erano di Antonioni e basta.  Certo che appartenevano alla mia vita, ma erano i suoi, c’erano dentro le cose che voleva dire lui, la sua personalità.  Io davo il mio contributo, però c’era poco da contribuire:  per il regista-autore l’attore è come un paesaggio o un suono.  È un oggetto, e agli oggetti non si spiega nulla:  deve semplicemente stare lì, fare i gesti che gli vengono indicati, pronunciare le parole che legge su un foglio.  Il risultato appartiene soltanto al regista.  Giustissimo.  Magari un po’ frustrante per l’attore.

[Antonioni’s films were his and ‘basta.’ Yes, they may have pertained to my life, but they were his films, within which were the things that he wanted to say, his personality.  I contributed, but there was little to contribute:  for the director-author the actor is like scenery or sound.  The actor is an object, and one doesn’t explain things to objects:  they must simply be there, perform the gestures asked of them, speak the words written on a piece of paper.  The result belongs only to the director.  Fine and good.  Perhaps a little frustrating for the actor.]

([In Italian] retrieved 6 August 2007 from: < http://www.scandalosamentesanto.splinder.com/archive/2004-08>)

    Multiple levels of reification appear to be occurring simultaneously.  Within the confines of L'eclisse, both the characters and the actors who play their parts are reified.  A further act of reification occurs outside the confines of any film when the actor is objectified in a manner divorced from the film itself.  Jacqueline Reich has written in Beyond the Latin Lover : Marcello Mastroianni, Masculinity, and Italian Cinema:

“(Movie stars) are a product, deliberately marketed, distributed, and sold in the greater economy, promoting both the film and his or her career.  In many cases, the star even uses his or her name to sell a particular product, be it the film itself, a promotional commodity tie-in, or an unrelated item for consumption to which he or she has attached his or her name.”

     If one accepts this crude trinity of character/actor/movie star, then perhaps few beings embody the ascendancy of the movie star to the detriment of the character and the actor who plays the character in a particular film than Elvis Presley.  Presley’s career became so formulaic that his movies eventually assumed an assembly line quality in which the final product for sale was reduced to Presley himself, the films being beside the point.  The characters he “played” achieved a homogeneity in which their identity finally no longer mattered.  Whether the character he played was a racecar driver, a champion diver, a doctor, or anyone else ultimately wasn’t important.  What did matter was that he was the hidden, wounded hero, Ulysses washed ashore in blue Hawaii, the golden beaches of Acapulco, or elsewhere, where he would meet his Nausicca, his true value discovered only after some contest or travail from which he would emerge supreme, and a final, celebratory mass would be sung by Presley belting out some tune.  Presley himself is said to have often vomited before appearing on camera in such movies, the repetition of the same lines, the same performance inducing a profound sense of nausea in the poor man.  By the time Delon had made L'eclisse, Delon had obviously not sunk to this pathetic state.  Nevertheless, as I discuss in Endnote 41, by the 21th century, L'eclisse had come to be identified as much as an “Alain Delon movie” as an auteur film crafted by a master filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni.  Some 40 years after the making of L'eclisse Delon had become a legend in France, so much so that Delon—to the amusement of many—often refers to himself in the third person when discussing “Delon.”

     In this regard, Antonioni was quite fortunate to have acquired in the market of competing actors, the rising, French star, Alain Delon, to play the part of Piero in a commercial production, the success of which was gauged financially by the number of tickets for L'eclisse which were ultimately sold.  The result was such that Delon played the part of a stock market broker who paradoxically is himself transformed into a commodity to be traded on the stage (screen) of cinematic commerce.  How L'eclisse fared at the box office might ironically influence the stock market value of some hypothetical stock that had a tie-in with the movie.  As things turned out, nobody, at least initially, made much money off of L'eclisse, a film which was a notorious box office failure.

     Vitti’s comments quoted above seem possibly at odds with the common, simplistic, and perhaps rosy view of Antonioni as a “woman’s director.” (Antonioni has himself expressed a preference to work with female leads in his films.)  Nonetheless, the number of films that Antonioni has made with a male lead and male perspective such as Il grido approaches parity with those films such as L'eclisse that have a predominantly female point of view.  It is interesting to read Alain Delon’s perspective on this issue in the light of the potentially critical comments made by Vitti:

Mon rôle est assez court comparé à celui de Monica Vitti.  Je crois qu'il tranchait avec les autres personnages masculins d'Antonioni : il était plus vivant, plus gai, plus juvénile, plus en mouvement.  Ca je l'ai peut-être apporté!  Antonioni est pointilleux, il chorégraphie ses plans.  Mais c'est surtout un cinéaste de femmes, voire féministe, et il était très amoureux de sa vedette, Monica.  Nos rapports ont été très durs et tendus.  Mais je suis fier d'avoir fait L' Eclipse.

[My role was quite small compared to that of Monica Vitti.  I believe that (Antonioni) cut my part as he had with other male characters:  (Piero) was more lively, more amusing, more youthful, always moving about.  Perhaps I brought those qualities to the role!  Antonioni is fastidious and choreographs his shots.  But, he is above all a filmmaker of women, indeed, a feminist, and was quite in love with his star, Monica.  Antonioni and my relationship was very hard and tense.  Regardless, I am proud of having made L'Eclipse.]

(Cinématographe (Paris), n° 103. September/ October, 1984.)

    If Antonioni were to have directed L'eclisse in 2007 instead of 1961, I can imagine the temptation he might have experienced in substituting the image of a virtual actor for that of the real thing.  The 2002 film S1mOne stars Al Pacino as a director who turns towards such digital technology to create the perfect virtual actress, a “simthespian” or “vactor.”  Niccolò, the character who is a movie director in Identificazione di una donna, might have cast such a digital image as a stand in for the Perfect Woman.  In such a world of digital cinema, Vitti and Delon might have been eliminated, their snatched bodies replaced by computer generated images.  I suspect, however, that in this brave new world of interactive DVD with directors offering products with multiple different endings that may be sampled by the consumer, Antonioni would have resisted such a technological advancement.  For Antonioni, in the year 2007 there would have still been only one possible conclusion to L'eclisse.

     Lurking behind the issue of whether Antonioni reified characters and/or actors is perhaps the larger question as to why Antonioni ever bothered to make movies in the first place.  In the most general of terms, the psychoanalytic explanation might be that the films express a subconscious wish of some sort seeking an outlet of expression.  Although Freud wrote a great deal about artists—most prominently two Italian men, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and Leonardo Da Vinci—Freud had relatively little to say about the ultimate origin of the artistic impulse.  For example, Freud did not dwell on whether an artist’s goal (or, for that matter, a dreamer’s dream) were concerned with a subconscious psychic attempt to master psychological conflict or repair past mental trauma.  Nicola Glover does remark, however, in the first chapter of her book, Psychoanalytic Aesthetics: The British School, that “all this mysterious ability [of the artist], according to Freud, has only one object, ‘to win honour, power and the love of women.’ ”  In this light it is interesting to note that Antonioni’s first wife, Letizia Balboni, once remarked:

We lived in silence, she said.  We reached the point where we communicated with each other only through the characters he created and about whom he wanted my advice.  He has only one way of expressing himself: His work.  What he does is have his actors live out emotional crises in his films, by proxy living out the crises in his own life.

Lyman, Rick.  “Michelangelo Antonioni, Director, Dies at 94.” New York Times.  July 31, 2007.  (The exact reference for Balboni’s quotation is not cited by Lyman.)  Article retrieved 30 October 2008; available on-line at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/movies/31cndantonio.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

     In the above same article of the New York Times, Antonioni is quoted as “admitting his films were in ‘a very general sense, autobiographical.’ ”

     The crude political analogy would be to take the example of, say, Bill Clinton.  The argument may be framed:  Clinton had, for whatever reason, a fundamental, subconscious imperative to be the biggest cock of the roost.  All of the ostensible reasons he presented for wanting to be President were peripheral to the primordial power of the subconscious dictate.  Who is the biggest rooster of them all but the man who sits in the ultimate roost, the Oval Office?  In the light of such reasoning Antonioni may have been less interested in exploring the artistic significance of reification than in winning honour, power, and the love of women.  This argument is not far from the “dime store Freud” that Orson Welles himself referred to when discussing how the loss of a little sled named “Rosebud” in childhood might explain the actions of such a child when in adulthood the boy achieves the outer trappings of a seemingly powerful man.  Such “powerful” men may occasionally regress as is so tragically depicted in the conclusion of L'avventura when Sandro is reduced to weeping, as helpless as a baby, on a bench in Taormina.  (Both the fictional Sandro and the real Clinton jeopardized their entire beings because of, respectively, the partial glimpse of a garter and a pair of thong panties.)  In the case of L'eclisse what is Piero really seeking?  Piero—like most of Antonioni’s characters—does not appear to be a psychologically aware and insightful man.  The answer as to what Piero—a character in a movie—really wants and why he wants it could presumably be found only in Piero’s buried subconscious, a place that no moviegoer ultimately has much if any access to especially when one considers the mind-numbing question as to whether a fictional character may even possess a sub-conscious.

     On the surface of things—laying aside for the moment the issue of the subconscious—why a film gets made seems more straightforward with Roberto Rossellini.  (Antonioni’s first involvement with a major film was as a co-screenwriter of Rossellini’s 1942 film, Un pilota ritorna.)  In Peter Brunette’s comprehensive study of Rossellini, Brunette recounts the interesting, somewhat comical genesis of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s world shattering relationship [Chapter 12].  Rossellini had been invited to stay at the Bergman-Lindstrom home in California in 1949 where Rossellini pitched the film that would eventually become Stromboli (a highly dangerous invitation that would soon result in the transformation of Ingrid Bergman’s then husband, Dr. Petter Lindström, from host into cuckold).  Brunette quotes Sergio Amidei, Rossellini’s close collaborator on both Roma città aperta and Paisà:

[Rossellini] was in a strange state of tension because what he was really interested in was capturing Ingrid not so much to make a film, and certainly not to make money, but for love, because he was completely in love. . . . There was also a little vanity involved.

     Rossellini, unlike Antonioni, seems to have cut out the middleman, the subconscious, and headed straight to the heart of the matter:  honour, power, and the love of a woman.


Note 12

     Why did Antonioni not allude more directly to puppets in L'eclisse?  It is idle speculation to raise such questions.  One might just as well vainly ask why Antonioni did not place a lonely cactus in the background outside of Riccardo’s bathroom window as he shaves.  Such a cactus, juxtaposed with a man shaving, would have served as a visual pun, the spines on the surface of each suggesting the equivalence of man and cactus.  Gavriel Moses in his treatment of the opening sequence of L'eclisse does refer to such a “lonely cactus” outside of the bathroom in Antonioni’s film.  I cannot, however, clearly discern this cactus outside the bathroom window, nor is there any reference to it in either the Italian or English screenplays.  Has the cactus, like so many of the creatures of L'eclisse, disappeared?  I think not.  There is a cactus outside of Riccardo’s house, but it is not outside his bathroom window, but immediately outside the front door of the dwelling.  The camera briefly holds on this tall leafless “tree” next to Vittoria as she exits from Riccardo’s home after a hellish night.  The subsequent shot is that of Riccardo plastered up against a large abstract painting, a tall vertical black slash of paint rising up, leafless next to him, another cactus if you will.  Likewise, if I cannot see the cactus said to be visible through the bathroom window, then I also cannot hear the calliope music that Robert Lyons writes may be heard in the background during the scene by the Eur lake as the Alfa is being hoisted out of the water (p. 106 of Lyon’s Michelangelo Antonioni’s neorealism).  Such music would have been appropriate, hearkening back to a prior Antonioni film, Il grido, in which calliope music is played, as well as underlining the circus of death camped out by the Eur lake.  René Prédal on p. 128 of his book on Antonioni, Antonioni ou la vigilance du désire, refers to: (1) the piece of wood and box of matches that Vittoria throws into the water barrel; (Vittoria throws the wood, Piero the matches).  (2) a water tap; (there may be a hose, but no tap or faucet is clearly visible).  (3) a water barrel that is “overflowing”; (the barrel is somehow punctured, but not overflowing).  (4) the piece of wood and matches as being carried by the water to the gutter; (neither the wood nor matches are ever shown to be swept by the water from barrel to gutter).  Carey Harrison shares with Prédal this misperception when he writes, “The twig [sic] that Vittoria dropped so poignantly into the water-butt to punctuate a meeting, slips into the gutter as the water flows out of a hole in the butt.”  (Harrison’s article from Sight and Sound, 37; Spring 1967, pp. 60-62 reprinted in Huss’s Focus on Blow-Up, p. 42).  Miguel Ángel Barroso, the author of the most comprehensive present study of Antonioni in Spanish, also commits a litany of apparent factual errors in his chapter on L’eclisse.  For example, Barroso apparently believes that the barrel is not leaking, but that the water is spurting from a hose; he believes that the apartment where Vittoria and Piero make love is Piero’s exclusive apartment as opposed to the apartment of Piero’s parents; he believes that Marta is of English as opposed to Italian heritage; he refers to the Verona AeroClub as a “military airport”; he refers to the book of matches floating in the barrel as “a small piece of paper,” and commits other strictly factual as opposed to interpretive errors.  (It is possible that some such errors may reflect errors in dubbing, sub-title accuracy, editing, or other factors that pertain to a particular “version” of L’eclisse shown in a particular country.)  It may be argued that such factual errors are more grave than interpretive ones.  Or one may question whether “facts” are themselves open to “interpretation.”

     Antonioni is an extremely meticulous director.  Seemingly small errors in observation may lead to large interpretive errors.  I have already discussed how many different viewers of L'eclisse have heard one single sentence in so many different ways (“Ci sono giorni in cui avere in mano una stoffa . . . “ / “There are days when a piece of cloth . . . “ [vide supra, note 8]). Brunette, in his introductory chapter on Antonioni, raises the general problem in criticism of observer bias, and how we see (and hear) what we wish to see and hear. (The issue of “parallax” recurs throughout Ulysses. Additionally, my own experience is that literature professors often have not had a rich background in physics, but that they are widely aware of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and its application to the interpretation of literature, as well as cinema.) What things have I seen or heard in L'eclisse that do not exist?  May one look or listen too carefully to an Antonioni film, an error that I may be accused of having made?  (Specifically, among three or more potential crimes a viewer or critic might commit are:  (1) Seeing or hearing something in the film that is not there  (2) Not seeing or hearing something that is there  (3) Misinterpreting the significance of an image or sound that is there.)  Antonioni himself populates his films with characters prone to hallucinations or illusions.  In L’avventura, Anna sees a shark that is not there.  Anna’s companions either see or hear boats near Lisca Bianca that may or may not exist.  In Il deserto rosso, both Giuliana, Linda, and we the audience hear a scream from outside the wharf shack, the existence of which is debated by others in the shack.  In Blow-Up the Photographer finally arrives at the point where he picks up and throws a tennis ball that in the ordinary sense of things does not exist.  Writing of Identificazione di una donna, Chatman discusses a characteristic Antonionian scene occurring in dense fog in which Niccolò, “flags down an expensive car, only to hear a wild account from its occupant, a perfectly respectable-looking man, about hearing shots, cries, church bells, an ambulance siren.”* Chatman observes that “It is of course, Antonioni’s way to leave the situation ambiguous . . . whether the man actually heard the noises or only imagined them.”  Apart from the issue of seeing or hearing things in L'eclisse that do not exist, there is the danger of missing those things that do exist, an issue which goes to the question of perception itself, and to perception’s ethical consequences, an important theme in Il deserto rosso.  In this latter film we look at a large anatomic model of an eye among the “toys” in the room of Giuliana’s son.  (Pointedly, most of the toys in this child’s room, including the robot already alluded to, are of a “scientific” nature).  In the waterfront shack scene of Il deserto rosso, Giuliana--tears in her eyes--asks Corrado:

Ma cosa vogliono che faccia coi miei occhi? . . . Cosa devo
guardare? (What do they want me to do with my eyes?
What should I look at?)

To which Corrado responds:

Tu dici: cosa devo guardare?  Io dico: come devo vivere?  È la stessa cosa.  (You ask, what should I look at?  I ask, how should one live?  It’s the same question.)

     What one chooses to see is how one lives.

 

Note 13

     On two occasions in L'eclisse Antonioni underlines Vittoria’s work as a translator. The first reference is in the opening scene with Riccardo when she refers to her work on translating an article written in German. The second reference occurs when Piero visits Vittoria’s apartment at night after the market crash and finds Vittoria at her typewriter, translating a work written in Spanish. Furthermore, we learn in the scene at Marta’s apartment that Vittoria also speaks at least some English (as do several Americans we hear speaking in the background at the Verona Airport). During Vittoria’s African dance she also exclaims in an apparent African language, “Ah ah Kaï Kaï!” (as indicated in the screenplay of L'eclisse transcribed in L’Avant-Scène Cinéma, February, 1993).  Although I do not know why Antonioni chose Vittoria’s profession to be that of a translator, it does seem to fit her character.  In turn, Piero’s profession is concordant with his speech, for Piero speaks only the loud, staccato language of the Borsa, screaming out the names of stocks and the number he wishes to buy.  Antonioni, himself, earned money while in hiding in Italy towards the end of World War II by translating Chateaubriand’s Atala, Morand’s Monsieur Zéro, and Gide’s La porte étroite (p. 6 of Francis Vanoye’s Profession : reporter).

    In general, Antonioni downplays the occupation of his female characters relative to his male protagonists.  In the case of L’eclisse, Piero’s job seems much more entangled with his very identity as opposed to Vittoria and her profession.  The filmmaker, Doris Dörrie, expresses this notion of “Men do, women are”--a very Joycean, “Molly Bloom” sentiment--in her 1985 film, Männer:  “Männer!  Ein Mann ist denn was er macht, und eine Frau was sie ist.”  /  “Men!  A man is what he does and a woman what she is.”

     Vittoria’s capacity at languages is not only in keeping with her character, but the character of all of Antonioni’s films.  Antonioni is an international filmmaker, whose films--even from his early “Italian period”--resonate with other languages and other lands.  French is spoken by minor characters in Cronaca di un amore, La notte, and Identificazione di una donna, particularly in the setting of parties and social events.  Antonioni’s second film, I vinti, was an anthology film divided into Italian, French, and English episodes.  Not long after the beginning of L’avventura, while waiting for Anna and Sandro (who are making love nearby in Sandro’s apartment), Claudia strolls aimlessly through a gallery filled with abstract art.  In the tiniest of jokes that seems quintessential Antonioni, he has goofy Americans discussing one painting, while on the opposite side of the canvas Antonioni has placed goofy Italians discussing a different painting, the two paintings, the two peoples, so to speak, back to back.  Each group discusses the respective paintings in a manner concordant with their being almost different species of animals, so different are their cultures, manner of speech, and language. A hybrid language of Italian and English is spoken by both the old man of Lisca Bianca in L’avventura, as well as by Marta in L'eclisse. Dogs speak, not only in L'eclisse, but as we shall later see, in Cronaca di un amore as well.  English, or its American dialect become the principal languages of Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point, and The Passenger.  In Antonioni’s 1972 documentary on the People’s Republic of China, Chung Kuo Cina, the protagonists speak predominantly Mandarin. The Passenger is a “road film” traveling through Chad, England, Germany, and Spain (and presumably, France as well).  Rifkin in Antonioni’s Visual Language (p. 186 note #27) reminds us that in The Passenger “The very first line of the film is in a foreign language (French) and is misspoken.  Locke asks the young African boy who appears in his Land Rover, ‘Vous parlons Français?’ confusing the conjugation of the first and second person plural forms of the subject pronouns of the present indicative in French.  Later, the use of other languages reinforces Locke’s insulation from others.”  Locke also incorrectly mixes Italian and Spanish--badly, at that--when speaking to the concierge of La Pedrera in Barcelona: “Usted ha vista una muchacha alta così?”  In another of Antonioni’s road films, L’avventura, the Italian of Tuscany is not the language of the film’s primary location, Sicily.  Writing of Antonioni’s 1965 brief cinematic “preface” to the film, I tre volti, starring the one-time queen of Iran, Soraya, Chatman describes a scene in which:

. . . Soroya speaks Persian to her companion, who negotiates in Italian with the technicians but answers the telephone in French, handing it to Soraya, who then begins an animated conversation with her mother in German. There is not even the stability of a single language in the exotic world of film production.

     Despite the polyglot nature of Antonioni’s films, few characters understand each other, a consequence of their being the children of Babel.  One of the most poignant and tragic moments of near total incomprehension occurs towards the finale of Il deserto rosso.  Giuliana, a woman who appears clinically psychotic, flees from Corrado’s bedroom and his arms after the saddest, least enthusiastic of ostensible “lovemaking” (reminiscent of the lovemaking of Vittoria and Piero).  She soon finds herself at the drydocks of Ravenna, adjacent to insert shots of dirty harbour water, (again) reminiscent of the water barrel of L’eclisse, in the midst of darkest night, among the ominous hulks of old and tired freighters in need of repair.  Sinister “electronic” sounding music is played on the sound track, eerily similar to the celebrated, pioneering, electronic tonalities of the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet by Louise and Bebe Barron.  This is forbidden planet, dead of night, one more dsytopian world in a dystopian, Antonionian solar system of which L’eclisse is but another lifeless planet circling in an elliptical orbit around the Sun.  (It may be impossible to determine whether such sounds are diegetic or not; the sounds may be arising in Giuliana’s mind and heard by ourselves.)  Giuliana inexplicably (a gesture of pure flight?) begins to walk up the gangplank of a ship where she encounters the foreboding figure of a sailor.  Giuliana has already been sexually assaulted once this evening.  In mono-syllabic Italian, she tries to communicate with the man who replies in Turkish. Giuliana somehow regains her capacity to put one Italian word after another into complete sentences and delivers a little soliloquy on her lost life.  The sailor responds in barely recognizable English, “I love you, I love you.”



Note 14

     When Vittoria arrives at the Borsa for the first time early in the film, she exits from a taxi that she has taken to the entrance of the stock market at the Piazza di Pietra.  While the taxi is briefly double parked and Vittoria is paying the driver, a white convertible pulls up behind the taxi and begins honking impatiently.  Vittoria turns toward the white car and raises her arms in a gesture of, “Enough already, basta, all right, I’m going!” (A gesture so stereotypically Italian in an American’s mind--a Roman burlesque--that it incited broad laughter at a viewing I attended of L'eclisse in the United States.  Alza il culo e muoviti!  Get your ass in gear!) Vittoria might have added to her sign language--not only to the driver of the white car, but to the person who so rudely bumps into her on the side walk outside of Piero’s office close to the end of the film--the remark that she tells Piero in the small bar outside the Borsa on the day of the crash:  “Non stai mai fermo.” (“You’re never at rest.”   Has Vittoria read or even translated Heraclitus, a central doctrine of whom was that All entities move and nothing remains still?)  From the very beginning of Vittoria and Piero’s first meeting at the Borsa, the clock has begun ticking and time is running out.  The universe is conspiring to remind Vittoria to hurry up and get-a-move-on, the end is near.  Time must have a stop.  The white convertible nudging Vittoria to move on may be seen as a phantom-like specter of death anticipating the demise of the Drunkard soon to occur in another white convertible sports car in the Eur lake.  (The model type of this white convertible outside the Borsa, a 1961 Innocenti 950 S, is not, however, the same as Piero’s white convertible, an Alfa Giulietta Spyder.  The power of all good doppelgängers lies not in their faithful recreation of the double, but in suggestion and similarity.)

    In at least eight of Antonioni’s major films there is either a near-fatality, fatality, or some other association between cars and menace or death (Cronaca di un amore, I vinti, Il grido, L’avventura, L’eclisse, Il deserto rosso, Zabriskie Point, and The Passenger).  As discussed in Catherine Russell’s study of the films of Mikio Naruse, car accidents also “play an important role in Naruse’s cinema.”  Russell writes in a section of her discussion of Naruse’s 1966 film, Hit and Run, entitled “Cars and Class” (p. 382), that “cars become the fetishized consumer object of choice .  .  . the automobile a demonic machine of modernity .  .  . [that along with trains] are also part of the culture of danger, fear, and victimization implicit in modern methods of transportation.”  The same could be written of the mortal role of the automobile and other means of transportation in Antonioni’s films.

     Many different models and varieties of automobiles populate Antonioni’s films.  In Il grido, Aldo’s 7-year-old daughter, Rosina, poses a somewhat digressive question that points to Antonioni’s abiding preoccupation with automobiles in his films.  After watching the motorboat races on the Po, Rosina and her father are walking on the embankment of the river.  Rosina sees a 1956 Fiat 1400 B sedan parked alongside the margin of the road on the embankment.  Rosina then asks her father, seemingly out of nowhere: “Papà, di che marca è questa macchina li?” (“Papà, what kind of a car is that?”) to which Aldo responds, “Cosa te ne frega a te della marca?” (“What do you care what kind of a car it is?”).  In 1983 Antonioni--still near the height of his powers prior to his stroke--actually directed a one minute commercial for the Renault 9.  In particular, Antonioni’s men prefer convertibles, generally white in colour (In The Great Gatsby it is a woman, Daisy, who is associated with white and drives a “little white roadster”; see Luis Girón Echevarría, “The Automobile as a Central Symbol in F. Scott Fitzgerald”).  Besides, the two white convertibles of L'eclisse, there is the convertible Rolls Royce Silver Cloud with the distinctive “Chinese-eyed” headlights driven by the Photographer of Blow-Up, a striking car that appears so prominently in the film that it achieves the status of a character.  (Martin Buckley in Cars in Films notes that the black Rolls seen in Blow-Up was originally white; I do not know if it was Antonioni who ordered the colour change.)  In The Passenger, Locke impulsively follows a white horse-drawn coach (a wedding carriage . . . or, a hearse?) to a wedding at a Munich church.* Later, it is a white convertible with a blood-red interior that carries Locke from Barcelona to Osuna en route to his rendezvous with death (almost running over several schoolchildren crossing the street in the city of Almería).  Appropriately, Locke’s car is an American muscle car, a Mercury Cyclone; Vanoye (p. 104) writes that during the 11-day period of filming the finale of The Passenger, an actual cyclone did strike the province of Almería, “entirely destroying several villages.” (A website, “Museum of Cinema," [http://www.museumofcinema.com/2012/04/08/michelangelo-antonioni-making-the-7-minute-long-shot-in-the-passenger-1975/ accessed 30 September 2012] makes the unreferenced assertion that on the twelfth day a “storm” destroyed the entire set in Vera, Almería, where shooting at the [fabricated] Hotel de la Gloria and the last scene of The Passenger took place.  Whether true or not, such an erasure of the Hotel de la Gloria and the snuffing out of the life of David Locke would be entirely in keeping with the religious allusions present throughout The Passenger culminating in a little apocalypse.  At the conclusion of the Coen brothers’ A Simple Man [2009]—another film laden with religious references—a tornado in the distance is bearing down upon the town and its forsaken hero, reminiscent of God declaring to Job from out of the whirlwind that He will not explain why these calamities have so afflicted Job.)  Sandro of L’avventura, Piero’s not so distant relative, drives an Alfa Romeo white convertible while in peninsular Italy at the beginning of the film, a model 2000 Spider Carrozzeria Touring.  Antonioni pointedly films Sandro speeding recklessly around a curve as he drives with Anna and Claudia away from his apartment on the Tevere, anticipating the death of the Drunkard in L'eclisse.  Later, in Sicily, Sandro has acquired a white Fiat 1400B cabriolet in which he takes Vittoria from Troina to Noto.  Interestingly, the original 1400B’s made between 1956-1958 had a two tone paint scheme applied; Sandro’s car--as it appears in L’avventura--is entirely white, raising the question as to whether Antonioni for his own purposes repainted the car.  (In one of the multiple versions shot of the Italian episode of I vinti, Claudio’s girlfriend, Marina, drives the dying young man to a physician in a black Fiat 1400 convertible.)  In the coda of L'eclisse a difficult-to-identify white car both sounding like and resembling Piero’s Alfa Giulietta hurtles dangerously past two pedestrians crossing an Eur street at sunset.  (The car is identified by the Internet Movie Cars Database <http://www.imcdb.org/> as an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint; retrieved 15 September 2007.)

     The honking of the white convertible outside of the Rome stock market also resonates with the buzzer soon to be heard in the Borsa announcing the death of the broker, as well as the eerie orchestra of telephones ringing in Piero’s office towards the conclusion of the film.  Significantly, an off-screen car honks at the precise moment when Vittoria and Piero have their aborted kiss between a pane of glass in the apartment of Piero’s parents.  (An inch is as good as a mile; the thickness of this pane of glass--a thin, transparent sliver of a barrier simultaneously connoting both proximity and infinite distance--might be measured not in millimeters, but light years.)  Not long thereafter, in Piero’s office, a buzzer rings--apparently the front door--interrupting the lover’s embrace while they playfully exult on the floor.  The bell has rung, time is up, you are no more.

     In the Lane screenplay (p. 46), the loud speaker announcement in the Borsa following the sound of the buzzer indicates that the dead broker had died in an automobile accident (“incidente automobilistico”).  In the actual film, the announcement states that the broker had died of a heart attack (“infarto”).  This is but one of several differences--both large and small--between any of the existing screenplays and the actual film.  Because I do not know the details regarding how these screenplays were actually written and their ultimate relationship to the film itself, I cannot account for the difference between “auto accident” and “heart attack.”  Referring specifically to the screenplay for L'eclisse, Brunette (p. 168, note # 17) admonishes that “ . . . it is difficult to know to what extent to defer to the screenplay for meanings that are perhaps not clearly perceptible in the film.”  Despite this admonition, I believe that if the principal screenwriters (Antonioni and the poet, Tonino Guerra) had decided that a stock broker must die, death-by-auto might have been a better choice.  Such a choice would have been in keeping with the constant threat in L'eclisse of dying from “unnatural” causes such as atomic bombs, and would have also been one more auger among several foreshadowing the death of the Drunkard.  I have already emphasized the distinctive role that cars play in many of Antonioni’s films (Ferraris and Maseratis in Cronaca di un amore, an Alfa convertible in L'eclisse, a Rolls Royce convertible in Blow-Up, a Land Rover in both Blow-Up and The Passenger, a Mercury Cyclone* convertible in The Passenger and so forth).  The prominence of these cars in the aforementioned films is such that they achieve the status of characters.  If the broker in L'eclisse had died in a motor car accident this would also have been concordant with the association of death with motor vehicles that occurs in several of Antonioni’s films.  In addition to car deaths that occur in L'eclisse and Cronaca di un amore, in Il deserto rosso Giuliana almost dies, not once, but twice in a car “accident.”  As indicated by Brunette (p. 171, note #24):  “According to various interviews that Antonioni has given, we are meant to understand Giuliana’s earlier auto ‘accident’ was, in fact, a suicide attempt. . . .”  Later in Il deserto rosso, following the “orgy” in the Ravenna harbour shack, Giuliana almost reprises the death of the Drunkard in L'eclisse by taking a long drive on a short pier in dense fog.  Not only do people die in cars in Antonioni films, but so do cars.  At both the beginning and the end of The Passenger, Locke’s cars stop dead in their tracks, respectively the Land Rover in the sand dunes of Chad and later the white American convertible with a hole in its pan near Sorbas in Spain.  In The Passenger the very title may refer in part to the human occupant of an auto.  In the Palau Güell in Barcelona, Locke asks the girl with no name:  “What is it?  Do you know?  I came in by accident,” apparently wanting to know the name of the building they find themselves in.  Her response:  “The man who built it was hit by a bus.”  Rifkin, in Antonioni’s Visual Language (p. 189, note #26) reminds us, however, that “Gaudì was, in fact, killed by a street car.”

     As opposed to Piero, Vittoria doesn’t seem particularly interested in cars.  She either walks, flies, takes taxis, or is a passenger in an auto driven by Piero or Riccardo.  In many of Antonioni’s films automobiles are strongly associated with men, power, velocity, escape, and, ultimately, follow a route whose destination is death.  There is no evidence within the confines of L'eclisse that Vittoria owns a car.  If I were a betting man, I’d wager that she doesn’t.

 

Note 15

     An analogous or mirror scene occurs later in the film when Vittoria meets Piero at the Eur lake as the Alfa is being raised bearing the cadaver of the Drunkard.  An evident ellipse has occurred in which Piero has apparently invited Vittoria to meet him at the lake.  Vittoria, upon meeting Piero--before being told that the Drunkard has died--tells Piero, “Hai fatto bene ad insistere per farmi venire.” (“I’m glad you told me to meet you here.”)  Piero already knows, however, that a dead man lies submerged in the lake before them.  An obvious question is why would Piero want Vittoria to witness the raising of his wrecked car, especially if it contains a dead body?  Piero barely knows Vittoria, and there are, after all, more romantic contexts for promoting a budding love affair.  (Likewise, it is unclear why these two young lovers would choose a dirty, ramshackle construction site for their rendezvous at the conclusion of L'eclisse. Rome does contain more romantic meeting places.)  Regardless of Piero’s motivation, it is death--as in the case of the minute of silence for the dead broker--that has once again promoted the coming together of Vittoria and Piero.  Antonioni’s abiding concern for the linkage between love and death is reflected by the title of an article he wrote in 1939 in the Corriere Padano at which time he was writing film criticism: “ ‘Los novios de la muerte’ [poesia di un documentario].” Antonioni is far from original in his preoccupation with the linkage between love, sex and death.  An old and common conceit equates orgasm with “la petite mort.” More ancient yet is the sentiment expressed in the Song of Songs,

For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave . . .

     Antonioni denies such a sentiment and opposes the analogous secular expression by Dylan Thomas (“. . . Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion”).  Contrary to Solomon and Dylan Thomas, all of L'eclisse intones that both lovers and love shall be lost .  .  . and that death will enjoy dominion.

     Antonioni does not easily abandon his preoccupations.  40 years after the article in the Corriere Padano, the fundamental relationship between the queen and her assassin in Il mistero di Oberwald is one of love and death. In I vinti, Aubrey Hallan states that he was reading Shelley’s “Ode alla morte/Ode to Death” when he discovered the body of the dead prostitute in the Saffron park.  Hallan dramatically intones, “O Morte, dove è il tuo fine? / O Death, where is thy end?” (Shelley did not write an “Ode to Death,” nor does the line, “Death, where is thy end?” appear in the Shelley concordance. In the copy of I vinti that I am referring to, the dialogue is dubbed in Italian with English sub-titles.  Although faulty dubbing or mistranslated sub-titles might account for this disparity, it is intriguing to consider the possibility that Antonioni deliberately had Hallan misquote Shelley in order to subtly indicate that Hallan is either confused or a liar, and that Hallan’s later flashback is unreliable.  Curiously, we do learn from Hallan’s barrister in the trial scene towards the conclusion of the short film that Hallan is a man, “Who . . . carries in his pocket always a volume of Shelley’s poems.”  There is, however, a version of the English segment of I vinti which is not dubbed, the dialogue presented in the original English, uttered by the English actors.  In this un-dubbed version, Hallan states that he had been reading Pope’s “Ode to Death” when he discovered the prostitute’s body.  Pope did not write a poem entitled “Ode to Death.”  Hallan, unlike the dubbed Italian version, recites aloud, “O Death, where is thy sting?”  Alexander Pope did conclude his poem, “The Dying Christian to His Soul,” with such a question, which is a quotation from a more original source, 1 Corinthians XV. 55.

     In Roman Holiday, when the Gregory Peck character first meets the character played by Audrey Hepburn, she utters in a drug-induced slur:

If I were dead and buried
And I heard your voice,
Beneath the sod my heart of dust
Would still rejoice.

     Shortly thereafter, in the Peck character’s Roman apartment at 51 Via Margutta (Fellini’s residence not far away, just across the street at 110 Via Margutta), the Hepburn character intones:

Arethusa arose from her couch of snows in the Acroceraunian Mountains.

     The Hepburn and Peck characters then argue as to whether the latter lines are Shelley or Keats.  (They are apparently from a play by Mary Shelley, Proserpine. See Internet citation, retrieved 1 April 2007 from:

<http://classicalpoetryforums.com/showthread.php?s=c3e59f3cb74b2642056186ba23531308&t=232>)

     It is curious that not long after, the two characters will be standing on the Spanish Steps several meters away from the room in which Percy Bysshe Shelley actually died.

     I have been unable to find the source for the first quotation above (“If I were dead and buried . . .”).  One Internet site offers the theory that the lines are original to the film (See Internet citation, retrieved 1 April 2007 from:

<http://www.emule.com/2poetry/phorum/read.php?4,862>

     As is the case with I vinti, in Roman Holiday the issues of poetry, and Shelley in particular, are quite muddled.  Both films were released at almost the exact same time (September, 1953 in the United States); I wonder whether one film is winking at the other.

     It is as though we continue for all time eternal to suffer for our pride, the curse of Babel.  Regardless, all of Antonioni’s heroes--particularly his men--are composed, as Auden has written, of Eros . . . and of dust.


Note 16

     The ground against which Antonioni paints his figures is important. Antonioni must be particularly fond of using a church dome as backdrop, for he has repeatedly drawn his characters against such a dome both in L'eclisse, the opening scene of L’avventura, as well as in his early documentary, Netezza urbana. In Identificazione di una donna, Antonioni repeats a trick he uses in L’eclisse: he begins a scene with a close up of a painting which we momentarily confuse with the “real thing.” The painting in question is that of a Roman landscape with the Basilica di San Pietro seen from the direction of Castel Sant’ Angelo. In L'eclisse the dome is apparent outside a window of the apartment of Vittoria’s mother, as well as in the background of the shot of Vittoria seen from a perspective outside a window of the apartment of Piero’s parents as Vittoria looks down upon the Piazza Campitelli below.

     A counterpart to the extraordinarily composed mise en scène of the raising of the Alfa occurs at the conclusion of L'eclisse. A modern and secular counterpart to the white travertine dome of the Church of Santi Pietro e Paolo (which dominates from a hilltop the Eur) is the dome of the Eur water tower which also provides background for several scenes in L'eclisse. The very first shot of the film’s coda (a kind of master-cover-establishing shot) is that of the nursemaid and pram as they perform their ritual walk in the Eur. Antonioni’s camera pans slowly to screen left revealing a brooding and majestic tableau: the atomic bomb, mushroom cloud head of the Eur water tower, which we were able to see in the beginning of the film from the vantage point of Riccardo’s apartment, now rising in screen right in the background with the foreground consumed by the arc of the water spray from the sprinkler irrigating the left portion of the screen. Wedged between these two images in both the X, Y, and Z axes of space is the half-finished building, at whose base at the intersection of all roads leading to point zero of Rome is the fateful water can, at which site Vittoria and Piero will meet no more.

     A most stunning yet subtle Antonionian “background” occurs in the scene in L'eclisse in which Piero first seduces Vittoria in his parent’s apartment. Vittoria stands between the twin portraits of Piero’s parents against a wall whose wallpaper is that of a recurrent pattern of flower bouquets. Piero then embraces Vittoria and pulls her down upon a bed whose bedspread is patterned. A dense arborization of allusion is made throughout L'eclisse between Vittoria and trees. The pattern of the bedspread is that of leaves.

     In an Antonioni film, what is conventionally referred to as “background” often achieves more significance than the ostensible “foreground.” (Likewise, the numbered endnotes of this book may resemble the digressive ruminations that occur in all of the films of Antonioni, side commentary that may be even more important than the central text itself.) As already observed, it is frequently the offhand remark, the inconspicuous gesture, the throwaway image to which meaning adheres. A particularly audacious and early example of this phenomenon occurs at the very end of Le amiche. The film’s heroine, Clelia, has decided to return from Turin to Rome, and agrees to meet one last time with her would-be lover, Carlo, at the train station. Although Carlo does go to the station, he deliberately chooses not to meet Clelia (a unilateral versus double stand-up [vide infra Note 23]). At the station for one brief, entirely digressive moment, a stranger approaches Clelia and tries to pick her up. This little moment occurring in a scene depicting an “appuntamento mancato,” (“failed rendezvous,” “missed appointment”) anticipates a larger failure of two lovers failing to meet at the conclusion of L'eclisse. The attempted pick-up also looks forward to L’avventura, summarizing the entire film.*

 

Note 17

     This scene involving Vittoria and the bursting of the balloon raises questions regarding Vittoria’s psychology.  Although Vittoria has been described by Antonioni himself as “una ragazza calma ed equilibrata che pensa a quello che fa.  Non c’è in lei alcun sintomo di nevrosi.” (“[Vittoria] is a calm and stable woman who considers her every action.  She bears no symptoms of neurosis.”), there is, nevertheless, evidence within L'eclisse that suggests otherwise. (Interestingly, the actress Monica Vitti also indicated--in a brief essay that she wrote which is contained in Lane’s L'eclisse--that Vitti considered Vittoria to be “assolutamente normale.”)  In a general sense, Vittoria does not fit an easily recognizable “type,” as does Piero.  (From the first appearance of Piero in L'eclisse we are able to pigeonhole him as a man primarily interested in chasing skirts and making money, essentially a two-dimensional Narcissus.)  It is less easy to find a mythological or simple psychological label for Vittoria.  This very difficulty in defining who she is might itself be suggestive of certain kinds of clinical pathology, the type of difficulty sometimes encountered not in defining neurotics, but psychotics.  At times, such as when Vittoria transforms herself into an African woman, it might be kind to describe her as merely bizarre, as compared to overtly mad.  Less flagrant, less worrisome signs of psychological distress might be the ease and rapidity with which she overcomes her initial shock at the death of the Drunkard (as it also does not seem to take her long to get over her separation from Riccardo).  Or instead of raising the issue of significant psychopathology, Vittoria’s involvement with both Riccardo and Piero may instead simply raise questions regarding her judgment and taste in men.*  Dwight MacDonald has written in a piece quite critical of L'eclisse that “ . . . she [Vittoria] takes up with Delon for no clear reason and at the end seems to be about to leave him too, also for no clear reason.”  Perhaps, in this regard it may be appropriate to remember the observation made by the psychoanalyst, Dr. Brulov, in Hitchcock’s Spellbound:  “We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of the intellect.”  As proof of Brulov’s assertion is the fact that he is speaking to the female psychoanalyst played by Ingrid Bergman, Constance, who is in love with and has run off with her “patient,” a man played by Gregory Peck who has an overt dissociative disorder of psychotic proportion and who—for added measure—may also be a murderer.  One response that some women might make would be:  “Who wouldn’t want to run off with a man who looks like Alain Delon or Gregory Peck!”  The Bergman character, in fact, expounds at some length in the film regarding the delusional nature of love:

I think the greatest harm done the human race has been done by the poets.  They keep filling people’s heads with delusions about love... writing about it as if it were a symphony orchestra or a flight of angels.  People fall in love, as they put it, because they respond to a certain hair coloring or vocal tones or mannerisms that remind them of their parents.  The point is that people read about love as one thing and experience it as another.  Well, they expect kisses to be like lyrical poems and embraces to be like Shakespearean dramas.

     The irony here is that Constance does not realize that she may be wrong, or that—even if she is correct—that she is not exempt from laws that apply to herself as well.  Constance may be both the object and victim of her own observations.  Furthermore, Constance is herself a citizen of the world of poetry, and not of the real world.  Spellbound—itself a fiction—does not resolutely pretend to resolve the question of why we love whom we love.  The ultimate value of the film may be its refusal or inability to do so.

     With regard to the balloon, it does seem out of character for Vittoria to steal it, and to then summon forth its destruction.  Does this fickleness, thievery, and violence result from the corrupting influence of Piero, or does Vittoria--like all of the inhabitants of L'eclisse--have a hidden urge to lift up a spear and strike out at others? (A simple explanation may be that, although it seems more in character for Piero to have called for the execution of the balloon, Piero doesn’t know Marta.  If Antonioni had wanted the balloon to be shot, then it was necessary for Vittoria--who knows Marta--to call for its destruction.) One may go around in circles with many of these questions as to who Vittoria is.  As I have already briefly discussed, it may be best to approach Vittoria not from the standpoint of clinical psychology, but instead from a more lyrical point of view.  René Prédal writes, “[L’Éclipse] n’est ni rationnel ni symbolique. La psychologie et la logique ne sauraient tout y expliquer : les comportements humains--en particulier les rencontres qui font et défont les couples--gardent une large part d’opacité.” / “[L'eclisse] is neither exclusively rational nor symbolic, nor can either psychology or logic explain all of its aspects.  In this film human behavior--particularly that concerning love--remains in large part mysterious.”  Likewise, Brunette has written (p. 10), “Psychological realism (‘What would a character with such and such a personality say or do in a situation like this?’) is rarely Antonioni’s goal.”  Ultimately, the issue is not whether Antonioni portrays characters harboring psychopathology, but whether the portrayals are psychologically accurate.  There is no artistic or other fault that Antonioni bears if Vittoria is crazy.  There is, indeed, no ultimate contradiction between lyrical and psychological truth.  My own view is that Antonioni is a truthful man, lyrically . . . and psychologically.

     John Francis Lane (“Antonioni Diary: A Day-to-Day Record of Work on The Eclipse.”) relates an interesting anecdote that may bear further on the shooting of the balloon, one that may diminish the need to interpret the act from a purely psychological perspective.  Lane writes that during the filming of the scene in Vittoria’s childhood apartment earlier in L'eclisse, that between takes Alain Delon had noticed two “teenage toughs down on the building lot below throwing stones at each other’s feet.  Within a minute [Delon] has shot down the stairs and is out there playing with [the two teenage toughs], though he’s wearing his suit for the scene.  We watch anxiously as they throw rocks at each other.  Delon sees he is being photographed [by Contino, Antonioni’s still cameraman] and aims a stone at us.  To everyone’s astonishment, the stone whizzes right into the window [a good aim, admittedly as we are on the third floor], hitting a glass pane over the doorway.  Fortunately the glass doesn’t break, or someone might have been hurt.  Alain thinks it’s a great joke and is very proud of his aim.” (Or as Vittoria exclaims to Marta in L'eclisse, “Bel colpo!” [Good shot!].) One wonders whether this real life event influenced Antonioni’s elaboration of the entire balloon sequence in L'eclisse, art imitating life.

     Chatman quotes Antonioni himself as saying, “I am violent by nature.  A doctor told me so when I was a boy.  And I must give vent to this violence one way or another.”  In Zabriskie Point, Daria--who is to some degree the stereotype of a hippie pacifist of Berkeley in the late 1960’s--harbors secret fantasies of apocalyptic destruction.  Unlike Vittoria and Marta, who simply wish to blow up a balloon, Daria wishes to blow up a world.  Antonioni is apparently fond of a particular observation by Lucretius:

Nothing appears as it should in a world where nothing is certain.  The only thing certain is the existence of a secret violence that makes everything uncertain.

     Thus, one might finally remark that Antonioni does not regard Vittoria from a strictly psychological or even a lyrical standpoint, but one that might best be described at times as philosophical.  Prédal goes one step further, and in keeping with the astronomical resonance suggested by the title of the film, suggests an ultimate “cosmological” dimension to L'eclisse.



Note 18

     A linkage of sex and money occurs in many of Antonioni’s films, beginning with his first film, Cronaca di un amore. (In a scene at a charity auction with models wearing designer gowns, one man asks not how much is the gown, but how much is the model.)  A particularly blatant example occurs in La notte when the industrialist’s wife, Signora Gherardini, lifts up her skirt in the middle of her extravagant party à la Gatsby to show off her new garter containing a pouch for money.  Observing Signora Gherardini’s exposed thigh, a male guest remarks, “Guarda dove arriva l’area del dollaro!” (“Look how far a dollar can reach!”)  Before becoming a filmmaker, Antonioni received a degree in economics and business from the University of Bologna in 1935 and worked briefly as a bank teller in Ferrara (See Cardullo, p. xxiii).  Not surprisingly, Biarese and Tassone write that Antonioni’s decision not to pursue a major in the humanities was related to his pursuit of a woman enrolled in the “technical” (as opposed to “fine arts”) institute at the time (Biarese and Tassone, p. 28).  Antonioni’s subsequent cinematic interest in the relationship between money and sex reflected less the concern of an economist than that of a poet (as Freud appeared less a neurologist, and more a poet when in The Interpretation of Dreams he interpreted the appearance of gold in a dream as a symbol representing excrement).  Note also that reification, alienation, and derealization may also be related to a pathological concern for money, a view that may relate to the tenets of Marx.  Alberto Moravia, an Italian contemporary of Antonioni’s, someone who has written of and interviewed Antonioni, and whom Antonioni has without doubt read, speaks to this point. In Moravia’s, La noia--a celebrated novel published in 1960 shortly before L'eclisse was shot--there is a profound topical concern regarding reification, money, and the intertwined relationship between the two.  In an introduction to the novel, Michel David writes, “La derealizzazione di Dino, e simbolicamente della società tutta, è frutto della reificazaione e alienazione dell’uomo nel denaro.” (“The derealization of Dino [hero of the novel]--symbolic of society as a whole--is the result of the reification and alienation that money induces.”)

     Note also that both Piero and Riccardo are linked with “economics.”  Although Riccardo is described as a “leftist intellectual” by some critics, his precise profession is never explicitly stated. (This is also the case with Vittoria; although she is employed in some capacity as a “translator,” it is unclear if this is her full time profession.  It would be unusual for the average translator of legal documents, academic papers, and the like to be able to afford the elegant Eur apartment that Vittoria resides in.  It is, however, typical of Antonioni that we know little discrete biographical information regarding many of his characters.)  There is, however, a book entitled, Sviluppo dell’economia Italiana (Development of the Italian Economy) that lies on the table near Riccardo’s elbow in the opening shot of the film. (Tailleur and Thirard also refer to leftest journals that are visible on a table in Riccardo’s apartment, Il Contemporaneo and Corrispondenza Socialista, journals that I cannot clearly discern).  Thus, while both of Vittoria’s lovers are linked in some manner with money, Vittoria remains concerned with other things.  Oil and water.

     If one looks carefully with a magnifying glass at the book next to Sviluppo dell’economia Italiana, one can discern G. Lukács’s La distruzione della ragione (The Destruction of Reason).  In Piero’s bedroom, however, we see a book identified by Mancini and Perrella as a detective story published by Mondadori, the title of which contains the words, “Scotland Yard.”  Although both Riccardo and Piero are concerned with “economics,” they approach the subject from different perspectives; in one case academic, in the other, base.  Their taste in books further highlights the differences between the two men.  Vittoria will have neither one, not for love nor money, come rain or shine.

     Sexually, the distinction between the two men seems marked.  Riccardo appears as though he has been neutered by a veterinarian, while Piero seems like the male equivalent of a dog in heat.  Piero’s sports car is like a phallic chariot compared to the mere motorized box on wheels that serves as a functional means of transportation that Riccardo drives.  Riccardo has an evident, conscious interest in economic and political theory, as opposed the Piero’s largely subconscious economic and political doctrines--doctrines, which whether conscious or not--are nevertheless determined by inchoate drives that have nothing to do with economics or politics.  As already noted, no matter how carefully Antonioni has defined the differences between these two men--and how different Vittoria is from each of them--the outcome remains the same.  In such a world, can any man and woman keep a rendezvous in the Eur at 20.00?

     Richard Peña, in his audio commentary to L’eclisse of the Criterion DVD, states that  “He (Piero) has a strong interest in call girls.”  Peña, in fact, identifies the Bestiola as a call girl.  I do not know the evidence upon which Peña’s observations are based, nor do I know of any convincing evidence that the Bestiola is a call girl.  Other critics have also seen call girls in L'eclisse where there may be none; the middle-aged brunette in a suit with scarf, a large purse held in her right hand, seen idling impatiently in the street near the corner of an intersection in the coda of L'eclisse has been accused by some of being a streetwalker.  (Vide supra, Endnote #12, for a general discussion of misperception in L’eclisse and other films by Antonioni, by both the characters within Antonioni’s films and the viewers without.)  Whether Piero frequents prostitutes or not, a fundamental problem remains that no matter how much money he wins in the stock market, there is no commercial bank nor currency exchange where Piero may convert lira into love at any conversion rate.  It is of interest to note that both of the Roman, daily newspapers that Piero reads while lying in bed in his apartment at night after his first promenade in the Eur with Vittoria bear prominent front page headlines which refer to the death of a woman in the park of the Appia Antica at Acqua Santa.  The headline of  “Il Giornale d'Italia” that is most prominently seen is “una donna assassinata nei pressi dell'Appia . . .” (“woman killed in the neighborhood of the Appia . . . ”).  Likewise, the headline of  “Paese Sera” that is most prominent is “mondana uccisa all'Acqua Santa” (“prostitute killed at Acqua Santa”).  Both of these newspapers and their front pages are held by Piero in such a way that we the audience are the readers who are privleged to be able to see the headlines; this staging of the newspapers as props is such that Antonioni appears to intend that it should be we the spectators of L'eclisse who should be the true readers of the two papers, as opposed to Piero.  In the case of both newspapers, Piero is curiously reading the back page of each of the papers.  Likewise, one may question why Piero is reading two Roman daily newspapers.  (Newspaper headlines are important in L’eclisse:  consider the banner headlines regarding nuclear conflict that we are so expressly invited by Antonioni to read in insert shots—images that by their very nature are “intentional”—in the coda of the film.  Furthermore, J. W. Kearns illustrates the potential importance of newspapers that seemingly lie so inconspicuosly in the backseat of the Photographer’s Rolls in Blow-Up.)  Is Antonioni inviting us to witness the behavior exhibited by certain criminals who—in a manner analogous to that of Aubrey Hallan in I Vinti—enjoy “seeing” their crimes in print?  After glancing at the back cover of both  “Il Giornale d’Italia” and  “Paese Sera” (two newspapers that—like most things in Antonioni’s films—have “folded” and no longer exist), Piero then puts several drops of an apparent liquid medication into an empty glass that sits on the night table next to a small bottle of mineral water that is named—after all places—Acqua Santa.  On his nightstand is a small, “pulp fiction” detective magazine, Lo Scotland Yard, near which is a small book entitled, Eros.

     Movies are difficult to make and even in bad movies scenes are shot for a reason.  I think it is fair at a minimum to ask why Antonioni shot a 52 second scene in Piero’s apartment carefully choreographed with all of the above particulars—the two newspapers bearing articles concerning the death of a prostitute that Antonioni priviledges us to see, the bottle of water named after the Roman park where the prostitute has just been murdered, the pulp detective magazine named after London’s metropolitan police department reknowned the world over for solving lurid crimes, a book whose title bears the name of the Greek god of love—assaulting us, staring us in the face.  It is insufficient to suggest that Antonioni shot the scene because he wanted to show us Piero in his pyjamas (Piero/Delon, in his nightgown, reduced in a burlesque to a piece of cheesecake analogous to the pinup girl we the audience are teased with in the first borsa scene).  One is reminded of the proverbial criminal—in this case, Antonioni, and not Piero—who litters the crime scene, L’eclisse, with clues, desiring to be caught.  Or as Bresson commented in “Notes Sur la Cinématographie”:  “Hide the ideas, but so that people find them.  The most important will be the most hidden.”  (Bresson’s remark is, in turn, vaguely reminiscent of Ozu’s comment:  “Hide what the spectator most wants to see.”)  I do not know of anyone who has written that Piero may be a murderer (Likewise—as I will discuss in the following Endnote #19—there are very few critics who have considered the critical possibility that the Girl of The Passenger may be a spy, a single or even multiple foreign agent).  And yet, the evidence for these possibilities, possibilities that at first blush tax credulity, is substantial.  The evidence is in front of that favorite organ of Antonioni—our eyes—hiding in plain sight.

“But is not every square inch of our cities the scene of a crime?  Every passer-by a culprit?  Is it not the task of the photographer . . . to reveal guilt and to point out the guilty in his pictures?  ‘The illiteracy of the future,” someone has said, ‘will be ignorance not of reading or writing, but of photography.’ ”

Walter Benjamin
“A Small History of Photography” ( „Kleine Geschichte der Fotographie“), 1931

(Substitute “movie director” for “photographer,” and “cinema” for “photography.”)

     Apropos of L'eclisse Herbert Muschamp writes that “Frank Lloyd Wright once condemned cities as places for ‘mutual assignations and assassinations. ’ ” (Hearts of the city : the selected writings of Herbert Muschamp.  (P. 601.)  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.)

     Furthermore, the brief scene of Piero in his apartment is temporally flanked with brief scenes of Vittoria in her apartment, Vittoria making her presumptive, silent, abortive telephone call to Piero.  On the wall behind Vittoria is a simple, modern appearing sketch of a nude woman, an expression of possible anguish on the nude woman’s face, her head cast down(?)  In the scene at the apartment of Piero’s parents soon to follow, Vittoria will jokingly accuse Piero—in a completely digressive manner, germane to nothing—of having been with a prostitute the night before.  Vittoria specifically employs the slang Italian term “una squillo” to refer to “prostitute,” a word related to the verb, “squillare” (“to ring,” as applies to a telephone) or the noun, “squillo” (“ring,” as in the sound a telephone may make), which carries us figuratively back to Piero’s telephone conversation as he is reading the newspapers regarding the prostitute killed in the park.  This is not the evidence that will convict or even idict a person in a court of law or grand jury in the real world.  But, the rules of evidence in literature and film are different from those of jurisprudence in life.  However, Occam’s razor or “The Law of Parsimony” hold sway in both courts of law and cinemas. The allusions—the trip wires, Bouncing Bettys, landmines that Antonioni has littered L’eclisse with in the world of cinema—light the fuse of a detonator wire of causality, the evidence begins to accumulate, associations tumble, dominoes topple, sparks fly:  a prostitute killed in a park in Rome; Aubrey Hallan, the Englishman of I vinti, who has killed a prostitute in a park in Saffron; another murder in Maryon Park (Thus, approximately 20% of all of Antonioni’s films concern a murder in a park).  The Girl of The Passenger who may be a Mata Hari-like foreign agent or even an assassin?  Like most of the people who populate Antonioni’s films, is Piero someone other than who he seems to be?  Is he more than just a skirt chaser?  Is he also a lady killer? (To my knowledge there is no counterpart for “lady killer” in standard, non-dialectical Italian.)  Does Piero also murder prostitutes?  Or, more bizarre yet, is it obscene to suggest that the reason we do not see Vittoria and Piero at the end of L'eclisse is because Piero has killed Vittoria at 8 pm at ground zero?  (Reminiscent of the words of Oscar Wilde sung by the character played by Jeanne Moreau in Fassbinder’s last film, Querelle - Ein Pakt mit dem Teufel [1982]:  “Each man kills the thing he loves.”)  Is this the story of the Wall Street investment banker by day, the serial killer by night?  Is the Borsa ultimately a laboratory rat cage in which Freud’s theories regarding the links beween Eros and aggression are being tested?  Piero may be that special human, non-rodent case where the Superego has failed to keep Piero’s monsters from the Id, his murderous demons of the Libido, behind bars.  Not American, but Roman Psycho?  Which is more perverse, the interpretation that the end of L'eclisse suggests that a nuclear bomb has exploded at 20.00 killing millions of people, or that one sick man, Piero, has murdered one woman, Vittoria, on a summer night in Rome?  Stalin—a being whose existence proves that monsters and nightmares really do exist—might say that the former possibility is but a statistic, the latter only a tragedy beyond reckoning.  If you think that such interpretations are difficult to conceive remember that “almost all of Antonioni’s films depict death in some guise, whether murder, execution, suicide, or death by disease or accident” (vide supra).  Serial killing is by its very nature, a mad act, difficult if not impossible for a normal human being to truly reckon.  Does such speculation deflate in a trivial manner the otherwise profound, metaphysical implications of the end of L’eclisse?  At the end of the day, is L'eclisse but a murder mystery?  Is Blow-Up not far away?


Note 19

     The real dilemma with The Passenger isn’t David Locke.  Although, we may wonder why he has switched identities, we the audience never lose track of who he is.  The problem is the Girl.  The Girl.  Who is she?  (Jack Turner [vide infra] quotes the well-known critic Stanley Kauffmann as being “so puzzled by the character [of the Girl] as to be nearly irate.”)  David Locke—for a man on the run whose life is at stake—seems largely disinterested in her identity.  Locke never asks the Girl what the Bogart character asks the Bergman character in Casablanca: “Who are you really and what were you before?”  Not that anyone ever gets a straight answer to that question; either the person who is asked the fundamental question may lack self-knowledge and genuinely not comprehend their own identity .  .  . or they may simply lie.  Such was the case in Vertigo when the James Stewart character pursues and pleads with the Kim Novak Doppelgänger character, “Judy Barton” (not “Madeleine”) while they are in Judy’s apartment: “I just want to know who you are!”  Easier asked than answered.  The Novak character does not reveal the truth and the Stewart character is then forever doomed to circle in a vortex of lies, failing in the Hindu sense to achieve the true knowledge that will allow one to break the cycle of reincarnation and achieve liberation (“moksha”).  “Authenticity of self” is not just an issue that millions of people grapple with on analyst’s couches, but is a constant theme in Antonioni’s films, and an issue that may have haunted Michelangelo Antonioni, the man.

Men should be that they seem;
Or those that be not, would they might seem none!

Othello. Act III, Scene 3

     In The Passenger it is both a man, David Locke, and perhaps a woman, the Girl, who are are not what they seem.  And in the end at the Hotel de la Gloria, it is the man who shall pay his due, cease to seem, and become none.

     There is an uncritical, passive, disengaged quality to Locke throughout The Passenger, so much so that he finally seems disinterested in continuing his impersonation of David Robertson towards the end of the film.  Locke does appear ambivalent when he balks at keeping the appointment with Daisy in Osuna—as if for only an instant a will to truly live reappears in his life—only to be fatally convinced by the Girl that he should keep the deadly rendezvous.  It is only when Locke and the Girl are lying in bed together after he has related to her the Parable of the Blind Man, that Locke finally asks her the critical question:  “What the fuck are you doing here with me?”  Unfortunately, the question appears rhetorical and is left unanswered by the Girl.  The Passenger is a bit like the confidence game, Three-card Monte (a synonym for which is, “Follow the lady,” often the dark and sinister Queen of Spades):  we are invited to regard Locke as the film’s main character when, in reality, the Girl should get top billing in the film.*  Or should the name of the actor who plays Daisy be placed above that of Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in the final credit “roll?”

     The reason it is important to at least raise the question as to whether the Girl is a spy is that the question dramatically opens up what may be the central and profound riddle of the entire film.  (Imagine how diminished Blade Runner would be without considering the possibility of who Rick Deckard, the character played by Harrison Ford, may really be.)  Antonioni is very direct in illustrating the double life of David Locke.  And all the while, we the audience--as well as Locke himself--remain oblivious to the potential double nature of the Girl.  Locke does reveal his true identity to the Girl who--unlike Iago--never utters, “I am not what I am.”

    The issue of who is a spy and who isn’t—a question related to the more fundamental theme of the nature of Identity itself—is a thematic staple of both high and low espionage fiction.  (A time-honoured rhetorical device and plot web in theatre—in comedies from Menander, Shakepeare, and Molière, to those of present day—is mistaken identity, spun for comic delight; in Sophocles or Antonioni such mistaken identity is more often associated with tragic sorrow.)  In the former category of “high espionage fiction” the theme may be found in both Graham Greene and John le Carré.  Both of these authors had actually been employed as agents, blurring the distinction between their reality and their fiction.  (Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet double agent, was Greene’s supervisor and friend at MI6 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Greene retrieved 7 September 2010.)  In the case of le Carré, even his pen name is not “real” but a pseudonym for his birth name of “David John Moore Cornwell.”  In le Carré’s novel, The Little Drummer Girl (adapted for film and directed by George Roy Hill [1984]), the central conceit is that an intelligence service employs a professional actress to impersonate a spy.  (Caution: Plot Spoiler) The interface between the real and the imaginary (referred to in the film as the “Theatre of the Real”) becomes so blurred that the actress-spy must finally exclaim when asked under interrogation who she is:  “I am no one!”  In the case of one of the most regarded novels of the 20th century, “Under the Volcano,” the issue is equally convoluted in that both the main character of the book, Firmin, may be a secret agent as well as Firmin’s creator—the very author of “Under the Volcano,” Malcolm Lowry—who was suspected by Mexican authorities of being a foreign agent while Lowry was living in Cuernavaca.  (Eerily, Lowry later chose to reside, in of all places in this vale of tears we call the Earth, beneath another towering, active volcano in Taormina, the dead-end of L'avventura, Etna substituting for Popocatépetl of “Under the Volcano.”)  Although the film adaptation by Fred Zinnemann of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal [1973] ostensibly concerns a detailed depiction of an assassination attempt on a head of state, the very heart of the story concerns a deeply recessed back-story, a “little” side-issue:  Who really is the main character of the plot, the Jackal?  This question hangs dangling on the screen as the haunting “punchline” of the entire story.  The issue of what is real and what is not, who is who, and who isn’t, pervades the entire œuvre of Antonioni.  Nothing is as it seems.  People are seldom who they are.  Who could have foreseen that the young NCO in the Italian army with far-reaching fascist connections who had graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Bologna would someday be a Marxist, atheist, international, auteur filmmaker?  Personality is indestructible, but there exists a simultaneous, protean, contradictory quality to human beings in which instability and inauthenticity of character may also cohabit within the same individual.  In such a world, who can one trust, who can one believe in, who can one love?  How could Antonioni—or anyone for that matter—create art that did not reflect reciprocally two mirrors, splintered selves within one being, facing one another reflecting in a cascade to the final resolution of perception each other’s image?

     The question of whether the Girl is a spy is such a trap—down the rabbit hole we go—that to even pose the query lays further traps, not the least of which is:  “If she is a spy, then for whom is she working?”  The Chadians, British, Spanish, Germans, others?  Is the Girl working for the good Chadians, the bad Chadians, the good British, the bad British, and so forth?  Is she, herself, “good” or “bad?”  Is she working for more than one agency?  If so, is she a double or even triple agent, betraying one or more parties?  Is she omniscient, all-seeing, or is she as blind to the identity of David Locke-Robertson as we all are?  Is she—as Lawrence Russell asks in a nice turn of phrase—“an agent of Destiny (or) a casuality of coincidence?”  (See Internet article:  http://www.culturecourt.com/F/Antonioni/ThePassenger.htm  [accessed 11 May 2010]).  All these questions suggest that we may have been plucked up by Antonioni and plumped down into a labyrinth, the perfect Antonionian set piece of utter uncertainty, Osuna (which isn’t even Osuna but the town of Vera, Almería) in a proverbial La Mancha.  And after all these and so many other unarticulated questions, I remain haunted by Daisy and that other question as to whether the Girl is not a spy, but a divine emissary.

     Glen Norton goes so far as to suggest that it is possible that the Girl may have killed David Locke. Although the Maria Schneider character may be a “spook,” it appears unlikely that she is the actual assassin.  Regardless, it is the Girl, for whatever reason--secret agent or not--who insists that Locke/Robertson keep his final appointment in Osuna, an appointment that will seal his compact with death.  This fact alone makes her the literal femme fatale of fate.  Remarkably few critics who have written of The Passenger (e.g., Arrowsmith, Biarese, Brunette, Chapman, Rifkin, Rohdie, Tassone . . .) have in the past raised the critical issue as to whether the Girl is a secret agent (Vanoye is the exception, explicitly raising the issue in, Profession : reporter. Michelangelo Antonioni, [p. 40]).  As recent a 34-page chapter on The Passenger contained in a book published in 2011 on Antonioni’s colour films does not discuss the issue as to whether the Girl may be a foreign agent (Pomerance, Murray.)  Ned Rifkin who acknowledges that he has seen The Passenger twenty-five times, not only does not raise the issue of whether the Girl might be someone else other than who she seems, but refers to her as, “the positive reinforcer of life.” (p. 136). Rifkin may be correct, or dead wrong.

     Rifkin (p. 148) maintains that on close inspection viewing a 35 mm print with a Steenbeck one may see in the glass of the window frame of Locke’s room the reflection of the African agent who had previously arrived in the white Citroën in front of the Hotel de la Gloria.  I find this extremely difficult, if not impossible, to confirm on repeated viewing of the DVD version of the film on a conventional television set, even employing zoom and freeze-frame.  Has someone, again--either a character in an Antonioni film, or a viewer “outside” the film-- seen something that isn’t there?  Or do I resemble the blind man who David Locke talks of in the final moments of his life?  There are various postings on Internet sites suggesting that the Girl may, instead, be Mrs. Robertson, as suggested by her registering at the Hotel de la Gloria with a passport, presumably bearing a photograph under the name of “ Robertson.”  However, the theory that the Girl may be the widowed Mrs. Robertson seems to raise as many questions as it answers, one initial question being:  “So what?”  In art, creating fantastic coincidence for the mere sake of creating fantastic coincidence runs the risk of being meaningless. (Turner provides detailed--and to my mind, unconvincing--evidence to suggest that “the Girl is the estranged wife of David Robertson”; italics by Turner. [see Other Voices, v.1, n.3, January 1999; on-line article:  http://www.othervoices.org/1.3/jturner/passenger.html  / retrieved 15 December 2007].  Turner, stops short of considering that the Girl may be a foreign agent.  Instead, Turner does recognize that, indeed, the Girl’s identity is “far deeper and more complicated than at first meets the eye,” but Turner seems to veer off course to regard her not as a spy but as a manifestation of the maddening Lacanian “Real.”)  Such a passport could, however, be forged by an espionage agent (David Locke, a “civilian,” altered his passport with the greatest of ease), or perhaps the passport that the Girl presented at the hotel was his passport, the very passport that David Locke/Robertson had given the Girl previously in Barcelona (No matter how such a passport may—or may not—have been presented by the Girl on registration at the hotel, we the audience have arrived at a “fearful Antonionian symmetry”: the point where not only David Locke but the Girl as well may have both switched identities, the inevitable destination where the splintered dyads of most Antonioni films arrive at, one of mutual misrecognition.  Does anybody know who anybody is?).  Or perhaps we should raise the tortured issue as to whether the Girl is both an agent provocateur and Robertson’s wife, or whether the proprietor/manager of the Hotel de la Gloria is an agent or accomplice of a Chadian government cell, and so forth.  Others have suggested that the Girl is Daisy or Lucy or Melina or Vera, the “true” name of the Andalusian town where Locke dies.  And all of us, as Jean Renoir has taught us, have our reasons for believing all of the things that we believe.  (The aforementioned Pomerance does something particularly unusual on the basis of less evidence than Turner provides for an easier argument, i.e., Turner wants “only” to prove that the Girl is the estranged wife of David Robertson whereas Pomerance insists on making—without recourse to any semblance of thorough, reasoned analysis—a much more bald proclamation.  Pomerance imperially declaims in the conclusion of his chapter on The Passenger that the Girl is “of course” Daisy Robertson (p. 230), managing to wield a dull and rusted Occam’s razor and magically conflate in one fell swoop the Girl, Daisy, and the wife of David Robertson.  [The need to employ in a seemingly self-assured manner the conjunctive adverb, “of course,” is the rhetorical tip-off that an advocate may lack conviction in his/her own argument.]  As Pomerance writes, it is he who is privileged to tell us “everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask” [about The Passenger].  A bad barter in bad faith has been struck: the ambiguity of great art that characterizes the entire canon of Antonioni has in a stroke been discarded and exchanged for the tininess of certitude, worse yet a faux certitude that in an Antonionian universe ultimately is based upon and ends in .  .  . “nothing.”  Bad faith makes the most of every ambiguity.  Mason Cooley.)  Insofar as The Passenger has been referred to by some critics as Antonioni’s version of an “espionage thriller,” then it may be appropriate to indulge in endless conspiracy theories, the central point being that we cannot be certain who anyone is and why they act the way they do.  Not here, not now.  Perhaps, some other time, at dusk, someday in Osuna or Vera, en route to Marbella and the sea.  (Jack Nicholson, in his audio commentary accompanying the DVD release of The Passenger chuckles as he wonders aloud whether the girl with the blood-red shoes and red blouse who runs past the black man in front of the Hotel de la Gloria is a jogger from Burbank.)  These are arguments that concern trees.  The satellite view of the forest is that a recurrent concern in Antonioni’s movies is that identity is plural, fragile, and subject to change . . . . Antonioni litters his films with clues, generally leading nowhere, or if you wish, proffers clues for solutions that do not exist The name of the Girl, a tetragrammaton, both exists and does not exist.  We must not know, we cannot know, who She is.


Note 20

     The film Eros was eventually released in 2004, with Steven Soderbergh substituting for Almodóvar.  The reviews of Antonioni’s segment were reminiscent of the violent reviews precipitated by Zabriskie Point, the majority of critics--and apparently viewers as well (see comments on the Internet site, www.IMDb.com)--regarding the segment as execrable.  The episode directed by Antonioni is a litany of images and dialogue that has appeared, often multiple times, in all of Antonioni’s films. Nothing is new.  (In the Italian DVD edition, notes included in the “extra section” of the DVD state that Antonioni had always wanted to direct an “erotic film”; yet, Il filo pericoloso delle cose seems no more fundamentally erotic than Identificazione di una donna.)  The litany of Antonionian tropes is mind-numbing:  the nonsensical dialogue, unlike anything uttered in veritable human speech; the story concerning a wealthy couple in crisis; the unusual locations inundated with images of water everywhere (a song with the lyric, “flowing water,” echoing repeatedly); the obscure gesture (a wine glass mysteriously thrown on the floor of a restaurant for no apparent motive); infidelity; the ubiquitous convertible, unsure of its destination, this time a dark blue Maserati Spyder Cambiocorsa. (When the couple first leave their villa in the Cambiocorsa they reach a Y-shaped fork in a rural road. In typical Antonionian fashion, the car veers up the left side of the fork, only to stop after a short distance, go in reverse back to the initial fork-- changing course--and then inexplicably zip off to the right. The car is true to its name, as is the sign, “Go Away” in Blow-Up, a sign which follows its own instructions flying out of the Photographer’s Rolls Royce convertible as the car accelerates down a London street. In I vinti, a film at the inception of Antonioni’s career, Antonioni presents the character Hallan as indecisive as to whether he should walk up or down the ascending escalator in the London Tube.)

     Some specific gestures or dialogue appear lifted entirely out of Antonioni’s past movies.  A beautiful, gratuitous scene of wild horses that have once again “escaped,” reminiscent of the sudden appearance of wild horses running in the arid plain of Zabriskie Point, or the powerful, lyrical yet somehow superfluous image of the single horse galloping in the distance in Antonioni’s first major documentary, Gente del Po (1943), all reminiscent of the pack of dogs who have escaped in L'eclisse. (Who left the gate open?)* The two principal female characters of Filo pericoloso, Cloe and Linda, like Daria of Zabriskie Point, dance abstractly in the sand.  Cloe raises her arms as if to fly, emulating David Locke high above the Barcelona harbour in the sky-tram.  Both Cloe and Linda are “doubles” of one another, resembling each other to the degree that they are difficult to tell apart, as were David Locke and David Robertson.  At film’s end both Cloe and Linda appear to fuse, the shadow of Cloe superimposed upon the nude body of Linda.  There are actually four women who appear in the episode, all young and raven-haired, all nude at one point, all indistinguishable, interchangeable.  Two of the women sing a plaintive song without lyrics beneath a narrow waterfall surrounded by jagged rocks, the song reminiscent of that which we hear while Giuliana tells the “Sardinian” story to her son in Il deserto rosso, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis.

     And then, there is L'eclisse.  The title, “Il filo pericoloso delle cose” (“The Dangerous ‘Thread’ of Things”), might have been the title of L'eclisse.  Remember, that on Piero’s night-table lies a small book, entitled “Eros.”  The episode opens with diegetic music, the lyrics a repetitive chant of “change, change, change . . .” (the money-changer in the Piazza di Pietra, “Cambio, cambio, cambio . . .”).  But nothing has changed.  The first scene of Filo begins with the same argument that Vittoria and Riccardo have already had.  Linda not once, but twice, picks up a broken stick and plays with it, once using it to draw a design in the sand of the beach near Capalbio in Tuscany.  Cloe utters, “Ricordo nuvole, nuvole, nuvole e quella malinconia che arriva alla fine dell’estate.” (“I remember clouds, clouds, clouds and that melancholy that arrives at the end of the summer.”)  The principal male character, “Christopher,” is suddenly and mysteriously transported from Tuscany to Paris à la “Verushka Airlines” announcing that it is snowing early in the season in France:  “ È diventato tutto bianco qui.” (It’s become completely white here.”) as in the conclusion of L'eclisse (Or Joyce’s, “The Dead”:  “Snow is general in all of Ireland . . . .”)  We hear the “metasong” of the Brazilian “cantautore” (“singer-songwriter”), Caetano Veloso entitled, “Michelangelo Antonioni,” with the lyrics, “visione del vuoto, angolo vuoto, pagina senza parola . . . ” (“vision of emptiness, empty corner, page without word . . .”).   Il filo pericoloso delle cose is Gente del Po So the last shall be first, and the first last.  Character is indestructible.  I. B. Singer once wrote, “On their death bed all men dream of true love.”



Note 21

     Lane (“Antonioni Diary: A Day-to-Day Record of Work on The Eclipse”) writes that it was an American actor, Cyrus Elias, who played the Drunkard and who actually sped off in the Alfa nearly killing Alain Delon in reality.  In L'eclisse, as Delon/Piero leaps out of the car’s way, the near miss is, indeed, quite realistic.  The Drunkard/Elias is speeding, driving erratically, and actually takes his right arm from off the steering wheel and raises it high in the air at the moment he speeds by Piero/Delon.  Piero has both of his arms in the air, waving, trying futilely to stop the car.  For a brief moment the right hand of each man appears nearly superimposed on the flat 2-dimensional screen, as if exchanging, perhaps, a metaphysical high-five (See photo, Chapter 4).  When a second shot of the Alfa from a different angle was filmed as it hurtled off into the night, Antonioni became more cautious and substituted the film crew member in charge of cars, the vehicle wrangler, for the actor who played the Drunkard (who in turn had been the metaphysical stand in for Piero).  Considering that the first take involved a brush with death and proved to be a remarkable shot, I do not know why Antonioni felt it was necessary to do a second, potentially dangerous take that presumably resulted only in a snippet of film, dead, on the cutting-room floor.  It is also curious to note that Piero and Elias were not the only people to be substituted or “doubled” in this scene.  Lane writes that Monica Vitti on the evening of July 22, 1961 had left for Saint Vincent (Valle d'Aosta) to receive the Grolla d’Oro award for best Italian actress of the year for her performance in L'avventura.  That evening, instead of delaying filming, Antonioni employed his longtime assistant Franco Indovina to stand-in for Vitti in the balcony scene as Piero-Delon utters the first lines of the film that were apparently shot.  (According to Lane’s somewhat sparse notes, shooting seems to have begun on the evening of 19 July with a shot of Piero driving up the Viale dell’Umanesimo to his encounter with Vittoria on the sidewalk outside her apartment.)  It is more curious yet, that Indovina had also transformed himself into Lea Massari when he stood in for the actress during the shooting of L’avventura as “she” dove into the Aeolian Sea.  (Lane notes, “Nobody forgets the photo of Franco looking very becoming in a bikini which some Italian weekly published!)  Substitutes for substitutes, doubles for doubles.  Complicating matters further is the fact that Antonioni and Vitti had become lovers in “real life.”  The front cover of the English language edition of Leprohon’s Michelangelo Antonioni, is a black and white photo (taken by Robert Frank) of Antonioni and Vitti that appears quite posed.  A tree arises from behind Vitti’s head in the center of the photo appearing as a strong vertical.  A diagonal strut at the base of the tree is apparent on close inspection.  The very top of a second tree is visible just above Antonioni’s head, as if its branches were his hair.  The photo appears to have been taken in the vicinity of the Eur during the shooting of L'eclisse.  Indeed, these two trees appear to be the same two trees that appeared in the piano bar scene of L'eclisse, viewed from a slightly different angle.  (Carefully compare the photo on the cover of Leprohon’s book with the photo in Biarrese and Tassone, p. 21, taken from L'eclisse of the two trees seen from the perspective of Vittoria and Piero in the Eur piano bar.)  A very similar photo by Frank of Antonioni and Vitti taken from a slightly different angle shows Antonioni’s head wedged between two trees, the top of the “Fungo” visible at the extreme right edge of the shot.


Real Life

That Antonioni and Vitti appear to have posed before the two very same trees seen in L'eclisse makes impossible any easy resolution as to whether life is imitating art or vice versa.

     This confusion between life and art is also remarkably the case with the amalgam of Piero and the Drunkard and the life of Alain Delon himself.  The blurring of identities between the two characters in a movie as well as with Delon of “the real world” becomes even more complex when one also looks back at the biography of Alain Delon.  Bernard Violet in his biography of Delon (p.47) writes that when Delon was a soldier in the French armed forces in Indochina in 1955 that Delon stole an army jeep and then lost control of the vehicle on a curve ending up in an arroyo (not a lake).  Delon subsequently spent his 20th birthday in a jail cell in Saigon for the offense.  The chain of events becomes ever more peculiar when one flashforwards to the biography of Alain Delon’s son, Anthony Delon (born 1964 in Los Angeles).  In an interview that Anthony Delon gave for the London “The Independent” printed 13 December 1998 (available on-line at:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/interview-anthony-delon--playing-the-part-en-famille-1191055.html

[retrieved 13 January 2013]

The interviewer, Tobias Jones writes:

“Like father like son: Anthony, now 34 and an actor, has had problems of his own.  ‘When I was young, I just didn’t care, I was thinking I’m going to do what I want to do, I’ll steal a car, whatever.  All that time, I didn’t enjoy it, but I had to live my life.’  When 19, (Anthony) Delon had his own leather company and part-owned a club, but his business partner in the venture was shot.  (Anthony) Delon himself, for unrelated incidents, went to prison for a month: ‘Oh, that was for guns and stuff, for stealing a car.  Every young guy is more or less rebellious,’ he says with a Gallic shrug, his embarrassment very genuine.”

     This admission becomes mind-numbing when one flashes again backwards to Alain Delon’s early life and learns that after he returned from Indochina to France, Alain Delon was again imprisoned, this time in a military prison near Toulon for theft of a revolver (Violet. Pages 47-48).  Flash forward again to the life of the man Alain Delon when in 1968 the scandalous “affaire Markovic” exploded in which the decomposed corpse of Delon’s bodyguard, Stevan Markovic, was found in a wooded area of Élancourt (Yvelines).  Attempts were made to implicate Delon himself in the murder.  Incriminating evidence had been found, but after an extensive police investigation in which Delon was himself interrogated, no charges against Delon were ever filed.

     With further regard to the interface between reality and fiction Violet writes (pp.130-132) that while shooting L'eclisse Delon lived in a small hotel (villa Monte Parioli) in Rome with his fiancée, Romy Schneider, sometimes referred to as the grand love of Delon’s life.  Violet writes that on one Sunday when no shooting was occurring, Delon and Schneider hopped into Delon’s white Alfa Giulietta and headed off to the nearby beach at Anzio for a swim.  Violet does not clarify if Delon owned a white Alfa in addition to the one that Piero drives in L'eclisse, whether the car used in the film was actually the property of Delon, or whether Delon was allowed by the production company during the shooting of the film to drive the car for his private pleasure.  In a recent autobiographical account by John Francis Lane, To Each His Own Dolce Vita [p. 215], Lane, who had been on set during the shooting of L'eclisse and written a brief “diary” of the shoot writes: “On this night’s first shoot [The first “day” of shooting of L'eclisse], we saw the filming of the scene in which Alain Delon arrives in the glamorous new Giulietta Spyder Sprint [sic], which the producer, Robert Hakim, had bought for the film and would keep for himself afterwards.  Alain had arrived at the location in his own Ferrari.”  Perhaps the truly interesting point made by Lane was not which car was whose, but the fact that the first shot in the filming of L'eclisse was made in the dark of night.  Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper .  .  . As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be .  .  .

     Like Vittoria and Piero, Delon and Schneider didn’t make it.  After five years the love affair ended—for some reason—in 1964.  Schneider was dead by age 43 and Delon is said to carry photographs of her in his wallet, living much if not all of his life in the past ( http://www.connexionfrance.com/alain-delon-profile-loves-and-losses-ageing-idol-11429-news-article.html  [retrieved 14 January 2013]).

     As you shall see, I, too, have become confused, unable to extricate my own life from that of L'eclisse (Endnote #41).




Girardot and Salvatori visit Delon in Rome during the shooting of L'eclisse
Or, is this Rocco, Simone, and Nadia?
Either way, Girardot/Nadia and Salvatori/Simone didn’t make it on the silver screen or on our fair, green Earth.





Note 22

     It is uncertain when Vittoria and Piero had first met.  When in the Borsa Piero introduces himself to Vittoria--coincident with the announcement of the minute of silence for the dead broker--Piero remarks that “Tu non mi conosci, ma io sì.” (“I know you, but you don’t know me.”  [Alternatively, this odd sentence could be translated:  “You don’t know me, but I know myself.”  Either way, the sentence may simply conform to standard Antonioni jabberwocky.])  Characteristically, Antonioni provides the audience with little or no back-story.  In L'eclisse the past and future have gone missing.  (In an unconventional manner L'eclissedoes possess a back-story:  the “front” story is the end of a love affair; the back-story is the end of the world.)  Towards the end of L'eclisseVittoria’s peculiar remark that she has “no nostalgia for marriage” hints at a back-story of a possible earlier marriage and is also reminiscent of Piero’s remark that he may have already met Vittoria in a cinematic past that Antonioni has never shown us. The lack, however, of a fleshed-out and substantive past is part of the general open-endedness that characterizes most of Antonioni’s films, as if Time, as some physicists suggest, were limited only to the present.

     In The Passenger, as in L'eclisse, there exists the quite important question as to when the two protagonists—David Locke and the Girl—first actually meet.  A safe answer in the dangerous world Locke now finds himself in would be that Locke and the Girl first “formally” meet—or at least talk—in the Palau Güell in Barcelona.  However, earlier in the film, when David Locke has only recently assumed a new identity, he returns to London to briefly visit the home of his old self.  While in London there is a very brief, apparently unmotivated scene, where Locke—in a kind of fugue state—wanders down outside steps of the then modern, bleached-white Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury and pauses at the bottom of the stairs in an outdoor sun-baked terrace, more like the Northern Africa of the beginning of the film than that of a typical locale and day in London.  In the foreground there is a girl, one we do not yet know is The Girl, sitting in a very relaxed manner on a bench, reading.  Both she and Locke briefly turn their heads in a shared glance, one that lasts a little too long, a glance that is begging for a motivation.  The glance is broken—and with the subsequent enablement of the Girl—Locke continues on his pilgrimage following not the Way of Saint James but that of Daisy, not to Santiago de Compostela but to Vera, to the zero-star Last-Station-of-the-Cross Hotel de la Gloria, and to his death.  Was this, then, the first time Locke and the girl/Girl meet, or is it indeed possible that Antonioni is hiding an even prior meeting?  Was it some kind of extraordinary happenstance that these two ostensible strangers, Locke and the Girl, would meet and share a pregnant glance in London, only to meet in another extraordinary happenstance at the Palacio Güell in Barcelona not long after?  As I discuss in Chapter 8, Locke asks the Girl much later in the film—on the Costa del Sol where both he and the Girl are by now an item, a dyad conjoined by fate—whether she believes in coincidence, to which she responds, “I never asked myself.”  Locke then says, “I never used to notice it before.  Now, I see it all around.”


Gaze deeply into my eyes and tell me what you can see now .  .  .
A man scratching his shoulder.  A kid throwing stones.  And dust.

When I look out my window . . .
Many sights to see.
And when I look in my window . . .
So many different people to be.
That it's strange, so strange . . .


<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAzTnsSgs2s>

     It is interesting to speculate that perhaps Vittoria and Piero are “MacGuffins,” and that what is ostensibly the front-story is really the back-story.  (Or put somewhat differently, is the sub-text more eloquent than the text?)  In such a light, the true front-story of the film may be that of the impending destruction of the world.  L'eclisse was filmed during the height of the Cold War, a time when nuclear apocalypse—not love—seemed just around the corner.  Construction of the Berlin Wall--one more barrier between people--began on Sunday, August 13, 1961, virtually in the very middle of Vittoria and Piero's approximately 8 week affair.* (Piero buys a West German car, a BMW, to replace his lost Alfa.)  The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 16, 1962, a little over a year after Antonioni on or about September 10, 1961 reported Vittoria and Piero as missing.  Sitney (p. 158) reminds us that in 1961, “ . . . newspapers featured Khrushchev’s announcement of an H-Bomb of ‘unheard-of-power’ (10 August), immediately followed by [Khrushchev’s] threats to attack Italy because of the placement of NATO warheads in the South [of Italy] (11 August). With black humor [Khrushchev] spoke of his best wishes for the Italian people and his countrymen’s love of their [the Italian’s] oranges, but [Khrushchev] warned that, if attacked, the Soviet Union would have to destroy missiles wherever they are to be found, even among the oranges.”  William Taubman (pp. 505-506) writes, “Khrushchev warned that ‘hundreds of millions might perish’ in a nuclear war.  In Italy ‘not only the orange groves but also the people who created and who have extolled Italy’s culture and arts’ might die.”  This then, was the historical context in which Vittoria and Piero found themselves in the summer of 1961.  Did either Vittoria or Piero see Va' e uccidi (The Manchurian Candidate) in Italy in 1962, to be followed by the sequel, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 by a 6.5 × 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle?

     Although the preoccupation with an impending nuclear holocaust is seemingly revealed in L'eclisse in small ways--insert shots of anonymous pedestrians holding Italian periodicals whose articles raise the spectre of atomic war, jet aircraft flying ominously high in the sky, contrails in their wake--perhaps it is nuclear apocalypse, and not just lost love between two individuals, which is the front concern of the film.  Apocalypse not quite now, but soon:  “death from above.”  Are the aircraft Convair B-58 Hustler bombers--“Vindicator Bombers,” each plane armed with two 20-megaton atomic bombs--explicitly pointed out by two anonymous persons standing on the roof of an Eur building in the final minutes of L'eclisse, flying beyond their fail-safe point high above the cross hair coordinates of Viale della Tecnica and Viale del Ciclismo below?  Not Hiroshima, but Roma, amore mio.

     Jerome F. Shapiro has written that “Between 1935 and 1991, approximately 600 films, both foreign and domestic, with images of nuclear weapons and related technologies have been released in U.S. theaters, and many more made since then . . . Atomic Bomb Cinema is nearly twice as large as film noir, but has not received the same comprehensive scholarly attention.  Until now.”

    Such were the times that in the 1962 black comedy of Alberto Lattuada, Mafioso, the stock comic character often played by Alberto Sordi, responds to a sudden torrential rainstorm exploding from out of an otherwise azure Sicilian sky (a not uncommon event in Sicily) by exclaiming:  “It’s the end of the world.  (It) must be an atomic bomb!”

     In the 1962 Truffaut short, Antoine et Colette, which opens the omnibus film, L’amour à vingt ans, the young man hopelessly in love (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), wakes up to a Rube Goldberg alarm clock-radio which plays a song by Guy Béart:

Mornings I wake up singing.
At night I dance to bed.
I never care about the bombs in the air
That one day’ll kill us all.

(Le matin, je m'éveille en chantant
Et le soir, je me couche en dansant
Jamais je ne m'intéresse
A la bombe vengeresse
Qui un jour f 'ra tout sauter
On ne nous soigne jamais assez)

     Across the pond, the 60’s anthem to the proximity of the end of the world was composed by P.F. Sloan:

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
Can't you feel the fears that I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away,
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave,
Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

     A possible sub-title for L'eclisse--one that might summarize the film--would be:

A Meditation on the Possibility
Of Romantic Love in Rome During
An Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

     This is--with the substitution of “Rome” for “the South,” the sub-title of Ross McElwee’s film documentary, Sherman’s March, ostensibly a documentary on William Tecumseh Sherman.  In McElwee’s hands, the documentary inverts itself with Sherman becoming the back-story, the front-story achieving ascendancy as a meditation on romantic love during an era of nuclear weapons proliferation.

     “Atomic Bomb Cinema” need not concern films in which explicit angst regarding nuclear war is articulated (as in the case of L’eclisse), nor even regard movies set in the post-Hiroshima age.  For example, The Seventh Seal--a film set in 14th century Sweden--has been considered by some to be an “allegory of Cold War fears” (Bernstein, Adam.  “Picturing Bergman’s every mood.” Los Angeles Times, page E5. 5 February 2008).  As I have already obliquely suggested, movies are often about what they are not about.  One of the most celebrated films of all time, William Wyler's “Ben-Hur” [1959], is not about the title character played by Charlton Heston but about Jesus.  This is emphasized in the opening credits of the film in which the title in the American release of the film is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  Furthermore, one may say that the majority of the 212 minutes of the film in which Judah Ben-Hur is in almost every scene is largely extraneous; that this incredibly elaborate film is actually dedicated to setting up two brief mirror scenes.  Early in the film there is a heart wrenching scene when Ben-Hur—while dying of thirst in Nazareth as a Jewish slave—invokes the name of God, asking for divine mercy.  A poor, young man—a humble carpenter whose face remains hidden from we the audience—bends down over Ben-Hur and gives him the few drops of water that will replenish his life.  Towards the conclusion of the film, while Jesus is tracing in agony the stations of the cross, Jesus falls down, whereupon Ben-Hur providently standing among the onlookers gazing upon this man bearing a crown of thorns, breaks free of the crowd and gives water to God.  For me, 210 minutes of film were woven only such that these two scenes could bookend the entire film.  Ultimately, the two scenes are the film.

     That movies are often about what they are not about is generally not a deliberate choice on the part of director and/or screenwriter such as in the case of a crass, popular entertainment that may—despite itself—trigger brilliant film criticism that rises above the value of the film being analyzed. Rarely—as in “Ben Hur”—the choice is deliberate and has haunting consequences.  For example, Taxi Driver is a “Vietnam Film” in which the only reference to Vietnam is the Marine aviator flight jacket emblazoned with the emblem of the King Kong Company worn by the De Niro character, Bickle, at the beginning of the film, as well as Bickle’s use of a “K-bar,” a knife used only by the Special Forces in Vietnam.  (The word “Vietnam” is mentioned but once in the entire film, by the presidential candidate, Palantine, during a rally attended by Bickle at Columbus Circle.)  Taxi Driver becomes a film about the “unspeakable” nature of the Vietnam War experience, the inability to articulate the horror of the war.  The film is reduced to but the shadow of the war cast by its tortured survivors upon a movie screen or, to employ the Platonic metaphor, upon a cave’s wall.  In this regard, Taxi Driver makes almost no mention of Vietnam, and yet, one might view the film as talking about nothing else.  Taxi Driver may be seen as a film every frame of which is informed and inspired by what happened to the De Niro character in Vietnam before the film began, events we will never see other than through their secondary and reflected consequences.  In the hands of a director as sophisticated as Scorsese, Taxi Driver becomes a film about what it is like to avoid talking about Vietnam, the lonely silence and bottled up rage that the term “post traumatic stress disorder” does not begin to describe.  Such an artistic strategy has been referred to as “iceberg theory” or “theory of omission,” and has been employed to describe, for example, Hemingway’s style of writing.  In Hemingway’s short story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” the story superficially concerns the minutiae of actions that characterize a fishing trip whose protagonist—like that of Taxi Driver—is a young man scarred by war.  Wikepedia’s entry on Iceberg Theory notes:  “Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker believed that as a writer of short stories Hemingway learned how to ‘get the most from the least, how to prune language, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth.’  Furthermore, Baker explains that in the writing style of the iceberg theory the hard facts float above water, while the supporting structure, complete with symbolism, operates out-of-sight .  .  . Hemingway’s story ‘Big Two-Hearted River’ is ostensibly about nothing, as is ‘A Clean Well Lighted Place,’ but within nothing lies the crux of the story.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg_theory [retrieved 26 May 2011).  L’eclisse is another film that is about what it is not about:  emptiness, two people missing in action, something that can only be expressed by absence and a blank, white screen.

     Apocalypse Now is not reticent, like Taxi Driver, about sticking Vietnam in our eye.  The film is not, however, about the death of Colonel Kurtz, but that of the end of the world.  (The film opens with a wall of flame, napalm--God’s pillar of fire--with the droning chant of Jim Morrison in the background singing:  “This is the end . . . lost in a Roman wilderness of pain . . . .” [Yes, yes, those are the lyrics.])  Likewise, the death of Vittoria and Piero speaks to the end of days.  20.00 hours has become H-hour, Zero-hour, zero time, the anointed hour, the appointed moment, Eros and Thanatos in their final Danza Macabra.  Beckett, praying in the north-east transept of Canterbury Cathedral, murmuring softly to himself as his assassins approach and death is seconds away:

It is now, the supreme folly.  This is its hour.

     It has been my experience that young men in no ostensible, immediate, apparent danger worry frequently about death, or as my son had said, “the end of the world and shit like that.”  Perhaps I should not have read Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending when it was published in 1967 and I was a very young man, a teenager.  After looking up in a dictionary the words I did not then know, sprinkling water on the seeds of ideas still only germinal in my young mind still in its salad days, I was frightened by the epigraph of Kermode’s book:

we can only
Walk in temperate London, our educated city,
Wishing to cry as freely as they did who died
In the Age of Faith. We have our loneliness
And our regret with which to build an eschatology.

Peter Porter

     For me, it was not yet London or even Rome, but San Francisco at the time, and I was myself on the threshold of young love.  L'eclisse was some 20 years away.  I did not yet know that I had good reason to be afraid.  The epigraph, as I wrote in Chapter 4, was a portent of terrible things yet to come.

     I have repeatedly attempted in this book to suggest that L'eclisse is concerned with emptiness, oblivion, the Void.  I have tried to suggest that it is the small cinematic tokens of Antonioni that often posses the greatest valence, that the subtext may be more significant that the text itself, background more vital than foreground.  This is no less true of a loftier work of art than L'eclisse , the central artistic achievement in the history of all of Western art, that is to say, a particular image painted in the early 16th century in the center section of a ceiling in a chapel in Rome, not far from a place that did not yet exist, the Eur.  (This crowning artistic achievement is not the image of the supposedly enigmatic smile of Lisa Gherardini nor “Les Demoiselles” of a whorehouse on “Avignon Street” in Barcelona.)  As we gaze at the index finger of God Himself as He is about to touch the index finger of Adam—the seminal threshold of humankind—it is customary to gaze at the two respective fingers either directly, or to indirectly gaze at the images using the hand held mirrors that are available in the Sistine Chapel to facilitate our viewing of the ceiling and avoid straining our necks.  But, it is the empty space and not the fingers, the space between that of God and Adam’s fingers that is the true object of regard where the eye should be drawn to rest upon a little vacant spot of absolute plenitude and fullness.  This space is generally not regarded as an image, but simply an empty interstice covered with a thin layer of formless pigment upon plaster, the common presumption being that if nothing is expressly traced or drawn on a canvas/ceiling, then nothing is there.  But, this “empty” space—one which may be measured in the unit of the mere millimeter—represents in a temporal sense that of eternity; in a spatial sense, the empty spot represents the depth and breadth of a limitless universe.  In some uncanny sense, L'eclisse is forever suspended, paralyzed in that potential space.  The issue is, once again, one of hands (vide infra, Endnote #28, for a more detailed discussion regarding the images of hands in L'eclisse).  In the case of Michelangelo’s fresco, the hands are those of God and Adam.  In Antonioni’s film, L'eclisse, the hands are those of Vittoria and Piero.

    Tina Hedwig Kaiser in her recent study discusses in some detail the issue of “space” (or the absence thereof) in La notte and L’eclisse.  Kaiser writes [p. 69]:

Das Bild steht auf der Schwelle zwischen Erkennen and Nicht-Erkennen.  Der Gegensatz von Bildvorder- und -hintergrund ist ausgelöscht.  Der Raum kann nicht mehr bestimmt werden.  Er ist kein Ort mehr.

The image stands at the threshold between perception and non-perception.  The contrast between foreground and background is obliterated.  Space can no longer be certain.  There is no more place.

    In Il grido, Aldo tells his ex-girlfriend, Elvia, who he is visiting after many years: “Non sto più a Goriano (Aldo’s hometown).  Non sto più da nessuna parte.  Molto meglio così.  Non me la sento più d’essere legato a un posto.” / “I’m no long living in Goriano.  I’m no longer from anywhere.  Much better this way.  I don’t feel like being tied down to a place.” (This remark by Aldo resonates with the comment Piero will make towards the conclusion of L'eclisse when he is lying with Vittoria on the knoll of the Eur: “Mi sembra d’essere all’estero.” / “I feel as if I’m abroad.”

     It is, however, in The Passenger more than any other film by Antonioni, in which no man wanders in no place.  Although the film takes place in a hodgepodge of different lands and locales, there is the sense that the film takes place nowhere, a tragic tale of existential expatriatism.  Like L'eclisse and its barrel, there is a centripetal pull in all of The Passenger to only one place; in the case of the latter film, a bed in a small hotel in Vera in which to lie down and die.  But wherever David Locke might otherwise find himself, he remains a stranger in a strange land.


Note 23

     As has been already noted, a recurrent theme in Antonioni’s films is that of the appointment which is not kept.  Beside the case in point, that of L'eclisse, Antonioni’s first film, Cronaca di un amore, ends with a failed rendezvous between Paola and Guido (as discussed in Endnote #31).  Likewise, the conclusion of Le amiche which occurs at the Turin train station concerns the failure of Clelia and Carlo to keep their appointment with each other.  In The Passenger, this theme of the appuntamento mancato or rendezvous manqué becomes an organizing principle for the entire film.  Early in the film when Locke assumes the identity of Robertson, Locke discovers Robertson’s small, black appointment book.  From that moment on, the film is driven by Locke’s attempts to keep the appointments of a dead man.  From the Umbraculo of Barcelona to the Plaza de la Iglesia in San Ferdinando, Locke/Robertson is repeatedly stood up.  This is also the case with the final appointment shown in the film at the Hotel de la Gloria in Osuna where Robertson was to meet Daisy (unless one assumes that “Daisy” may be but another five letter word beginning with “D” and ending in Death, a rendezvous David Locke does keep).  So insistent is this theme of the missed appointment, that Robertson’s agenda book also contains appointments that are to take place after the final day in Osuna at the end of the film, The Passenger.  It is these appointments, occurring in a cinematic time that will never exist, in which no one, not Locke, Robertson, nor any of us, will ever attend.  (It should be considered that Robertson’s agenda, like all of The Passenger is not what it seems to be.  The appointment calendar seems not to be a true list of meetings if only for the fact that the specific meetings that are scheduled in the book never appear to take place.  The one meeting Robertson-Locke does have in the Munich church appears “unscheduled.”  Instead, the book may be a codebook, cipher, cryptogram, or analogous enigma containing hidden message(s) related to, perhaps, the espionage theme of some other clandestine element of the film.  Antonioni’s films are themselves written in code.  If so, Robertson’s code has yet to be broken by any critic.  [See Endnote #37 for a film grab-photo of the “little black book.”])

     What is so particularly striking about the end of L'eclisse is that it is the rare, cinematic enactment of a “double stand-up.”  Being “stood-up” is so common a phenomenon of dating that most languages, like English, have a slang expression to summarize the bitter experience. (In Italian, French and Spanish, “to plant someone”-- “piantare,” “planter,” “plantar” respectively--are commonly used as a transitive verb referring to the “victim.”)  Although, “piantare qualcuno” in Italian may imply breaking up with someone forever, there is another Italian expression, “tirare” (or ‘fare,’ ‘dare,’ ‘ricevere’) il bidone a qualcuno” (“Throw the barrel at someone”) that--in the appropriate context, may specifically refer to standing someone up on a date.  (One may also employ “bidonare” as a verb in the passive voice--“Sono stato bidonato”--meaning, “I was canned” [“stood-up.”]) It is this latter cheap Italian slang expression that assumes heartbreaking significance when one thinks of L'eclisse’s barrel, its metal drum filled with dirty water and precious detritus--the remains of a day--at the site where Vittoria and Piero will never meet again.

     Generally, the expression, “to stand up,” is used to describe a “unilateral” event when one unenthusiastic party chooses to not keep a date with an enthusiastic waiting party, no prior or subsequent explanation ever given.  A particularly tragic example of being stood up occurs in the cinematic adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square (The film version’s title, The Heiress), when Catherine Sloper is stood up by Morris Townsend on the night of their elopement.  A similar brutal experience of everyday life is that of the bride left abandoned at the altar by a groom who fails to attend his own wedding.  What is so unusual about the conclusion of L'eclisse is that both Vittoria and Piero appear in mirror fashion to simultaneously stand each other up.  The particular irony of such a double stand-up is that, by definition, although each party is aware that they have stood the other person up, neither party knows that they too have been stood up.  This creates an especially poignant potential reaction in the film’s viewer who is the only person to comprehend in a lonely and isolated manner what neither character in the film appreciates.  The two people who stand each other up are caught in the irony of not being able to know what they do not know.  In this regard Vittoria and Piero resemble the two principal protagonists of Edith Wharton’s celebrated short story, “Roman Fever”:  two people whose view of the past is obstructed by pathologically enlarged blind spots that prohibit either one from being able to correctly interpret “what really happened.”  As such, each character--whether the protagonists of “Roman Fever,” or Vittoria and Piero of L'eclisse--cannot “see” their own past with the same set of eyes.  No one can.

     (Caution!: spoiler warning; plot and/or ending details about film to follow.)  A variation of such a double stand-up occurs in Love Affair (1939) and Roman Polanski’s cinematic version of Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1979), where in both movies the audience witnesses would-be lovers attempt to fulfill a romantic destiny that is obstructed by a prank of fate.  In both of these latter examples, the audience sees the two lovers struggle to come together, lovers who are prevented from doing so by circumstances to some degree external to themselves.  In Tess, a letter is slipped under a lover’s door only to tragically glide hidden beneath a rug on the other unseen side of the door.  Such an epistolary catastrophe can lead to the Dead Letter Office of Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”  “On errands of life, these letters speed to death.”  (The “coda” of “Bartleby” is strangely reminiscent of the coda of L’eclisse; in both these works of art, it is the coda, the snippet at the end of the work, that gives meaning to the whole.)  Although in Love Affair and Tess the characters experience a sense of thwarted love, this disappointment is radically different from the more modern, or even “post-modern” double stand-up of L’eclisse.  Although, in all three examples--L’eclisse, Love Affair, and Tess--lovers fail to unite--it is only in L’eclisse that we the audience are also obstructed from knowing the reason for the failure of the two destinies to intersect.

     The theme of star-crossed lovers is not limited to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but occurs elsewhere in Hardy’s art. Among his poems is “A Broken Appointment,” the first stanza of which is:

You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.

     (Caution!: Plot Spoiler)  In the 1984 film, Falling in Love, a relatively common phenomenon that is—in a sense—the opposite of the double stand-up occurs.  The two lovers of the film played by Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep first providentially meet in the Rizzoli Bookstore at 31 West 57th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This site becomes for the film, Falling in Love, the analogue—the “solito posto”—to the construction site for Vittoria and Piero in L'eclisse.  In the dramatic conclusion to Falling in Love, the De Niro and Streep characters, by now separated “old lovers,” have the accidental, proverbial chance meeting that some such old lovers are want to have: As was the case with their first meeting at Christmas time, they again by chance—or perhaps by grace of God—run into one another once again at Rizzoli’s.  But as I shall discuss in Endnote #24 of this book, old lovers sometimes consciously or subconsciously gravitate back to the anointed spot that was and remains sacred ground for them, hence confounding the role of chance or God in bringing them together again.  The issue of causality aside, the old lovers of Falling in Love nonetheless keep a rendezvous that was ostensibly never made, whereas in L'eclisse Vittoria and Piero stand each other up for a rendezvous that was established in the hushed, almost hallowed tone of a sacrament.

    Antonioni’s cinema biography is replete with film projects started and never completed. One promo ad placed in the “Hollywood Reporter” for such a movie, The Crew, a film never made, announces, “SHOOTING STARTS: SEPTEMBER 1983 IN MIAMI AND MEXICO.”  Like so many of Antonioni’s characters, including Vittoria and Piero, Antonioni missed his rendezvous, a rendezvous that like the conclusion of L'eclisse and The Passenger, was to occur in September.



Note 24

     Some lovers, when old and gray, lie in bed at night and think back upon those places associated with new born love, a first kiss beneath a Moorish Wall, an embrace among rhododendrons on Howth Hill. In her essay on the coda of L'eclisse, Mirella Jona Affron discusses four poet’s views on the relationship between place, love, and memory and how they compare with Antonioni’s choice of a dirty, undistinguished construction site in a kind of ahistorical, modern wasteland, the Eur, as the principal backdrop for a love story. Affron states the obvious when she remarks that such a choice, “casts Eclipse in a profoundly anti-romantic posture.” Affron writes:

Antonioni here appears to be unsympathetic to Lamartine’s position that nature retains the memory of the love which it served, and Leopardi’s that place is faithful to the recollection of love and lovers. Nor is Eclipse consonant with Hugo’s view that indifferent nature loses all trace of the love past, or Musset’s third alternative: that place is of no importance to recollection, that the outer world is irrelevant to the sanctity of memory. . . The intersection [in L'eclisse] that serves the lovers’ encounters is neither the beautiful lake Lamartine revisits near Aix-les-Bains, nor Leopardi’s adored and despised Recanati, nor Hugo’s Jouy-en-Josas, nor the Forest of Fontainebleau, the site of Musset’s love, each of which is inextricably tied to a poetic universe.

Affron does remark, however, that:

In La notte, Lidia’s search for the past, her return to the café by the railroad tracks, is a conventional enactment of the attitude represented by Lamartine; in L’avventura, the death of love (the disappearance of Anna) leaves no perceptible mark on an emphatically uncaring island, in an expression of the indifference of nature not unreminiscent of Victor Hugo’s position.

In a common prayer for the dead we say:

In his life man is like grass. He blossoms like a flower in a field. When the hot desert wind passes over, the flower is no longer there . . . and the place where it has stood has no memory of it.

     The intersection of the Viale del Ciclismo and Viale della Tecnica does not remember Vittoria and Piero. Neither do the majority of young Roman lovers of present day--soon to be old--walking hand-in-hand past this now anonymous intersection, people who have never seen L'eclisse, couples who are oblivious to what once happened at this site once upon a time. Although a place may not remember, or a couple who has never seen L'eclisse can obviously have no memory of the film, I remember, I remember. Mi ricordo, mi ricordo . . . All that I write is an act of remembrance, an act that might be construed to be like all things, great and small, a vanity. The conceit of this book is that it is the intersection of Viale del Ciclismo and Viale della Tecnica.

     Antonioni, himself, has returned years later to make short documentaries on the shooting sites of three of his films: to Lisca Bianca (Ritorno a Lisca Bianca, 1983), Rome (12 registi per 12 città, 1990), and Sicily (Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale, 1992).  One can only imagine what it must now feel like for Antonioni to gaze upon the banal building on the Viale del Ciclismo in the Eur so many years after the making of L'eclisse.  My own sentiment upon visiting these places is the great difficulty I have in believing that Antonioni and his film crew were ever actually there:  the slight, curious feeling that L'eclisse had been a hallucination or errant dream.  A spectator of L'eclisse who arrives at the coda only to find that Vittoria and Piero are nowhere to be found may have the analogous sense that Vittoria and Piero “never happened.”*  Mancini and Perrella (p. 458) cite Heidegger as writing that “Returning to the same place, while the earth spins under our feet, is a great effort, in spite of the appearance of ease. One could say that it is possible to return only to where we have never been.” What does Antonioni think when, on occasion, he may find himself in the Eur at that intersection?  Have the actors la Vitti and Delon ever returned?  Did Vittoria and Piero ever return to the site of their failed rendezvous, wondering, “Did it hurt her/him when I didn’t show up?  What if . . . ?”  Did they now know the intersection of Viale del Ciclismo and Viale della Tecnica for the first time, or was Eliot wrong?

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                                             
T. S. Eliot
The Four Quartets

     There is an inevitability to the final destinations of both L'eclisse and The Passenger, an inevitability which one does not find, for example, in either L’avventura and Taormina, nor Zabriskie Point and Phoenix. Neither of these latter two films must end in either Taormina or Phoenix.  But after David Locke discovers the agenda of David Robertson early in The Passenger, the entire film becomes transfixed on the final resting place at the Hotel de la Gloria in Osuna.  Likewise, all of L'eclisse lurches towards the gutter at the construction site of the Eur.  These sites are powerful centers of gravity, as if the middle of some black hole which pulls and collapses the entire periphery of each film onto itself.  In the case of The Passenger, the film’s trajectory--from its beginning in Africa to its conclusion in Spain--cuts in a zig-zag manner, north by northwest, across at least 5 countries.  In L'eclisse, the trajectory of the film is more circular, Vittoria and Piero circling round-and-round the Eur construction site like the broken piece of wood and matchbook in the water barrel, or the water leaking from the barrel, circling clockwise into the gutter, the final sinkhole of a modern nightmare in a modern quarter of southern Rome.*

 

Note 25

     This unusual camera angle, that of the lens placed close to ground level peering up at Vittoria against a backdrop of trees, serves several ends.  In addition to setting up the penultimate gaze of Vittoria as she peers down at us in what may be an unusual violation of cinema’s “fourth wall,” the camera angle also reinforces the juxtaposition of Vittoria with the tall trees, transforming her into an arboreal vision, Antonioni’s Baucis.  (Antonioni also juxtaposes Claudia with trees blowing prominently in the wind in the very last scene of L’avventura as Claudia stands near the bombed-out Chiesa di San Domenico in Taormina.)  Vittoria’s near glancing contact with our own eyes in her last appearance of L'eclisse is also reminiscent of the same final visual gesture made by that other woman who had also been so unlucky in love, Fellini’s Cabiria.  As is the case with Vittoria and L'eclisse, the last image of Cabiria is that of her turning towards the world in front of the movie screen, and faintly smiling. (The actual final view of Vittoria occurs after she breaks her downward gaze and looks to her right before walking down the sidewalk of Via Po off screen-left and out of L'eclisse.)

     The perspective of Vittoria viewed from a low camera angle à la Ozu, close to the ground, tends to offer an unusual and somewhat distorted view of Vittoria as compared to normal adult perception (Children and midgets have a different visual perspective of the world as compared to normal-statured adults).  Such a low camera angle contributes to the general disturbance of scale and proportion that seems so ubiquitous in the film (such a concern with anomalies of relative size and magnitude a common feature of the surrealist movement as exemplified by Magritte). As a general rule, in L'eclisse, camera angle and dialogue conspire to make Vittoria smaller than she is.

     Although Antonioni is sometimes referred to as a director not concerned with children, children are everywhere in L'eclisse. In particular, Vittoria seems frequently to be presented in a childlike guise such as when she sits demurely like a little girl beneath a painting of a larger girl in the apartment of Piero’s parents.  Antonioni also appears to wish to juxtapose Vittoria with small girls such as in the scene with the money exchanger in the Piazza di Pietra or the girl and mother seen in the background of the shot of Vittoria exiting from Piero’s office towards the end of the film.  In the scene at the Palazzo dello Sport while Vittoria listens entranced to the symphony of the flag poles, she discovers herself beneath a large, enigmatic statue of a human form.  From the high angle of a crane, shot from above looking literally down and through the legs of the statue, Antonioni films Vittoria staring up at the statue.  From this perspective, Vittoria appears shrunken, a veritable pygmy.  As is so typical of Antonioni, he then reverses the shot and we the audience now view the immense statue from Vittoria’s point of view. This latter shot is quite similar to the shot of Vittoria viewed from the low camera angle in her final scene, her head placed against the background of trees.  In this final shot of Vittoria it is we the audience, however, who by looking up at Vittoria are made smaller.

    A 180-degree reversal of camera angle also occurs in both of the separate scenes in L’eclisse in which first the Bestiola, and later, Vittoria, stand in front of the store window with the metal grill on Via Po beneath Piero’s office.  This motif of two worlds on opposite sides of a grilled window was explored earlier by Antonioni in Il grido.  At the conclusion of this latter film, Aldo has come full circle returning to Goriano, his hometown, standing on the street outside the grilled window of his lost love, Irma, scant moments before he will die (Reminiscent in The Passenger of David Locke’s return to London for a last gaze at the house in Landsdowne Crescent where he once lived in with his wife and child, a life he has now killed and will never return to).  Aldo gazes through the bars at Irma—the projected meaning of his life—the entire world he has lost forever.  We observe that Irma from her perspective on the other side of the window recognizes that Aldo is looking in.  No 180-degree countershot reversal is undertaken with Antonioni’s camera placed inside Irma’s home “on the other side of the bars” showing her POV of Aldo standing on the street.  In the conclusion of The Passenger—long after the scene at Landsdowne Crescent—this dynamic of the gaze through the barred window will be explored in a much more phenomenal, transcendent manner: David Locke, like Aldo, soon to die, will gaze from a perspective opposite to that of Aldo—now from inside Locke’s room on the ground floor of the Hotel de la Gloria—upon the world without, a world he, too, will soon depart from forever.  But in The Passenger, unlike Il grido, the camera will now pass magically, impossibly, transcendentally from one side of the world to the other.

     In L'eclisse—a kind of evolving, transitional film concerning the motif of the grilled window, lying midway between Il grido and The Passenger—the metal grill of the store window on Via Po beneath Piero’s office presumably covers a solid, transparent glass windowpane behind which—in typical Antonionian fashion—are no discernible or conventional mercantile goods.  Is Vittoria gazing at “nothing?”  In both of the separate scenes in L’eclisse in which first the Bestiola, and later, Vittoria, stand in front of the store window with the metal grill on Via Po beneath Piero’s office, there are shots of the Bestiola and Vittoria respectively viewed from a perspective of the camera placed on the sidewalk with the window grill in the background. (The camera is outside the window, on the sidewalk, the two women in their respective scenes interposed between window and camera.)  This mise en scene is thus far similar to the camera shot of Aldo standing on the street looking in through the window grill at Irma.  But, in L'eclisse, Antonioni—unlike Il grido—now “flips” (shot-reverse shot) the image around and presents separate shots of the two women with the camera placed inside the shop, Vittoria and the Bestiola now seen in their separate scenes as if on the other side of the grill standing on the sidewalk (see photo of the Bestiola and Piero in Chapter 4).  In the case of Vittoria in her final scene in L'eclisse we first see a shot of her from the perspective of the street, her back to us, actually grasping with her right hand a bar of the metal grill, staring into the void of a shop-window in which there may be nothing on display.  There is then the sudden reverse cut to a shot of Vittoria with the camera now placed inside the shop with Vittoria now on the other side of the grill still outside on the sidewalk. (The covers of both volumes of Alain Bonfand’s study of Antonioni [Vol. 1, Écrits: fare un film è per me vivere; Vol. 2, Cinéma de Michelangelo Antonioni.  Paris : Images Modernes, 2003.] are film-stills from L'eclisse, one of which is the shot of Vittoria as seen through the grill of the window on Via Po, a testament to the importance of this particular shot and the evident importance of L’eclisse to Bonfand.)  With the camera still inside the shop we will then see Vittoria turn around, her back once again to us as she stands on the sidewalk and peers up into the trees of the Villa Giorgina on the opposite side of Via Po.  We see the trees through the bars of the shop on Via Po as if we the audience were now inside the shop looking out (which implies that the “POV of the camera” and the “POV of Vittoria” are similar but not identical, a token of the “autonomous camera” that will figure much more prominently some 13 years later in The Passenger).  And then, Antonioni does something remarkable.  There is a jump cut to a slightly different perspective of the trees above the wall of the Villa Giorgina, but now the grill has disappeared and the camera is suddenly outside the store on the sidewalk on the other side of the bars, again on the sidewalk.  The camera now pans towards screen-right and we suddenly see Vittoria’s back as she peers up at the trees (again, reinforcing that the camera has a POV that is independent from that of Vittoria).  We do not actually “see” or “feel” the camera pass between the grill of the storefront window, but what is so utterly remarkable is that the camera has passed from one side of the grill to the other, antedating by over a decade what we will literally witness at the Hotel de la Gloria at the conclusion of The Passenger.  In these few seconds of the final scene of Vittoria in L'eclisse Antonioni presages—perhaps subconsciously—the final moments of David Locke, perhaps the apogee of Antonioni’s entire career .  .  . or was Antonioni in 1961 already toying with the notion of matter passing through solid matter—an issue of great interest to magicians and physicists?—what in The Passenger would come to be admired as one of the most glorious shots in all of cinema.  As opposed to the exquisite, radical, unique passage of the camera “impossibly” through the bars of the window in The Passenger, in L'eclisse no such extraordinary cinematographic sorcery was necessary.  In L'eclisse Antonioni performed the conventional, elementary movie-making act of simply changing the set-up of the camera, first placing it outside the shop to shoot Vittoria standing in front of the store window, then changing the set-up with the camera moved inside the shop to film Vittoria from a perspective from within the shop. (The actual order of shooting—whether Vittoria was first shot from within or from outside the shop—was unimportant; the order of scene presentation is ultimately decided at the time of the final editing of the print in post-production.)  In L'eclisse several crew members presumably moved the large camera, lighting, and other equipment in and out of the shop through the front door of the building, a task requiring some modest expenditure of time and work.  If a director does not strive for some degree of economy and efficiency he/she will be left with but seconds to scant minutes of productive film shot at the end of each day of shooting; every set-up for every shot in all movies requires some expenditure of time and effort.  Antonioni, however, is continuing—even in the final shots of Vittoria in L'eclisse—to go to the trouble of viewing her from the two sides, inside and outside, of the “frame.”  This is little different from how L'eclisse began, in Riccardo’s home with Vittoria’s hand rearranging objects through the space of the empty frame on Riccardo’s table, additionally showing us the “composition” of the frame from both sides, front and back.  A similar dynamic is at work when Antonioni goes to some considerable effort to film Vittoria from two perspectives, one showing her standing at the window of the apartment of Piero’s parents looking outward from her point of view, and a subjective view of Vittoria as if filmed from outside the building.  Such a two-sided view of a subject could be accomplished by an artist who painted a scene of the same object of regard from the different perspective of the two sides—front and back—of a canvas.  A portrait artist who regards a canvas as possessing not one, but two sides, would show the “front” side of the subject on one side of the canvas, and the “back” side of the subject on the other side, something customarily never done. (As already mentioned in Endnote #13, Antonioni played with a variant of this conceit in the scene in the art gallery of the Isola Tiberina at the beginning of L'avventura.)  It is left to the art of sculpture to strive for a three-dimensional representation of the subject; it is the spectator-viewer who literally moves around a statue to see its various sides.  In a conventional painting, the average viewer knows that it is of little value to gaze at the backside-rearend of a typical painting, aside from the issue that almost all museums do not permit such an act in any case. (It is comical to imagine, however, that some ignorant or drunken male admirer of a painting portraying an attractive woman wearing a miniskirt might actually believe that if he ambled behind the canvas that he might steal one more glance at the woman from behind, or—in a more preposterous manner yet—that if he bent down beneath the painting that he might then attain the privileged vantage point of being able to look up and sneak a peek beneath the woman’s dress at her undergarments.)  Instead of painting both the front and back of a canvas, another, more tortuous strategy would be for the artist or movie director to have the subject placed before a mirror such that her/his “front and back” were seen on the single, flat, two-dimensional canvas or movie screen; if the actor were standing with her/his back to a mirror with the movie camera filming the subject from an anterior view at a slight angle (to avoid the appearance of the camera being itself reflected in the mirror), the screen would show the actor’s “front” in an unmediated manner, the back/posterior view of the actor reflected ( “mediated”) by the mirror. (The complexity of the use of mirrors and paintings-within-paintings in pictorial representation and film is not a focus of this book, but I have briefly alluded to the technique in Velázquez and Vermeer in Chapter 2.)  There may be several reasons why Antonioni goes to so much consistent trouble to obtain shots and counter shots of his characters, Vittoria in particular.  Antonioni may be primarily interested in showing us how Vittoria sees the world and how, conversely, the world sees Vittoria: Godard’s “the gaze of nothingness” on Vittoria .  .  . and also on ourselves (vide supra, Chapter 7).  13 years later, Antonioni would take two weeks in “Osuna” (the true filming location of The Passenger being the town of Vera in the province of Almería, Spain; vide supra, Chapter 2, footnote “is Piero .  .  . nowhere?*”) using a large crane, gyroscopes, and the most sophisticated of cinematographic methods to have the camera pass magically through the metal grill of the window of David Locke’s room at the Hotel de la Gloria.  It had not yet been necessary for any thematic or other reason in 1961 while shooting L'eclisse to give the appearance of the camera impossibly passing between the bars of a metal grill on Via Po.  However, by 1974 when Antonioni was shooting The Passenger the need for Locke’s soul to pass between the bars of his hotel window had arisen.

     (Please note that the present wall of the Villa Giorgina on Via Po, above which Vittoria stares at tall pine and palm trees, is the only trace of an ancient Roman road that once traversed the Salario quarter of Rome and which is adjacent to the most ancient relic of the quarter, the mausoleum of Licinio Peto, a general of Julius Caesar.  The mausoleum—which also contains the remains of Christians subsequently buried in the 4th century C.E. during the reign of Constantine—is approximately 60 meters south of the spot on Via Po where we last see Vittoria in L'eclisse.  In the final shot of Vittoria in the film we see her gazing in the direction of the tall trees on the other side of the wall of the Villa Giorgina on Via Po.  Piero’s office is “wedged” between the wall of the Villa Giorgina on Via Po and the mausoleum.  During World War II Roman Jews sought refuge in the Villa Giorgina—the proprietor of which, Isaia Giacobbe Giacomo Levi, was Jewish—and whose home resembled metaphorically the garden of the Finzi-Contini, a world within a world.  Thus, with an ancient tomb and Piero’s office at her back, Vittoria gazes upward at the trees of a garden where at a time during Vittoria’s own fictional childhood in 1943, persecuted Italian citizens—among them infants and children—sought in reality refuge in a desperate attempt to avoid being transported to a larger and more sinister tomb called Auschwitz.)


Note 26

     Perhaps the most startling mirror scene(s) in all of Antonioni's films is that which essentially bookends or encloses within its leaves all of L’avventura. Not long after the film begins, Sandro makes a surprising and largely unanticipated pass at Claudia while aboard the yacht moored at Lisca Bianca. This crude attempted seduction is particularly surprising when one considers that Sandro’s ostensible fiancée has just disappeared and may be dead. Instead of devoting all of his efforts to finding Anna, Sandro becomes crazily sidetracked into trying to seduce Anna’s close friend, Claudia, a woman that apparently Sandro does not even know well at all. The attempted seduction is wildly inappropriate and raises immediate concerns about Sandro’s morality, let alone his sanity. Why, in brief, would a normal man do such a thing? Some 2 hours later in the final moments of the film, Sandro’s act of amorous folly is repeated when he is discovered by Claudia to be in the arms of a costly whore. For Claudia, such a moment could be expected to trigger not only a powerful sense of déjà vu, but hopefully, also a lightning-like awareness of a fundamental, recurrent, and persistent problem that Sandro suffers from. Both of these scenes, at beginning and end of the film, are striking mirror images of each other concerning an unexpected embrace, an impulse that could not be resisted, and betrayal. Although the reasons why history may repeat itself are sometimes obscure, in the case of Sandro, the specific mechanism may be quite limited, complying to the rules that describe all addictive behavior. Indeed, what may have seemed utterly mysterious to Antonioni and others in 1959--Sandro, the man--may now conform to a dry diagnosis popularly made every day in the office of psychotherapists, that of a sexual or “love” addiction. Nevertheless, although the criteria for making such a trendy diagnosis may now seem quite straightforward to many, in fairness to Antonioni, why some boys become such men still seems mysterious. The issue may not be so much “obsession-compulsion,” but an issue that concerned Freud throughout his career, that of repetition-compulsion.  In brief, Freud grappled with the issue of why some people repeat behavior that has proven to be consistently harmful to themselves (i.e., Sandro should have known better; it was highly unlikely that starting up an affair with Claudia or sleeping with a call girl in one of the sitting rooms of the San Domenico Palace Hotel were very good ideas).  Freud thought that such repetitive irresistible behavior was so at odds with his so-called pleasure principle that he found it necessary to postulate a countervailing force in perpetual conflict with that of pleasure:  Thanatos, or the death instinct.  As Peter Gay writes in his biography of Freud:  “Freud noticed one version of this monotonous destructive replay of unpleasure in patients afflicted with a ‘fate neurosis,’ sufferers whose destiny it is to go through the same calamity more than once. . . They fantasize about unrealistic plans guaranteed to leave them disappointed.  It is as though they have never learned that all these compulsive repetitions bring no pleasure.  There is something ‘demonic’ about their activities.” (pp. 400-401).  On the evolutionary ladder, Piero may be a slightly higher form of animal life than that of Sandro (unless, as speculated in Note 18 [vide supra], Piero is a murderer).  Piero’s failure to keep his rendezvous with Vittoria may represent the evolutionarily superior ability to break a cycle of destructive and doomed behavior?

     Nowell-Smith in his study of L’avventura refers to the film as a “love story.” The same might be said of many of Antonioni’s films.  To my mind, however, the films are less than what are conventionally called “love stories” than studies in the pathology of love. As Antonioni has himself said apropos of L’avventura, “Eros is sick.” In the case of this latter film, the essential ingredients for a particular variety of an Antonionian sick relationship are provided by the conjunction of a serial womanizer with a relatively normal woman with bad taste in men. In L’avventura both Sandro and Claudia appear to want to love (as do both Vittoria and Piero).  Indeed, the entire population of L’avventura’s world seems supercharged with this desire to couple; throughout the film, in scene after scene, both major and minor characters are shown struggling to glom onto any nearby warm body.  Such characters, however, seem unable to select an appropriate love object, or to express their bottled-up love in an appropriate manner.  Instead, the characters--particularly Antonioni’s men--have amorous longings that appear ultimately infantile, unfocused, driven.  (In La notte, we witness the exceptional occurrence of a woman whose desire to love is so pathologic that she appears to have attained a psychotic degree of nymphomania.)  By the time we arrive at L'eclisse, if Vittoria and Piero do not appear to have chosen each other wisely, they at least have the good sense to abort their stillborn relationship in time, something Claudia and Sandro do not appear able to do.  If we accept Claudia’s touching Sandro’s head at the conclusion of L’avventura as an indication that the relationship might continue, then one might also conclude that Claudia has learned little in the course of the film, that she is willing to continue a relationship with a weak, tormented, and highly conflicted man who there is little reason to believe will be capable of a mature and healthy love.  It then becomes an entirely new and different question as to why Claudia--or anyone for that matter--would continue such a destructive and unsatisfying relationship.  This is, of course, an issue which many patients have struggled with while lying supine on an analyst’s couch, something Antonioni is dealing with in a vertical axis on the silver screen.

     Antonioni’s entire famous declaration at Cannes in 1960 that “Eros is sick” may suggest that this unnamed illness is acquired, novel, and pandemic (See:   <http://ardfilmjournal.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/michelangelo-antonionis-cannes-statement-for-lavventura-1960>   [retrieved 26 March 2010]).  This apparent implication is, to my mind, a debatable and ultimately ironic generalization, especially considering that a constant theme in Antonioni’s film is inconstancy.  Yes, everything comes and goes, but Eros, unyielding and stubborn, remains the same.  I believe that there is little reason to believe that “Eros”—especially in the Freudian sense of a primordial impulse for self-preservation and sexual pleasure—has changed at all or is any more or less “healthy” than it has ever been.  Social mores and sexual fads come and go, but what evidence is there that the will to live, to love, to yearn for sex has changed in any fundamental way since time immemorial?  I would argue that these desires are of so robust a character that they are actually encoded in the human genome—rising to the level of the instinctual—and not easily subject to widespread mutation and propagation over but several generations in the 20th century.  It is only in Antonioni’s films that some mysterious sexual contagion has become a new psychological or mythological plague ravaging the modern world with a striking male predominance.  Antonioni has always been reticent to make declarative statements or to be pedantic in the context of his films; his extensive writings and interviews are much less cautious.  As children, Vittoria and Piero played in Mesopotamia along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. The voice I hear this passing night was heard in ancient days by emperor and clown .  .  .  .

     Much of the dramatic tension that drives all of L'eclisse is derived from the fundamental incompatibility between Vittoria and Piero.  “Opposites attract” is the stuff of Screenwriting 101--or, for that matter--Physics 101.  Or, put in a different way, if you want to write a scene, put two people at odds with one another in a room and let them go at it.  L'eclisse is the story of a highly sensitive, thoughtful, poetical woman who has an affair with a man who doesn’t have a drop—a singlet—of poetry in his entire being.  The physical beauty of Piero, a face that would suggest at a distance that he is the very stuff of Poetry, only makes more painful the fact that up close he is not a lyrical being.

     If one regards L'eclisse as a movie set in the heart of the Cold War on the eve of a nuclear apocalypse (the bright light of an atomic bomb blast the next-to-last image of the film?), then Vittoria and Piero may be considered as star-crossed lovers in a particular subset of ill-fated love.  It is a commonplace that in times of war or cholera some people choose to meet the End by coupling with strangers.  In at least three of Antonioni’s major films, the movies conclude with the hero meeting a new woman and commencing a love affair only days before the hero’s violent death (Il grido, Zabriskie Point, The Passenger).  In such a light--one that will sear the retinae--L'eclisse may be the fourth.



Note 27

     Metaphors, images, and sounds concerning flying are relatively frequent in Antonioni’s films, their significance variable, uncertain, or ambivalent.  In Antonioni’s first major documentary—his first film if you will—Gente del Po (shot in 1943), the soundtrack of the opening credits sounds perhaps like that of a machine of some sort.  Immediately following the credits, the opening shot of this short documentary shows manual laborers loading sacks onto a horse drawn cart.  In the background, however, we may briefly see boxcars of a train pass, the sound now more distinctly that of a train.  This shot however, is followed by a view of a nearby wharf on the Po.  The sound of the train clattering click-clack on the tracks appears to seamlessly blend into that of an engine of a steamboat at the wharf, a metamorphosis that would characterize so many of the sounds and images in so many of Antonioni’s films yet to come.  In Antonioni’s first film, Cronaca di un amore (1950), while Guido awaits alongside a darkened country road for the approaching car of his lover’s husband--a man he intends to kill--we hear a propeller aircraft flying conspicuously overhead.  In L’avventura, towards the end of the film, Sandro wanders at night about the San Domenico Palace Hotel, sitting briefly alone in a TV room near the lobby.  We the audience do not see the image on the screen, but instead, hear the violent sounds of an apparent aerial bombardment.  In La notte, at the beginning of Lidia’s odyssey through Milano, we hear the thunderous roar of several unseen fighter jets flying close to the ground. (Lidia actually looks up at the sky shielding her eyes against the Sun as she searches for the planes, creating a mini eclipse.)  Earlier in La notte a helicopter had suddenly and intrusively appeared in the hospital window of a dying man, to then just as mysteriously retreat in the distance. Two times in L'eclisse we both see and hear aircraft flying overhead, apparent jet fighters.  In Blow-Up, immediately after perceiving for the first time the cadaver in a blown up photograph taken in Maryon Park, we hear the faint sound of an aircraft while the image on the screen is still that of the second floor interior of the Photographer’s living room.  Does the sound of the airplane come from outside in the sky above the apartment, or from the first floor below where the propeller lies lifeless on the floor of the photographic studio?  Or more mysteriously yet, does the sound of the airplane come impossibly from the sky above Maryon Park some 15 kilometers away near Greenwich, as does the sound of the wind of the park which we will eventually come to hear accompanying the presentation of the blown up photographs in the Photographer’s studio? In Antonioni’s last film, Par-delà les nuages, during the first passionate kiss shared by Carmen and Silvano alongside the Portico dei Capuccini at the outskirts of Comacchio, we hear the loud sound of a jet airplane flying overhead.

     Trains also commonly appear or are heard in Antonioni’s films and may serve similar purposes as do planes.  In L'eclisse, a train whistle is heard in the distance just after Vittoria has exited from Riccardo’s house and is passing the “impossible” tree in the Eur road.  Particularly during the two discrete embraces of Vittoria and Piero in the portico of Piero’s office in their final moments together, we hear the subtle sound of a train, airplane, or perhaps cars and street traffic.  In Cronaca di un amore, it is in their cheap, rented lover’s hideout by a busy railway line--literally on the other side of the tracks--that Paola first broaches to Guido her desire to kill her husband. Throughout the entire scene we hear the sound of locomotives and their steam engines in the background. In La notte, a train suddenly hurtles by in the night immediately prior to Roberto’s unsuccessful attempt to kiss Lidia. In L’avventura, while Claudia and Sandro are enthralled in a passionate embrace there is the remarkable image of a black locomotive passing distantly in a background composed of the Sicilian countryside set against the Golfo di Augusta.  We assume that the train has moved on--disappearing beyond the horizon--as the camera now returns to a shot of the two lovers, appearing spent, lying on the ground.  Suddenly, however, the train again hurtles by having apparently made a circular arc, this time on tracks that were previously not visible only several feet away from Claudia and Sandro.  Both the lovers and ourselves are startled. (The appearance in the background of the train in L’avventura was evidently very important to Antonioni.  Chiaretti writes in his essay, “The Adventure of L’avventura”:  “The love scene at Santa Panagia was interminable.  It lasted ten days.  Every morning the cast and crew were ready on time for the passage of the train which was to startle the two lovers. For ten days the railroad workers watched, with ever increasing curiosity, the couple who made love always at the same time, surrounded by so many people.”)  In the final scene of L’avventura, three consecutive and quite distinct whistle-like sounds are heard just as Sandro sits on the bench of the piazza--now a parking lot--outside the San Domenico Palace Hotel.  Joseph Bennett identifies these sounds as: “train-whistles coming up from Giardini seven hundred feet below.  The sound track has exaggerated the three crescendoing train-whistles . . .”  In the English episode of I vinti, a train hurtles by in the background immediately before Hallan murders the prostitute in a park in Saffron.  In the finale of The Passenger at the Hotel de la Gloria, we hear an apparent train passing by just as Locke turns away from the window minutes before he must die.

     In Antonioni`s cosmology, one might conclude that the intrusive appearance--either visual or auditory--of a plane or train during the attempted coupling of two human beings portends an unhappy outcome.  In Blow-Up, the appearance of a plane has been reduced to a metonymic minimum, that of a propeller.  Antonioni portrays “flight” in a seemingly positive manner when he shows us David Locke gliding over Barcelona’s harbour arms outstretched, or Locke’s ultimate flight when he takes off from his own body and glides between the bars of his hotel window at the conclusion of The PassengerIl deserto rosso ends with a contemplation of birds who have learned to survive in the modern world by flying around the poison plumes of smoke emitted by factory chimneys.  In Il grido, Aldo fails to learn how to fly in such a changing world, and like Icarus falls to his death at film’s end. (Ironically, the sugar refinery in Goriano from whose tower Aldo falls is to be demolished to make way for the construction of a jet airport.)*  In Identificazione di una donna, Niccolò in a sudden and digressive manner asks his filmmaker friend if he has ever gone hang-gliding (“Sei mai stato in deltaplano?”).  The friend has not, but Niccolò explains, “Vorrei avere con una donna quel tipo di emozione lì.” (“That’s the sort of feeling I’d like to experience with a woman.”) Although Niccolò--like all of Antonioni’s male protagonists--is an incomplete and conflicted man, nevertheless, Vittoria would be his kind of a girl.

     Like so many of the patterns or motifs in Antonioni’s films, the significance of planes and flying is open ended.  As noted, at times Antonioni seems to associate flying with liberation, freedom, and escape.  On other occasions aircraft seem linked with menace, with parting, or the ultimate leave-taking, that of death.

     Towards the end of La notte, Valentina plays a tape recording of her “writings” to the married writer, Giovanni, who is trying to seduce her.  Valentina’s musings--which she impulsively erases immediately after playing them for Giovanni (a very Antonionian act of elimination)--seem to comment on the intrusive sounds such as airplanes flying overhead that appear so regularly in Antonioni’s films:

. . . Mi parve di sentire un aereo.  Invece venne il silenzio, e io ne ero contenta.  Il parco è pieno di silenzio fatto di rumori. . . . In quel silenzio ci sono stati dei colpi strani, che disturbavano il paesaggio sonoro intorno a me.  Io non volevo udirli, ho chiuso la finestra, ma quelli continuavano.  Mi sembrava d’impazzire.  Io non vorrei udire suoni inutili.  Vorrei poterli scegliere durante la giornata.  E così le voci, le parole.  Quante parole non vorrei ascoltare!  Ma non puoi sottrarti, non puoi fare altro che subire, come subisci le onde del mare quanto ti distendi a fare il morto.

I thought that I had heard an airplane flying overhead, but instead there was only silence, a silence I was grateful for.  The park I found myself in was filled with a silence made of different sounds.  That silence, however, became punctuated by sudden strange sounds, noises that disturbed the peaceful landscape that I felt within.  I wanted so to erase these noises, to shut the window . . . but the sounds continued.  I thought I might go mad, this incessant barrage of unwanted and useless noises.  If only I could somehow have the power to choose which sounds I hear.  And, yes, to be able to choose which voices, which words I might hear as well.  How many words I wish I would never hear! But one can’t drown out such unwanted words and noises, one can only continue to suffer their presence, as a person who lies on the bed of the sea playing dead man’s float cannot block out the sounds of the waves.

     In an interview with Antonioni that I have already quoted in a different context (“Entretien avec Michelangelo Antonioni,” Cahiers du cinéma, October 1960, abridged in Leprohon’s Michelangelo Antonioni, An Introduction, p. 100), Antonioni states:

I attribute enormous importance to the sound track, and I always try to take the greatest care with it.  And when I say the soundtrack, I am talking about the natural sounds, the background noises rather than the music.  For L’avventura, I had an enormous number of sound effects recorded: every possible quality of the sea, more and less stormy, the breakers, the rumble of the waves in the grottoes.  I had a hundred reels of tape filled with nothing but sound effects.  Then I selected those that you hear on the film’s sound track.  For me, that is the true music, the music that can be adapted to images.

     Antonioni is generally considered a visual director as opposed to a filmmaker interested in language.  This is a misconception insofar as Antonioni is enormously interested in sound but not necessarily sound or noise as limited to spoken language.  Ironically, Antonioni’s attitude seems similar to that of the Warner brothers at the dawn of the “talkies.”  The Warner brothers—as was the case with many filmmakers of the time—were concerned with just what the addition of an synchronized audio track to a film would actually accomplish.  Initially, there was more enthusiasm at the Warner Studio for the production of sound effects such as the noise of metal swords clashing against each other than in the use of audio recording for registering dialogue.  Even the first major “talkie,” a Warner production, The Jazz Singer [1927], is essentially a “silent” film with intertitles in which the “noise” we hear is not primarily spoken language but song.  The Warner brothers attitude to sound in film was mercenary to the degree that the brothers also thought that a major advantage of sound in film would be the potential elimination of the pit orchestra in the cinema (Schickel and Perry).

     Although Antonioni is a director who is commonly described as being primarily concerned with images as opposed to dialogue, it is important to listen to his films. Although Antonioni has progressively used less commentative music in his films over the span of his career, he has never lost an interest in how his films sound.* Music may occur in an unaccustomed guise such as in the Flag Pole Concerto that so mesmerizes Vittoria, or in the Suite of Telephones ringing in Piero’s office towards the conclusion of the film.  Another example from L'eclisse regarding the importance of sounds concerns buzzers.  I have already mentioned that early in the film, at the exact instant when Vittoria and Piero first meet in the Borsa, a buzzer sounds, an auditory prelude to the announcement of the death of the broker (reminiscent of the bell that chimes repeatedly in the background when Ken Wotten first receives the phone call from Aubrey Hallan, announcing the death of the prostitute in the park in Saffron).  Towards the end of L'eclisse, at the precise moment when Vittoria steps out from Piero’s office building onto the street--a moment signaling the end of her affair with Piero--a distinctive buzzer-like sound may be heard in the background emanating from an uncertain source.  These two sounds--the death buzzer of the Borsa and the buzzer-like sound as Vittoria exits from Piero’s office building--are auditory bookends, sounds which resonate sympathetically with death, marking the beginning and end of the couple known as Vittoria and Piero.

     The famous single shot ending of The Passenger is celebrated as one of the greatest moments of artistry in all of cinema’s history, one that seems so grounded in the visual sense.  And yet, try sometimes to listen to these final minutes of the film as if one were listening to a symphony, with one’s eyes closed, as if blind.  The orchestral arrangement is of enormous complexity, sophistication, menace, and enchantment, a series of sound that could not be transcribed by any standard system of musical notation dating back to cuneiform writing employing a supposed diatonic scale written in harmonies of thirds.  The shot opens with the chirping of birds followed by the sound of a hammer striking metal as if on an anvil, a train whizzing by, the sound made by a small car of a driving school, the recurrent trumpet blast of a corrida de toros signaling the traditional, formalized stages of the bullfight, the tolling of first one apparent church bell striking three times, followed by a different bell tolling six times (reminiscent of the “Concerto for Bells” atop the church of Noto in L’avventura), the ambiguous sound of the backfiring of a car or the firing of a gun, the sound of unseen doors opening and closing, the siren of a police car, dogs barking, the human voice rising and falling throughout in different languages, and finally the strain of a guitar at dusk, plaintive, “conventional” music that--oh so complicated in its extra-diegetic meaning--could be finally transcribed on a music stave with an origin dating back to Italy of the 11th century C.E.

     In the book Una Regione piena di cinema Michelangelo Antonioni, two lengthy essays are dedicated to an examination of music and the use of sound and noise in Antonioni’s films.  Roberto Calabretto in “Michelangeo Antonioni e la musica” refers to the extraordinary attention that Antonioni has progressively paid to the employ of music and sound in his films (Author’s note, 12 June 2012. d.s.r.: Calabretto has apprarently recently expanded his writings on the subject and written an entire book regarding Antonioni and music: Antonioni e la musica.  Editor: Marsilio.  ISBN: 8831712594.  Anticipated date of publication, July, 2012).  Calabretto writes of “il paesaggio sonoro antonioniano” (“the Antonionian landscape of sound” [my emphasis]). Paolo Giacomini’s 45-page essay is dedicated almost exclusively to the use of music and sound in the approximately 7 minute coda of L'eclisse. Giacomini analyzes in great detail the extraordinary use of sound--“noise”--in the coda and the relationship between such sound and accompanying images, employing a formidable array of novel graphs and charts in which such sound and image are transcribed and analyzed in a manner that conventional musical annotation cannot accommodate. Giacomini discusses 9 specific sounds occurring in the coda that he suggests Antonioni used in a highly deliberate manner, as if approximating the use of specific musical instruments (the sounds of the sprinkler, the leaves blowing in the wind, the march of pedestrians, water flowing into the gutter, etc.). Giacomini speaks of Antonioni’s “musicalization” of such sound (“musicalizzare,” a neologism in Italian), writing of the complex interplay of Fusco’s music and diegetic noise with Antonioni’s images, resulting in the creation of a remarkable audiovisual product. An entire book has, in fact, been written discussing such issues, entitled Le sonorità del visibile. Immagini, suoni e musica nel cinema di Michelangelo Antonioni (“The sonority of the visible. Images, sounds and music in the cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni”). The very title of this latter book refers to the complex interaction between sound and image, one that speaks to the issue of synesthesia. The coda of L'eclisse may be analyzed in a visual and auditory sense that is as complex as the manner in which the Photographer of Blow-Up splices together a motion picture made of still photographs, all the while as we hear the trees of Maryon Park rustling impossibly in his studio apartment. Or “watch”  the tape recording David Locke listens to while in his hotel room in Chad in The Passenger, one of the most complex flashbacks--a manipulation of sound, image, and time-- in all of cinema.

     Giacomini analyzes the coda of L'eclisse employing more the vocabulary of music as opposed to that of cinema.  He does not specifically identify the overall musical form of the coda, i.e., whether it is constructed as a fugue, sonata, symphony, or the like.  Giacomini doe not write that the coda is, in fact, a requiem.

     So many myths regarding Antonioni and his films. A “visual” director. No sense of humor. No children. On and on. Are any of them true?



Note 28

     One wonders at the deliberateness of Antonioni’s choreography of the dance of hands--the “pieties of hands”--between Vittoria and Piero in the latter’s apartment. There are, in fact, three scenes of lovemaking between hands, a repetition that is characteristic of Antonioni. Vittoria and Piero first make love with their hands during their first passeggiata in the Eur park, when they simultaneously place their hands side by side in the spray of the sprinkler. In their final scene together--just seconds before their final parting--Vittoria and Piero briefly reprise the intertwining of fingers that they had performed earlier in the apartment of Piero’s parents, an act that now seems to provoke in Vittoria nervous laughter. Was Antonioni reminding us of those other star-crossed lovers, Juliet and Romeo and their first meeting in the Capuleti Palace in Verona after the dance, their first embrace one of hands and not of lips?

Good Pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

Romeo and Juliet
Act I, v

     We may consider that although Vittoria is a young woman who lives in Rome, she appears most happy when she is in Verona.  On her first “date” with Piero, Vittoria is driven by Piero in a model of an Alfa Romeo called a Giulietta.  There is an evening balcony encounter between Vittoria and Piero, Piero playing the part of suitor.  “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (“Wherefore” in Elizabethan [early modern] English has little to do with our modern English meaning of “where.”  Instead, “wherefore” in Elizabethan English is more similar to the German, “wofür,” meaning “for what, why.”  In modern English Juliet’s question could be translated as: “Why are you Romeo?”  For our purposes with regard to L'eclisse, the fundamental Shakespearean question becomes:  “Why are you Piero?”  Vittoria does ask Piero’s doppelganger—his real soulmate—the Drunk, “Who are you,” from the same balcony.  These are all queries regarding identity.  It is not until we arrive at The Passenger over 10 years later than L'eclisse that the question regarding David Locke becomes more profound than that of why he has traded identities with a dead man:  To be .  .  . or not to be?)

     Vittoria is, upon reflection, but a kind of reincarnation three centuries removed of Juliet. The love of both Italian couples will be eclipsed, despite their hands having once been tenderly entwined. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, it is an ancient enmity between families that dooms their love. In the case of Vittoria and Piero--a man and woman whose respective families are already either sundered or absent--the conflict is more modern, the failure to love at all, or well enough.

     In 1612, Shakespeare was summoned as a witness in a lawsuit concerning a contested dowry.  This issue is the principal subject of a book written by Charles Nicholl and published in 2008.  The testimony given by Shakespeare—the greatest playwright of the English language, and yet, a man whose biography is remarkably sketchy—is thought to be the only biographical evidence of a recorded, oral nature extant regarding Shakespeare’s entire life.  The argument has been made by Nicholl and others that Shakespeare himself may have performed a lay rite of betrothal known as a “handfasting” regarding the two parties to the civil action.  Such handfasting has ancient origins and concerns the intertwining of hands between two people as the central, symbolic act of a form of marriage that generally falls short of a complete, legally sanctioned contract recognized by the state.  The ceremony is generally performed in the summer.  The above alleged events mirror those which occur in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”  In L'eclisse, Antonioni may also have performed an elementary ritual of human behavior performed on a summer day in the cinematic handfasting of Vittoria and Piero.  All did not, however, end well.

     If turning to Shakespeare for an explanation of Antonioni’s emphasis on hands doesn’t suffice, look elsewhere. The emphasis is such that one may wonder if Antonioni is more concerned with hands than the more common object of fetishistic regard:  feet. Such a fetish is entirely in keeping with the theme of reification that suffuses L'eclisse. As is central to fetishistic longing, the love object is reduced to a body part or thing as opposed to the entire being. It is, as such, an incomplete and immature form of longing. In the recent 2006 interview with Antonioni and his wife conducted by Alessandra Mattanza, Antonioni--in response to the question, “Who is your favorite actress?”--responded, “Ho avuto un’attrazione speciale e una relazione profonda con Monica Vitti, perché in fondo l’ho scoperta, amata e creata. Fisicamente rappresentava la donna dei miei film. Mi innamorai subito delle sue mani.” / “I had a special attraction and a profound relationship with Monica Vitti, because I basically discovered, loved and created her. I fell in love immediately with her hands.” This answer is peculiar insofar as the response to the reporter’s question was actually intuited and uttered by Antonioni’s present wife, Enrica Fico Antonioni, the mouthpiece with whom Mattanza was truly engaged. Antonioni, because of his severe stroke in 1985, has been left largely speechless.

     Antonioni’s investment in hands may be seen as a kind of erotic objectification, the transformation of something living into a thing or concept:  reification, the strange sequence of events whereby the human being, Maria Luisa Ceciarelli is renamed Monica Vitti, is transformed by Antonioni into an actress assuming the role of others, her body reduced to that of her hands, and her existence ultimately shrunken to that of a celluloid image. Aphrodite, instead, denies reification and turns marble into life. Antonioni turns life into film.

     If the explanation for Antonioni’s concern for the exhibition of hands in L'eclisse was simply that he was as timid--as were the times in 1961 regarding filming overt sex--consider the following series of events that occurs within the space of approximately 5 minutes in Identificazione di una donna, made 20 years later:

     Mavi (An abbreviation for Maria Vittoria) is one of the principal love interests of the film’s main character, Niccolò, a film director. In one scene, Mavi is confronted by an older man who claims to be her true biological father. The man invites Mavi to compare each other’s hands to verify that they indeed resemble one another, as opposed to the more common approach of comparing facial features. The camera then captures a close up of their two pairs of hands being compared, a comparison that we as the audience are invited to also make.

     This scene is followed by a scene in which Mavi and Niccolò stand in front of the display window of a clothing boutique in Rome. In the window, a salesgirl is dressing a mannequin that is a life-size, two dimensional, photographic, cardboard cut-out of a nude man. As the salesgirl places a pair of tight fitting underwear on the mannequin--aware of the couple standing before her--she begins massaging the photograph’s solar plexus, a hand-job, with a concupiscent, knowing smile on her lips. The mannequin’s hand in turn is superimposed precisely over the salesgirl’s own groin.

     Cut to a bedroom where, nude on a bed, Mavi is passionately kissing Niccolò’s left hand while he is masturbating her with his right. The camera repeatedly focuses on the lover’s hands, including a shot of Mavi’s hands massaging her breasts.

     Perhaps the most famous of Antonioni’s images of hands occurs at the conclusion of L’avventura, when in close-up we see Claudia finally rest her hand upon the back of Sandro’s head, an act open to multiple interpretations (Pity? Acceptance? The compliant gesture of a future enabler to Sandro’s serial womanizing? Etc.). As is the case with most repetitive images that recur in a given film by Antonioni or throughout his œuvre, the meaning of the image may be elusive, multivalent, context dependent, or void.

     Angelo Restivo makes the interesting observation that in Blow-Up a particular hand gesture is made twice (see photographs 14a-b, p. 114 of Restivo’s book, The cinema of economic miracles). Relatively early in the film while at the top of the stairs leading to the promontory of Maryon Park, the Vanessa Redgrave character (“Jane”) holds her hand out before her in an attempt to prevent the Photographer from taking her picture (a photograph that the David Hemmings character (“Thomas”) later analyzes in his studio). Towards the end of the film, when the Photographer enters his neighbor, Bill’s apartment, and witnesses Bill and his girlfriend, Patricia making love, Patricia repeats a similar hand gesture as if to say, “Don’t look at me!” (In this latter case, the Photographer looks, but doesn’t photograph the scene.) In the case of L'eclisse, it is as though Antonioni himself raised his hand before the camera’s lens, prohibiting our being able to ever gaze again at Vittoria and Piero.

     The last full length motion picture Antonioni has participated in is Eros, an omnibus film consisting of three short films by three different directors. (Such “trilogies” have been quite popular in Italy; Antonioni had himself directed all three segments of the omnibus film, I vinti, in 1952, and had contributed an episode to the omnibus films Amore in città in 1953 and to I tre volti in 1965.)  The order of the three short films has been juggled in certain versions of Eros, depending on whether one sees the American or other editions of the film (why the order of presentation of the three shorts is different in various versions of Eros may relate to the excoriation Antonioni’s contribution received; as one argument goes, if Eros begins with Antonioni’s segment, then half the audience might walk out on the rest of the film[?])  Regardless, one of the three stories told in Eros is a highly erotic tale by Kar Wai Wong entitled, “The Hand.”



Note 29

     Vittoria has more than one doppelgänger. Among her other doubles is the black nightclub dancer of La notte.  Because, however, this other woman occurred in a different life--one that antedated that of L'eclisse--one might instead speak of reincarnation.

     The small woman trapped in the pen is emblematic of the cheap regard that Piero has for women.  The pen, a phallic symbol or pen(is), is both a figurative and literal reduction of Woman.  In addition to the pen providing silent commentary on Piero’s character, there is also an interesting auditory accompaniment that characterizes Piero’s attitude towards women as well.  It is in the very beginning of L'eclisse that we briefly hear a pop song by the Italian singer Mina entitled “EclisseTwist.”  (The song is drowned out in the middle of the film credits by Giovanni Fusco’s ominous and threatening music.)  The song is an undistinguished banal “love” song, the kind expressing the most superficial of attitudes towards romance that one hears repeatedly on AM radio (“Le nuvole e la luna ispirano gli amanti.  Si, ma per tanti, compreso me” / “The clouds and the moon inspire lovers.  Yes, but for many, including me . . .) In L'eclisse, after the initial credits, we do not hear the song by Mina again until the instant that Vittoria steps into Piero’s childhood bedroom.  The source of the song--whether in fact there is any source such as a radio in the vicinity of Piero’s room--is unclear; it is thus uncertain whether the music is diegetic or not.  It is, however, certain that the song is Vittoria and Piero’s wedding dirge, their tragic epithalamion.

     The above transcription of the song lyrics was done by myself and may be incorrect. (For example, I heard, “ispirano” [“inspires”], whereas, as indicated below, the word may be “espirano” [“expires”], which then sets into motion an ominous play of words (“Le nuvole e la luna espirano gli amanti.” / “The clouds and the moon expire the lovers.”) It is very difficult to distinguish the precise words, which Mina may have changed from the original written lyrics.  A recent Italian Internet site retrieved 5 July 2006:

<http://www.minamazzini.it/album/index.php?id=185&dec=60>

contends that Antonioni had written the lyrics for the song, “Twist dell’eclisse” as well as another musical piece, “Radioattività” (“Radioactivity”).  To assume the role of lyricist, the site maintains that Antonioni adopted another identity and wrote the lyrics under the pseudonym, “Ammonio Sacca.” (The site does not mention that this is the name of an enigmatic second century philosopher of Alexandria, a purported founder of the school of Neoplatonism.)  The Internet site states that “Radioattività” is the music played after Vittoria places a 50 lira coin in a jukebox.  (A problem with this assertion is that in no version of L'eclisse that I have ever seen, including the newly released Criterion DVD, does Vittoria ever place a coin in a jukebox.)  It is, thus, unclear whether a musical piece--with or without lyrics--entitled “Radioattività” is ever played in any context in the film, L'eclisse. (No music entitled, “Radioattività” is listed among the 29 tracks of the audio CD album, “I film di Antonioni.  Le musiche di Giovanni Fusco,” Cam product label.)  To further complicate matters, the word, “radioattività,” is cited by another recent Italian Internet site as being part of the lyrics of  “L’eclisse twist”:

Le nuvole e la luna
espirano a noi avanti
Sì,
ma pertanto io reso me

E di ch'io ho logico
di più vero amore
e so ho logico
indietro il cuore
La radioattività
un brivido di vita
ma tu, ma tu
di più, di più”

retrieved 5 July 2006 from:

<http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~ij3k-ogsw/CANZONE/eclisse.html>

     These lyrics differ from my original transcription above (which I made listening to Mina singing in the film L'eclisse itself, during the opening credits). It is also possible that Mina herself changed the lyrics.  (Additionally, according to the above “minamazzini” Internet site, Mina apparently recorded the song in French, English, and German, as well as Italian.) Furthermore, Mina does not sing the entire song as the opening credits of the film are rolling.  It is precisely at the moment when she sings “il cuore” (“the heart”) that Fusco’s cacophonous blaring music drowns out the song, annihilating the lyrics and Mina’s voice.  Thus, we do not hear the word, “radioattività,” at the beginning of the film.  Seamlessly, however, Mina appears to pick up the lyrics of the song for a second time at the precise moment when Vittoria enters the childhood bedroom of Piero towards the end of L'eclisse, at the precise point in the song where Mina’s singing was obliterated by Fusco’s music at the very beginning of the film.  It is thus, just as Vittoria enters Piero’s room that one can hear for the first time the word, “radioattività.”  It is less certain whether Mina then sings the specific lyrics:

La radioattività
un brivido di vita . . .”

     Giancarlo Guastini, referred to on p. 30 of the booklet, “Roma città del cinema,” PIT.giovani, numero speciale, Comune di Roma, Turismo, 8/02/2005, transcribes--or mis-transcribes--the lyrics as:

La radioattività
un brivido mi da . . .”

    There seems no end to different variations of “Eclisse Twist.” On a detailed Internet site retrieved 15 June 2012 [ http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/m/mina/eclisse_twist.html ], yet another significant version of the lyrics is posted as well as apparently a list of different recordings Mina made of the “same” song. (I do not know whether the single version of lyrics of “Eclisse Twist” on this site are purported to be those from the film itself or one of the several other recordings that Mina made of the song.) The lyrics, however, that are listed on this site are:

Le nuvole e la luna
Ispirano gli amanti
Sì. . . ma per tanti,
Compreso me.

È tipì o-ò logico
I-il vero amore
È zo-o-ò logico
Fin dentro il cuor.

La radioattività
Un brivido mi dà
Ma tu, ma tu
Di più, di più.

.  .  .

È tipì o-ò logico
I-il vero amore
È zo-o-ò logico
Fin dentro il cuor.

La radioattività
Un brivido mi dà
Ma tu, ma tu
Di più, di più.

     Repetitively listening to the lyrics as sung by Mina in L'eclisse, it is difficult to distinguish which lyrics are correct, a problem analogous to the difficulty in distinguishing the words of Vittoria’s famous declaration:

Ci sono giorni in cui avere in mano una stoffa, un ago, un libro, un uomo, è la stessa cosa.”

     The inference of “radioattività” seems transparent.  Love is dangerous to your health, a theme broached early in the film in the first scene at the Borsa where a repetitive linkage is made between money, sex, and death.  Again, “Roman Fever,” the fear of evening time in Rome--when, not long ago--it was malaria, not a hydrogen bomb, that kept people in their homes at 20.00.*




Mina and Antonioni in the recording studio



     The above Italian magazine article attests to the obsessive degree of control Antonioni exerted over all aspects of his films. Not only was Antonioni the lyricist for “Eclisse Twist,” but also spent a “laborious” 6 hours in the recording studio with Mina when she recorded the song.

     In L’avventura, a similar pop song of the late 1950’s-early 1960’s (“Mai” / “Never”)--again performed by the singer, Mina--is heard in the Hotel Trinacria in Noto and accompanied by Claudia’s singing:

No! No! I’ll never leave you. I’ll be in the sweetest of torments, but I’ll never lose you. No! No! I’ll never leave you . . . I’ll always hate you, but no, I’ll never leave you . . . I’ll be in the sweetest torment.

(Quoted in L’avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni, director.  Seymour Chatman and Guido Fink, editors.  New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1989. pp.162-163.)

     The ambivalence expressed by these lyrics make this song as much Vittoria’s as it does Claudia’s (particularly the ambivalence Vittoria expresses in her meeting with Piero when they are both seated outside in a rural area of the Eur with the strange, spired building in the background towards the end of L'eclisse).

     Antonioni, never a snob, is clearly not above using schmaltzy pop tunes to create auditory associations with his characters.  In La notte, when Lidia and Giovanni meet at the outskirts of Milano at their “solito prato” (à la Vittoria and Piero, their “solito posto”)--where years earlier Lidia and Giovanni would meet as young lovers--we hear upbeat popular music on a radio coming from the nearby outdoor café-kiosk.  The music is “dissonant” insofar as it contrasts so completely with the downbeat nature of Lidia and Giovanni’s dying marriage. At one point the café radio announces, “Continua il nostro programa di musica leggera” / “Continuing now with our program of light music . . .” Pasolini employed music for similar motives in Accattone, setting the gang rape of a prostitute at a garbage dump to the music of Bach's Saint Matthew's Passion . Antonioni preferred, however, to have his musical accompaniment in La notte emanate from a natural source, that of a radio in the character’s environment. Similarly, in the night town sequence of Ikiru, Kurosawa repetitively employs pop occidental music arising from naturalistic sources to ironically contrast the collision between a dying man and the manic denial of death in the red light district of Tokyo.  As Donald Richie notes, while Watanabe is vomiting in the bar we hear the Josephine Baker recording of J’ai deux amours.  In L'eclisse, a manic denial of death is also the central conceit of the pandemonium in the Roman Borsa: a Todentanz occurring in an oxen pen with multiple identities and disguises, among which are those of a whorehouse and abattoir.  The controversial 1951 West German film, Die Sünderin (“Story of a Sinner”; USA title) paints a tragic tableau of the syndrome: Behind all the good looks, parties, fast cars, money, the hot numbers .  .  . finally there is nothing more than a naked fear of death, Todesangst, which has whipped into a frenzy the urge to taste as much of life as possible before the inevitable end (deliberately paraphrased translation from the German version of the film by author, d.s.r).

     Despite Antonioni’s reputation as an austere and reserved filmmaker, he has consistently preferred contemporary music--including the rock music of the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, and U2 in Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point and Par-delà les nuages respectively--to that of classical music.  A rare exception would be the classical violin concerto we hear--apparently on the car radio--as Locke and the Girl in The Passenger race down the tree-lined, vaulted highway (Nacional-340 near Vera?  See: http://www.audioguiasqr.com/vera-paisajes-de-cine-el-reportero/ accessed: 31 December 2013) in southern Spain to Osuna and to Death.  Likewise, after Locke dies and his soul takes flight, we hear the lament of a solo guitar playing a classical melody attributed to Tarrega and Llobet by the critic, Edward Stanton, whom Chatman cites on p. 202 of his book, Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World.  Antonioni’s uncharacteristic use of commentative music in The Passenger--especially classical music--seems, however, entirely appropriate, or to use Chatman’s word, “poignant,” in this latter particular film.  The precise music played at the conclusion of The Passenger is a solo guitar composition by either Francisco Tárrega or Tárrega’s star pupil, Miguel Llobet.  There appears to be some conflict as to whether it was Tárrega or Llobet who composed the Catalan folksong entitled, “Cançó del Lladre” (“The Song of the Thief”), as opposed to who wrote the arrangement for the composition.  See Saulter, Gerry; on-line article courtesy of the “New York Classical Guitar Society Newsletter.”  Retrieved 17 March 2009:

<http://www.angelfire.com/ny5/serenade/engartfeb2005.html>

The poignancy of the song is heightened by its title which resonates with the theft of David Robertson’s life by David Locke, or by the alternative interpretation that the music is so beautiful as “to steal one’s heart.”  Or the title of the song may conjure the image of that other thief who hovers above all of The Passenger, the Angel of Death.

     Antonioni’s preference for contemporary music has been consistent, commencing with his first feature film, Cronaca di un amore, in which we hear a jazz tune with scat singing as Guido lies in his room awaiting the moment later that night when he will commit murder.  It is also noteworthy that in Cronaca di un amore, as the Bosé and Girotti characters exit at sunset the planetarium of Milano located in the Gardens of Porta Venezia there is a man strumming lilting music on a guitar and whistling a song that the screenplay for the film explicitly describes as “sad.”  This anticipates by 25 years the conclusion at sunset of The Passenger and the touching “Cançó del Lladre.”  Over 30 years after Cronaca di un amore, we hear “Soavesito” coming from a neighbor’s apartment as Niccolò appears in the beginning scene of Antonioni’s 1982 film, Identificazione di una donna. (Elsewhere, other contemporary songs color this latter film as well, including one by the Italian rockstar, Gianna Nannini, “Come un Treno--Vièni, Ragazzo.”) Indeed, the principal theme of most pop song--that of lost love--is one of Antonioni’s principal concerns as well.  Antonioni is not employing opera in his films, an ostensibly high-minded form of music that is habitually married to the most implausible, melodramatic, and homicidal of plots, the stage in many an opera invariably littered with corpses as the curtain drops.  Antonioni is not turning to Tristan and Isolde . . . but the song is the same, Liebestod, the death of love.  And although death is everywhere in L'eclisse, its final act—unlike most opera—contains no bodies, nobody at all.

     Antonioni’s use in his films of contemporary love tunes that have no lasting musical or other merit, would seem to run counter to his self avowed reluctance to use music at all in his films (“I am personally very reluctant to use music in my films, for the simple reason that I prefer to work in a dry manner, to say things with the least means possible. . . I have too much faith in the efficacy, the value, the force, the suggestiveness of the image to believe that the image cannot do with music.” Quoted by Chatman, p. 133, Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World). The pop tunes are, however, a special class of musical commentary as opposed to more nondescript commentative background music. Such songs with their banal lyrics often complement Antonioni’s two dimensional characters and their sentiments.  These pop love songs are popular in part because they so universally describe the simplistic attitudes and longings of their listeners.  There is indeed the curious sense that the lyrics are at the same time entirely superficial and yet deeply profound, arising as it were from the subconscious itself.  There is a conflict between the need to resist such falsity and the difficulty in doing so (a difficulty that also commonly underlies identification and adherence to political or religious dogma).

     This same tension seems to underlie Antonioni’s early interest in comic book romance as shown in L’amorosa menzogna, his early documentary concerning “fotoromanze” (popular Italian magazines with serial photo love stories).  Both pop music and romance magazines (which continue to be published in Italy to this day), resemble television soap operas in their cardboard, two dimensional representation of characters inevitably ensnared in some kind of tortured romantic conflict.  The songs and magazines bear no direct relationship to reality, but instead are “real” only insofar as they speak--as do dreams--to a kind of primitive “wish fulfillment,” or yearning for love.  Antonioni was able to combine his evident interest in pop love songs and photo romance magazines in a video clip he made in the summer of 1984--his last project before his major stroke of 1985--set to the music of Gianna Nannini, a rock video appropriately entitled, “Fotoromanza.”  The approximately 4-minute video may be seen at the Internet site, http://www.youtube.com/.  A portion of the lyrics is as follows:


Ti addormenti con qualcuno (You go to bed with someone)
che alla luce del giorno (who in the light of day)
non conosci più (you no longer know)

Questo amore è una camera a gas (This love is a gas chamber)
è un palazzo che brucia in città (it’s a building that is burning in the city)
Questo amore è una lama sottile (This love is a thin razor blade)
è una scena al rallentatore (it’s a scene in slow motion)
Questo amore è una (This love is a)
bomba all’hotel (bomb in a hotel)
Questo amore è una (This love is a)
finta sul ring (fake move in the boxing ring)
è una fiamma (it’s a flame that)
che esplode nel cielo (explodes in the sky)

Io vorrei toccarti (I want to touch you)
ma più mi avvicino e più (but the closer I get to you)
non so chi sei (the less I know you)

     This particular video directed by Antonioni, his only work set in New York City (a relatively primitive production from a technical standpoint as compared to 21st century technology), has taken on a grander, more prophetic significance than it originally possessed.  The same may be said of Auden’s poem written towards the middle of the 20th century, “September 1, 1939,” which has been widely interpreted in recent times as anticipating September 11, 2001.  Antonioni’s rock video is filled with images of extreme violence, with a particularly haunting image of the twin towers and New York being consumed in an apocalypse that had not yet occurred.  The video is highbrow eschatology disguised with the lowbrow greasepaint of pop art.  My mind involuntarily forces me to repetitively remember in an unending cycle Chris Marker’s famous, short “photo-roman,” La Jetée [1962], a brief “experimental” film that concerns two lovers, not unlike Vittoria and Piero, who are unable to consumate their final rendezvous on the eve of a nuclear Third World War.  A voice ringing in my ear, a fearsome tinnitus that like a needle stuck in the groove of an old vinyl record has become an incessant chant:  Auden, famously remarking in his poem that we must love one another or die.

    In his 1964 introduction to his screenplays, Antonioni writes of a an event in his own life that may provide greater insight into his use of pop love songs in his films. Antonioni writes of his being a guest at the Grand Hotel in Rimini in winter (in the province of his birth, Emilia-Romagna, which is also the birthplace of a remarkably high relative percentage of noted directors including Avati, Bellocchio, Bertolucci, Cavani, Fellini, Zurlini, and others [For more regarding Emilia-Romagna and the cinema see:  Ferrero, Adelio (Editor). Tradizione e innovazione nel cinema degli autori Emiliano-Romagnoli. Comune di Modena, 1976]).  Sitting in the hotel’s rotunda, he writes of observing two little girls playing on the beach, separated from himself by the barbed wire that wards off the hotel in off season. In a sing-song voice, one of the girls is repetitively singing, “Che amore . . . che dolore!” (“What love . . . what pain!”).  Antonioni writes, “Per tutto quel giorno per me questo fu un film.” (“For all of that day that scene was a film.”).  Continuing, Antonioni writes, “Era una intonazione particolare, fresca e struggente insieme, dava a quelle parole una dimensione certamente inconsapevole ma profunda, tutto l’amore tutto il dolore del mondo.” (The girl sang with a particular intonation, at once both innocent and heartbreaking, certainly subconscious on the girl’s part, yet nonetheless profound . . .all the love and all of the pain of this world.”)

     “Total Eclipse of the Heart”--the 1983 mega-hit, power ballad written by Jim Steinman (“Stoneman”) and popularized by the Welsh singer, Bonnie Tyler--exemplifies the common theme of much pop, country, and folk music:  the promise of eternal love and the lament that ensues when such promise is broken.

            And I need you now tonight
            And I need you more than ever
            And if you only hold me tight
            We'll be holding on forever
            And we'll only be making it right
            Cause we'll never be wrong together
            We can take it to the end of the line
            Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
            I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
            We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
            I really need you tonight
            Forever's gonna start tonight
            Forever's gonna start tonight

            Once upon a time I was falling in love
            But now I'm only falling apart
            There's nothing I can do
            A total eclipse of the heart
            Once upon a time there was light in my life
            But now there's only love in the dark
            Nothing I can say
            A total eclipse of the heart

     In the context of L'eclisse the unexpected reprise of the “The Twist” that is suddenly heard as Vittoria enters Piero’s childhood bedroom offers an auditory association with Piero. In L’avventura the obvious delight with which Claudia sings her song is perhaps, instead, an ironic comment by Antonioni on the illusory nature of love and Claudia’s pending disappointment. The lyrics of the song sung by Claudia in L’avventura are, however, in the same key as the final declarations of eternal love sworn by Vittoria and Piero in their final meeting. “Ci vediamo domani . . . Ci vediamo domani e dopo domani . . . E il giorno dopo e l’altro ancora . . .” (“We shall see each other tomorrow . . . We shall see each other tomorrow and the day after tomorrow . . . and all days to come . . .”). Claudia’s song is, in fact, the anthem of lost love for all of Antonioni’s couples. The song begins on a note of hope, chiming--as do all love songs--with Shakespeare’s “forever and a day”; the last verse, now become a lament, followed by the sound that follows the last verse of all song:  silence.

    Approximately 2 years after playing Piero in L’eclisse, Alain Delon would once again find himself back in Italy, once more playing another Italian role, this time in the “Italian” segment of the omnibus film, The Yellow Rolls-Royce. (Delon made a remarkable number of films in Italy with a variety of Italian directors, not the least of which were the two magisterial Visconti films, Rocco e i suoi fratelli [“Rocco and His Brothers,” 1960] and Il gattopardo [“The Leopard,” 1963].)  A hit song with a catchy tune and lyrics, “Forget Domani,” was the recurrent musical theme of Delon’s episode in The Yellow Rolls-Royce.

            Forget tomorrow,
            Let's live for now, and anyhow,
            Who needs tomorrow?
            The moonlight,
            Let's share the moonlight,
            Perhaps together,
            We will never be again!,

            Let's take the minutes as they speed away,
            And hope it's true what people say,
            When you're in love, tomorrow never comes!

     Words and Music by Riziero Ortolani and Norman Newell

     (Caution: Plot Spoiler)
     <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA9bed45JKc&feature=related.html>

The sentiment of this song is 180 degrees out of sync from the declaration that Vittoria and Piero make in L'eclisse, that they shall be together for all days to come.  In one film, love is promised to last forever.  In another, it is foretold that “tomorrow” will never come.  In both films it is the latter declaration that proves true.

     Antonioni’s employ of pop music conforms to the rhetoric of irony, or in musical terms, to that of dissonance. A Muzak-like instrumental rendition of “Silver Hairs among the Gold” is heard on the jukebox of the Verona AeroClub bar, as military aircraft fly overhead, death contained in their bomb bays.  Like “The Tennessee Waltz” played in the bar en route to Zabriskie Point, these sentimental ballads are equivalent to the phenomenon of whistling past the grave.  Antonioni (and Giovanni Fusco, the composer) also resort to the musical use of both cacophony and crescendo in the final seconds of L'eclisse. Conventionally, the highest and/or loudest note of a musical composition, particularly in opera, accompanies the moment of highest drama.  In the final seconds of L'eclisse a loud cacophonous blare rises at the climax of the film, a sound which is a kind of musical shriek à la Munch (resembling the visual counterpart of Vittoria’s image in the mirror of Riccardo’s apartment, mouth open, an existential grido). Depending upon one’s point of view, these final seconds of the film might be regarded as either the least or most dramatic moments of the film.  The dramatis personae have vacated the stage, the screen becomes consumed by a white light (as if the film itself were caught in the sprockets of the projector and set afire), and finally, when one might say nothing, nothing at all is happening any longer, the world emits a long agonizing wail.


Note 30

     In several of Antonioni’s films Hemingway is either directly alluded to, or has some bearing (La notte, L'eclisse, The Passenger).  Regarding the explicit reference in L'eclisse to “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Gavriel Moses reminds us that “. . . the ‘happy’ flight in Hemingway’s story takes place only in the dream of a dying man.”:

And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud, moving over the ground, and in the air, like the first snow in a blizzard, that comes from nowhere, and he knew the locusts were coming up from the South.  Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro.  And then he knew that there was where he was going.

     Hemingway, himself, was involved in two airplane crashes while in Africa, the second one nearly fatal.  Antonioni, himself, had a potentially deadly confrontation with a plane crash during the making of Zabriskie Point.  Chatman (Michelangelo Antonioni, The Investigation) writes, “A wheel fell off the aeroplane whilst Antonioni and the camera crew were filming inside it.  The had to fly around until the fuel tanks were empty before attempting to land.”  On p. 123 Chatman shows us a colour photograph of “an emotional Antonioni [embracing] a friend with the crashed plane in the background.” 

Friday, Sabbath evening, 1938
Almost Dying in Death Valley
The ever-present proximity of Death .  .  .

Was the “friend,” Franco Indovina, a close friend of Antonioni and the assistant director of L'eclisse, who later died in a plane crash in 1972 at Punta Raisi in Sicily shortly before his marriage to Princess Soraya who he had directed in the “Latin Lover” segment of the omnibus film, I tre volti (Oggi. 25 November 1998, p.122; http://www.payvand.com/news/08/oct/1161.html [accessed 1 October 2012])?   (It is surprising that the airplane flight scene of L'eclisse was ever shot:  Monica Vitti has had a chronic and profound fear of flying.  Antonioni is also said to have had an airplane phobia (See Delli Colli and Lancia, Monica Vitti [p. 13]).

     The fact that Vittoria specifically utters the title of the Hemingway story creates a subtle kind of rhetorical guilt-by-association, linking her own flight with that of the dying man, undermining the seeming bliss of Vittoria’s idyllic flight to Verona, as well as subtly linking Vittoria’s flight over Italy to a flight over Africa.  We may remember that in L'eclisse the Verona airport even has a small African population, and that the city Verona is itself at the very foot of snow capped peaks, the Alps.

     With regard to The Passenger, Brunette (p. 143) refers to an interview in which Antonioni explained that “. . an idea from Hemingway flashed through his [Antonioni’s] mind: Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s book on bullfighting, with its dusty arena, the corrida music, and so on, all of which is suggested by what occurs outside Locke’s window [in the final scene].”  Indeed, in the opening segment of The Passenger one may see a primitive mural of the “running of bulls”—resembling a Paleolithic cave wall drawing such as at Lascaux in Dordogne, France—painted on the white wall of the reception room of the Saharan hotel where both David Locke and David Robertson are staying, adumbrating the final corrida de toros in Vera, Spain, at the conclusion of the film.

     In Hemingway’s favorite film adaptation of any of his work, The Killers (1946), the character played by Burt Lancaster is a sad man on the run, trying to hide out in a new skin in a new town in a new life; fate catches up with him--something Sophocles had warned us that fate is want to do--and the Lancaster character lies down on the bed in his zero-star hotel room, resigned, passive, waiting to be killed by the assassins who are relentlessly pursuing him.  It may be useful to note that like Vittoria’s “blissful” flight in L'eclisse, David Locke--whom we first meet in Africa--also has such a flight in The Passenger while in the gondola “flying” blissfully over the Barcelona harbour.  Again, we see that a complex nexus of associations occurs ubiquitously and repeatedly across all of Antonioni’s films.  Such associations may not even be deliberate on Antonioni’s part, nor do they necessarily tend towards any further meaning per se.  At times, it is as though clues are proffered to help explain mysteries that have no solutions.

     Although it is clear that Hemingway influenced Antonioni’s thinking in at least some instances, it is uncertain what other literary, cinematic, or other influences acted specifically upon Antonioni’s elaboration of L'eclisse. It must be emphasized, however, that Antonioni is a man who has read widely.  Joan Esposito has argued, for example, that Antonioni’s creation of L'eclisse may have been influenced by the German philosopher and literary critic, Walter Benjamin, and Benjamin’s theory of dialectical images.  In her essay on L'eclisse, Esposito has also briefly reviewed possible Marxist influences on the making of L'eclisse.  Antonioni also has an extensive knowledge of the history of cinema, having written extensively as a film critic, particularly in the 1930’s.  It appears likely that Antonioni was aware of the highly regarded 1929 silent film by Marcel L’herbier, L’argent, a tale set in the French Bourse adapted from the Zola novel, in which an airplane--that of Charles Lindbergh--also plays a role.  Was Antonioni also aware of a distinctly unusual two minute silence in which the live orchestra became mute that occurred in the British director George Pierson’s 1924 silent film, Reveille, a silence that anticipates the approximately seven and a half minute “silence” at the conclusion of L'eclisse?  It also seems conceivable that the silent film of Fernand Léger, Le ballet mécanique (1923), might have influenced Antonioni in some manner, for it is in this latter film that objects are elevated to the stature of living characters.  In addition to artists such as Léger, philosophers, poets, and novelists have preceded Antonioni in their attention to the primacy of objects. (In particular, Moravia’s novel, La noia, is an incessant contemplation of objects and people as objects.)  Other potential cinematic and literary references abound, but I cannot confirm that--despite the literal appearance of some specific books and magazines in L'eclisse--a single one ever had the slightest effect on Antonioni with regard to the further elaboration of the film itself. (In L'avventura Anna brought two books with her on her ill-fated cruise: the Bible and Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.  Antonioni was an open admirer of Fitzgerald's work.)  (Caution!: spoiler warning; plot and/or ending details about film to follow.)  Did the thought that a white Alfa might someday be raised from the Eur lake first occur to Antonioni when he saw the dead Marion Crane’s car hoisted out of the backwaters of Psycho, released in Italy in late November, 1960, or when Catherine and Jim plunged off a bridge in a car to their watery death in Jules and Jim, a film shot in the same year as L'eclisse?


Note 31

     Earlier, I discussed the ways in which Cronaca di un amore anticipates L'eclisse (doomed love, the linkage of money and sex, references to Africa, scenes beneath the “stars” in a planetarium, Foscolo and chocolates, as well as other associations both big and small).  Indeed, the ending of Cronaca di un amore is also the ending of L'eclisse:

     In the final minutes of Cronaca di un amore Paola’s husband, Enrico, has an auto accident while speeding in which his car skids off the road into a watery death in the Naviglio, a canal outside of Milano, adumbrating the watery death of the Drunkard. (In both “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and in The Passenger, the car of the male protagonist breaks down at the end, one link in a “Daisy” chain of causality that will end in death.)  Paola and her lover, Guido, meet immediately thereafter to discuss the event and make plans for the future.  Paola beseeches Guido to meet her “domani,” a rendezvous that he agrees to, but never intends to keep.  Guido then takes a taxi, unbeknownst to Paola, to the train station.  The final image of the film is that of the taxi receding and disappearing in the distance as it hurtles into the night down a deserted street in Milano between two rows of illuminated streetlights, “Fine” then appearing on the screen. (Biarese and Tassone go so far as to describe this last scene as, “La prima memorabile ‘eclisse’del cinema di Antonioni” / “The first memorable ‘eclipse’ in the cinema of Antonioni.” [p. 72].)  The end of L'eclisse differs, however, in at least one small way: as the word “Fine” appears this time on the screen, even this word, the “end,” is suddenly wiped out.

     As I have already remarked, Antonioni’s range is relatively circumscribed, both in terms of style and theme.  Certainly, differences do exist between Antonioni’s early and later films.  Antonioni has himself spoken of the changing nature of his films, and one can vaguely describe an early period ending with Il grido, a middle period consisting of the “tetralogy” of Avventura-Notte-Eclisse-Deserto rosso, and a late period highlighted by the trilogy of films in English set outside of Italy.  Effacement is, however, an abiding concern.  The annulment of a summer romance in L'eclisse becomes the cancellation of the self in The Passenger.  It is at the beginning of The Passenger when David Locke, like a spy who retreats into the night, “goes dark.”  David Robertson also goes dark, but in the deepest sense of the expression:  Robertson’s heart fails him and he dies.  At the end of L'eclisse, Vittoria and Piero also suffer a fatal heart attack and are swallowed up by the night, never again to see the light of day.



Note 32

     This particular variety of reverse camera angle shot (in the terminology of cinematography, “shot reverse shot” [or “shot/countershot”]) occurs with some regularity in L'eclisse.  A similar sequence of shots occurs earlier in the film when Vittoria and Piero are first seen in the foreground walking away from the outdoor piano bar with the two trees seen in the distant background, followed by a shot that is “flipped” 180 degrees so that we now see Vittoria and Piero from the perspective of the trees, the dome of the Church of Santi Pietro e Paolo in the distance.  Normally, shot/countershot is employed in cinema and television to film a back-and-forth conversation between two characters with two cameras shooting over-the-shoulder shots in alternating fashion; Antonioni generally avoided this rather unnatural but extremely common cinematic method of filming conversations between two characters. (It is ultimately easier and to some degree more “natural” to simply film the two or more characters engaged in a conversation with one camera, the characters all visible in one frame.)  It is curious that when Antonioni does employ shot/countershot, the technique is often employed to film a “dialogue” between the landscape and human beings rather than between two people.  Perhaps the most dramatic example in Antonioni’s œuvre of this 180 degree photographic somersault occurs in The Passenger when the African “witchdoctor” being interviewed by the journalist David Locke, grabs Locke’s camera and begins filming Locke (“Your questions reveal more about yourself than of me.”). One might refer to such shots as “reflective,” and as such are related to other Antonionian motifs including duplication and mirroring.  Antonioni is not adverse to disregarding the usual rules of cinematic etiquette, including the possible violation of cinema’s fourth wall as already discussed, disregarding the“180 degree rule,” and denying conventional cinematic expectations regarding eye line shots or matches.  Gavriel Moses quotes Antonioni as writing that “The technical side of the cinema in itself has never interested me; once the two or three rules of cinematography have been learned, nothing remains but to break them.” (Because Antonioni has been consistently consumed by the technology of cinema, this quotation is puzzling; vide supra, Endnote #5, for evidence attesting to Antonioni’s abiding interest in technological innovation.  When one encounters such quotations that appear so peculiar, one must consider whether the quotation has been mistranslated, taken out of context, is a typographical error, etc.  After such possibilities are excluded one may consider that, for whatever reason, human beings sometimes do not tell the truth; vide infra, Endnote #37, for Antonioni’s “unbelievable” comment on why he constructed the neon sign for the scene in Maryon Park in Blow-Up.  And even when such beings believe that they are telling the truth, half the time they are wrong; see the critical writing on Antonioni [including this book], all of Antonioni’s films, and life itself.)  Gilberto Perez cites another example of a cinematic misdemeanor by Antonioni, when he describes a point of view shot from Vittoria’s perspective of the man doodling flowers outside the Borsa, with the disorientating sudden appearance of Vittoria herself walking into the frame representing her own visual field.  Normal vision does not permit the observer to visualize their entire body in their field of vision as an object of regard:

No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself,
But by reflection, by some other things.

Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2)

     Similar perturbations occur in other Antonioni films, including examples in L’avventura taking place on Lisca Bianca which Chatman analyzes in some detail.  Gavriel Moses remarks that such “mistakes” might be expected from an inexperienced cameraman or filmmaker.  In the case of Antonioni, however, Moses observes that Antonioni’s deliberate disregard for conventional filmmaking techniques is part of a modernist tradition intended, “to present willfully disturbing, challenging and ambiguous statements in highly hermetic ways.”  Regarding the sequence of inverted shots of Vittoria standing at the window of the apartment of Piero’s parents, Perez observes that this is the “world’s reverse angle on the self.”  One might alternatively remark that by filming Vittoria from the piazza’s point of view, this reduces Vittoria to landscape, granting in democratic fashion equal value to both the piazza’s and Vittoria’s view of things.  A further observation might be that such an unusual and potentially disorienting reverse angle shot is as much an aesthetic as it is thematic choice on Antonioni’s part.  Antonioni is a most painterly of movie directors.  As he has compulsively done in so many of his films--framing protagonists in windows, doors, and the like--could he not resist stepping in the piazza’s shoes and painting a reifying landscape of Vittoria?  It is through the mouth of the young prince who is a painter in L’avventura, that Antonioni tells us that “There is no landscape as beautiful as a woman.”

     The explicit presentation of works of art abound in Antonioni’s films.  In particular, paintings and photographs of people--primarily women--occur repeatedly.  Examples already discussed with regard to L'eclisse include the disorienting large painting of the woman in the billowing dress first seen framed in a window of Vittoria’s apartment as seen from a perspective outside the building, the photo of an African woman that is the gateway and introduction to Marta’s apartment, as well as the large painting of a girl that Vittoria sits beneath in the apartment of Piero’s apartment. (Immediately after we witness “Vittoria”--now someone else--transform herself into an imitation of an African woman raising a spear, we see a shot of Marta, seated, to the right of whom is a painting of an African woman brandishing a spear.)  In L’avventura, the young prince paints nothing but women, his studio a maze of mirrors, the mirrors replaced by reflecting paintings of nude women.  In Identificazione di una donna, the wall above Niccolò’s desk is adorned with pictures of women, the most notable of which--as pointed out by Chatman--is Louise Brooks. In Blow-Up, the profession ot the character played by David Hemmings is that of a photographer of women, the same profession which appears to have been largely adopted by Antonioni himself.  Monica Vitti, a living being who is an actress, is in Antonioni’s films a simulacrum of a real person, reified into celluloid, the movement of which when held up to light at 24 frames a second produces the illusion of movement suggesting animation and life itself.  In Par delà les nuages a particularly complex meditation on the relationship between painting, people, and landscapes occurs.  In a scene towards the end of the film, we first see a view of the mountain, Sainte-Victoire, presumably from the point of view of the Malkovich character (himself a simulacrum of Antonioni) as he sits in a train passing before the mountain. (Interestingly, Antonioni himself presented an exhibition of his paintings of mountains that had been blown up into photographic enlargements at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome in the 1980’s; these paintings/photographs have subsequently been on exhibition at the Museo Michelangelo Antonioni in the city of Antonioni’s birth, Ferrara.  Parenthetically, the latter museum had been closed for “renovations” on 13 June 2006, only to be unceremoniously declared by the Mayor of Ferrara the week after Antonioni’s death in 2007, to be permanently closed, terminated, effaced, never-to-be-seen-again; http://lanuovaferrara.repubblica.it/dettaglio/Il-sindaco-su-Antonioni:-no-al-museo-solo-per-lui/1350514  [retrieved 13 December 2007]). In what might then seem a shamelessly gratuitous cameo appearance of Marcello Mastroianni, a subtle dissolve occurs from Malkovich’s POV shot of Sainte-Victoire to another perspective of the same mountain from the viewpoint of the Mastroianni character, an artist, as he stands before an easel in the Provence countryside transforming the mountain into a stylized representation on canvas.  Then, in yet another dissolve with a superimposition and then substitution of one image by another, Mastroianni’s painting is substituted by a “real” Cézanne painting of Sainte-Victoire hanging in the lobby of an Aix-en-Provence hotel, the painting itself presumably a copy.  In the same lobby, the camera then reveals the Malkovich character popping up out of nowhere, standing before another Cézanne copy, this time the portrait of a man which is hung on the lobby wall.  Malkovich then attempts to ape the posture of the imaginary man (a strange take of sorts on Pygmalion or “reification-in-reverse”).  In summary, four different views of a mountain are successively presented, two seen from different points of view by two different characters, two others being different paintings by different painters of the same mountain. The process is then reversed, attention now directed towards a different image, a painting of a man that is then mimed by a man. (A similar transformation process is followed in Blow-Up, where the Photographer vainly seeks a landscape painting in the London antique shop, only to discover a real landscape waiting for him in the nearby park which he will in turn transform into a photographic image.)  Apart from the broad and typical Antonionian concern with metamorphosis and reification, the scene also speaks to the nature of visual perspective involving a complex inversion of subject-object, background-foreground, real-unreal, life-art. As Yeats has noted:

Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things . . .”

How, then, can we know the dancer from the dance?



Note 33

     In Identificazione di una donna, near midway in the film, the movie director Niccolò is seen reading the Herald Tribune in his apartment, the headline of one of its articles being, “Expanding Sun Poses Threat to Earth’s Future.” (The cold war fear of immolation in a nuclear war latent in L'eclisse has been replaced in Identificazione di una donna by the new fear of the Sun’s more “natural” nuclear fission, solar as opposed to global warming.)  This newspaper headline--one that seems either a kind of replay or modern update on the newspaper headings seen in L'eclisse--will reverberate throughout the entire remainder of Identificazione di una donna.  After reading the Tribune article regarding the Sun, Niccolò will then on three subsequent occasions go to a specific large window in his apartment, one that is immediately next to his desk.  It is above this deck that the central panorama of the film is seen, that of Niccolò’s bulletin board with the pictures of the women whom he is “investigating.”  Niccolò’s first visit to the window occurs on a rainy day when he affixes a photograph of Louise Brooks, not on the nearby bulletin board above his desk, but on the window itself.  (He does not employ any glue or tape, but simply firmly presses the photo against the presumably cold and damp window causing Louise Brooks to adhere to the glass [an atomic dance of van der Waals forces, one more mysterious force of physics and not of psychology causing one thing to become attracted to another, the force that permits a gecko to climb a tree at 3 feet per second or Vittoria’s and Piero’s lips to stick to a glass partition dividing each of them from one another? Vide <http://www.sarahgoforth.com/gecko.pdf> retrieved 2 November 2007].) Niccolò’s second visit occurs when on a sunny day after looking at a postage stamp bearing the image of a space station and Russian astronauts, Niccolò then focuses a telescope--presumably with an appropriate filter--on the margin of the Sun seen from the now open window.  I have already written of Niccolò’s third and final visit to the window, that of the very final scene of Identificazione di una donna when he opens the window and sits on the sill briefly staring at the Sun.  Niccolò then shuts his eyes and we the audience are then privileged to see with his own mind’s eye the final image of Identificazione di una donna, that of a fiery and majestic Sun, not unlike the luminescent orb at L'eclisse’s end. The photo of Louise Brooks is no longer present, having been replaced by the Sun.

     Sitney (p. 158) suggests that one possible interpretation for the streetlight at the conclusion of L'eclisse is that it alludes to an atomic explosion, an explosion anticipated by the newspaper headline which Antonioni so pointedly draws our attention to only minutes earlier.  The precise manner in which Antonioni films the streetlight immediately before the screen goes black at the very end of the film enhances this interpretation of the light as a bomb’s explosive flash (as opposed to some inverted form of an eclipse):  the entire streetlight including its base and pole is first filmed in a relative long shot.  There is then a sudden cut to an extreme close up of the lamp itself, surrounded by a “halo” effect, thus highlighting the sense of a sudden blast of blinding light.  The word “FINE,” “The End,” then appears in the background of this luminance, the white letters slowly enlarging and approaching us as if the hot, nuclear wind of an atomic blast were suddenly striking us in the face.  The halo and then the lamp themselves dissolve, leaving “FINE’ burned on our retinae as we, in turn, go blind and the screen turns black.

     Or are we the audience, as we approach the end of the film, encountering a near-death experience? The White Light.


Again, the White, the Ineffable Light



Note 34

     Transience, the dew on the morning grass, the ephemeral nature of things--especially that of love--is a beloved and recurrent theme of Antonioni’s.  Atop the roof of a church in Noto, Sandro--a failed architect who no longer makes buildings, but determines on paper only cost estimates--gazes with wonder at the architectural splendor of Noto spread before him, the jewel of 18th century Spanish baroque in Sicily.  Claudia, with the optimism and blindness of new love, tells Sandro that she believes that he too “could make very beautiful things.”  Sandro responds, “I’m not so sure. I just don’t know.  And who needs beautiful things now, Claudia?  How long will they last?  Once they had centuries of life before them. Now--ten, twenty years at the most . . . and then . . . well . . .” [Grove Press translation, L’avventura, a film by Michelangelo Antonioni, p. 107].  Gabriele Ferzetti recited these lines in 1959.  In 1996, the dome of the Chiesa (Cattedrale) di S. Nicolò in Noto that Sandro so admired spontaneously collapsed, severely damaging the nave below.  Joe’s hut atop Lisca bank, a less grandiose structure, has fared no better; by the time Mancini and Perrella had traveled in 1983 with their crew specializing in the “archeology of cinema” they write, “We also found the remains of the papier mâché hut and rocks, fragments of fixtures and chairs and traces of the false archaeological ruins which art director Poletto had built (p. 431).” (Apparently, the hut was made of plaster and then set up against very large rocks made of papier mâché [p. 447].) Not long after L’avventura was shot the hut was destroyed by a violent storm and also appears to have been partially consumed by fire, strangely reminiscent of the fate of the shack where the “orgy” took place in Il deserto rosso. As may be seen in the photographs that Mancini and Perrella took of the site where the hut once stood (p. 447), the hut and adjoining rocks, like Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” have been almost completely effaced by fire, water, and the sands of time (Nothing beside remains, round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away . . .).  In addition to the film critics and historians who participated in this expedition to Lisca Bianca, there was also a geologist, recruited to confirm that landslides, erosion, fractures, and crumbling had altered even the real as opposed to fictive rocks.  (What would Vittoria think if she were now told that the snow cap of Kilimanjaro is threatened by global warming?)  Antonioni, himself a member of the 1983 expedition, filmed a nine and a half minute documentary for Italian television, Ritorno a Lisca Bianca.  It seems superfluous to note that since 1959 Antonioni, like the rocks of Lisca Bianca, has himself significantly eroded. Likewise, the chemical decomposition of celluloid over the past 40 years has resulted in the fading of the images of Vittoria and Piero.  The transfer of data from celluloid to DVD will retard but not prevent the decay of L'eclisse and its world; the layers of polycarbonate plastic, aluminum, lacquer, and gold assembled in such a manner that microscopic bumps arranged in a spiral track on a little disc may contain the encoded images of Vittoria and Piero:  these, too, with time will erode, fracture, and crumble.  Mancini and Perrella remind us of Claudia’s question in L’avventura, “Does it take so little time for everything to change?”  It may take no time at all:  The aspect ratio of two popular DVD versions of L’eclisse is such that cropping occurs, eliminating portions of the image at the horizontal or vertical edges.  (See:  <http://www.dvdbeaver.com/FILM/DVDReviews10/eclisse_.htm> for specific examples of these cropping effects as they pertain to L’eclisse.  [retrieved 29 March 2010]).  Thus, portions of L’eclisse have already disappeared by sleight of eye due to “technological advancement.”

     The half-finished building of the Eur that appears in L'eclisse is now an undistinguished building on the Viale della Tecnica. It may be presumed that Sandro was correct:  the Eur building will not last for centuries, unlike Noto’s cathedral. Vittoria and Piero’s love was even less enduring, lasting no longer than several weeks.  When one considers how fragile are the things of Antonioni’s world, one understands Vittoria’s attraction to the small plant immortalized in stone, a marvel not of man, but of nature’s engineering.



Note 35

     On inspection--including an analysis of the barrel’s appearance in earlier scenes in L'eclisse--the white, diagonal line appears to be a somewhat flimsy wire handle attached to two opposite points of the barrel near its top. (The question arises as to whether Antonioni deliberately fabricated such a “false” handle in order to create the momentary image of the barrel--with its broken piece of wood and match cover--cleaved in two.) Such diagonal lines are but a subset of the bars, beams, pillars, struts, and other dividing lines that Antonioni recurrently slashes his images with. (Mizoguchi also frequently placed strong diagonal elements in the foreground--such as the large tree cutting the screen obliquely from one corner to the other in the opening shot of Sanshô dayû--to “cleave” the picture frame.) The cover to the Fall, 1984 issue of Film Criticism is a shot taken from Il grido showing Virginia holding onto a white pole, again cleaved in two. On both p. 14 of Chatman’s book, Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World, as well as p. 48 of Rohdie’s Antonioni, there is a photograph of the heroine Paola of Antonioni’s first feature film, Cronaca di un amore, cut in two by a curious black diagonal arising in the foreground of the scene. The diagonal presumably is a piece of an iron grill, perhaps a portion of a gate or fence, situated anterior to Paola in the foreground of the shot. (Curiously, I was unable to find this shot on careful review of a video copy of the movie which I acquired in Northern Ireland. Regardless, the shot is classic Antonioni and, again, resembles the slashed diagonal of a sign signifying the forbidden nature of the underlying image.) Likewise, as Vittoria stands before a mirror in the first scene of L'eclisse in Riccardo’s apartment, she is impaled by a vertical piece of wood embedded in the mirror. In the shot of the Alfa being raised from the Eur lake with the Drunkard’s hand dangling limply over the driver side door “waving goodbye,&rdquo we see a strong horizontal line extending across the entire frame--apparently one of the ropes employed to hoist the car up from out of the lake--another line crossing out a human being from the Book of Life (see Frame 34, p 62 of Chatman’s Antonioni, or, The Surface of the World). Already mentioned are the opening credits of L'eclisse with the white vertical line that “unzips” and effaces itself.  In Antonioni’s first colour film, Il deserto rosso, Giuliana lies terrified, psychologically disrobed in Corrado’s bed in his rosepink colored bedroom, a bedroom that is painted the colour of the distinctive sand of Sardegna’s Costa Smeralda. Corrado, instead of tenderly taking Giuliana by the hand back to her home or to the nearest emergency room, wishes to drop his drawers--and like the Turkish sailor Giuliana will soon meet when she finally flees Corrado's apartment--make love to her. There is a POV shot from Giuliana’s perspective of Corrado standing before her at the foot of the bed, looming above her. A blood red horizontal gash extends across the frame (the red footboard of the bed?), either slashing Corrado in half, or barring Giuliana from the forbidden object of her regard on the other side of the red line drawn in the cinematic sand. What the significance is of such lines traversing or separating Antonioni’s characters--like almost all images in an Antonioni film--remains uncertain. Such lines may represent such Antonionian themes as duplication, separation, division, or suggest the obliteration, denial, or rejection of a character. In the case of the water barrel, if one regards the image of the round surface of its water as a microcosm of the world itself--peopled as it were by a broken piece of wood and a book of matches--then this world, at this the end of L'eclisse, is being blotted out by a white, diagonal line at the same time its life blood is being drained into a gutter below.


Note 36

     William Arrowsmith, in his preface to his translation of Antonioni’s book, Quel bowling sul Tevere, quotes Montale:

Dark things are drawn to brighter,
bodies thin away in a flowing
of colors, colors in musics. So
disappearance is the greatest adventure.

Montale, “Portami il girasole . . .”

     Arrowsmith also comments on the recurrent “cosmological” references that recur in Antonioni’s films, beginning with the meeting between the lovers that takes place in the Milan Planetarium in Cronaca di un amore. In La notte Lidia comes across young rockateers launching their primitive rockets in a field at the periphery of Milano.  We overhear one young man asking, “Ci andresti sulla luna?” (“Would you like to go to the moon?”).  Antonioni himself answers this question in the affirmative, for there is a photograph in Biarese and Tassone showing Antonioni observing a large model space craft with the caption being, “Io sulla luna ci andrei subito.” (I’d go to the moon right away.”).  In a filmed interview that Antonioni gave in New York City after the release of Blow-Up (contained within the documentary by Sandro Lai, Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema, a documentary which in turn is included as a supplement in the Criterion Collection DVD of L’eclisse) Antonioni referred to a meeting he once had with Kennedy at the White House in which Kennedy expressed enthusiasm for a potential film project by Antonioni concerning America’s avowed intent to send a man to the moon.  As was the case for so many of Antonioni’s projects, it was easier to send Neil Armstrong to the moon than it was to get funding for a film by Antonioni.  In Il deserto rosso, we see a strange structure--typical of Antonioni’s affection for highlighting unusual architecture--that is, the Northern Cross Radiotelescope at Medicina, near Bologna.  The final image of Identificazione di una donna is that of an “asteroid-spaceship” hurtling towards the Sun.  In the past, Antonioni has expressed an interest in making a science fiction film.  He has been reported in the press as preparing to shoot a film beginning the summer of 1999, Destination: Verna, “based on a story by sci-fi author Jack Finney, regarding a woman who buys a ticket to go and live on a distant planet.” (Hollywood Inside Movie Reviews, 2/3/99). Aprà specifically refers to L'eclisse as possessing “l’odore” (“the odor”) of a science fiction work.  C. Jerry Kutner finds strong parallels between the science fiction films of the American director, Jack Arnold, and multiple films of Antonioni (In a provocative on-line article Kutner creates an imaginary film festival pairing specific Antonioni films with those of Arnold [see Program Notes for a Michelangelo Antonioni-Jack Arnold Film Festival; http://brightlightsfilm.com/55/jackandmike.htm retrieved 14 December 2007]). Although science fiction in literature and film has often been regarded as a “low” form of art, science fiction themes--often dealing with the most profound of philosophical issues--have achieved an occasional “high” appreciation in such works, for example, as Kubrick’s 2001, in the uncommon series of science fiction novels of Doris Lessing, or in the present reappraisals of such “mere” science fiction cinema as Blade Runner.  In this light, it may not be surprising that a refined intellectual such as Antonioni would be interested in a cinematic genre that might otherwise seem alien to his tastes.

     Nothing is new under the Sun, and Antonioni’s style—which may be seen as often “alienating” both audiences and the very milieu of his films themselves (particularly, L’eclisse)—has its antecedents.  The “distancing effect” or cinematic style of “to make strange” has precedents in Russian literary criticism of the early 20th century:  ostranenie (остранение).  The concept, embraced by Brecht (“Verfremdungseffekt”), entailed rendering in a work of art that which is commonplace, and making it seem foreign.  The theoretical point of this authorial strategy would be to enhance the ability of an audience to perceive the otherwise banal in a novel manner.  As such, the tactic may be seen as opposed to Coleridge’s argument concerning the “willing suspension of disbelief,” in which Coleridge discussed how in a literary context a poet might make the strange seem credible.  L’eclisse achieves the subversive effect of appearing to be a conventional, realistic film that, at the same time—to borrow a famous term from Freud—is quite unheimlich (“uncanny”).

     The title of the film, “L'eclisse,” with its astronomical implications, has puzzled many.  (The actual title of the film varies according to country.  The former West German title for L'eclisse is LIEBE 1962, [“LOVE 1962”], implying a time bound thematic concerning love not across the millenia, but that of issues concerning love specifically in the early 1960’s.)  The conventional interpretation is that the (Italian) title refers to the brief conjunction of two heavenly bodies and to their subsequent sundering.  It is not easy, however, to relate such an interpretation to the final shot of the film, that of a luminous streetlight, an image which does not conform to that of either a solar or lunar eclipse.  Furthermore, a solar eclipse may obviously be viewed only from a particular spot on the Earth bathed in daylight, the Sun hung high in the sky. L'eclisse ends at dusk, a bad time for viewing a solar eclipse.  Lastly, no solar eclipse was visible from Italy in the summer of either 1961 or 1962.  A total solar eclipse was visible from Italy in February, 1961, one which Antonioni filmed from the vantage point of Firenze, an event which Antonioni himself credited as the moment of conception of L'eclisse, writing:

Gelo improvviso. Silenzio diverso da tutti gli altri silenzi. Luce terrea, diversa da tuttte le altre luci. E poi buio. Immobilità totale . . . Tutto quello che riesco a pensare è che durante l’eclisse probabilmente si fermano anche i sentimenti. (“A sudden chill. A silence different from all other silences. An ashen light, different from all other lights. And then, darkness. A total immobility . . . All that I can think of is that during such an eclipse all emotion probably stops as well.”)

[Biarese and Tassone, I film di Michelangelo Antonioni, p. 47].*

     The camera’s fixation on the illuminated streetlight at the end of L'eclisse is more suggestive of a mere sunset than that of a solar eclipse.  Just prior to the cut to the lamp itself, the entire streetlight is pointedly filmed from a spot to the east, such that the sunset forms the background against which is placed the half-constructed building in the middle ground and the streetlight itself in the foreground.  Aside from the pleasing aesthetics of the montage--this meticulous blocking of streetlight against sunset--the composition of the frame also takes on meaning.  As already observed, the final shot of L’eclisse shows the lamp disappearing while the title, “FINE,” remains against the backdrop of the night sky.  The word “FINE” itself then disappears leaving the screen entirely black, L’eclisse becoming the ultimate embodiment of film noir.  Thus, the cinematic rhetoric is such that--like the Sun and the dying light of day--the final shot of the film is that of the lamp disappearing in the west.  It is as though Antonioni held a lit match before his lips and with a single breath blew out the flame, the streetlight, the Sun, and his film.  This is not the evening service of Vespers.  No prayer is recited for the lighting of the (street) lamp, no prayer raised to the Creator of light.  None of the passengers exiting from the bus at the construction site chants Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.  Instead, finally, in the last frame of L'eclisse, light is extinguished and the world undone.  We can no longer see nor hear the water flowing from the broken vessel, but Antonioni has nonetheless declared, “Après moi, le déluge,” the water leaking from the hole in the barrel, “the crack in the teapot leading to the lane of death.”

    The closeup of the streetlight is blinding, likened by some to the flash of an atomic bomb. Whatever the vagaries or ambiguities of the title of the film, L'eclisse does end with an abolition of vision, whether by blinding light or its absence. Gazing at the Sun results in the same consequence as that of a solar eclipse: blindness. Some 13 years later, The Passenger will end on a note intimately concerned with vision: as David Locke relates the tale of the blind man who regains his vision at the end of his life, Locke, in the final minutes of his life has himself become blind and must depend on the Girl to describe to him what the world looks like just outside his hotel window.

     If an astronomical interpretation of the title of L'eclisse is unsatisfactory, then perhaps an etymological analysis might be more revealing. In colloquial Italian, “eclissarsi,” means: “to disappear, to steal (or slip) away, to make oneself scarce.” (In French slang, the verb “s’éclipser” possesses the identical meaning of “doing a disappearing act.”)  Joan Esposito, writing of L'eclisse, has also noted that “The Greek root of eclisse is ekleipsis, which means a leaving, a forsaking, a failure to appear at the accustomed place.  Primitives thought the gods were doing just this during an eclipse.”  In this linguistic light, not only do Vittoria and Piero disappear, but the film itself finally arrives at a vanishing point consumed by the night.  We the audience are not so much stood up, as left sitting, our mouths agape in a darkened cinema.

     For a film in which a broken piece of wood plays so prominent a role, it is noteworthy that among the several definitions for the French word “éclisse”—a language that Antonioni spoke, read, and wrote well—is the meaning, “a broken piece of wood,” e.g. “Des éclisses de pin sautent sous les coups de la hache.” (“Some fragments of pinewood shot out from beneath the blows of the ax.”  [Example taken from MSN.Fr Encarta dictionary at:  http://fr.encarta.msn.com/dictionary_2016004433/%C3%A9clisse.html  retrieved 14 April 2011].)  However, the title of the Italian movie, L'eclisse, in French versions of the film employs a different French noun as title, L'éclipse, which in formal French refers to the astronomical event.

     Note that the titles of several of Antonioni’s films are ambiguous, elusive, or concern word plays. The word “avventura” in Italian approximates the English meaning of “adventure,” but also can signify an “affair” or “fling.” “Blow-Up” is not only an obvious reference to photographic magnification, but also rings in our ears with the sound of an explosion (anticipating the literal explosive finale of Zabriskie Point). Although critics--including Antonioni himself--have speculated on the significance of other titles such as “Il deserto rosso,” “La signora senza camelie,The Passenger,” these latter titles seem quite open-ended.



Note 37


Victims

     What does the sign over the water barrel say?  Before any attempt to answer this question, one should consider that literal signs bearing rhetorical hidden messages occur often in Antonioni’s films, particularly in the three films he made in English.  Zabriskie Point, for example, is replete with the billboards advertising the this-and-that which clutter Southern California.  In Blow-Up, signs continually pop up, as in the hand-held placard of a London street protester, “GO AWAY.”  The protester will stick the placard in the backseat of the Photographer’s Rolls Royce as the Hemmings-character drives by, the sign then dutifully blown away as the Rolls convertible accelerates.  The Photographer, the body and the photos thereof, the Redgrave character, Anna, David Locke . . . as well as Vittoria and Piero, will heed the imperative of the placard and follow the traffic sign leading to oblivion.  It is, however, not the placard, but another sign we see in Blow-Up that is one of the most enigmatic signs in all of Antonioni’s films:  a neon sign appearing high above the central, dramatic locus of the entire film, Maryon Park.  I wish to specifically examine this sign before discussing what the final sign in L'eclisse might say.  Indeed, I believe that the sign at the end of the road of L'eclisse is the early forebear of the sign at the end of Blow-Up.


Ceci n’est pas un signe. (“This is not a sign.”)

     In Blow-Up, the strange sign is first seen as the Photographer is driving in the daytime to the first scene at Maryon Park, southeast of London in the town of Charlton.  The sign may be only briefly glimpsed and is quite easy to miss, almost subliminal—white against a backdrop of white clouds next to a white building, unlit, and tucked into a small corner of the upper left screen—as the Photographer is driving to the antique store, about to pass the two men he so pointedly assumes on the basis of their phenotype to be gay, walking their dogs. (Are the two men gay, or as is the case with all of Blow-Up, are appearances deceiving?  Are the men, like the strange sign, a sign?  Is everything in an Antonioni film a matter of concern for those interested in semiotics and hermeneutics?)  This fleeting appearance of the sign is a typical habit of Antonioni to slyly interject a little portent—an omen, if you will—of important things yet to come.  We later in the film see the sign illuminated at night when the Photographer returns to Maryon Park to search for the dead body he has just discovered in a blown-up photograph he had previously taken during the first scene in the park.  As the Photographer on his return visit enters the park from the entrance near the antique shop by Clevely Close, the large neon sign, now more prominent for it is brightly lit, is visible just north of the park above his head.  The sign is peculiar, for it is not a typical billboard advertising some easily recognizable ware, nor is it some kind of illuminated storefront marquee.  At this the end of Blow-Up’s day, it is unclear what this large, illuminated sign is, or what it is trying to “say.”  As suggested by Chatman, the sign superficially resembles three large letters, perhaps “TOA” or “FOA.” (The sign is strangely reminiscent of the brightly illuminated sign [“TDK?”] that appears so prominently in the background behind the Rutger Hauer character in Blade Runner as he delivers his poignant soliloquy--“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”--at a veritable summit of the film.)  Even if one agrees that the sign may be a combination of three letters, such an interpretation only begs the further question as to what these letters might stand for.  Chatman suggests that the letters may represent a partial anagram relating to Antonioni’s name (which in turn recalls the large “A” seen in the background behind David Robertson while in the Avis [“bird”] office of Barcelona). . . . Which, in turn, only then leads to the further question, “to what end?”  Why would Antonioni go to so much trouble to build a large neon sign with a mysterious fragment of his name above Maryon Park?  The answer to this question may be that the sign, like most signs, is a kind of Rorschach figure, one which may signify different things to different viewers, an example of pareidolia or apophenia (the discerning of a pattern in an otherwise pattern-less, random visual, auditory, or other event).  There are numerous examples of these latter phenomena in popular culture such as the famous tortilla in New Mexico in 1978 said to bear the image of Jesus, or the Florida case of the 10-year old toasted cheese sandwich said to show the likeness of the Virgin Mary which sold for $28,000 on eBay in 2004 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4034787.stm [retrieved 15 February 2010]).  To my mind and eye the sign strongly resembles a handgun pointing to a large “A” as in “Antonioni,” an interpretation which only again inspires the same question, “to what end?” (Such a question is a generic one, a query which complicates the interpretation of all symbols:  “If this stands for that, to what end?”)  The subsequent appearance of the sign in two more “shots” in the film might further bolster this Rorschach interpretation of the sign as gun.  Shortly after the Photographer has entered the park on his nighttime, second visit, we again see the illuminated sign appearing in the distance in the top half of the frame.  The sign, brightly lit in the night, appears partially hidden by a tree, reminiscent of the blown-up photo of the apparent “real” gun of the assassin hidden among the figure-ground clutter of leaves that we had seen earlier in the Photographer’s studio. (In L’eclisse, the last shot of the obscure sign at the Eur street corner--seen in the background behind the old man with glasses--is also partially obscured by a tree.)  In the lower half of the shot beneath the sign/tree, stands the Photographer with the cadaver lying at his feet.  In a universe where as Einstein noted, God never plays with dice, it cannot be an accident that the middle aged, silver haired lover, now a dead man lying at the Photographer’s feet, resembles Antonioni, the creator of the film.  The last time that we see the sign is on the following day when the Photographer returns once again to the park only to discover that the cadaver has now disappeared.  At this point, a shot is presented of the Photographer in profile, standing on the lawn at the promontory of the park, Cox’s Mount, the sign visible in its entirety in the background.  And then, something odd occurs:  the sign suddenly darkens, as if perhaps it had been previously illuminated and were suddenly turned off shortly after dawn.  It is then that the Photographer pointedly turns his head to look in the direction of the sign, as if had heard not an audible sound, but a change in an object’s colour, a rare example of cinematic synesthesia.  (No sound is audible on the sound track that would appear to accompany the sign’s sudden colour change from light to dark, nor to precipitate the turning of the Photographer’s head so expressly in the direction of the sign.)  Prior to the Photographer turning his head, there had not been any evidence that he was even aware of the sign’s existence.  Has the Photographer turned his head in the direction of a gun shot that the sign discharges which we the audience cannot hear?

     Although Blow-Up is often regarded as a profound philosophical contemplation on vision, reality, and illusion--a film that feels quite different from Antonioni’s other films--it may be useful to remember that all of Antonioni’s films concern vision, reality, and illusion.  Furthermore, Blow-Up, like the majority of Antonioni’s movies, is on one level a conventional mystery or giallo.  Although Blow-Up and The Passenger might not seem to be typical Antonioni love stories, both of these films concern a couple who--like all of Antonioni’s couples--must be divided in two.  In the case of these latter two films in English, the couples are sundered as a consequence of the male lover being shot to death.  Indeed, the male hero of Antonioni’s third MGM film in English, Zabriskie Point, is also shot to death, an event which buries the couple known as Daria and Mark in an unmarked grave, this time no headstone or sign above anyone’s body.  One might ask, to what degree does Antonioni identify with his characters?  In the light of such a question, it seems increasingly less curious to me that Antonioni would shoot himself with a large sign resembling a gun in the final scene of Blow-Up.  It goes without saying that Antonioni is the literal director or “photographer” of Blow-Up, as he is also the director of Identificazione di una donna, in either a literal or metaphorical sense.  It is only slightly less obvious that he is also the dead lover lying on his back, eyes open, in Maryon Park in Blow-Up (An uncredited actor without audible speaking lines, Ronan O’Casey, by provident happenstance, an acquaintance of mine.  See: http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/corpse-from-blow-up-speaks. [Retrieved 26 April 2013]).

     After concluding that there was a strong resemblance between Antonioni and the actor who played the part of the older lover in Maryon Park , I subsequently learned that Antonioni had originally intended to play the part of the older male lover himself (see Sinclair, Andrew.  “Blow-Up:  A Memoir.” In Blow-Up, a film by Michelangelo Antonioni. Classic Film Scripts.  London:  Lorrimer Publishing Limited, 1971).  If one accepts two propositions--(1) that Antonioni made a conscious decision to engage an actor (Ronan O’Casey) who strongly resembled himself to play the male paramour in the park and (2) that Antonioni erected a large neon sign just outside the park that was meant to perhaps resemble a gun taking direct aim at the letter “A”--then, two possible conclusions follow:  that Antonioni is also the unseen assassin of Blow-Up, and that a kind of cinematic suicide has taken place.  Directors and screenwriters place themselves in their films in various ways.  It is not difficult to view a film as the projection of an auteur’s life experience unto fictional characters.  A director may, however, literally project her/himself unto the screen in the type of cameo appearance made famous by Hitchcock, a type of projection which may be quite trivial, narcissistic, and without thematic importance. (In Vertigo—in which Hitchcock has a brief cameo on the Embarcadero of San Francisco—the movie is also thought of by many critics as Hitchcock’s most profound projection of himself onto the original camera master negative of the entire film.)  Or a director may engage an actor to play the part of a director--one who resembles him/herself--as in the case of Fellini/Mastroianni and , or Antonioni/Tomas Milian and Identificazione di una donna.  In a more convoluted manner, a director may also become an actor who plays a fictional version of her/himself in the role of a director in a film such as Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, a film which itself owes much to .  In the case of Fellini’s Intervista, Fellini seems to add even a further dimension by simultaneously both playing and directing himself in a film that has elements of both documentary and theater.  Or a director may also act in his/her film in a role that does not bear any clear autobiographical stamp, as in the case of Roberto Benigni who was never interned during the Second World War in a German concentration camp.  Antonioni was himself apparently prepared to play the part of a sailor in a film project which he never completed, Quattro uomini in mare (see I film di Michelangelo Antonioni, p. 170, Biarese and Tassone, for a photograph of Antonioni in costume preparing for the part).  It is, however, quite another thing altogether for a director to deliberately recruit an actor who literally resembles him/herself to play the part of a fictional character who will be murdered, as is the case with Antonioni and Blow-Up.  I leave you with the question, “Why would a director do such a thing?”

     It may or may not be worth noting that Antonioni--in an interview given to Charles Thomas Samuels in 1969--modestly denied that there was any significance to the sign in Blow-Up at all.  Indeed, Antonioni seems to suggest that he tried to “defuse” the sign of any meaning:

I didn’t want people to be able to read that sign; whether it advertised one product or another was of no importance.  I placed it there because I needed a source of light in the night scenes.  Furthermore, I liked having the sign near the park.  It is there for an obvious reason:  to break up the romantic atmosphere.

     Antonioni seems to be reciting a variation of Freud’s remark that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  My own view is that one should not take this statement at face value or, less politely put, Antonioni’s explanation is so suspect that he may as well be asking us whether we’d like to buy a bridge over the Po as large as the famous bridge crossing the East River linking Manhattan with Brooklyn.  I am reminded of the view held by some that the parables of Jesus may be heard as deliberately ambiguous, paradoxical, subversive . . . that Jesus’ words are meant to be misunderstood by those who cannot understand, that the truly enlightened do not require public explanations of God’s work.  Luke 8:10 (King James version): “And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.”  (On a more secular note, do any of Shakespeare’s sonnets make any sense?)  Bresson is like Antonioni in this regard; one should have a salt shaker on hand when one reads Bresson’s comments on his own films.  Rather than shedding any light on the role of the neon sign in Blow-Up, Antonioni’s statement regarding the sign is so modest, coy, and ultimately, so unbelievable, that the real question becomes, “Why would Antonioni say such a thing?”  Is Antonioni asking us to believe that he did not play an active role in the specific design and construction of this remarkably peculiar, large sign, and that he did not consider how it might be potentially seen by others?  If Antonioni’s goal was to create a sign that would illuminate Maryon Park at night--a sign that would otherwise be “symbolically illegible”--then he failed; if anything, the “sign-that-would-be-neutral” has too many potential meanings.  Antonioni could also have spared David Hemmings the directorial command requiring the actor to pointedly turn his head to gaze at a sign that meant so little.  Some critics would, of course, say that the meaning of the neon sign is independent of authorial intent and that it matters little what Antonioni said in 1969, or what I write in 2007.  The sub-text, the ultimate reading, or the most deeply buried backstory of any film may be a mashup between the sub-conscious intentions of the director/screenwriter and the sub-conscious yearnings of the viewer; it is there, in some hypothetical interstitial space between two minds that cannot be seen and which are largely unaware of themselves and each other, that the dark matter lies, a matter, perhaps, related to Marcel Duchamp’s observation that “Art is not what we see [but] in the spaces between.”


Should we believe Antonioni or our lying eyes?

    In Michelangelo Antonioni.  Lo sguardo estatico, a recent (2008) book by Vittorio Giacci, there is a lengthy section of the book (pp. 29-41) in which the author discusses specific “parabole” (in both the geometric and allegorical senses of the word in Italian) that occur in Antonioni’s films, from the alpha of Gente del Po to the omega of Lo sguardo di Michelangelo. (In Italian, “parabola” is a homonym” with one spelling/pronunciation and two meanings.  In English--unlike Italian--two words with different spellings and pronunciations exist that independently express “parabola” and “parable.”)  Giacci offers specific examples of “parables” from many of Antonioni’s films that truly seem to illustrate his concept of a kind of Antonionian “story within a story,” a hidden truth.  The example that Giacci gives from The Passenger seems to represent well this concept:  the “story” that Locke-Robertson gives on his deathbed of the blind man who regains his vision and then takes his life.  The other examples of “parables” seem more obscure; for example, the “parable” from L’eclisse that Giacci offers concerns Vittoria’s flight from Rome to Verona, a flight that is an “arc” and also a kind of “story.”  We must remember what Auden has told us, that “There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.”

     In La dolce vita (1959), Fellini—like Antonioni—appears to have illuminated a nocturnal scene in a highly original and unusual manner.  Towards the conclusion of the film, after the scene at the Palazzo Giustiniani-Odescalchi in Bassano Romano, an ellipse occurs, and Marcello and Emma find themselves arguing heatedly in Marcello’s Triumph sports car on a deserted, rural road which is illuminated by a gigantic panel of floodlights in the background.  (The scene may be perceived as analogous to the all night argument of Vittoria and Riccardo over the status of their relationship, an argument which occurs, however, within the confines of Riccardo’s Eur apartment.)  The floodlights serve to illuminate the scene, but have no other obvious reason for their presence (as the searchlights scanning the Roman sky in the background of the first scene in Steiner’s apartment are “unexplained”).  As daylight breaks, the floodlights continue to be illuminated.  It would seem that Fellini makes no effort to provide a “diegetic” or “motivated” explanation for why the floodlights are present, as he does in the previous nocturnal scene of the two children who witness the Madonna by a lonely tree which is illuminated by the large lights used by the Italian television crews and reporters massing at the “miracle.”  (Although in L'eclisse there is a raucous crowd scene at the Eur lake as the Alfa is raised by a large crane, Antonioni seems somehow to have kept the paparazzi from swarming like mosquitoes about the site.)  Fellini does make a little joke in this former scene of the Miracle of the Madonna by having what appears to be a large incandescent light in the background spelling “ARGON,” a kind of tautology, as if to say “an argon light is an argon light.”  In the latter scene of La dolce vita, however, Fellini simply challenges us to accept that he has constructed a huge series of floodlights to illuminate Marcello and Emma.  These floodlights, unlike the “FOA” light of Blow-Up, adopt no further symbolic or mysterious shape.  They may be a presage of the meta-cinema that will explode in the film Fellini will soon make, .  An obvious question is whether the nocturnal floodlights of the two scenes in La dolce vita illuminated a lightbulb above Antonioni’s head and influenced Blow-Up, as well as L’eclisse.

     In a recent essay by Düttmann (Antonioni Centenerary Essays, p. 158) on Il provino—the segment directed by Antonioni in the portmanteau film, I tre volti [1965]—Düttmann analyzes a red neon sign that appears in the film’s first shot.  Although we eventually learn that the sign is “Paese Sera,” the name of a newspaper in Italy, the sign is also shown partially in several shots.  We first see a large red “A,” which Düttmann surmises is an allusion to “Antonioni.”  Düttmann, in a kind of “cryptologic” analysis that I engage in later in this note, believes that the sign also may be related to “essere,” the Italian infinitive, “to be.”  Düttmann, pace the critic, does not discuss the appearance of the large “A” in The Passenger boldly visible in the scene where David Locke-Robertson is renting a car at Avis nor does Düttmann refer to the enigmatic sign that will appear so prominently several times in Blow Up, the very film to follow I tre volti in 1966.  Regardless, Il provino provides but one more example of literal signs that occur in several films by Antonioni which stare at us in the face and seem to plead, “Please tell us who we are.”

     Approximately four years separate the signs of Blow-Up and L'eclisse. The respective signs of these two movies resemble one another in so far as they both pop up mysteriously towards the conclusion of the films, briefly occupy center stage, are partially obscured by trees, and are finally both difficult if not impossible to “read.”  In L'eclisse the sign is hidden behind the head of the old man of the coda.  As this stranger exits from the shot, we are left with the sign now at its most prominent, visible in the center of the frame in the distance above the most important few square feet of the film, the space occupied by the water barrel.  Rome is darkening, but the sign above the barrel located at the center of an otherwise black frame is illuminated by a kind of overhanging spot light, partially obscured by the foliage of a tree.  The sign above the barrel is the counterpart to that other prominent sign of L'eclisse--one that is also undecipherable to the uninitiated--the big board of the Borsa.  At least in a standard VHS video print of L'eclisse (Los Angeles: Connoisseur Video Collection, 1988, ©1962), I cannot even read the Eur sign, let alone interpret it. (If one analyzes the 2002 Italian DVD of L'eclisse and employs the zoom function to examine the sign, the word “VITTIME” [“VICTIMS] appears legible, much of the remainder of the sign hidden by the swaying branches of a tree; the gender of “vittima”  in Italian is feminine and possesses the first four letters of a word that approaches being its antonym, “Vittoria”.) Presumably, the sign presents the banal information concerning the construction company and architectural firm working on the half-finished building, a presumption which begs the question as to why the word “victims” would be written on it.  Although the sign may have been originally placed by the architect of the building, it becomes another matter if the sign was instead placed deliberately by the architect of L'eclisse.  If the latter possibility is correct, then one may wonder why Antonioni would do such a thing and what he really wrote on the sign. (Ultimately, it may be argued that it does not matter who placed the sign there; the sign’s significance remains the same.)  That such questions even arise is typical of an Antonioni film where even the most insipid of objects invite questions as to their identity, and where the potentially divine resides in the inconsequential.  The attraction of a film by Antonioni is such that we are drawn to things that in another film would never speak to us.

     When I originally detected the sign at the end of L'eclisse, and failed in my attempts to decipher it from a video print on a television screen, several bizarre possibilities popped into my head.  It occurred to me that the sign might be an obituary or even a tombstone, a dry epitaph formally acknowledging that:

     At this spot in an early evening of the summer of 1961, Vittoria and Piero--two characters in a film by Michelangelo Antonioni--failed to meet at their appointed rendezvous . . .

     I then thought of Constantine and how on that day in 312 C.E. before the battle at the Milvian Bridge where the Via Flaminia crosses the Tiber on to Rome, Constantine looked up towards the Sun and saw a sign that proved to be history’s street marker on the road to destiny:

In hoc signo vinces (“In this sign you will conquer”)

     Then, I, too--like Constantine--had a vision, as if tiny letters of the alphabet were floating beneath me as I held my spoon above a bowel of alphabet soup, rearranging themselves into what the sign in L’eclisse was more likely to say:

In hoc signo deficis (“In this sign you shall be eclipsed”)

     My mind did not stop there, for it then occurred to me that in a universe where rigor and caprice reign, it was more likely that the sign should instead say:

Tutto è amore.  L’universo non è che amore. Foscolo.

     But then, like the darkening sky of Rome that night in the summer of 1961, my mind, too, turned dark. I imagined that the black letters on the white sign, now somehow transformed blood red, had rearranged themselves again:

Daisy.
5p.m. -
Osuna

HOTEL DE LA GLORIA.


The little black book

     Finally, when I regained my senses and remembered that the sign was illegible, I realized that the sign might mean anything, or nothing at all.*

    Almost a decade had passed since that moment of regaining my senses when a peculiar event occurred, one that was again linked to The Passenger and Osuna.  While watching The Passenger as part of the research for this book, a book supposedly regarding the subject of L'eclisse, I suddenly saw something, a vision if you will, that I had never seen before in my many viewings of The Passenger.  This is, I believe, a common experience for many viewers of Antonioni’s films, that no matter how many times one might view a film by Antonioni, something new is perceived or the movie is transformed in some manner on repeated viewing.  Following the scene in which Locke relates to the Girl the Parable of the Blind Man, the Girl returns to her adjoining room of the Hotel de la Gloria and Locke arises from his bed and opens the shuttered window with the iron grill.  Through the window we and Locke see an unidentified man in a white shirt and grey trousers who is walking with his back turned to us, in a direction away from the window, which the man had been within only several paces of.  A sensible presumption is that the man may have been “spying” beneath the window, a possibility that is consistent with the espionage element of the film and the reality that Locke-Robertson is indeed being pursued by multiple parties who wish to see him.  We have not previously seen this man in the The Passenger and in one sense he is little different from the unknown young blond man who walks past Vittoria in the EUR, one more stranger popping up from out of no where in an Antonioni film, making a brief, apparently unmotivated stage appearance, and then disappearing, never to be seen nor heard of again.  This man in the plaza of the bullring, pointedly turns his head to gaze in the direction of Locke standing by the hotel window as the man continues to walk away, disappearing as he turns past a nearby stone wall.  It is at this point (approximately at 155.30 on the Sony Pictures Classics DVD edition of The Passenger) that I saw for the first time in the distance six small, indistinct, white letters, a sign.  The letters—all of equal height—located in the far background, screen-left, were “LAS RAS.”  A tall vertical pole vaguely resembling the trunks of palm trees in the vicinity acted as a hyphen of sorts, interposed between “LAS” and “RAS.”  Employing the zoom function of the DVD it did not appear to me that the pole or tree trunk was occluding another letter.  I had never noticed this sign before and my reaction was similar to that of seeing the sign in Maryon Park:  what does it mean?  The words made no sense in Spanish.  “Las” is the feminine, plural definite article in Spanish; “ras” is a noun meaning “evenness or levelness,” but the word makes no grammatical or other sense when allied with “las,” for “ras” is a masculine noun. (“Ras” may also be a Spanish adverb, meaning “almost touching,” but this, too, does not add up to a sensible pair of words.)  I then went through the usual maneuvers that crossword puzzle aficionados or cryptologists perform to try to make sense out of the ostensibly senseless, e.g. I tried spelling the words forwards and backwards, tried different combinations of the six letters, searched for commercial enterprises or surnames with any possible connection, etc. Not surprisingly, an Internet search yielded a present Japanese based company, “Rakuten,” that specializes in the manufacture and sale of specialized “Las RAS” bookmarks; the company was founded, in of all places, in Spain in 1935.  Other languages I know did not help in casting any light on the sign.  (Of interesting but uncertain significance is the title, “Ras,” which referred in fascist Italy under Mussolini to a regional party leader.  The word was adopted from the Ethiopian language in which it signified “head,” the approximate equivalent of a “duke.”  Such men controlled the Blackshirt terrors squads of Italy that were the inspiration for the Sturmabteilung (“S.A.”) of the Third Reich.  The Ras controlled the “squadri” (In Italian, “squadrismo,” the rough equivalent of “political gangsterism”).  Among the most notorious of the Ras was Italo Balbo, considered “heir apparent” to Mussolini himself.  And of which Italian city was Balbo the Ras?  Ferrara, the birthplace and burial ground of Michelangelo Antonioni.  In the context of The Passenger David Locke is being pursued by the 1974 version of such a hit squad.)  And then, the letters suddenly spoke to me.  Up to this point I had been pronouncing in my mind the “two words” as they would be spoken in Spanish.  I then suddenly found myself mouthing a new phonetic variation of the letters, and heard myself whisper breathlessly, “Lazarus.”  It was an epiphany, for in an instant, all became clear, these strange letters that like an arrow pointed back in the direction of Locke, a man soon to die and be resurrected, his very soul levitating and passing through the solid matter of the window grill to hover in the plaza outside his tomb.

     The miracle of the Raising of Lazarus (the Hebrew name for whom was Eleazar, meaning “God has helped”), a follower of Jesus, is narrated in chapter 11:1-46 of the Gospel of John.  Jesus is visited by the two sisters of Lazarus who describe their brother as ill.  Jesus travels to the home of Lazarus in Bethany four days later to discover that Lazarus has by now died and, as is required by Halakha, been buried in a tomb.  The sisters lament that Jesus had not arrived earlier whereupon Jesus says:  “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me shall live, even if he dies.  And everyone that lives and believes in Me shall never die in eternity.”  So moved is Jesus by the sorrow of a sister of Lazarus, that the narrator of the Gospel remarks, “Jesus wept.”  Jesus then orders that the rock that seals the tomb be removed and then proceeds to utter a prayer, calling for Lazarus to arise and come out from the tomb.  Lazarus heeds the call of Jesus and miraculously arises from the dead to exit the tomb in his burial shroud.  The miracle has subsequently been represented countless times in art including painting, music, literature, and .  .  . cinema.

For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time.  He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being.  He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval.  He is not slain when the body is slain.  Even when a man dies, his soul lives on.

हगवd   Gित
Bhagavad Gita
Chapter 02 : Sankhya Yog

     It says either a great deal or nothing at all, that in a little corner of a brief shot of the climactic scene of The Passenger there is a sign that is extremely difficulty to perceive, that calls no attention to itself, and that, nevertheless, may be viewed as a cryptic, plaintive summation of the entire film.  Such an image speaks to what type of an artist Antonioni is.

     Antonioni places visual and auditory “clues” in an almost subliminal fashion in many of his films, examples of which are given throughout this book.  This artistic strategy is similar to the concept of “hidden image art,” “camouflage art,” “ambivalent art,” as well as pareidolia and anamorphosis which I have alluded to earlier.  It is a technique not entirely dissimilar from the type of figure-ground discrimination puzzles found in children’s magazines and comics, subliminal advertising and propaganda or, alternatively, in some sophisticated neuropsychological testing. (See the Internet site:  <http://www.vangoghcontroversy.com/Hiddenimages.htm>  [retrieved 4 November 2010], for examples of purported hidden images—many of them interpreted as religious in nature—alleged to be “latent” in the paintings of Van Gogh.)  No less than Isaac Newton was interested in the issue of “divinely encrypted messages” (See the Internet site regarding “Bible Code”:  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_code>  [retrieved 8 November 2010]).  In the case of Blow-Up, Antonioni appears to have deliberately called our attention to the strange sign in Maryon Park, a sign that is illuminated.  In The Passenger Antonioni seems to have opted for a different approach regarding a cryptic sign, rendering it almost invisible.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And would it have been worth it, after all
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

T.S. Eliot
Extract from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

 

Note 38

     Although Antonioni and Hitchcock might at first glance appear to be quite different filmmakers, there are several significant similarities between them.  The usual starting point for the comparison between Hitchcock and Antonioni begins with the obvious:  Rear Window [1954] versus Blow-Up [1966].  On a trivial level, both of these directors make films commonly dealing with crime.  They also are Europeans who began making films in their respective native countries, only to spend much of their later careers as cinematic expatriates.  There is even the sense that Antonioni’s Italian films are not particularly “Italian,” that the landscapes of his films--like the Eur--are modern, universal, elsewhere.  Bondanella’s comment on the meticulous craftsmanship of Antonioni could equally apply to Hitchcock.  Both directors were intensely interested in technological novelty and “playing with the camera,” examples being the famous simultaneous zoom and tracking shots in the San Juan Bautista bell tower scenes in Vertigo and the “impossible” camera tracking at the Hotel de la Gloria in The Passenger.  Had Hitchcock in 1940—some thirty-five years before Antonioni filmed The Passenger's famous passage of the motion picture camera through the bars of Locke's window at the Hotel de la Gloria—already filmed the same “trick” in a much more simple and less clumsy cinematographic manner when Hitchcock shows the Olivier and Fontaine characters driving “impossibly” through the imposing iron front gate of Manderly?  See on-line video clip of opening scene of Rebecca, 1'43'' at:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkraCshPB4w    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.  Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me .  .  .”  The Passenger was one of the rare Antonioni films in which the seminal idea and original screenplay were not his.  This caused initial distress to Antonioni which eased as principal photography proceeded and the picture became evermore “his,” an elaboration of Antonioni’s own mind.  In particular, Antonioni became increasingly obsessed with the denouement of the film, so much so that “the coda and how to shoot it” became--in keeping with the many religious allusions in the film--a kind of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela or Mecca, towards which the entire movie was slouching.  (See: ‘Antonioni Discusses The Passenger’ in The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema. University Of Chicago Press [2007]; interview available on-line at:  http://diaryofascreenwriter.blogspot.com/2012/11/antonioni-discusses-passenger.html  [retrieved 7 2014]).  I have already previously discussed the legendary and painstaking nature of the last 11 days of the shooting of the coda of The Passenger, an effort that depended on the most elaborate and complex of cinematographic juggling acts.  There is a double irony here in that I suspect that Antonioni could have followed Hitchcock’s lead in Rebecca made in studio 35 years earlier using an optical printer and other widely available technical means and perhaps achieved a very similar effect.  Rounding out the irony is the fact that the invention of the the Steadicam but approximately one year after Antonioni had finished The Passenger, made all of Antonioni’s complex cinematographic elaboration obsolete.

     More important, however, is the concern of Hitchcock and Antonioni with theme over story.  Robin Wood has written of Hitchcock that “As in Shakespeare’s plays . . . the organization of Vertigo is thematic; plot, characterization, psychology, all are strictly subordinated to thematic development.”  Likewise, Harris and Lasky have written of Hitchcock that “. . . he (Hitchcock) is not concerned with the content of a film, which is quite obvious in Marnie, and it is how a film is put together which stands uppermost in his mind.” (As already noted, the same might be said for Il mistero di Oberwald.)  Antonioni, like Hitchcock, was not adverse to concocting a MacGuffin to flesh out a story.  Who else is Anna of L’avventura but a kind of pretext, a disembodied, false lead which nonetheless permits Antonioni to concentrate on what really interests him, obsessive, doomed love—l’amour fou—and its inevitable consequence, lost love (a theme also near to Hitchcock’s heart, reaching its fullest expression in his masterwork, Vertigo).  Both Vertigo and L’avventura begin with the loss of Madeleine and Anna respectively, the films then detouring into the male’s mad search for what Freud might call the “lost object.”  What Harry Trosman, a psychoanalyst, writes of the tortured plot of Vertigo applies equally well to an Antonioni film such as The Passenger: “Plausibility is beside the point.” (p. 167.  Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Masterworks of Art and Film.)  There is this tangential, digressive, parenthetical quality to most of Antonioni’s films, an abhorrence to pointing the camera too directly at the truth, a preference instead to be modestly suggestive, to frame the sidelines, not the parade itself.  Unlike Hitchcock, however, by the time Antonioni made L'eclisse, even the need for a MacGuffin had disappeared.  It would be as though Hitchcock had stripped Vertigo bare, eliminating the entire business of Carlotta Valdes, leaving only the distillate of Stewart and Novak.*


Note 39

     Brunette makes an interesting analogy between the painter, James MacNeil Whistler, and Antonioni. Brunette writes (p. 11):

In painting after painting, Whistler carefully portrayed specific, easily recognizable people in an unproblematically representational manner, yet he always insisted on giving these paintings abstract titles that foregrounded what was for him their true subject matter. The public (as well as the curators, to judge by the wall labels in museums that exhaustively detail the sitters’ biographies) seem to want to see paintings such as Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Thomas Carlyle, or Arrangement in Grey and Black (more familiarly known as Whistler’s Mother) principally as representations of specific people, whereas Whistler apparently wanted to see them at least as much, or more as arrangements of line, color, and shape.

     In this regard, Antonioni’s films are quite conservative in their “realistic” representation. Continuing with a metaphor from painting, the surface or canvas of Antonioni’s films is not overtly abstract, impressionistic, surreal, dadaist, or anything other than “traditionally realistic.”*  John David Rhodes writes that “There is something old-fashioned about L'eclisse's stubborn, but nonetheless ambiguous, attachment to the real.” (“The Eclipse of Place”. [p. 42].)  Although the plots of Antonioni's films are generally extremely thin and Antonioni frequently cheats the viewer with such devices as the ellipse, he still is telling “stories” in much the same sense as does a nineteenth century novelist.  Verisimilitude is generally quite important for Antonioni in his storytelling; it is infrequent that Antonioni will cheat the viewer with an action that taxes credulity (in L'eclisse an exception being perhaps the difficulty in explaining how Vittoria was actually able in an impromptu manner to both put on and take off blackface and African costume in Marta’s apartment, two presumably relatively complicated acts of masquerade that Antonioni never shows us).  This does not, mean, however, that it is any easier to say what an Antonioni film signifies than it is for a film of a seemingly more radical director such as Godard.  As Rohdie has observed, however, it is as though Antonioni had indeed “taken his objective too far”:

It was an objectivity that had seemingly gone beyond ‘realism’; in the distance of Antonioni’s look, in his reticence, indeed, in his refusal to presume to know or to suggest an order, the very reality and identity of things were made insecure.  It was a step which many who had been involved in neorealism found it immensely difficult to take.

(Rohdie, Antonioni, p. 47).

     Indeed, an image that is presented in a conservative, realistic manner does not ultimately yield itself to analysis any more readily than an outrageous, abstract, and unrealistic image.  A pipe that is realistically painted and yet denies its identity as such (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe”) is as opaque an image as that of a fur-lined cup or a bizarre sign near Maryon Park in Charlton.



Note 40

     A theme that runs through virtually all of Antonioni’s films is that of escape, a desire to flee the ground beneath one’s feet and the past behind one's back.*  Such a desire might be described as the “Foreign Legion syndrome,” a hackneyed theme which has been portrayed in innumerable films since the earliest days of cinema.  Such a film is Skirts Ahoy!, the Hollywood 1952 musical with Esther Williams which is being shown at the English cinema where Aubrey Hallan meets the prostitute whom he will soon murder in Antonioni’s second film, I vinti (The title, Skirts Ahoy!, is clearly seen on the cinema’s marquee as Hallan and the prostitute exit the cinema).  One can hardly imagine two films that are more different:  I vinti, every top and bottom quark of which bears Antonioni’s sensibility as opposed to Skirt’s Ahoy!, a typical and execrable commercial product of the 1950’s Hollywood studio system. And yet, the central conceit of both films, a desire to flee to Tangier in I vinti, or the desire to chuck it all and become a wave in the American Navy in Skirts Ahoy!, is the same.

     Skirts Ahoy! is a musical comedy in which three attractive young women who suffer disappointment in love decide that the solution to their amorous conflicts is to join the Navy and see the world.  In the first scene of the film we meet one of the three heroines who in full wedding gown has been left at the altar. Heartbroken, she laments to her family:

Don’t you feel as if you’re missing something? Wouldn’t you like to travel and see things, live a little?
I want to get away someplace where I don’t know anybody and where nobody knows me. Someplace where I can forget . . .

     At which point, her little brother who is holding a toy machine gun asks, “Why don’t you join the Foreign Legion?”  He then makes the sound of a machine gun firing and pretends to spray his surroundings.  A light goes on over the would-be bride’s head, and off she goes to join the Navy.  The idea must have been a good one, for by film’s end all three heroines have found true love in the arms of handsome men.  (The argument may be made that the heroine of Skirts Ahoy! is complaining that she has not lived enough, whereas David Locke of The Passenger might be accused of suffering from the Weltschmerz that comes from having lived too much.)

     I do not believe that the fact that Skirts Ahoy! and almost every film that Antonioni has ever made share a similar theme would be lost on Antonioni, nor that it would distress him.  I have already discussed that Antonioni’s use of popular music and his interest in fotoromanzi --banal commercial “art”--is very much concerned with the same profound issues that concern Antonioni.  The difference, however, between Antonioni and the director of a film such as Skirts Ahoy! is the degree to which the director is conscious of the profound aspects of his film’s themes, how deliberate is his elaboration of the themes, and what is his own attitude and tone toward the themes.  There is also a difference between films such as Antonioni’s which portray a hunger to escape as opposed to films such as Skirts Ahoy! which embody escapism.  (Somehow, a film like Skirts Ahoy! manages to do both, canceling itself out in the process and amounting to nothing.)  It is not that the portrait of human love in Skirts Ahoy! is so entirely “unreal.”  Frighteningly, 21th century audiences appear to have adopted and mimicked the unreal view of courtship and love in such films, so much so that it has become impossible to say which came first, the film or life, the chicken or the egg.  (I once read somewhere that if it were not for the French novel, we would never have been burdened with our present misconceptions regarding love.)  What is remarkable is that most of Antonioni’s characters are actually quite similar to those two-dimensional beings that populate such films as Skirts Ahoy! Although Antonioni might seem to be making a clever joke by having a murderer such as Aubrey Hallan pick up a whore in a cinema while watching the artificial erotic world of a movie musical such as Skirts Ahoy!, Hallan resembles the love-sick characters of Skirts Ahoy! more than not.  (He has heard of Romantic Love, has bought into it wholeheartedly, knows that love is just around the corner, will conquer all, where-there-is-a will-there-is-a-way, everybody-loves-somebody-sometime, the moon-is-a-big-pizza-pie, that’s amore, and all the rest of it.)  In this regard, Hallan resembles Steiner of La dolce vita, a monster hidden by the sheep’s clothing of everyday life.  Although most of Antonioni’s male characters are not murderers they are, however, highly conflicted and imperfect men. Such men haunt films like Skirts Ahoy!, a fact that such films never require us to acknowledge, a distinction that separates Antonioni from so many other directors.

     On two occasions in the English episode of I vinti we hear Hallan’s love poetry, odes written to a banal shopgirl, Sally, who completely rejects his advances.  The first occasion is when Hallan is in his apartment and recites aloud to no one, an unseen deaf god, the incantation, the prayer:

Your name is a whisper, Sally.

Your name is a sigh, Sally.

Your name is my victory, Sally.

With your name, Sally, I shall conquer life

That fears not death.

     The second poem is read aloud by Hallan’s defense attorney at his trial for the murder of the aging, pathetic, part-time prostitute whom Hallan had met while watching Skirts Ahoy!  While his attorney reads but one more juvenile love poem from Aubrey to Sally, Hallan turns his body and stares like a lovesick puppy at Sally who sits in the audience of the courtroom.  As is the case with Guido, Aldo, Sandro, Giovanni, Riccardo, Piero, Corrado, Niccolò, and all of the rest of Antonioni’s Tom, Dick, and Harrys, the girls they want seem more locked in the heads of these men than in their arms.


Note 41

     All movies, including documentaries, are at least one step removed from what they record, that is to say, reality.  If one accepts this proposition, then all film criticism is at a minimum two steps removed from the world, or said differently, an interpretation of an interpretation.  Recently, L'eclisse was shown at the Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as part of a festival celebrating the career of Alain Delon.  I wondered if many in the audience had come to see an “Alain Delon film,” as though the spectral black and white image of Piero cast on the screen by Delon had somehow eclipsed Piero’s creator, Michelangelo Antonioni.  As my wife, Suzanne, and I left the theater at night, we walked to our car past the darkened shadows of life-like statues of Mastodons caught frozen in time in the La Brea Tar Pits.  In the park where the Museum of Art is located, we continued our walk past the contiguous Page Museum of Natural History where the bones of thousands of beasts that had died in the tar pits over many thousands of years are interred, the facade of the entire museum encircled by a frieze depicting a prehistoric, lost world once populated with such creatures and plants by now long extinct, the fossils of which might be purchased in the gift shop of a museum or specialty boutique by a woman whose name just happens to be Vittoria.  (Among the many beasts such as sabre-tooth tigers who had died on the grounds we now walked upon, only one human remain has ever been found, that of a young woman who mysteriously died in the pits.  Anna?)  My wife, whose career and interests are not attached to film criticism, asked why I found the film so interesting.  I was initially thrilled at the chance to answer this question, but then realized that either I had too many things I could say, or then again, nothing at all.  I stammered that I thought life was like L'eclisse, that great art sought to create a vision of life—to create life out of life—that the world Suzanne and I found ourselves walking in at night resembled that of Vittoria and Piero, that it was up to ourselves to examine it carefully.  After I had praised Antonioni for his faithful recreation of the world, Suzanne reminded me that L'eclisse was a work of art and that its resemblance to reality--the “facts of the physical world”--was tenuous. A thought flashed through my mind:  “Was Aristotle correct, that poetry, that cinema is truer than history, than reality?”  And yet another thought still, windswept, blowing in the wind of my mind, Fellini, what was it that he had once said—what know I—something about our dreams are our real life .  .  . ?

     I suddenly felt the slightest degree of vertigo, as if I were falling—pleasantly so—as if a leaf spiraling in autumn gently to ground.  No, not only Aristotle, but someone else.  Who?  And then I was back in San Francisco, the springtime of my little life, Kermode, Professor Snow who was always digressing to talk about Vermeer, another epigraph, this time, not Peter Porter, but someone else, and then I remembered, the words reverberating in my now autumnal mind .  .  .

a more severe,
More harassing master would extemporize
Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life

As it is, in the intricate evasions as,
In things seen and unseen, created from nothingness,
The heavens, the hells, the worlds, the longed-for lands.

Wallace Stevens

     It is unusual to walk in Los Angeles at night, the streets largely deserted.  When we arrived at the darkened, secluded spot where we had parked our car hours earlier while at dusk, we realized that the gate to the lot was now closed.  (We had not seen the sign on the gate when it was swung open earlier, warning us that it is locked after 23.00).  My wife was not happy with my foolishness.  I thought of the Museum of Natural History in Verona and of that shot of Vittoria gazing at the fossil on the museum’s wall, a shot never included in the final film, mono no aware, anicca, the facade of the Page Museum, Aeneas contemplating the artwork of the Carthaginian temple depicting the Trojan War .  .  .

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt (These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart.)

The Aeneid
Line 462
Book 1

     And what of the “Lovers of Valdaro,” two skeletons believed to be that of a man and a woman in their twenties, entwined in death some 5-6 thousand years ago, recently uncovered at a Neolithic, archaeological dig site near Mantova at Valdaro-S.Giorgio, now threatened by a project to build a warehouse on the site? (retrieved 9 November 2010 from Internet site):

<<http://www.archaeology.org/0801/abstracts/valdaro.html"target=>

     Enough to wring tears from a stone.  Yes, Mantova, some 40 km to the south of Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet, just off Strada Statale 62.  Vittoria.  Piero. 

     Rossellini knew of the power of uncovering such remains, those of a day, in which in an instant, the heavens suddenly darkened, and a couple might be turned to stone in each other’s arms, become a fossil in the earth, or immortalized as an exhibition at a museum, gawked at by curious schoolchildren, elbowing one another to stare upon these old things, the naked and the dead.  If you doubt it, take a look at Viaggio in Italia, nothing new under the Sun.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled .  .  .

     I leaned forward towards the locked gate with my arms raised grabbing the vertical bars, our car lost to us on the other side, and then I heard Suzanne, now tender and concerned, calling me by my true name, asking me, “David, why the sad smile?”  And then the image of Aldo was projected onto my mindscreen, as you now think you see Aldo’s image on your computer screen, when in reality it is all in your mind.


The arranging conciousness
Aldo (Steve Cochran) in Il grido
life and art confronting one another


Note 42

     “I’m not a philosopher or a preacher.  I have no lessons to impart.  Nothing to teach.  Simply look at my films and draw from them whatever meaning you like.”  Although, Akira Kurosawa--an admirer of Antonioni--said the above, the statement applies to Antonioni as well.  Antonioni said as much in a television interview given to the Italian film critic Lino Micciché in a filmed interview in 1978 (Antonioni visto da Antonioni):  “The answers to your questions may be found in my films.”  This paraphrase has an eerie similarity to that which the African “witchdoctor” said when interviewed by David Locke in The Passenger.

     Ironically, it is Antonioni’s very reluctance to provide explicit conclusions that provides a vacuum in which critics may discover whatever significance they wish.  (My own largely vain hope with regard to “interpreting” an Antonioni film is to follow the model of the filmmaker and to avoid conclusions, something inherently contradictory in the practice of criticism.)  Not only can Antonioni be slippery with regard to meaning, but for many critics and viewers a tension exists as to whether his films are even “good” or not.  Anthony Lane once wrote in The New Yorker,  “I don’t happen to believe that Antonioni’s work is profound, but the illusion of profundity is so spooky, and so exquisitely managed, that it will do just as well.”


Note 43 [Chapter V]

     [Author’s addendum, 5 March 2010]:  Antonioni, despite his many interviews and writings, was a famously private man and no comprehensive biography of him has ever been published.  The specific issue of Antonioni and fascism—an issue that has received relatively scant if any substantive attention in the past—has attracted recent attention due to (1) a documentary by director Felix Moeller, Harlan - Im Schatten von Jud Süss (“Harlan - In the Shadow of Jud Süss”), 2008, and (2) an unrelated, large-scale production film that is a fictional retelling of the making of the film, Jud Süß, by director Oskar Roehler, Jud Süss: Film ohne Gewissen (“Jud Süss: Film Without Conscience”), 2010.  Both of these very recent German films concern the infamous 1940 Nazi propaganda film by director Veit Harlan, Jud Süß, “The most effective of all Nazi anti-Jewish productions.” (Friedländer, Saul.  Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945.  p. 188.)  Antonioni, 28 years old at the time and a film critic, viewed the 5 September 1940 world premiere of this film at the Venice Film Festival and wrote a favorable review in Corriere Padano, 6 September 1940 (La settimana cinematografica di Venezia.  “L’ebreo Suess” e “Il cavaliere di Krua”).  As discussed below as well as in Endnote #37, the founder and owner of Corriere Padano, a regional magazine of Emilia-Romagna, was the highly notorious fascist, Italo Balbo.  Subsequently, Antonioni worked for a brief period in 1940 as a critic for the nationally circulated, principal fascist film journal, Cinema, whose editor was none other than Vittorio Mussolini*, son of Benito Mussolini, “Il Duce.”  Again, Antonioni wrote a second positive brief review of “L’ebreo Süss” in the 25 September 1940 edition of Cinema, pp. 20-21. (Available on line at:  http://www.fondazionecsc.it/UploadDocs/1772_CN_1940_102.pdf  [retrieved 9 June 2014].)

     Antonioni was employed as a journalist approximately between the years of 1935-1940 which required a special certificate of approval issued by the fascist party; such certificates were secretly granted without public record in order to promote the illusion of a free press.  Benito Mussolini—like Antonioni, also a son of Emilia-Romagna—had himself been a journalist in his youth and understood well the necessity for absolute control of the Fourth Estate (see:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini    [retrieved 12 March 2010].)  Ferrara, where Antonioni was born in 1912 and where he lived until 1931 when he left for university in nearby Bologna, is widely regarded in Italy to this day as a cradle of Italian fascism (Bologna, like Ferrara, also losing its traditional liberal roots to become a stronghold of fascist activity during the rise of “il Duce”).  If Ferrara was a cradle of Italian fascism, then Antonioni’s crib was in the nursery of a home whose father was described in a recent essay by Jacopo Benci (2011) as a “staunch fascist” (p. 22).  Paul Corner writes that “It was Ferrara that formed the spearhead of the extremely rapid expansion of agrarian Fascism which—at the beginning of 1921—effectively rescued the town-based Fascism of Mussolini from extinction.” (Corner, Paul.  Fascism in Ferrara, 1915-1925, p. X.)  Both Alberto Lattuada’s Il mulino del Po (1949) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento (1976; USA title, “1900”) portray this provincial conflict between socialist and fascist adversaries in Emilia-Romagna, this overt political element characteristically missing in Antonioni’s extant documentary on the region, Gente del Po (shot in 1943).

     Jud Süß had been banned as early as 1941 in Sweden and sale of the DVD is presently prohibited in Italy.  Standing opposed to Antonioni’s appreciation of Jud Süß is that of Harlan’s daughter, Maria Körber, who has described her reaction to her father’s film:  “I wept and was in despair, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  It was horrific.  I felt like going outside and puking.”  Veit Harlan’s son, Thomas Harlan, went so far as to accuse his father of having “created an instrument of murder.” (“The film was seen by an estimated 100 million people across Europe and was made required viewing for the SS by Heinrich Himmler.”  This latter statement and the quotations of Harlan’s children are cited in “The Los Angeles Times,” page D6, 11 June 2010.)  On August 18, 1940, after screening the final cut of the Jud Süß, Goebbels wrote in his diary:  “An anti-Semitic film of the kind we could only wish for.  I am happy about it.”  (Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels Teil I: Aufzeichnungen 1923-1941; cited on Internet site:  http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/judsuss.html.  Retrieved 4 August 2010.)  Veit Harlan was the only prominent film director of the Third Reich to stand trial for crimes against humanity. (One of the charges against Harlan was that Jews were actually forced to serve as slaves performing as quite realistic “extras” in Jud Süß, a film that ultimately was used to promote their very destruction.)  What is most striking about Antonioni’s 6 September 1940 review is what it does not say.  Antonioni had looked at the face of evil upon the silver screen and then wrote a review that was relatively innocuous in its tone—emphasizing Antonioni’s opinion of the praiseworthy technical, dramaturgical, and other aspects of Jud Süß as opposed to an examination of what really makes the film extraordinary, its content.  Compared to the agonizing hysteria of Jud Süß, Antonioni’s analysis is ultimately as dry as bone and ash.  There is not so much as a nod to what the film is fundamentally about, a rascist portrayal of Jews made under the direction of the Third Reich. (Jud Süß was not The Merchant of Venice anymore than Hitler was Elizabeth I.)  It is as if Antonioni had somehow missed—not seen—the entire point of Jud Süß:  its incessant, elaborate, heavy-handed incitement to anti-Semitism, something which was not lost upon Goebbels, the true “director” of the film.  The peculiar result of Antonioni’s “analysis” is that we are left with a review enthusiastically praising a horrific anti-Semitic film in which the reviewer himself otherwise betrays no overt anti-Semitism.  It is reasonable to assume that Antonioni “saw” full well the import of Jud Süß.  If he didn’t, then something was very wrong somewhere.

“Jud Süss.  Film Without a Conscience”
Non vedo.  Non sento.  Non parlo.


     Although Antonioni in his two movie reviews of Jud Süß may have displayed willful blindness—or, as it were, turned a blind eye to the issue of anti-Semitism—Antonioni did not blink when it came to discussing the film’s propaganda value.  Rohdie (p. 29) quotes in English translation a passage from the 6 Settembre 1940 review of Jud Süß by Antonioni in the Corriere Padano:  “We have no hesitation in saying if this is propaganda, then we welcome propaganda.  It is a powerful, incisive, extremely effective film.” / “ Non abbiamo esitazioni nel dire che se questa è propaganda, allora sia benvenuta la propaganda.  E' un film potente, incisivo, efficacissimo, ripreso in maniera impeccabile .  .  .” Much of Antonioni’s writing on film resembles the dialogue in his films: scrambled, slippery, sometimes hifalutin, rising at times to the low distinction of Jabberwocky.  Such a writing style may have been particularly well suited when trying to confuse Antonioni’s fascist editors as to what he really meant to say. (Later in his film career Antonioni may have chosen the tactic of “misdirection” to confuse his viewing public for other reasons.)  Rohdie, again in English translation on p. 18 quotes Antonioni as writing 5 and a half years earlier:  “(The) programmed cinema will be a very powerful propaganda arm that will deeply affect the people and will be a most effective means by which fascism can affirm throughout the world what is essential and irreplaceable about it.” (Antonioni, Michelangelo. Corriere Padano.  “Colpi di sonda.  Cinematografo: soggetto e regia.”  28 marzo 1935).  Benito Mussolini at the opening of Cinecittà on 28 April, 1937 declared cinematography “as the most powerful weapon.”

The movie camera as weapon of mass destruction
La macchina ammazzacattivi
The movie camera as weapon of mass destruction


But .  .  . what was the specific value as propaganda that Jud Süß possessed that Antonioni was gushing over?  As noted above, Goebbels—unlike Antonioni—didn’t appear to have any difficulty in interpreting the propaganda value of Jud Süß,  an anti-Semitic film of the kind we can only wish for .  .  .  .

     It is important to remember the precise historical context in which Antonioni was writing of a film such as Jud Süß (See “Historical Background Sketch.” Italian Cinema in the Shadow of Auschwitz. pp. 3-9. Marcus, Millicent.)  Since the Risorgimento and unification of Italy in the latter part of the 19th century, Jews had been granted rights as Italian citizens and to a great degree were assimilated into and accepted by Italian society.  It was not until 1938-1939 when Mussolini initiated the “Racial Laws.” As Marcus reminds us (p. 7), Italian Jews, a miniscule percentage of the Italian population, were suddenly subject to “.  .  . the most comprehensive set of anti-Semitic rules, setting limitations on property and business ownership by Jews, barring them from mixed marriages, military service, and the employment of Christian domestic help and denying them positions in banks, insurance companies, or government offices .  .  . owning radios, listing their names in telephone directories, placing obituaries in local newspapers, giving public lectures, or attending vacation resorts.”

Friday, Sabbath evening, 1938
Before the lighting of the candles, Friday, Sabbath evening, 11 novembre 1938


Was Antonioni—highly sophisticated, intellectually curious and naturally inquisitive, well read in multiple languages, a university graduate who counted among his friends and with whom he played tennis, Giorgio Bassani and other Ferraresi Jews, members of the oldest Jewish community in all of Europe—not aware of such “laws,” anti-Semitic rants inscribed on government billboards plastered like movie posters on Italian streets throughout Italy?  Had Antonioni any familiarity with the onerous Nürnberg Laws that had been promulgated in Germany in 1935?  Did Antononi not know of the ominous and potentially catastrophic alliance signed between Italy and Germany on 22 May 1939, the Pact of Steel (German: “Stahlpakt”; Italian: “Patto d'Acciaio”), that would seal Italy’s doom?  In September of 1940 was Antonioni not aware that Hitler’s armies had conquered much of Europe?  Did Antonioni not have any notion regarding Hitler’s attitude toward Jews as had been clearly laid out for all to see in Mein Kampf as early as 1925-1926?  Was Antonioni unaware that both Mussolini and Goebbels viewed cinema as a powerful instrument of warfare?  (Had Antonioni attended the inauguration of Cinecittà?)  Was Antonioni—a man whose life, even then, was consecrated to the cinema—unaware that the monolithic German studio, Ufa, now the mouthpiece of the Third Reich, was not only producing anti-Semitic feature films such as Jud Süß but also virulently anti-Semitic newsreels whose goal was not art, enlightenment, or entertainment but de-humanization?  A 1941 Ufa newsreel drones: “This eastern Jewish sub-humanity has brought criminal riff-raff to western Europe since the beginning of time.  This scum has supplied democracies with pickpockets, pimps, drug dealers, white slave traders, international bank grafters, and seditious reporters.  These are the same Jews whose brothers, sons, and cousins are spokesmen for humanity and civilization in London and Paris.” (Rome is omitted.)  [This portion of the Ufa newsreel may be viewed in the excellent 2006 German documentary film by director, Michael Verhoeven, Der unbekannte Soldat (“The Unknown Soldier.  What did you do in the war, Dad?”)]  In fairness to Ufa, directors such as Harlan, and critics such as Antonioni .  .  . art, enlightenment, and entertainment were now no longer distinguishable from de-humanization.

     A brief collective answer to the questions raised in the above paragraph is, yes, Antonioni was aware that rabid, murderous anti-semetism was afoot in Europe.  The only remaining question—a simple one that history has already given us the answer to was: what effect did this knowledge that Mephistopheles was standing by Michelangelo Antonioni’s bed have on Antonioni’s own personal behavior?  This was not some theoretical ethical dilemma given to the students of the Debate Club to be heroically sorted out in spirited, bloodless argument but, instead, a question, a choice, that the ironclad vagaries of chance had dumped at Antonioni’s bedside.  Should he run for peril of losing his eternal soul, or instead let Mephistopheles—disquised as some Circe-like seductress of cinema—creep under the covers to lie in bed with him?  Had it not been Antonioni who had beckoned the devil to his bedside and not vice-versa?  In Endnote #38 I discuss similarities between Antonioni and Alfred Hitcock.  Whereas Veit Harlan’s Jud Süss of 1940 was a movie carfefully crafted to incite anti-Semitism, Hitchcock’s 1934 film, The Man Who knew Too Much, was made in a different European nation with radically different sentiments.  Hitchcock and his team were very aware and quite sensitive to the issue of radical anti-antisemitism occurring in Germany and elsewhere on the European continent (which had only dramatically worsened when six years later in 1940 Antonioni was to review Jud Süss). So keen was this awareness and sensitivity, that the original name of the villain in the shooting script of The Man Who knew Too Much was deliberately changed from “Levine” to the less “Jewish sounding,” “Ramon.”  Hitchcock and others at Gaumont-British also went out of their way to cast a young Jewish refugee who had fled Germany to France and then England, Peter Lorre (née László Löwenstein), and to have him cast in a major role in The Man Who knew Too Much, a role so successful that it stole the movie and launched an international career for Lorre, (Audio commentary by Philip Kemp. 2013. The Man Who Knew Too Much [1934].  Criterion Collection).  In 1940, Antonioni was no less aware of European virulent anti-antisemitism than Alfred Hitchcock.  Antonioni was, however, unlike Hitchcock, residing in Axis Italy and was choosing to bargain his soul with the devil for employment as a fascist writer for fascist journals where the job profile required that the “critic” favorably review German movies such as Jud Süss whose entire production was overseen by the non-Italian, Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels of Italy’s Axis ally, Germany. (Antonioni's choice was not that of Peter Lorre.  For Lorre, remaining in Germany would have sooner or later put him at risk of losing his skin.  For Antonioni, until 1943, remaining in Italy posed no physical threat, but did present the gravest of dangers to something more valuable than his epidermis: Antonioni’s soul.)  The goal of the production of Jud Süss—something very uncommon in the world of cinema—was not box office receipts but that of promoting anti-antisemitism and state-sponsored mass murder.   Our hypothetical debating society may someday address whether Antonioni was, thus, an accessory before the fact of genocide.

     Matthew Love in a 60-page on-line essay, “Michelangelo Antonioni.  The Early Years 1935-1950,” references in English translation (S. Rohdie) an article that Antonioni had written in 1941:

“The fate of Europe started to grow dark in 1914; from then, in fits and starts, things have worsened, and the disaster of today hardly surprises anyone, least of all historians.  Italy has made a revolution; it has made a war in – Africa – then another war – in Spain – and now it has undertaken a third, all in the spaces (sic) of twenty years.  What has been the consequence of this for the cinema?  And not only for European cinema but world cinema since world war is the official name of this new war?  It is not (sic) only difficult to imagine.”

Antonioni, Michelangelo. “Per una storia della mostra.” Cinema 10-25th September 1941, pp. 151-152, 187-189.

This declaration is important for at least two reasons.  Firstly, it confirms the already obvious—something one can discern from the interviews and writings of Antonioni throughout his life—that Antonioni had a far-ranging mind and that he was interested in everything, including history and current events.  Secondly, that even in the middle of what Antonioni himself recognized as a world-wide conflagration, what was forefront among his concerns was how the Cinema would be affected by the blaze.  It would take approximately 2 more years until the noose-like circle of war would finally touch Antonioni himself in a manner—that for the first time—his very physical safety was in danger.  Even then, in the latter half of 1943, from the time of his leaping off from the sinking ship of fascist Italy, until approximately June of 1944 when Rome was liberated, Antonioni continued to be obsessed with the cinema at the same time that he was now trying to elude capture—like millions of other Italians—by the German Army in Italy and Antonioni's die-hard former fascist compatriots.

     Matthew Love also writes of Antonioni’s thoughts and feelings regarding the 1940 fascist film festival—the previous year that Antonioni had attended the festival and the year he wrote his review of Jud Süß—quoting from another article Antonioni had written, “Inaugrazione,” (sic) Cinema. 10th September 1940, pp. 14-15. Love writes (again with assistance in English translation from Rohdie):  “His (Antonioni’s) main attention was not so much to the opening film, but more a sad reflection on the restrictions to the festival brought about by the war which rendered a rather anti-climatic atmosphere to the event itself:

‘There were no white jackets at the San Marco Cinema on the opening night, nor low cut gowns.  The official opening took place after dark, it was evident in the main hall that the atmosphere was utterly different than it had been years past (things were otherwise in the days at the Lido, under bright lights; it was only memory now; a time that seems to be from a past before we were even born).  Now, in war time, the war was present at the very heart of the festival; with the absence of the Venetian wealthy everything seemed austere.  The entire event lacked all luxury though there were elegant (but never before so serious or silent) actresses, directors, celebrities. There were roses everywhere; it was possible to make use of them to form a lovely picture of life and colour; in that respect the hall seemed set for a gay ball, the only thing missing was the Chinese lanterns.  By Midnight everthing (sic) was over.  Officials, film-makers, the public silently left (the darkness made everything still before, in artificial, all had been excitement and volubility [sic]). The film continued outside though with an altered ton (sic) and script. Venice seemed completely unreal and so very dark; lights shimmered along invisible canals as if coming from nearby falling stars; here and there street lamps created strange perspectives.  If suddenly the old Venetian masks had appeared from an angle of one of the hallways none of us would be surprised.  San Marco square was like a soft field surrounded by tall hedges. At the far end of the square was the bell tower, an enormous black cypress.’ ”

The overt tone here is one of nostalgia for temps perdu, an elegiac, romantic, lyrical sense of loss for time past—no white jackets nor low cut gowns—as opposed to any evident, specific uncomfortable feeling which Antonioni may have experienced regarding Jud Süß or the horrors that much of Europe and the world were braving at that very time outside the Piazza San Marco.

     It was at about this time as the End of the World was hurtling towards Europe with the force of the Whirlwind that in another world far away, Hollywood, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were embodying on celluloid 3 or 4 minutes of the most exquisite art ever conceived, facing the music to dance (<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZrXzoaJvc> [Retrieved 10 December 2012]), art so admired by Federico Fellini that relatively late in his career he would make a film, an homage of sorts to Astaire and Rogers, Ginger and Fred [1986], starring Mastroianni and Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina.  The often cruel and supernatural coincidence of Simultaneity was occurring with extreme beauty and terror separated one from the other by the Atlantic Ocean.  George Gershwin, an American Jew, was “safe” in the United States, shuttling between Hollywood and Manhattan, having composed some of the most wonderful music ever made, venturing into God-only-knows-what musical wonders as Gershwin was composing ever more “serious” classical music, only to soon die of a brain tumor at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood at age 38.  Antonioni would be 48 in 1960 when he would make a film called La notte which begins with a confrontation between the film’s “hero,” the Marcello Mastroianni character—Antonioni’s alter ego—and the “premature,” agonizing death of his friend, Tommaso Garani, the ever present proximity of death that haunted Antonioni, the Mastroianni character, and all of we the living still alive to read and write these words.

     By the onset of World War II, the Venice Biennale Film Festival—to be rechristened in 1940 the “Manifestazione Cinematografica Italo-Germanica” (“Italian-German Film Festival”)—had forged an unholy alliance with Mussolini’s Ministry of Popular Culture which “encouraged its full appropriation by the regime’s propaganda machine .  .  . After 1937, the prize for the best foreign film went without exception to Nazi Germany.” (See Stone, Marla.  “The Last Film Festival.”  In Re-viewing Fascism. [p. 296].)  Jud Süß was no exception; it won the most coveted prize in the “competition,” the Golden Lion (Friedländer, Saul).  Antonioni was, thus, a journalist writing for fascist journals and reviewing films at Axis film festivals in which the competition and the critics were “fixed” before the first images began even to flicker from out of the movie projector.  If truth may ever be told, during these early war years in particular, Antonioni was neither a journalist nor film critic.  As would be the case for virtually all of the characters in his celebrated films to come, Antonioni was someone other than who he seemed to be.  The part Antonioni was playing required him to pretend that he was a journalist and critic, a task that came easy to him insofar as—like a method actor—Antonioni identified with his role, his cover story.  In reality, Antonioni had hooked a small part in a very exclusive cast for which the vast majority of ordinary Italians had never auditioned.  Antonioni’s true off-stage identity was that of a publicist, promoter, and propagandist working—not for some off-broadway, small-time play doomed to bomb in New Haven—but engaged in performance art at a relatively high level in a grandiose, crazed, global extravaganza, the producers of which were Nazis and Fascists.  Antonioni was little more than a very ambitious shill, flack, and hack who associated with but had no real identification with his patrons and ultimately showed little true enthusiasm for the profane entertainment he was hawking.  Although Antonioni’s sought-after secondary gain and his not-so-secret agenda were to make movies, Antonioni’s two-bit role was nonetheless part of a larger Axis production whose goals if realized would lead to no less than the defilement of a world.

     None of this was a question of hindsight, least of all to historians.  The facts were already on the ground, facts that when new are often the hardest to perceive, especially when seeing, absorbing, and acting upon their significance might prove disadvantageous.  All of the road signs of history were pointing in the same direction, the Greek chorus in the background chanting the same old song, that what has happened before shall happen again, only this time with an especial vengeance.  So as through a glass, and darkly, the age long strife I see, where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.  “Guernica” of 1937 and “Kristallnacht” of 1938 were but featurettes, one-reelers from the theatre of the real, hinting at the coming attractions of a wave of full-length, feature horror films such as Jud Süß soon to be coming to your local cinema.  The argument may be made that when a nation state commissions the making of a film such as Jud Süß it becomes but a short train ride to Auschwitz.  Whether Antonioni did or whether he didn’t know any of this, nonetheless this was the historical setting in which Antonioni viewed as a privileged guest at the Cinema Teatro S Marco of Venice on 5 September 1940 Jud Süß.  And it was I—to my astonishment as I had just written of the Cinema Teatro S Marco—that I had suddenly seen, but for an instant, the flashing, intrusive, haunting image of the cinema with Jud Süß being projected on its theatre screen suddenly exploding in my mind’s eye, repetitively, pieces of film and projectors flying, tumbling through the air in ultra slow-motion, all being consumed in an apocalyptic firestorm similar to that which Antonioni would brilliantly create almost three decades later in Zabriskie Point.

A road sign to Auschwitz
A road sign to Auschwitz
(Film poster for Jud Süß.  Design: Bruno Rehak.  138 x 95 cm.  Berlin, 1940)*


     By 1962, Antonioni now a world-famous director, could afford to be more high-minded as to which prestigious international film festivals he could attend.  As already discussed in Chapter 4, Antonioni stood up the 1962 showing of L'eclisse at Cannes as part of a protest against Mario Monicelli’s segment being cut out by Carlo Ponti of the omnibus film, Boccacio 70.  If one stops and thinks about things but for a minute, something may have been out of kilter with the ethical algebra here.  As a fascist-sponsored critic of the Axis Antonioni had attended a rigged film festival in Venice in 1940 promoting an anti-Semitic horror show of Nazi Germany (one had to just look at the posters plastered about town advertising Jud Süß).  22 years later Antonioni boycotted the Cannes festival over what appears to have been a petty, inside-baseball, tempest-in-a teapot contretemps between the producer/attorney Ponti and director Monicelli concerning a casting issue of relatively little ultimate consequence.  IMDb states:  “This segment was apparently cut because Monicelli promised to deliver a ‘major American star’ but failed in this endeavor, thus his film became cast with mostly unknowns.  When the film premiered at Cannes, it was jeered by critics and filmmakers after they became informed of the news about Monicelli’s unjustly removed segment.” (See:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055805/trivia retrieved 22 May 2011).  The algebraic equation—Antonioni goes to one festival and doesn’t go to another—just doesn’t seem to balance.  Forget about algebra.  One requires only arithmetic to suspect that something may not be adding up, that two and two don’t make four when comparing Antonioni’s actions in 1940 versus 1962.  Another possibility is that the algebraic equation is balanced and the arithmetic does add up, that it isn’t even necessary to resort to mathematical metaphors to reconcile Antonioni’s behavior.  Perhaps Antonioni's actions in 1940 and 1962 are not as discordant as they might at first appear.  It may be that Antonioni had not experienced a significant moral evolution and maturation over 20 years, but instead, the decision to attend one festival and boycott the other arose from the same wellspring, one of ultimate self-interest.  It may be misleading to find any disparity between Antonioni as a man with a fascist bent during the Mussolini years and as a post-World War II Marxist.  In both cases the choices made were the safe ones that accrued some benefit for Antonioni.  Antonioni’s films themselves rarely if ever involve primary, overt concern regarding ethical issues and perhaps the same may be said about Antonioni, the man.  Furthermore, no one in 1962 remembered or wanted to remember or dared to remember who Antonioni had been in Venice in 1940 and no one was about to look backwards and analyze the rather straightforward and consistent events of Antonioni’s heady days basking in the sun of fascist Italy.

     While a young, vigorous, and ambitious Michelangelo Antonioni was admiring aspects of Jud Süß in Venice in early September—at approximately the same time of the year that Vittoria and Piero would someday abandon one another in late summer—others in Italy would very soon be able to review the film in less comfortable circumstances.  In Ian Thomson’s biography of the celebrated Italian author, Primo Levi, who wrote a famous account of his experience as a slave in Auschwitz, (Se questo è un uomo / If This Is a Man [English title]), Thomson writes (p. 105):

“On 30 September [1940], the eve of the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the German Consulate in Turin distributed the anti-Semitic German propaganda film Jud Süß, much admired (perhaps to his later shame) by the Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni.  Other abuses followed.  In the early hours of 15 October petrol was poured over the steps of the Turin synagogue; the flames were extinguished, but the Jewish community understandably was alarmed.  Next day anti-Semitic posters were found pasted to walls around the Jewish School.  Though the slogans were in Italian, the posters bore the hallmark of a Nazi defamation campaign and were probably the work of the German Consulate.  Indeed, Italian authorities were later seen tearing the posters down, perhaps an indication that the biological anti-Semitism at the heart of Nazism was distasteful to most Fascists.  As Levi noted later: ‘A Turin Kristallnacht was clearly a long way off.’  Nevertheless, as a precaution the Jewish community posted sentries round the synagogue.  Levi volunteered for at least one of these look-outs—a prelude to his imminent involvement with the Resistance.”

     Antonioni would soon be traveling south to Rome, not to review another Axis film but to further advance his budding film career by actually participating in the making of a propaganda film conceived by Vittorio Mussolini, the above mentioned Un pilota ritorna.  And after this film project Antonioni—still a soldier in the Italian Army, on leave and in civilian clothing—would eventually obtain an “extraordinary” plum six-month leave (see: http://www.michelangeloantonioni.it/ [in Italian]; retrieved 19 May 2011) and wend his way in 1942 with what Biarese and Tassone (p. 31) refer to as “speciali licenze” / “special leave” (presumably the requisite permission of his military superiors and fascist benefactors) to the enchanting Côte d’Azur in the Italian occupied zone of France to work as an unwanted, uncredited assistant director foisted upon the famous French director, Marcel Carné, who was making Les visiteurs du soir.  As already noted in a footnote of chapter IV, there was a general antipathy that the French felt for their Italian occupiers.  It had been the Italian, not the German Army, which had invaded the French Riviera on 20 June 1940.  Unlike the German invasion of France, the Italian attack had been a near disaster, the Italian army suffering many times the casualities of the French despite the Italian numerical superiority.  Antonioni did not participate in this fighting but came to France subsequently in his own more private and personal invasion—part of his own cinematic blitzkrieg all’italiana as a young, golden Italian filmwarrier—into the arena of the film set where blood is tomato paste or some other daily luncheon special of Kensington Gore.  (Multiple sources contradict one another on what year Antonioni was actually conscripted; having extensively researched the literature including Italian language sources, my own guess is that it was most likely in 1941 or possibly even late 1940.)  Carné had little if any direct contact with his “third assistant director” and ignored him; see Biarese and Tassone, p. 31, for more on Anonioni’s fractious relationship with Carné.  Levi would eventually be heading north by boxcar to an area of swampland—a veritable bog between the Vistula and Sola rivers—Oświęcim, some 50 km west of Kraków, Poland.  Of the 650 Italians (who also happened to be civilians and of Jewish faith) in Levi’s transport, 20 would survive.

     The human beings who were being shipped freight class to southern Poland to be robbed and then murdered departed from the Porta Nuova train station located in the heart of Turin, not far from the Duomo and the Holy Shroud.  The magnificent train station’s beautiful facade looks down upon the lovely gardens of the Piazza Carlo Felice.  For Levi, Porta Nuova—also within a several minute walk of the home where he had lived his entire life at 7 Corso Re Umberto—would be the site where he would be herded into a stock car (All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes. Carl Sandburg).  It would be only a little more than a decade later that Antonioni would himself be at Porta Nuova filming at track 9 the final scene of his latest flick, Le amiche.  Not surprisingly, this scene in Antonioni’s film had nothing to do with deportation and state-sponsored mass murder, but the smaller issue of a failed rendezvous of two lovers at a train station that might have been anywhere.  It is only a presumption, but I do not believe that Antonioni for even a nanosecond—while standing with his director’s view finder characteristically hanging from his neck and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth—thought of Porta Nuova, Levi, and the terrible events that occurred in this station in 1944.  Antonioni was a focused man, and while making a movie, anything not associated with the movie he was presently fashioning—anything not present in his viewfinder—was excluded or banished to non-being.  And yet, I would ask you—if someday you find yourself in Torino near the train platforms where the tracks begin that carried Levi and others to non-being—to look for the small memorial plaque and the artist’s rendition of a nude, emaciated human being prostrate in the dirt next to the barbwire of a concentration camp fence, the plaque and a wreath below placed inconspicuously on the station’s wall near where the commuters now queue to return home to their apartments in the suburbs of Piemonte as opposed to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  Antonioni may not have remembered nor turned his mind back to the events of 1944—events that he was either a part of or which were swirling all around him—but each year there departs from track 20 of Porta Nuova the “treno della memoria” (“train of memory”) filled with hundreds of Italian high school students who make a pilgrimage to Kraków and the nearby Lager of Auschwitz-Birkenau (http://informarecollegno.blogspot.com/2009/02/treno-della-memoria-il-mio-viaggio-ad.html   [retrieved 28 March 2011]).  It is a moving testament to Italy and the Italian people, this will to remember and examine the issue of individual and collective responsibility, to have the children of Italy who were not alive in 1944 and who bear no trans-generational responsibility themselves for the atrocities of that time (Ezekiel 18:19-20), to visit the most terrible place on Earth.

     In the early months of 1943 Antonioni would again—while still a soldier in the Italian Army—obtain “special leave” to travel to the Po delta near his birthplace of Ferrara to make a very beautiful film, his first documentary, his first real film, Gente del Po, thought by many (including Antonioni himself) to possibly be the true inauguration, the “manifesto” of neorealismo (Biarrese and Tassone, p. 32. [The documentary is available with English sub-titles in the 2010 Criterion Blu-ray edition of Red Desert]).  Even now, 70 years later, the remaining few hundred meters of film shot by Antonioni, some film possibly lost during processing, some remaining film damaged by the humidity in storage during the remainder of the war in Venice and up to its retrieval by Antonioni in 1947, this short documentary is a stunning piece of art unto itself—not merely a moldy, historical artifact of academic interest that like some old mildewed storyboard lost in a studio warehouse might demarcate the trajectory of the remainder of Antonioni’s film career—but a wonderful piece of cinema in its own right capturing the grandeur and the misery of the fragile but resilient life of the people of the Po River delta.  There is, however, not a hint in the film, not a single frame that would suggest that there was a true world outside the enclosed universe of this relatively small delta being artistically represented in a film, a world outside the Po pianura that not so very far away was being consumed in flames even as Antonioni was filming his short documentary.  In Gente del Po, there is an aesthetically beautiful shot of a young woman toiling like a beast of burden among the reeds along the banks of the Po.  The voice-over, that of a woman, narrates:  “Perhaps those watching the barges go by think about happiness, about leaving, about traveling, starting a new life.”  But, it was during this very time in January of 1943 that some of the greatest carnage of the war was being experienced and the tide of war had turned decisively against Germany and Italy.  It would be a matter of months before Sicily and then peninsular Italy would be invaded, a matter of a year or so before great Allied armies would be engaged in a monumental, bloody slog northward up the boot of Italy, passing through the plain of the Po, a march of terrible death and destruction, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of Italian citizens and Allied and Axis soldiers (For a gripping account of the horror experienced by Italy during the Second World War read Naples '44, a first-hand, highly regarded diary by the famous writer, Norman Lewis, who was a British intelligence officer stationed in Naples after the “liberation”).  To escape from what the narrator describes as a “hard life that never changes,” would be like escaping from purgatory into hell, “dalla padella alla brace.” (The brilliant theme of Rod Serling’s, “Third From the Sun,” the epigraph to the last chapter of this book.)  The pretty girl of the Po would not need to depart from the delta.  The world would come to her.  The conflagration, the flames of hell would soon reach the flat lands of Emilia-Romagna after the slow, anguished Allied front advanced northward towards her along the mountainous Apennine spine of Italy where meters gained were measured in lives lost battering ever up and against the German Gothic Line. (For the horrific details and specifics of WWII in Emilia-Romagna see the Internet site:   http://www.riccione.net/more/seconda_guerra_mondiale_in_emilia_romagna.htm  [accessed 22 July 2012] and http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/po/72-33.htm [accessed 26 July 2012].)  By then, Antonioni would be elsewhere, hiding in the mountains of Abruzzo or other areas of relative security in a world where no one was ever truly safe anywhere.  Antonioni was a genius of the highest order and was focused on other—what many would consider—“smaller” things:  a lyrical little documentary showing human tragedy of a different order or kind than that of World War II.  But, had something very special happened here in the midst of so much horror that was consuming the world, horror near the very epicenter of which Antonioni found himself and of which he was a part?  Had Antonioni, with few resources and against all odds, somehow managed to find a small, interstitial space of terrible beauty in this world of horror, in the relatively small place of his youth, the Po delta, and make a remarkably beautiful work of art that had nothing to do with fascism or the wars men make?  Or was this an act of Sehnsucht—a quest for a lost childhood so blind to the larger context of himself and the world—that what Antonioni had actually committed was a regressive flight à la recherche du temps perdu?  It was not the girl of the Po Delta, already old past her age and who had only the luxury to idly daydream of escape, but the young woman’s director himself who had mastered an escape to the empyrean of his youth. (As I quote Antonioni in Endnote #5:  “The Po is the land of my infancy.  The Po possesses the places of my youth .  .  . Its power, its mystery.  As soon as it was possible I returned to this land with a movie camera.  Thus was born Gente del Po.  Everything that I did afterward, whether good or bad, comes from there.”  [Italics added by author, dsr].)

     While Antonioni was shooting a contemporary documentary about life in the Po delta in the early months of 1943, Luchino Visconti was at the approximate same time and general area of the delta shooting Ossessione, a drama, both films being shot at a time when the vicious fighting between Allied and Axis armies had not yet come too close to either man.  Visconti, one of the world’s greatest filmmakers was directing what would become an extraordinary and famous film.  For Antonioni, the stakes were much higher.  Antonioni was not just shooting a film, but embodying what it meant for him to be alive.  Fare un film é per me vivere.  While Visconti was only making a film entitled “Obsession,” Antonioni was living—or, perhaps better said, reliving—his film.  Significant footage of Gente del Po—as well as the world it embodied—was either wounded or a casualty of the war.  By the time Antonioni recovered the remaining footage of his documentary and it was first shown after the war in 1947, it had become—or always had been—a lyrical account about a world that no longer existed.  Although Gente del Po is often referred to as among the earliest examples of neorealism, the film is less a “realistic” documentary than a fairytale—almost a dream or longed-for fantasy of Antonioni—ostensibly made in 1943 but illustrating a timeless, self-contained world soon to be obliterated in 1945 by some of the fiercest fighting of the war.  Shooting this first film in the full bloom of Antonioni’s youth required the same degree of utter self-absorption—ironically, the same response of retreat and regression in the face of military onslaught or impending death—that Antonioni would again display at the very end of his life when making Lo sguardo di Michelangelo.  By the end of the “liberation” of the Po and Emilia-Romagna, tens of thousands of people had died in the region, the area had undergone withering, relentless aerial and artillery bombing and hand-to-hand fighting on the ground, and the Po pianura—like much of the rest of Italy—was pulverized, the majority of the bridges all along the Po, obliterated.  Miraculously, Ferrara was relatively spared.


24 aprile 1945, the liberation of Ferrara
British soldiers having just marched past the house, Via Carlo Mayr 157, fronted with rubble where Michelangelo Antonioni had been born
(Associazione Michelangelo Antonioni)
no more the white jackets, the low-cut gowns


Intersection of Via Carlo Mayr and Via Giuoco del Pallone
June 2012*

     What had happened to the young woman of the delta who impossibly dreamed of escaping elsewhere, or the young lovers lying on the river’s bank, or the magical white horse trotting and bucking on a hilltop against a horizon reaching up to cloud and sky?  As would be the case for many of Antonioni’s films yet to come, he had made a film that to some degree would soon both literally and figuratively disappear.  As Claudia asks in L’avventura, “Does it take so little time for everything to change?” (See Endnote #34).


Italian fascist propaganda poster regarding Allied bombings of Italy (“Here are the Liberators”)

Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appelant
(“They made it a wasteland and called it peace.” Tacitus.)

     The propaganda poster shows a ghoulish illustration of the Statue of Liberty removing a mask revealing that she is the Angel of Death.  This, ironically, is a very Antonionian conceit insofar as in Antonioni’s universe everyone is always somebody else other than who they seem to be.  As I ask in chapter 7 and discuss in general terms throughout this book:  “Look in the mirror.  Does anyone know who anybody is?”

     Despite the devastation of Italy during WWII and the terrible deprivation, famine, and disease that followed, the war is not referred to overtly in virtually any of Antonioni’s films, not even as a shadow in a background story. (As mentioned in Endnote #10, an exception to this rule occurs in Cronaca di un amore:  As Guido exits the Milano planetarium with Paola he remarks:  “Sembrava di essere in Africa.  Passavo notte entere a guardare le stelle.” / “It felt like I was in Africa where I spent entire nights watching the stars,” implying that Guido had served in Africa with the Italian Army.)  Had Freud ever mentioned that the degree of repression experienced by the tormented is proportional to the degree of torment experienced?  This is significant insofar as most of the characters of his films, including Vittoria and Piero, were either children or young adults during the war and had experienced to some degree, first hand, the terror of those years.  But, as is the case with Gente del Po—a documentary actually made during the war—it is as if the war did not exist or had disappeared.  As I discuss extensively in Endnote #22, this may not be so surprising considering that for many survivors of WWII, especially those with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), the war isn’t something one talks about.  Although WWII had at times been to some degree a nuisance for Antonioni, especially after the ousting of Mussolini from Rome in 1943, the war was subsequently never an explicit focus of his films.  Nevertheless, in L'eclisse there is one scene—when Piero is in the home of Vittoria’s mother after the market crash—when Vittoria and Piero discuss old photos of Vittoria as a young girl flanked by her parents in a setting of poverty as compared to Vittoria’s present fancy apartment in the EUR or even her mother’s present stodgy apartment not far from the Vatican.  As discussed in Chapter 7, Vittoria specifically refers to her mother’s fear of “la miseria,” to which Piero responds with uncharacteristic insight:  “Fa paura a tutti.” / ”We are all afraid of poverty.”  One of the photos on a bureau of the apartment is that of Vittoria’s father in the Italian uniform bearing marks of the Ethiopian campaign.  Vittoria’s father, however, is never referred to in the entire film, even when Vittoria and Piero stand before his photo.  Was he one of the millions of dead of the war, now blown to bits or buried anonymously, MIA, somewhere in the Horn of Africa?  That one small photo .  .  . had the ironclad door of repression been opened but a bit allowing a sliver of light to illuminate the darkness of a past that could not otherwise be openly acknowledged by Antonioni or his characters?

     Antonioni had for a decade enjoyed a very good run in a very bad time, but by 1943 the fascists would come to outlive their usefulness to him.  In January of 1943—in a particularly harsh winter—Nazi ideology, Hitler’s apocalyptic romanticism, and the entire German Sixth Army were trapped by Soviet forces at the southern steppes on the west bank of the Volga at a place called Stalingrad and in a direct confrontation with the hard facts of reality—which have a propensity to eventually bite if repressed or denied—an entire German field army was chewed up and swallowed whole.  On the same eastern front tens of thousands of the Italians who had fought for the Axis would never see Italy again.  Antonioni, an Italian soldier who had a self-acknowledged, lifelong preoccupation with violence, never heard so much as a shot fired in anger in battle.  (30 years after the end of the Second World War Antonioni would, however, include in The Passenger footage of an actual execution by firing squad, a directorial decision that might be seen as obscenely provocative, fetishistic in its interminable length and minute focus, perversely digressive and ultimately gratuitous .  .  . raising the question as to whether Antonioni had committed the unpardonable sin of making a snuff film.)  It was clear to many that Germany was finished, but there was still more than two years of retreat and murder to be done.  The allies had smashed the Italian forces in North Africa and on virtually every other front, and in July, 1943 conquered in a somewhat unexpected move Sicily and bombed Rome.  It would not be long before the invasion of continental Italy would begin in Taranto, in Calabria just across the Strait of Messina, and on the beaches south of Rome at Salerno. (It was the band of brothers landing at Gela, Nettuno, and Anzio, and later the millions of men and women who would land on other beaches with names such as Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword, and Gold, who would eventually rid the world of Hitler and Mussolini, liberating men such as Michelangelo Antonioni, allowing them to make movies such as L'eclisse.)  Provoked by the invasion of Sicily, an overripe fascist government—like fruit that had been on the vine for way too long—fell.  Like the murderous buffoon who he had always been, Mussolini landed on his large rear end and—as had been the case with both Hitler and Mussolini in their youth—was back again in prison where he had always belonged.  Fashionable madmen raise their pedantic boring cry:  every farthing of the cost, all the dreadful cards foretell, shall be paid .  .  .  .  German troops swarmed in to fill any vacuum left by the Italian fascists retreating north with their tails between their legs.  It was time for Antonioni to cut his losses and desert from what remained of the Italian Army.  Antonioni had by this time mastered well “l'arte di arrangiarsi” (“the art of getting along”).*  Being in the “Signal Corps,” occasionally parading around in costume with rifle and bayonet, writing and participating in filmmaking for the fascists on the French Riviera and other beautiful locations had made sense, perhaps, in 1940, but no longer.  Things were suddenly much more serious.  A man could get killed or, worse yet, a film career derailed.  Until the Allies liberated Rome in June of 1944 life would abruptly become significantly more difficult for Antonioni—not “Auschwitz difficult”—but difficult to the degree that as a young, able-bodied man who could perform forced labor or be shot as a deserter, Antonioni needed to keep one step ahead of the diehard remnants of his former fascist comrades and the German Army.  (No one by now particularly cared or remembered that little review of Jud Süß, at least not for the next four decades during which Antonioni would shoot several of the most exquisite movies ever made.)  Antonioni did so, in part, by translating several French literary works to earn money (See Endnote #13).  Prior to the Italian-Allied armistice of September, 1943, Antonioni had sold tennis trophies he had won as a semi-professional player during his glory days on the courts of Emilia-Romagna in the 1930’s.  Cardullo in his chronology of Antonioni’s life on p. XXIV writes that after the fall of Mussolini Antonioni became “involved in the Anti-Fascist Action Party underground network.” (Partito d'Azione or PdA.)  On p. 63 Cardullo also quotes Antonioni directly as saying, “I became involved with the Action Party.”  The PdA was an Italian political party not to be confused with the disparate, predominantly military resistance groups or cells scattered throughout all of Italy, some of which—to make matters more complicated—were engaged in internecine fighting (See Pansa, G.)  Antonioni never served as a partisan engaged in any anti-fascist military activity.  Had he done so he would have been suddenly shooting at people who had recently been his comrades in arms for years.  I have been unable to yet substantiate any involvement by Antonioni in any significant “resistance” activity other than, perhaps, carrying around copies of the clandestine journal of the PdA, “Italia Libera,” in his briefcase, something Antonioni did claim to have done on at least one occasion after Mussolini’s fall in the summer of 1943 (Biarese and Tassone, p. 33).  Previously, since approximately 1935, it had been fascist journals for which Antonioni wrote that were in his briefcase.  Benci in his recent 2011 essay (p. 30) does state that Antonioni became a film critic for the Roman edition of “Italia Libera.”  This, however, may be interpreted as being in keeping with Antonioni’s by now abiding modus operandi of seeking continued contact with the world of cinema as opposed to any wholehearted engagement in “underground” resistance activity born out of genuine political conviction.  Furthermore, Antonioni’s engagement with “L'Italia Libera” occurred only after the allied liberation of Rome in June of 1944, a convenient time when Antonioni was no longer within the clutches of German soldiers or fascists still clinging to power north of Rome.  After the War the editor of “L'Italia Libera” would be none other than Carlo Levi—not to be confused with Primo Levi—a man quite different from Antonioni, an uncommon man who was able to glimpse on the horizon the advancing penumbral edge of an eclipse bearing down on Italy and all humankind and act upon it.  A total lunar eclipse did occur in Italy on 19 January, 1935.  Whether you believe more in the accuracy of Tacitus as compared to the portrayal of history in the cinema, this eclipse of 1935 is nevertheless reenacted by Francesco Rosi in the celebrated film adapted from the celebrated autobiographical account by Carlo Levi, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli [1978].  In the film, the actor, Gian Maria Volonté, who plays Levi, remarks to the village priest that “[L'eclisse] sarà per i gas asfissianti che buttiamo in Abissinia.” (“[The eclipse] may be caused by the poison gas we are dropping in Abyssinia.”)

     Antonioni—in an interview with Gerald Bachmann published in 1975, while discussing the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to suppress his documentary, Chung Kuo Cina—once exclaimed:  “I have been accused of being a fascist.  Of having fought with the fascist troops!  I want the Chinese to know this:  during the war, as a member of the Resistance, I was condemned to death.  I was on the other side!”  It is true that Antonioni had deserted from the Italian Army in 1943 and that as a general rule of military law, de jure, he may have hypothetically been charged with desertion under potential penalty of death by his former fascist comrades.  But who was Antonioni deserting to?  From one incarnation of Antonioni to another?  Antonioni’s exclamation is self-serving, ipsi dixit, and should not by itself confirm any significant service in the Resistance.  Furthermore, it may be asked what did Antonioni’s tangential exclamation have to do with the issues at hand in the interview regarding his conflicts with the PRC over the making of Chung Kuo Cina, and whether Antonioni was, in fact, protesting a little too much?  As such, Antonioni’s emphatic exclamation may have inadvertently offered a rare, revealing insight into what Antonioni may have “really” felt regarding that awkward question that sometimes suddenly pops up confronting many of us at dinner time:  “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” (Papà, ma che cosa hai fatto in guerra? [1966]).  Putting aside the issue as to what “anybody really feels”—or whether Antonioni was lowering or raising his guard in a brief fit of undisciplined passion—Antonioni may have unwittingly revealed himself in a naked act of self-aggrandizement and self-deception.

     It would be difficult for anyone including Antonioni to deny the reality that in Italy the winds had shifted dramatically.  Although the winds might be blowing in a different direction, Antonioni was proceeding on the same tack as before: aligning his interests with those now in power.  Any insistence by Antonioni that he had “involvement with the Action Party” might amount to no more than making a virtue out of a self-serving necessity.  In this new climate the PdA, if anything, could have theoretically been of some benefit to Antonioni in his vital need to avoid prior to the liberation of Rome apprehension by German forces or pro-fascist elements.  Antonioni’s supposed involvement with the PdA is not even mentioned in the best account I know of Antonioni’s war years, Antonioni’s war years, Biarese and Tassone’s i film di Michelangelo Antonioni.*  Instead, this latter work describes Antonioni’s activity after the Italian armistice of September, 1943, as being consumed with attempts to advance his involvement in cinema, including working on a screenplay with Luchino Visconti.  (This screenplay has been recently published for the first time [2006].  [See bibliography]: Antonioni, M.  Pietrangeli, A.  Piovene, G.  Visconti, L.  Il processo di Maria Tarnowska.  Una sceneggiatura inedita.)  By war’s end Antonioni had pivoted like much of Italy leftward and the rest is just more history.  Much of Italy was pulverized, evaporated into thin air like so many of the characters Antonioni would soon create for his magnificent films.  For Antonioni, however, it might be said that life now was as if the fascists had never existed.  It is as though Antonioni resembled even then, in his youth, the characters he would create as a famous moviemaker, characters of an unstable nature who would adopt and discard an identity as if it were a Venetian carnival mask.

     At the end of the war in 1945, Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein—serving as “treatment advisor” and executive producer respectively—compiled and collaborated on a documentary of the Holocaust first screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984 under the title, “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,” broadcast in the U.K. as “A Painful Reminder” in 1985, and also broadcast by PBS in the United States with the title, “Memory of the Camps.”  The documentary is felt by many viewers and critics to be among the most harrowing of films regarding the Shoah ever made.  In a recent review of the documentary, Richard Brody writes: “The British Army Film Unit cameramen who shot the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 used to joke about the reaction of Alfred Hitchcock to the horrific footage they filmed. When Hitchcock first saw the footage, the legendary British director was reportedly so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week.” (“The New Yorker.” 9 January 2014; available on-line at:    http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/hitchcock-and-the-holocaust [retrieved 24 August 2014]).  I do not know whether Antonioni ever saw or reviewed as a critic the documentary.  Nevertheless, Jud Süss—shot at the beginning of the war—led to its inevitable sequel, Memory of the Camps-A Painful Reminder, at war’s end.  As had been the case with the intrusive daytime flashback of Zabriskie Point that I describe above, while writing of A Painful Reminder I found myself imaging Antonioni being invited to a double-bill of Jud Süss followed by Memory of the Camps.  In this sudden intrusive fantasy Antonioni declined the invitation.  Stanley Kubrick then suddenly appeared and subjected Antonioni to a viewing of the double-feature strapped into a chair with the lush red velour upholstery at the viewing room at Cinecittà resembling the similar predicament the character played by Malcolm McDowell experienced in A Clockwork Orange [1971].  After the brief fantasy dissolved in the viewing room of my mind, I wondered that if such an event had actually occurred in reality, what would Antonioni’s reaction have been afterwards.  I found myself thinking, “None. Wouldn’t have changed a thing.”  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair.  Or, more elegantly:  “The hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself.  What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one.  Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.” - Hannah Arendt.

     Some 20 years later, in July 1963, Antonioni would be sitting with Marcello Mastroianni in the sumptuous Villa Giulia in Rome for the presentation of the coveted Strega prize.  Among the three nominees for the Strega was Primo Levi, who according to Thomson’s account (p. 285) sat uncomfortably in such surroundings, adjacent to the table where Antonioni and Mastroianni sat.  I do not know if Antonioni and Levi conversed with one another or if Antonioni was aware of the events that occured in Turin on 30 September 1940.  I do not know if Levi had ever read or heard of Antonioni’s review of Jud Süß.  I do not know if Antonioni had ever read Levi’s famous poem, “Shemà,” which is the epigraph to Se questo è un uomo:

Shemà

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Primo Levi

Shemà

Voi che vivete sicuri
Nelle vostre tiepide case,
Voi che trovate tornando a sera
Il cibo caldo e visi amici:

Considerate se questo è un uomo,
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no.
Considerate se questa è una donna,
Senza capelli e senza nome
Senza più forza di ricordare
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo
Come una rana d'inverno.

Meditate che questo è stato:
Vi comando queste parole.
Scolpitele nel vostro cuore
Stando in casa andando per via,
Coricandovi alzandovi.
Ripetetele ai vostri figli.
O vi si sfaccia la casa,
La malattia vi impedisca,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi.

Primo Levi

Translated by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann

     The real questions are: (1) Why did Antonioni say anything nice at all about a film such as Jud Süß and (2) Why did he not even obliquely allude to the film’s anti-Semitic agenda?  (To my knowledge, Antonioni does not refer in any manner to Jews or matters Jewish in any of his films.)  Antonioni may have been intoning no more than the central mantra of Omertà:  “Non vedo.  Non sento.  Non parlo.”  “I do not see.  I do not hear.  I do not speak.”  A pact signed with the blood of Group Think.  The issue at hand is, actually, an old and generic one, something to be discussed in the penultimate chapter of this book:  Does anybody really know who anybody is?  Or as the question is succinctly posed in the title of the Chapter V:  “Who’s Who?”  Who, specifically, was the man who in 1940 wrote the approbatory review of Jud Süß in the Corriere Padano?  One may observe, at a minimum, that we human beings are complex creatures, and that Antonioni may not have been the first person to make an eventual volte-face from fascism to Marxism—two different “philosophies” that are alike insofar as they are both tied to totalitarian regimes of the 20th Century—as circumstances changed.  The important issue may, of course, have little to do with whether Antonioni might have been a fascist during one phase of the moon in his life and a Marxist during another; the usual behind-the-scene culprits are not the flimsy masks of one political movement or another that are temporarily in fashion until the next purge, but self interest, opportunism, expediency, ambition, careerism, conformism, and myopia--in a man who prized visual acuity--dating back from time out of mind.  “Go along to get along.”  (So determinant is self-interest in human motivation that there is evidence, albeit controversial, that some American Jews in the film industry kowtowed to the Third Reich for financial and other gain.  See: Helmore, Edward.  “Hollywood and Hitler: Did the studio bosses bow to Nazi wishes?” The Guardian.  The Observer, 29 June 2013.  Accesible on-line as of 4 August 2013 at:  http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jun/29/historian-says-hollywood-collaborated-with-nazis).  Or Antonioni’s actions may have reflected pure will over which he had no control, a primitive, subconscious I-want-what-I want-and-I’m going-to-get-it-come-what-may crazed obsession:  raw desire divorced from any higher moral, spiritual, intellectual, or psychological imperative, an affliction a fool and/or a genius might suffer from.  Was for Antonioni, making movies, what for Sandro or Piero and their perennial skirt-chasing was “being on the make,” an endless search for a consummation that could never be achieved?  Were movies for Antonioni the means to “work through” the psychic conflicts he himself possessed that resembled those of the characters he had himself created such as Sandro and Piero?  This is but one of the many possible analytic formulations of Antonioni interpreting him as a conflicted, driven, and self-absorbed man who bound his ambivalence and anxieties by repetitively making movies about them, a profile that might apply to half of “Hollywood on the Tiber.”  “O, what men dare do!  What men may do!  What men daily do, not knowing what they do!”  (Much Ado About Nothing.  IV, i, 19-21).  All such speculation aside, Antonioni was not about to write an unfavorable review of Jud Süß nor point out any of the film’s blatant anti-Semitism.  Nor was Antonioni at that point in time going to write that the Emperor, il Duce, wore no clothes.  To do so would have simply meant the end of Antonioni’s career as a journalist writing for fascist journals and impede his eventual access to the highest circles of Italian fascism where he would soon be hobnobbing with the likes of Vittorio Mussolini.  Even if Antonioni had submitted a review of Jud Süß that was critical of its anti-Semitism, there is little likelihood that such a review would have been published by fascist journals with editorial control firmly in the grip of Italo Balbo—the powerful fascist “Ras” of Emilia-Romagna—or Vittorio Mussolini in Rome.  But, this is the price one pays for the Faustian pact.  Mephistopheles will have his due.  So hast dem Teufel dich ergeben und müßte doch zu Grunde gehn! (“And so the devil has you and your soul is infallibly lost”; Hegel’s translation of Goethe in Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts).  For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain a little golden calf named Oscar, and lose his own soul?

     There is no evidence I know of which suggests that Antonioni was ever forced by external exigencies to become a journalist for fascist journals nor to cultivate any of his rich, interlinking connections with the Fascist Party.  This does not make Antonioni an anti-Semite or even a committed fascist, but just a relatively ordinary man.  Ironically, Veit Harlan and Antonioni resembled one another in this regard insofar as Harlan was neither a Nazi nor an anti-Semite, but a man who to a fault had an all-encompassing will to make movies.  Antonioni was also not a committed atheist, Marxist, partisan, nor anything other than a filmmaker, body and soul.  Angelo Restivo in a recent essay on Antonioni and Zabriskie Point writes in general terms without specific reference to Antonioni of the “.  .  . greed, hubris and megalomania at the heart of the ‘will-to-cinema.’ ”  It is curious that Restivo, having employed so acute a turn of phrase, exempted Antonioni—at least with regard to Zabriskie Point—from this “Nietzschean” will, a drive that governed all of Antonioni’s career.  Given what Antonioni both did and didn’t do during the war years, Antonioni was a relatively minor accomplice, one more of countless accessories to a crime that was itself so vast as to beggar the imagination (“There will come on you a catastrophe such as you have never known.”  Isaiah 47:11).  From Antonioni’s early youth, the primary commitment in his life—a commitment that would supersede love, family and children, religion, politics, and all else—one that would endure despite profound infirmity till the end of his days, was the cinema.  If anything may become a human being’s passion and if such a passion will generally rule over all else, then again, Antonioni was quite ordinary in this regard.  It should not be surprising that in fascist Italy if one wanted to make a movie it helped to be a fascist, while after the Second World War it helped to be a communist in an industry now dominated by a sudden Orwellian shift to the left.  Pietro Germi, a remarkable Italian director and human being—a contemporary of Antonioni born in 1914 in Genoa—saw straight through both fascism and communism and suffered the consequences by not adhering to either.  Perhaps Germi—or other Italian filmmakers such as Gillo Pontecorvo who was a leader in the Italian Resistance during WWII—did not possess the singular passion for filmmaking to the exclusion of all else that Antonioni possessed.  In the end it may be argued that all moral and ethical behavior depends on the free assertion that some passions are superior to others.  I had thought of this when standing with my children—the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors—outside the only remaining synagogue in Ferrara on Via Mazzini.  I had been to the house of worship several times over many years.  I read silently the two plaques outside the synagogue, one inscribed with the names of Ferraresi Jews who had died in the Holocaust, the other a memorial: .  .  . QUESTO UN TRIBUTO DI LACRIME E DI SANGUE ONDE ISRAELE NEL MARTIRIO SECOLARE RICHIAMA LE ANIME AD UNA PIU ALTA VISIONE DELLA VITA (“ .  .  . this a memorial of tears and blood in order that Israel in its age-old agony recall the souls to a higher vision of life.”)  I had thought to myself—a kind of interpretation—that this was such a modest prayer, to wish to rise to a higher level than that of the oppressors of those poor people from Ferrara who had perished in Auschwitz.  My own children were growing impatient.  Regardless, I could not enter the synagogue, tears and blood.  I smiled at the children and we rode our bicycles—watched by every human love—to the Piazza della Cattedrale near the Museo Michelangelo Antonioni of Ferrara.

     For more regarding (what is) the matter, see:  (1) The New York Times on-line article concerning the 2008 documentary, Harlan - Im Schatten von Jud Süss at:  http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/movies/03harlan.html   accessed 5 March 2010;  (2) IMDB concerning the not yet released 2010 film, Jud Süss: Film ohne Gewissen at:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1399655/   accessed 5 March 2010; (3) IMDB concerning the original 1940 film, Jud Süß, at:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032653/news#ni1602347   accessed 5 March 2010;  (4) Wikipedia Italia (In Italian)   http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruppo_Universitario_Fascista   regarding Antonioni’s voluntary membership in the “Guf,” and the special commendation he received of “Littoriali Fascisti”; accessed 9 March 2010;  (5) Endnote #17 of this book in which I cite Lucretius, who Antonioni considered “one of the greatest poets who ever lived,” and who Antonioni was fond of quoting (Arrowsmith, Antonioni, the Poet of Images; p. 181):  “Nothing appears as it should in a world where nothing is certain.  The only thing certain is the existence of a secret violence that makes everything uncertain.”]  Photo from Biarese and Tassone, i film di Michelangelo Antonioni (Antonioni on right, bayonet at hand in scabbard attached to belt).

Arma virumque cano . . . “I sing of arms and of a man . . .”

“I am violent by nature.”
“I am violent by nature.”


Shot on Location
A quarter century later making a film about secret and not-so-secret violence
(Photography by Bruce Davidson.  Location shot, Zabriskie Point.  “Look” [magazine].  November 18, 1969.)