Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The Passenger" Moves On

Michelangelo Antonioni has vanished from this island Earth at age 94. His disappearance took place the same day as that of Ingmar Bergman, whose death was noted by many a blogger with terms like "Endgame" and "Checkmate." Bergman once staged a memorable chess game with Death, of course, in THE SEVENTH SEAL -- one of the few films whose every image is invested with such power and inevitability that they seem to preexist the film itself, like carvings in ancient wood or stone -- but it was Antonioni who was truly the chessmaster, one of cinema's rare geometric thinkers, possibly its first and without question its most definitive.

This is a very busy week for me, a prelude to a very busy month in fact, and I can't spare the time to write about Antonioni and his glorious work as fully as I'd like. BLOW UP and L'AVVENTURA have always been personal favorites, and when Criterion released L'ECLISSE a few years ago, it immediately vaulted past them into my Top 10: I watched it three times in three days, and then began writing an infatuated short story about the spell it cast, which work and time (again) conspired to prevent me from finishing. Once this present pile of work is out of the way, I would like very much to go back to it and complete it in tribute to this outstanding artist. Last year, "THE PASSENGER" (another of those curious films with titles in quotes, like "DON'T LOOK NOW" and "THESE ARE THE DAMNED") was finally released on DVD, a magnificent film about life, identity, and mortality.

Antonioni's films were often criticized for being too nihilistic, but I don't see them as nihilistic as much as conscious and accepting of the human condition. Just because they are cerebral doesn't mean they are without spirit. "THE PASSENGER" is actually the ideal film to watch if you seek the comfort of knowing that only what Antonioni was, as a man, is dead. What he is and always was, as energy, survives -- I believe the film subtly expressive of this philosophy, that this world is no one's final destination, that we are all merely passengers, our present identity in quotation marks (as well as question marks). Needless to say, his films remain with us as his representatives.

Today, I send a loving genuflection halfway around the world today to one of my favorite filmmakers, Eric Rohmer -- who recently turned 87 -- in the hopes that he can keep his name out of the headlines for awhile.

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