Archive for November, 2011

The History Of Cinema Is Made On Film (1979)


After seeing your films, one would never think that Antonioni had started in cinema as a documentarist. Was the experience of making documentaries helpful to you? Did it help to form your remarkable cinematic eye? 

Let’s leave these adjectives out of our discussion. They don’t do any good. Making documentaries was very helpful to me because I did not know whether I was capable of making films. In making documentaries, I understood that I would be able to go on to make films that were as good as anyone else’s.

In reexamining your documentaries, one can see that already then you were telling stories. 

This is true in a certain sense. Without even realizing it, in People of the Po Valley I focused more on the family that lived on the barge than on the landscape. I must confess that I was completely taken with those people. Unfortunately, I could not complete the documentary. More than one thousand meters of film were destroyed, and the way the documentary was edited, in its present form, does not emphasize enough that subtle narrative trend that emerged during the filming. 

After a first experience that was in some way “neorealist ” – your documentaries and, later on, Attempted Suicide, your episode of Love in the City – you took riff in a different direction. Were you aware that you were entering into new territory? 

No, I was not aware of it because during that time neorealism was not an issue. Before People of the Po Valley in 1943, Italian cinema did not portray the poor lower classes in such a harsh way (I am referring to the final part of the documentary which was lost). At that time, documentaries used to deal with places, works of art, the Charterhouse of Parma, the Abbey of Pomposa, the paintings by Canaletto, the valleys of Comacchio carefully cleared of any sign of hardship – anything but a sort of praise of [their staple industry,] the eel. These were the products of what was then the Istituto Luce. I instead went to the mouth of the Po river, placing at risk poor Minoccheri, who was my protector within the Istituto Luce and the only one who fought to let me do whatever I wanted. Let me say it again: these images were very harsh, representing the very difficult life of the fishermen, who lived at the mouth of the river in straw huts that would flood after every sea storm. That piece of land would become a mud slide. The fishermen would put their children on top of the tables inside of the huts to keep them from drowning, and they would attach bed sheets to the ceiling to absorb the water that came pouring down. Our cinema had carefully avoided representing those situations, as the fascist government prohibited them. I do not want to sound presumptuous, but I was the first person ever to portray them. No one really knows this, no one will admit it, but the fact that I invented my own brand of neorealism gives me a certain sense of satisfaction. Unfortunately, all of the film material was taken to the North of Italy by the fascists who had remained faithful to Mussolini [after the 1943 Armistice]. When the war ended, I went to get it back and I discovered it in a warehouse was, half-ruined by the humidity. Now the documentary only portrays the beginning of the storm, which is a shame because the rest was truly impressive.  Continue reading

I Am Tired Of Today’s Cinema (March 1975)

Nowadays is not only us critics who enthusiastically support your work, as it was at the times of L’avventura and La notte. A large part of the public has also shown its enthusiasm  for your work since Blow-Up was released. How do you explain this change? 

Today, the public has matured and accepts certain themes and/or language without difficulty. As for myself, I would say that, instinctively, I might have found a way to make my films more – how can I say­ Americans would say exciting, more interesting, but that is not the right word. More precisely, I might have found a way to be less reserved in showing emotions and feelings. Perhaps I have been able to deal with a topic more deeply and even more skillfully. I do not really know. A film – I will never grow tired of repeating it – does not need to be “understood.” It is enough if the viewer “feels” it. To see a film must be an overall personal, intuitive experience, like when one reads a poem. Who would dream of being able to thoroughly explain a poem? Take The Passenger, for instance (I am sorry to keep returning to this film, but this is the film that everyone wants to talk about), or its last sequence, that long uninterrupted take. There is no need for the audience to understand it from a technical point of view; it is enough if they are sensitive to that slow flowing of things through the window, while the camera slowly moves onward.

In The Passenger, however, technique is very important, even if this is not unusual in your films. 

It seems to me that there is something unusual here. In general, I have never made camera movements that were not justified by the movements of the characters. Here, instead, the camera moves on its own, as if it had the same interest for objects, landscape, and people that the protagonist, the reporter, has. Why this? It seems to me almost arrogant to answer. I work very instinctively, and the meanings of certain techniques become clear to me only later on. For example, in reviewing The Passenger I ask myself: Why did I film that scene in this way? It will seem strange, but I always find an answer that I have never previously thought of. The presence of a car in a pan, apparently coming from nowhere, might have been suggested to me by the fact that a character without a past of his own, but with the past of someone who is now dead, was riding in that same car. Continue reading