Paris Diary - Antonioni: The Origins of Pop at La Cinémathèque française

Antonioni: The Origins of Pop is an exhibition and retrospective at La Cinémathèque française dedicated to Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007), on till 19th July 2015.

I've only seen one film by Antonioni, Blow Up and sadly I wasn't able to watch any of his other films when I was in Paris. But after this exhibition, I'm on a mission to get my hands on all his films.

The following information is from the English language brochure which was available at the exhibition, broken down by the different sections of the exhibition.

Ferrara, Mists and Clouds

© Bruce Davidson - Michelangelo Antonioni at filming of Zabriskie Point

Michelangelo Antonioni was born in Ferrara on September 29, 1912 in the misty plains of the Po Valley. Before moving to Rome in 1939, he broadened his knowledge through study and worked as a film critic for the local newspapr Il Corriere Padano.His cinematic preferences emerged early, as he was drawn to the work or Rene Clair, Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson.

After studying at the renowned Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome during the time of Italian Neorralism, he turns his lens to the struggles of the peasants of his homeland in Gente del Po (People of the Po Valley). His following two documentaries, Dustmen (1948) and Superstition (1949) begin to explore experiences of space - the monumental labyrinth of Roman streets and journeys of discovery in the villages of Italy's heartland.

Searching For a Style & The Lucia Bosè Period

© DR - Lucia Bosè in Cronaca di un amore / Story of a Love Letter

In Michelangelo Antonioni's words

She was 19 years old, she was marvelous, it was impossible not to fall in love. One evening in Rome at a society party I was suddenly struck by the shyness of this young Miss Italy who had just been discovered as an actress in De Santis' Under the Olive Tree. I had never seen a woman so beautiful and fascinating. I had never allowed my personal affairs to dictate my work, but for Cronaca di un amore (Story of a Love Letter), I immediately thought of her. 

The Influence of Luchino Visconti


La Notte / The Night - Michelangelo Antonioni, 1950 © DR

Antonioni's films of the 1950s are marked by an emphasis on strong black and white contrasts that reflect harshness of the critique directed at the idle decadence of the postwar middle classes, as depicted in I Vinti/The Vanquished (1952) and Le Amiche/The Girlfriends (1955). During this period, Luchino Visconti remained a reference point.

This "interior Neoralism" that explores the inner realities of consiousness sets the stage for Antonioni's trilogy of the 1960s - L'Avventura/The Adventure, La Notte/The Night and L'Eclisse/Eclipse - which makes a departure from the stark opposition between black and white to focus on the gray tones of the concrete, street and places of modern reconstructed cities.

The Trilogy on Modernity and The Monica Vitti Period


© Sergio Strizzi - La Notte / The Night

Antonioni met Monica Vitti while shooting Il Grido/The Cry. Her influence contributes to a decisive change of direction in his work and an emerging creative independence. The 1960s sees Antonioni reach his first period of maturity as a filmmaker, with the "trilogy on modernity and its discontents" (L'Avventura/The Adventure, 1960 / La Notte/The Night, 1961 / L'Eclisse/Eclipse, 1962), that marks a new esthetic and thematic shift in modern cinema.

Goodbye to Italy

Red Desert

Shot in the fall of 1963 in the industrial port of Ravenna, Red Desert (1964) is Antonioni's first colour film. This film signals the director's transition from the architectural cinema of his "trilogy on modernity" to an emerging pictorial style. The region of Ravenna serves as an allegory for Italy as a whole and the social, idealogical and environmental crisis that undermines the humanist idealism inherited from the Renaissance period.

While Monica Vitti's presence lights up the screens of the 1960s, she is no longer able to protect Antonioni from succumbing to the temptations of disenchanhtment and despair. Depression engulfs the character of Giuliana, who is caught between her idealised past and a present destablized by the values and hostile pressure of the industrial era. But behind one crisis lurks others: Red Desert becomes the backdrop against which the relationship between the filmmaker and his real-life muse falls apart.

Blow Up and Swinging London



The mid 1960s sees the explosion of pop and psychedelia, with advertising, fashion and rock music having a profound impact on the urban landscape and everyday life. Antonioni leaves Italy and its political and ecological "red desert" behind. In Blow-Up he identifies with the youthful exuberance of a "voyeur" modeled on the famous British photographer David Bailey - who peruses the urban worlds of different social groups, such as factory assembly line workers or the seret amorous antics of a middle class woman played by Vanessa Redgrave hiding in an English park.

Based on a short story by Argentinean author Julio Cortazar, Las babas del diablo, Antonioni constructs a drama that allows him to apply his renewed energy to revealing images of London in the Swinging Sixties, with the garish colours of fashion, the acid green of London parks and the insolent fantasy world created by drugs and music. This is only a few short years before young people around the world rise up in revolt, inspire by a sense of rebellion that attracts Antonioni's curiousty and leads to Zabriskie Point.

The Experience of the Void


Zabriskie Point

In Antonioni's films, the desert with its sun-scorched brightness contrasts with the damp, misty marshlands of the Po Valley. The disappearance of references to reality conveys the loss of social and moral bearings. The desert, to Antonioni's characters, is a place of paradoxes, of extreme detachment, which is both untouched and untouchable, suggesting weightlessness as the amorous bodies of the young hippies in Zabriskie Point are consumed by the gray-ochre dust. It is also the scene of schizophrenia, the loss of self, of never-ending exile as seen in the reporter permanently on the run in The Passenger, played by Jack Nicholson alongside Schneider.

Return to Italy: Clouds and Marble


Identification of a Woman

Antonioni's body of work is a continuum that echoes his life - having left Ferrara behind, he returns to his birthplace from "beyond the clouds" at the end of his career. Until the end of his life, painting remained a source of inspiration and motivation for Antonioni. Right to his last breath, this filmmaker who won the Palme d'Or, Lions and Oscars was acclaimed by great directors who were once his desendents: Andrei Tarkovski, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Volker Schlondorff and by intellectuals and artists of his era: Umberto Eco and Emilio Vdova.

Contemporary Antonioni

Mario Schifano - Tutti morti, 1970

Of all modern filmmakers, Antonioni is unquestionably the most frequently quoted and his work the most often "re-utilized" by contemporary artists since the 1980s. Cindy Sherman was fascinated by the character Monica Vitti and borrowed her image for one of her appropriations of personas. The photographer and visual artist Lewis Baltz draws direct inspiration form the radial geometry of Antonioni's compositions. Today, the connections are even stronger with this openly acknowledged legacy, as artists working in video media enhanced by digital technology are drawn to Antonioni. Artists such as Philippe Parreno, Carsten Holler, Rikrit Tiravanija, Peter Welz, Julien Crepieux and Louidgi Beltrame.

Here are some additional links/images worth checking out.

Visit the online interactive site "Michelangelo Antonioni, travelling". It's a gorgeous long tracking shot of different scenes from Antonioni's films. You can also see the scenes backwards, the scenes rewind when you u click on the back arrow. Take a look and try it for yourself. 

This is the exhibition trailer. 

And if you are in fluent in French, here's a video with the exhibition curator Dominique Païni talking about the exhibition.

Images from the exhibition.

Antonioni: The Origins of Pop at La Cinémathèque française is on till 19th July 2015.

[images of the exhibition via]