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Michelangelo Antonioni 1912-2007
 


Country : Ferrara, Italy
Profession : Film Director
Date of birth : 1912-09-29
Date of death : 2007-07-30
Cause of Death : Unspecified

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Life

Michelangelo Antonioni was born into a well-to-do family of landowners in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy. The director explained to Italian film critic Aldo Tassone:

My childhood was a happy one. My mother, Elisabetta Roncagli, was a warm and intelligent woman who had been a labourer in her youth. My father also was a good man. Born into a working-class family, he succeeded in obtaining a comfortable position through evening courses and hard work. My parents gave me free rein to do what I wanted: with my brother, we spent most of our time playing outside with friends. Curiously enough, our friends were invariably proletarian, and poor. The poor still existed at that time, you recognized them by their clothes. But even in the way they wore their clothes, there was a fantasy, a frankness that made me prefer them to boys of bourgeois families. I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous.

While still a child, Antonioni was fond of drawing and music. A precocious violinist, he gave his first concert at the age of nine. Although he abandoned the violin with the discovery of cinema in his teens, drawing would remain a lifelong passion. "I have never drawn, even as a child, either puppets or silhouettes but rather facades of houses and gates. One of my favourite games consisted of organising towns. Ignorant in architecture, I constructed buildings and streets crammed with little figures. I invented stories for them. These childhood happenings - I was eleven years old - were like little films."

Upon graduation from the University of Bologna with a degree in economics, he started writing for the local Ferrara newspaper Il Corriere Padano in 1935 as a film journalist.

In 1940, Antonioni moved to Rome, where he worked for Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine edited by Vittorio Mussolini. However, Antonioni was fired a few months afterward. Later that year he enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to study film technique, but left it after three months. He was drafted into the army afterwards.

Antonioni died aged 94 on July 30, 2007 in Rome, the same day that another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman, also died. Antonioni lay in state at City Hall in Rome where a large screen showed black-and-white footage of him among his film sets and behind-the-scenes. He was buried in his home town of Ferrara on August 2, 2007.

Career

First work in film

In 1942, Antonioni co-wrote Un pilota ritorna, together with Roberto Rossellini and worked as assistant director on Enrico Fulchignoni's I due Foscari. In 1943, Antonioni travelled to France to assist Marcel Carné on Les visiteurs du soir. Antonioni started shooting short films in the 1940s with Gente del Po, a story of poor fishermen of the Po valley on which he filmed in 1943, but the film stock was stuck in the East-Italian Fascist "Republic of Salo" when Italy was liberated and was not recovered and edited until 1947 (the complete footage had not been recovered ever since). These films were neorealist in style, being semi-documentary studies of the lives of ordinary people.

However, Antonioni's first full-length feature film Cronaca di un amore (1950) broke away from neorealism by depicting the middle classes. He continued to do so in a series of other films : I vinti ("The Vanquished", 1952), a trio of stories, each set in a different country (France, Italy and England), about juvenile delinquency; La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camellias, 1953) about a young film star and her fall from grace; and Le amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) about middle class women in Turin. Il grido (The Outcry, 1957) was a return to working class stories, depicting a factory worker and his daughter. Each of these stories is about social alienation.

International recognition

In Le Amiche (1955), Antonioni experimented with a radical new style: instead of a conventional narrative, he presented a series of apparently disconnected events, and he used long takes as part of his film making style. Antonioni returned to their use in L'avventura (1960), which became his first international success. At the Cannes Film Festival it received a mixture of cheers and boos, but the film was popular in art house cinemas around the world. La notte (1961), starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and L'eclisse (1962), starring Monica Vitti and Alain Delon, followed L'avventura. These three films are commonly referred to as a trilogy because they are stylistically similar and all concerned with the alienation of man in the modern world. His first color film, Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964), deals with similar themes, and is sometimes considered the fourth film of the "trilogy".

Antonioni then signed a deal with producer Carlo Ponti that would allow artistic freedom on three films in English to be released by MGM. The first, Blowup (1966), set in Swinging London, was a major success. The script was loosely based on the short story The Devil's Drool (otherwise known as Blow Up) by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. Although it dealt with the challenging theme of the impossibility of objective standards and the ever-doubtable truth of memory, it was a successful and popular hit with audiences, no doubt helped by its sex scenes, which were explicit for the time. It starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. The second film, Zabriskie Point (1970), was Antonioni's first set in America. It was much less successful, even though its soundtrack incorporated popular artists such as Pink Floyd (who wrote new music specifically for the film), the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones. It depicted the counterculture movement, but was heavily criticized for the blank performances of its stars, neither of whom had acted before. The third, The Passenger (1975), starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, received critical praise, but also did poorly at the box office. It was out of circulation for many years, but was re-released for a limited theatrical run in October 2005 and has subsequently been released on DVD.

In 1972, in between Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, Antonioni was invited by the Mao government of the People's Republic of China to visit the country. He made the documentary Chung Kuo/Cina, but it was severely denounced by the Chinese authorities as "anti-Chinese" and "anti-communist". The documentary had its first showing in China in November 25, 2004 in Beijing with a film festival hosted by the Beijing Film Academy to honor the works of Michelangelo Antonioni.

Later career

In 1980, Antonioni made Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald), an experiment in the electronic treatment of color, recorded in video and then translated to film, featuring Monica Vitti once more. It is based on Jean Cocteau's story L'aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle With Two Heads). Identificazione di una donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982), filmed in Italy, deals one more time with the recursive subjects of his Italian trilogy. In 1985, Antonioni suffered a stroke, which left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak. However, he continued to make films, including Beyond the Clouds (1995), for which Wim Wenders filmed some scenes. As Wenders has explained, Antonioni rejected almost all the material filmed by Wenders during the editing, except for a few short interludes. They shared the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival with Cyclo.

In 1996, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. It was presented to him by Jack Nicholson. Months later, the statuette was stolen by burglars and had to be replaced. Previously, he had been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Blowup. Antonioni's final film, made when he was in his 90s, was a segment of the anthology film Eros (2004), entitled "Il filo pericoloso delle cose" ("The Dangerous Thread of Things"). The short film's episodes are framed by dreamy paintings and the song "Michelangelo Antonioni", composed and sung by Caetano Veloso. However, it was not well-received internationally; in America, for example, Roger Ebert claimed that it was neither erotic nor about eroticism. The U.S. DVD release of the film includes another 2004 short film by Antonioni, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo).

Reception

Film historian Virginia Wright Wexman describes Antonioni's perspective on the world as that of a "postreligious Marxist and existentialist intellectual." In a speech at Cannes about L'Avventura, Antonioni said that in the modern age of reason and science, mankind still lives by "a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness". He said his films explore the paradox that "we have examined those moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this, but we have not been capable of finding new ones." Nine years later he expressed a similar attitude in an interview, saying that he loathed the word 'morality': "When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them."

One of the recurring themes in Antonioni's films is characters who suffer from ennui and whose lives are empty and purposeless aside from the gratification of pleasure or the pursuit of material wealth. Film historian David Bordwell writes that in his films, "Vacations, parties and artistic pursuits are vain efforts to conceal the characters' lack of purpose and emotion. Sexuality is reduced to casual seduction, enterprise to the pursuit of wealth at any cost." Antonioni's films tend to have spare plots and dialogue, and much of the screen time is spent lingering on certain settings, such as the ten-minute continuous take in The Passenger, or the scene in L'Eclisse in which Monica Vitti stares curiously at electrical posts accompanied by ambient sounds of wires clanking. Virginia Wright Wexman summarizes his style in the following terms: "The camera is placed at a medium distance more often than close in, frequently moving slowly; the shots are permitted to extend uninterrupted by cutting. Thus each image is more complex, containing more information than it would in a style in which a smaller area is framed ... In Antonioni's work we must regard his images at length; he forces our full attention by continuing the shot long after others would cut away." Antonioni is also noted for exploiting colour as a significant expressive element of his cinematic style, especially in Il deserto rosso, his first colour film.

Bordwell explains that Antonioni's films were extremely influential on subsequent art films: "More than any other director, he encouraged filmmakers to explore elliptical and open-ended narrative". Film director Akira Kurosawa considered Antonioni one of the most interesting filmmakers. Stanley Kubrick listed La Notte as one of his ten favorite films in a 1963 Poll. Andrei Tarkovsky, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, Miklós Jancsó, Wim Wenders, Edward Yang and Wong Kar-Wai have all listed Antonioni as an influence.

Antonioni's spare style and purposeless characters, however, have not received universal acclaim. Ingmar Bergman stated in 2002 that he admired some of Antonioni's films for their detached and sometimes dreamlike quality. While he considered Blowup and La notte masterpieces, he called the other films boring and noted that he had never understood why Antonioni was held in such esteem. Orson Welles regretted the Italian director's use of the long take: "I don't like to dwell on things. It's one of the reasons I'm so bored with Antonioni - the belief that, because a shot is good, it's going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, 'Well, he's not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.' But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she's gone."

In popular culture

Antonioni's name appears in a couple of Broadway musical songs. In the 1968 musical Hair, the song Manchester, England mentions him in the following lines:

Claude Hooper Bukowski

Finds that it's groovy

To hide in a movie

Pretends he's Fellini

And Antonioni

And also his countryman Roman Polanski

All rolled into one

One Claude Hooper Bukowski

The song La Vie Boheme from the musical Rent, also mentions him in the company of other famous film directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Kurosawa. He is also referenced towards the end of the The Money Programme episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Filmography

Feature films

  • Cronaca di un amore (Chronicle of a Love, 1950)
  • I vinti (The Vanquished, 1952)
  • La signora senza camelie (Camille Without Camellias, 1953)
  • Le amiche (The Girl Friends, 1955)
  • Il grido (The Outcry, 1957)
  • L'avventura (The Adventure, 1960)
  • La notte (The Night, 1961)
  • L'eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962)
  • Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert, 1964)
  • Blowup (1966)
  • Zabriskie Point (1970)
  • Chung Kuo (documentary, 1972)
  • Professione: reporter (The Passenger, 1975)
  • Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald, 1981)
  • Identificazione di una donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982)
  • Beyond the Clouds (Par Dela Les Nuages, 1995 - co-credited with Wim Wenders)

Short films

  • Gente del Po (People of the Po, 10 min, shot in 1943, released in 1947)
  • N.U. (Nettezza urbana) (Dustmen, 11 min, 1948)
  • Oltre l'oblio (1948)
  • Roma-Montevideo (1948)
  • L'amorosa menzogna (Loving Lie, 10 min, 1949)
  • Sette cani e un vestito (Seven Reeds, One Suit, 10 min, 1949)
  • Bomarzo (1949)
  • Ragazze in bianco (Girls in white, 1949)
  • Superstizione (Superstition, 9 min, 1949)
  • La villa dei mostri (The House of Monsters, 10 min, 1950)
  • La funivia del Faloria (The Funicular of Mount Faloria, 10 min, 1950)
  • Inserto girato a Lisca Bianca (TV, 8 min, 1983)
  • Kumbha Mela (18 min, 1989)
  • Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale (Volcanoes and Carnival, 8 min, 1993)
  • Sicilia (9 min, 1997)
  • Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo, 15 min, 2004)

Episodes in omnibus films

  • Tentato suicido ("When Love Fails", episode in L'amore in città, 1953)
  • Il provino (segment in The Three Faces of a Woman - I tre volti, 1965)
  • Roma (segment in 12 registi per 12 città, promotional film for Soccer World Championship, 1989)
  • Il filo pericoloso delle cose ("The Dangerous Thread of Things", segment in Eros, 2004)

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