Sunday, November 20, 2016
Let's start with what I learned just from the opening (and only) credits, much of which I had forgotten. Sam Shepherd is credited with helping write the story on which the director's screenplay is based. I'd forgotten he wrote stuff before he became an actor who has the range all the way from A to B. There were, scattered through the movie, parts of songs from John Fahey, the Grateful Dead, the Stones, Jesse Colin Young and some country classics, acting as a crude form of Greek Chorus, but the background music was by Pink Floyd. Unfortunately, it was pretty forgettable Pink Floyd music, tucked between their foundational work on the basically unlistenable Ummagumma and the complete rubbish Atom Heart Mother. (PF finally got going with my favorite album Meddle in 1971 and the rest is music history but I see I'm digressing.) OK, one more--one piece for the movie written by the late Rick Wright was rejected by Antonioni but was later recycled to underlie Us and Them on Dark Side of the Moon. So that's some good that came out of this film.
Apart from Rod Taylor, who was a good actor given little to do here, the acting goes from bland to really awful, particularly by the two leads, Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette. More on them below. One should always be suspicious when the first names of the characters are the same as the first names of the actors playing them, as it his here. I always think it's because the actors this happens to are so limited that they can only play themselves and must have their own name to function. Perhaps I'm being too harsh (generally, but not in this particular case). Apparently, a very young Harrison Ford had most of his scenes cut, but is still visible in the lock-up scene (leaning against a wall).
Daria and Mark are the director's idea of "modern youth in America" during the turbulent 60s. At least I think they are supposed to be that. There isn't enough of a story in the film to give them anything approaching real characters to inhabit and flesh out, assuming they could do that. Daria did one more movie and then moved on to dance. I hope she was better at that. She was married to Dennis Hopper for a while. Mark had a much different, darker and shorter path ahead of him. I have to say first, however, that he plays a "revolutionary" in the film. In fact, after the first 10 minutes of really stupid dialogue among the revolutionaries/students plotting the picketing of their school's (USC?) administration, Mark delivers one of the few memorable line in the film. He announces that he is willing to die for the cause (whatever it was) but not from boredom. Burn! The students in the movie sounded a lot like modern Democrat students, only with slightly less whining.
Frechette had just two more Italian film roles after this but then he went full revolutionary for real (never go full revolutionary) and robbed a bank (with an empty gun) and he died in prison in 1975. Some people have suspected murder but I think the guy was such a fuck-up on everything he did, that the official story is correct. He had no spotter while doing bench presses and he couldn't finish the last rep due to fatigue and the bar rolled down his chest to his neck and strangled him. What a dipshit.
Neither of the two leads had ever acted before this film and it shows. Zabriskie point is near the place in Death Valley with the lowest elevation of North America (282 feet below sea level) and I believe that Antonioni was using the physical location as a metaphor for the nadir he thought America had reached culturally. (He'd probably think today was much, much lower, like at the Mohorovicic discontinuity).
Except for discussing trivia, as I have here, there is little to say about this movie. It's pretty at times (that's about all the praise I have). It cost about $7 million to make (an extraordinary amount back then) and didn't earn back even one million. After that fiasco, Antonioni's last English language film, a better one, The Passenger, lost a lot of money too and pretty much ended his career as a director (not with a bang but a whimper). The massive stroke he had in the mid 80s (a decade after The Passenger) took its toll too.
Oh, almost forgot, it has some great explosions in it. Really superb. About 5 minutes worth, many in slow motion. What they have to do with the story of the movie, such as it is, would be known only to God.