Michelangelo Antonioni (29 September 1912 – 30 July 2007), was an Italian film director, screenwriter, editor, and short story writer. He's considered one of the greatest film-makers of the arthouse era of The '50s and The '60s, part of Italy's Golden Age that included Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini, and alongside Godard and Ingmar Bergman (who died on the same day as him), one of the most important and innovative directors in film history.
Born to a middle class family in Ferrara, he studied economics at university where his interest turned towards the arts. Before World War II, he would stage productions of Luigi Pirandello, work as a film critic for the Roman Cinema magazine and later work as a screenwriter on early neorealist films. Indeed, he and Federico Fellini worked on the screenplay for the latter's first solo feature The White Shiek. Antonioni also worked as an assistant director on French productions, notably Marcel Carné’s Les Visiteurs du Soir. After making a few documentary shorts, Antonioni made his feature debut with Story of A Love Affair (1950), which was inspired by American Film Noir and James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice but filtered with a distinctly colder and less emotional focus.
Antonioni's movies departed from the established style of neorealism which focused on social problems and was driven by a largely idealist and sentimentalist vision. Antonioni's films were bleaker, more psychological (at first), and had a strong visual style that emphasized surroundings, environments, spaces, architecture as much as plot and storyline. His movies were infamous for its slow rhythm, its innovative cinematography, both black-and-white and colour, the strong female roles in his movies (many of them having women as protagonists) and for its incredible camerawork. He's famous for his collaboration with the actress Monica Vitti, he also worked with Lucia Bosè, Gabriele Ferzetti, Alain Delon, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni and Jack Nicholson (who presented Antonioni his Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1995). His collaboration with Richard Harris resulted in a conflict when the actor quit the production. Later he warned David Hemming againist starring in an Antonioni film but Hemming agreed and never regretted it.
He came to worldwide attention for his loose trilogy of alienation : L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse. Towards the end of The '60s, he left Italy and made a series of films in UK, USA, Spain and China. His most famous, influential and successful film is Blowup: a worldwide success, the definitive swinging 60s film which documented the Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll lifestyle, and which finally put The Hays Code to pasture. He made some acclaimed films in his final years but they were little seen and not as influential as his major work in The '60s. Still, he went to influence film-makers across the world, especially the directors of the New Hollywood but also Japanese and Asian film-makers of The '80s.
- Banned in China: A literal example: His documentary about China, Chung Kuo, Cina was banned in that state for thirty years.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Many characters in his films. Arguably director himself can be considered as such.
- Celebrity Song: Michelangelo Antonioni by Caetano Veloso.
- Depth of Field: Antonioni was shooting his films keeping both foreground and background in focus.
- Gainax Ending: He had a talent for this. L’Eclisse, Blowup, The Passenger and Zabriskie Point.
- Italian Neorealism: In the earlier stages of his career he was linked to the movement. He made a documentary Gente di Po adhering to its rules. Cronaca di un Amore, his debut, is frequently considered a neorealist film despite its bourgeois characters and professional actors. Il Grido is still arguably this depicting the life of the working classes even though it is dedicated to the exisistential despair, here experienced by a blue-collar worker, not a middle-class character.
- Leave the Camera Running: Or the classic Antonioni pause.
- Love Cannot Overcome: A lot of his movies are about romances and relationships and the general theme is that they don't really work especially in a modern society where women work for a living, and aren't out to be housewives. Marriages (as seen in Story of a Love Affair and La notte) are failures and weak, adultery is seen as a pathetic escape fantasy, and in Antonioni's view the end of L'eclisse where the couple make a date to meet and then simply don't turn up is an optimistic ending, since the couple realize that the shallow fleeting attraction and affection they have for each other is as good as their relationship will get.
- Mockstery Tale: He was the king of this trope: a number of his movies (including Blowup and L'Avventura) can be described by "there's a mystery out there, but nobody really cares". Basically, the mystery plots are just backgrounds for psychological drama.
- The Muse:
- The Oner:
- The penultimate shot of The Passenger (1975) has to be seen to be disbelieved, one of the most elaborate single camera scenes and long takes in movie history.
- Also the very first panoramic shot of Milan in La Notte during the credits.
- Pop-Star Composer:
- Pink Floyd did the music for Zabriskie Point, Antonioni also used tracks by many other groups.
- Played even more straight with Mina, a pop star, who composed the music for the song L'eclisse Twist played during the opening credits of the eponymous movie. The lyrics were authored by Antonioni himself.
- Production Posse:
- Gianni di Venanzo was his cinematographer on all his films from Le amiche (1955) until L'eclisse (1962) with an important exception of L'avventura where this position was held by Aldo Scavarda. Later Antonioni shot three films with Carlo di Palma and two with Luciano Tovoli.
- Tonio Guerro wrote scripts for several of his films.
- Giovanni Fusco was his composer from every film up to and including Il deserto rosso with the exception of La notte.
- Eraldo da Roma was his editor for the numerous films.
- Piero Poletto worked for Antonioni as a production designer on several occasions.
- Reality Has No Soundtrack: Played straight many times, subverted in the last act of L'eclisse.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: His characters are mostly fairly (or very) cynical and the general spirit of his works is decisively on the cynical end of the scale.
- The so-called trilogy of alienation comprises L'Avventura, La Notte and L Eclisse. They all deal with modern urban malaise of the leisurely classes. All three are shot in B&W. Also Monica Vitti stars in each of them. At times Il deserto rosso is added to make it a tetralogy though it is a color movie.
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Trilogy made by contract concluded with MGM. It includes Blowup (1966), Zabriskie Point (1970) and The Passenger (1975). These films were a departure in that they were all made in English and set outside Italia.
- Untranslated Title: Played straight with several of his Italian films with one-word titles, like Le Amiche, Il Grido, L'Avventura, La Notte, L Eclisse. Averted with Cronaca di un amore which became Story of a Love Affair and Il deserto rosso which was translated as Red Desert.
Filmography (Feature Films)
- Cronaca di un amore (Story of a Love Affair, 1950), his full-length debut.
- I Vinti (The Vanquished, 1952)
- La Signora Senza Camelie (The Lady Without Camelias 1953)
- Le Amiche (The Girl Friends, 1955)
- Il Grido (The Cry, 1957), his first film on alienation where a blue-collar worker suffers of this.
- L'Avventura (The Adventure, 1960), in this film his attention returned to the upper-class millieu.
- La Notte (The Night, 1961)
- L Eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962)
- Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert, 1964)
- Blowup (1966)
- Zabriskie Point (1970)
- Chung Kuo, Cina (documentary, 1972)
- The Passenger (1975)
- Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald, 1981), his reunion show with Monica Vitti
- Identificazione Di Una Donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982)
- Al di là delle nuvole (Beyond the Clouds, 1995) with Wim Wenders
- The Dangerous Thread of Things, a segment of Eros (2004)
References to Antonioni in popular culture
- Song "Michelangelo Antonioni" by Caetano Veloso.