Day 171: Writing About Antonioni – No Movie Tonight

Writing About Antonioni – No Movie Tonight

There’s a lot to say about this filmmaker. He’s a curious director who was responsible for developing a new film grammar. His most famous film, arguably, L’Avventura (1960, is also, arguably, his best film. He would often start shooting without a finished screenplay and get his actors to improvise. I have no idea who first though of starting a film without a finished screenplay (without dialogue), but the same year, Jean-Luc Godard went one better with Breathless (1960), by starting without a screenplay (or dialogue) and using part of every day trying to come up with ideas of what he might like to do with his actors. They’d often hang around all day waiting for him to come up with an idea and some days the actors and crew didn’t work at all if Godard found his well was dry that day.

When Antonioni was filming his first international movie, Blow-Up (1966), circa 1965, Stanley Kubrick heard, reportedly, that the lead actors, David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, got the pages from the novel relevant to each day’s filming, indicating what they’d be shooting; “Antonioni hadn’t written a script at all, but had simply slipped pages from Julio Cortazar’s short story under the doors of his stars each evening.” (Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick, Carroll & Graf, New York,1997 [reprinted 1999], p. 279). Based on this, Kubrick, having finished a reasonably detailed draft of his screenplay for Barry Lyndon, based on Thackeray’s The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon Esquire, according to Baxter, headed into pre-production: Convinced that anything Antonioni could do, he could do better, Kubrick argued that the draft script and the book itself constituted enough material to start shooting; the rest would be written as they went along.” 

Kubrick had already made 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) without a finished screenplay. Arthur C. Clarke was constantly adding to, and subtracting from, what Clarke thought they were making. During three years of developing the concept, production and editing, Clarke wrote hundreds of pages of material which were never filmed, or if filmed, never made it into Kubrick’s final cut.

Kubrick, Antonioni and Godard are cut from the same cloth. It’s a legitimate garment and acceptable apparel, however, it is very limiting and not used in the manner that’s generally understood by people with eyes and ears. It’s like saying,

“I’m going to wear my underpants on my head, my sock on one hand, my shirt as a skirt, my shoe on my other hand, and forgo trousers altogether, keeping credit cards, driver’s license, bank notes and loose change strapped by my tie to my head and only speak in words that start with A, B, C, F and P or contain the letters j, q and z.”

If you can go to a party, engage in a meaningful way with other human beings, with those limitations, then head home and feel satisfied that you’ve made a real connection with people who dress and speak and are quite different from yourself: you’re a freaking genius.