L’Avventura – bella
I’ve known of Antonioni since 1982. I was seventeen, in the middle of my study of drama and film, when I saw several films which were confusing and unsatisfying. The main problem was that they didn’t tell a story that was clear or had a significant beginning, middle or end. They were repetitive, deliberately obscure or full of long, uninteresting, passages. Everything that I was studying in drama and theatre and writing was about everything having form and structure. Everything that I’d studied in music for seven years was about form and structure. Even Citizen Kane, a film I’d never seen until my film course, had structure. In fact, the structure was so great, so amazing, because it told the story in different time- frames. It introduced material, developed it, and then satisfactorily, resolved it. Intolerance, was kind of like Mozart. Formal. Citizen Kane was like Beethoven. Structured, formal, but more intricately developed thematically.
Godard and Antonioini were more like Stravinsky and Bartok. It was the journey that mattered, not the harmonies. When I was studying cinema at University I was a year away from discovering The Rite of Spring and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. My brain was yet to explode after hearing those mind-blowing works. This meant that some films made in the 1960s, which were thin on, introducing, developing and resolving, harmonic material, were completely beyond my comprehension.
Two of the main culprits were Tout va bien and Blow-Up. The first was difficult to understand, and I couldn’t explain how the various scenes added up to telling a story. The second had every appearance of a story, like Hitchcock used, but it ended without a sufficient explanation to satisfy me.
My diet of films up until this point was very English. The main thing I remember about the other films was that they were, often, even mostly, boring and seemed to be about nothing.
Long After Studying Cinema at University
Twenty years later, I had seen many films which had changed my perspective about – my Anglo-centric upbringing of – cinema. I’d seen Betty Blue and Jean de Florette and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, and The Motorcycle Diaries and Subway, and Cinema Paradiso. I know they are the easy films for Americans (and Australians) to digest, but I’ve seen many films by the directors of these films.
Of course, it’s not like seeing all the films of a culture, so while it gives me some additional insight, it is not, particularly. And when I add in the Korean, Japanese and Chinese films, they are just the ones that got a cinema release in Australia.
I got to see Dersu Uzala, Ran and Kagemusha and Hero and The Flower of My Secret and Eat Drink Man Woman.
Directors like Almodovar, Beineix, Besson, Tornatore became directors I would follow, into the dingiest cinemas in Sydney, to see them projected onto a screen. Then there were the films you see in Film Festivals, from Iran and ah, Iran and, ah, Hong Kong; oh, and then there was Salo, banned for many years in Australia – which I saw in a porn cinema – I’m guessing – in the early 1990s. There were four patrons. The other three were men wearing – literally – long, grey, raincoats.
Years later, you realise, if you’re lucky, that your open mind is still only being fed the films that broke out of their domestic run in their home country.
Then, if you happen to look at a list of the most successful films of any given country during the last sixty years, there are ten films you’ve never seen for every one of them that made it to American, English or Australian soil.
The wrong-headedness of what I’m doing in 52-weeks is becoming more and more apparent.
For instance, when I get to the Japanese cinema, I’m going to watch four Kurosawa films, four by Ozu, and nothing else from Japanese cinema.
This is depressing. Despite the fact I’m biting off more than I can chew in 52-weeks, and it’s going to give me insight into two, three or four films by the ‘greatest’ filmmakers of each culture, I’m not making a dent into understanding non-English-speaking films.
No matter how much I come to appreciate Bergman, Bresson, Ozu, Dreyer and Renoir, it’s the tip of the iceberg in coming to an understanding or opinion about the films made by these directors; and it’s not even on the radar of understanding how those films fit into the culture and era of all the other filmmaking.
This Week is Bigger Than Ben Hur, But it Doesn’t Include Ben Hur
L’Avventura, La Notte, L’eclisse, Blow-Up – Michaelangelo Antonioni – last week intimidating this week; Jour de fete, Playtime – Jacques Tati; Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive – David Lynch.