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.
And I took another liberty – that of approaching every sequence with always a new attitude. If you think of it, it is possible to say that there is no technical unity in the film. Every sequence was fIlmed differently from the others because the content was different. At the end, however, all of these differences seem to me to find a unity of their own. This is, after all, my attitude toward the story I’m telling.
The Passenger was released this year. Apart from the television documentary on China in 1972, your last film was Zabriskie Point in 1970. Why such a long break?
Because in the meantime I prepared two films. One, Tecnicamente dolce [Technically Sweet], took almost two years. The script was ready, I even went location-scouting in Sardinia and in the jungle. Then Carlo Ponti, who inherited the project from other producers, eventually decided against it. He was probably scared that I would never leave the jungle or that I would start painting it.
The other film was inspired by a story by Calvino, The Night Driver. At first it was called The Spiral, and then The Color ofJealousy. It was an obsessive story of a jealous man who every night would leave his own city by car and go to his lover’s town. In order to have a better control of the color I filmed it with a video camera rather than with a regular camera. This time I was the one who was having serious problems with the script. I could not find the right approach, and I gave up. But in the meantime, another year had gone by.
You have stated that your next film will have an Italian subject because you realized that by making films outside of Italy you began to feel uprooted. Can a frame, a language, give you roots?
We are all rooted in a language, in a culture, in an historical environment. In traveling to other countries I have assimilated parts of their culture, while at the same time losing a part of my own. It is somewhat like those writers who spend alternatively six months in the United States and six months in Europe. At a certain moment they no longer know what to write about. That is what I mean when I say that I need to find my roots. I would now like to tell the story of people born and raised in Italy. It may happen that at the last moment this country, which already makes us shiver if we look at it closely, unexpectedly will push me away and make me change my mind. I know, it is not a very original criticism, but it might be original to attempt to love this country even if you despise a part of it. And when I say “a part,” I mean a large group of people, those we see in the streets, in the public places. Sometimes I think I belong to another race.
And your films?
I could answer by saying that my films are what they are because I am who I am. Some say that I am a typical elitist director. The truth is that when I come in contact with art I have a freer, less engaged attitude than most people think. Personal interests are what always move me. All of the characters in my films are fictional, but at the same time they are also real, because reality has suggested them to me. What I need is to hear a line or to see a gesture, a face, an expression, an event, a story. This grows inside of me, it becomes a sequence, the sequence becomes a series of sequences, and then I have a complete story. I’m not too sure how this happens. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I always have to make a film for someone. Not the public, but a specific person – a friend, a woman. It has always been this way, even when I used to play tennis as a young man. If I had a public, I played better. Once, in Bologna, at the final match of a tournament, practically no one was there. I lost the first two sets. Then more people came and I won the next three.
There is something else I would like to add. I wish my films were released more discreetly than the promotion requires. The publicity spots and the billboards loudly boast of how good the fIlm is, and urge the public to go and see it and to admire it. The beauty of a film, when it is there, should instead surface almost by chance, without arrogance, since the purpose of the film is different from what advertising would make it to be.
Does autobiography play a role in your films?
There is only one way to be autobiographical: out in the open, without restraint. That is, one should not regard as private what one writes or puts in a film. One needs a certain amount of shamelessness to do this, and I do not have it. My way of being autobiographical is different, it changes depending on what people I see, what I do, what kind of light I’ve found on my way to work. All these things can influence the way I film or make a sequence. So if certain characters reveal something of myself, I would say that it is natural, and that it would be unnatural if it were not so.
What about tomorrow?
Cinema as it is now is beginning to tire me out. There are too many technical limitations. It is ridiculous to still have to use a regular camera, not very different from what was used thirty years ago, or to still have to go to such great lengths to transform reality to conform to our desires. We cannot completely dominate color or use it as painters do. That is why I have thought of video cameras, and I am still thinking about using them for my next film. Only with magnetic tape is it possible to avoid the compromises that the development and print laboratories impose on you. On the tape the color can be electrically corrected. It is true that there are many other technical complications, but the advantages are enormous.
You asked me: “What about tomorrow?” Tomorrow could already be today if it were not for the industrial structure of cinema that opposes it. It would be the end of film, of film development and print laboratories, of regular cameras, and of at least a third of the commercial cinema establishment. Do you think that it would be easy to destroy all of this? Among all of the arts, cinema is the one that is most solidly grounded in life, and one would have to begin to change even life. Since, the way it is now, it’s not very well organized.
“Sono stanco del cinema com’e, oggi,” from Il Tempo, 20 March 1975.