12 April 2011

Red Desert

Red Desert: Made in 1964 by the great greaseball director Michelangelo Antonioni, Red Desert hasn’t held up quite as well as some of his others. The clip below shows all the greatness of the film (it’s beautifully framed and colored, an artistic masterpiece) and all the weakness (nothing much happens, except clumsy monologues). Though a decidedly mixed-bag of a movie, we can give Antonioni credit for making perhaps the first green movie, as this ponderous and head-scratching (there’s a bizarre pseudo-orgy scene in which a group of five Italians and one pseudo-Italian [Richard Harris] assemble in a squalid dockside shack and get ready to fuck, and then, for some reason, instead of fucking, they break apart one of the shack’s flimsy walls and use the boards for firewood) existential psychodrama depicts all the ugliness of the techno-industrial modern world. . .the film features shot-after-shot of industrial waste, belching smokestacks, rusting pipes, mud-ravaged landscapes, filthy, toxic water and polluted skies. And Antonioni is also ahead on the modern neuroses curve, as the main character, Giuliana (played by big-nosed, thick-lipped Monica Vitti) displays many of the traits that mark the contemporary female: chronically fatigued, chronically depressed, suicidal, nail-biting, restless legged, ever picking at herself, rife with anxieties--but clueless as to their origin). The only 21st century symptom missing from Giuliana’s catalog of disorders is wrist-cutting. What little plot there is involves Giuliana wandering around the bleak industrial wasteland or through sterile rooms with shifting wall colors crying out for help to a cast full of deaf ears. Giuliana is beyond hopeless, she suffers countless breakdowns, and during one gargantuan anxiety attack has to endure a laborious date rape from the pseudo-Italian Richard Harris. Even Giuliana’s son is indifferent to her loosening grip on reality, as he preys on his mother’s already-severely frayed nerves with a fake polio attack!! Vitti tries hard to make her character a believable embodiment of all the trademark Antonioni existential angst and alienation, but it’s almost an impossible task when given scenes such as the one in which she stares dazed at a map and must muse aloud I wonder if there’s some place in this world where people go to get better. Probably not. The most favorable point-of-view from which to look at Red Desert fifty years later is to imagine the film as the forerunner to David Lynch’s Eraserhead, with Giuliana’s son, inheriting his mother’s anxieties, growing up to be Henry Spencer.

No comments:

Post a Comment