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. 

“In order to have neorealism, it must be internalized.” What did you mean when you said this during the 1950s? 

After the war, the relationship between individual and society was the only thing that mattered. That is why the filmmakers of that period (primarily Rossellini and De Sica) have given us an accurate account of those times in the form of documentaries and commentaries. Perhaps it went like this: when I see films that I really like, I feel as if I have received a shock, and in order to avoid the trap of imitating these films, I detach myself from them. Maybe that is why I chose to examine the inner side of my characters instead of their life in society, the effects inside them of what was happening outside. Consequently, while filming, I would follow them as much as I could, without ever letting the camera leave them. This is how the long takes of Story of a Love Affair and The Vanquished came about. At the time, everyone criticized me for avoiding social themes, for turning a deaf ear to the dialectics that were developing in somewhat violent terms. But I was just acting as a mediator between these social themes and the screen.

By examining the inner side of your characters, you developed the relationship between characters and environment in a new way. The environment, instead of being meaningful background, became more and more a character on its own. 

I don’t know. Certainly in The Passenger this element is very important. It’s a surface that reflects the protagonist’s life within the story.

On the other hand, the protagonist of L’avventura is an environment that is completely estranged from the characters. It is a barren island, a rocky iceberg without any sign of life, scoured by the sun and the wind. How did you come up for the idea for this film? 

In an odd way, almost mysterious. I was on a yacht with some friends going toward an island in the Mediterranean. Some time before, a girl I knew in Rome had disappeared. A thorough search was conducted, but they found nothing. She had just disappeared. The idea for the film came to me all of a sudden while we were sailing toward that island. I said to myself, “What if that girl was on the island?” And that is where the idea came from. At the outset there is always an external, concrete element. At first the film was called The Island. 

It seems to me that the landscape was used differently here than in your previous film, The Cry. 

The landscape has a different function because the stories are different. In L’avventura, it is more mysterious because the story was a mystery. It is almost as if the landscape had feelings.

If I understand you correctly, you mean that a subject for a film comes from an irrational, poetic intuition. 

How else, if not this way? In 1962, I was in Florence filming a solar eclipse. There was a silence different from all other silences, an ashen light, and then darkness – total stillness. I thought that during an eclipse even our feelings stop. Out of this came part of the idea for The Eclipse. Stories come to me every night, but I don’t always write them down. Laziness is my worst weakness. I could have done so much more in cinema if I weren’t so lazy. This character trait comes from my origins. We from Ferrara are apathetic, we just like to do nothing. 

With The Cry you were criticized for portraying a factory worker in an unrealistic manner. 

Well – I went to tell the story of The Cry to factory workers around Ferrara and also in Rome. They made some comments and I took note of them. For example, in the script, the scene where Aldo slaps his wife takes place in their house. As a good bourgeois, I thought that these things should be resolved at home. I was wrong. The workers told me that a man who acts in such a way is foolish – he should slap his wife in public to prove that he is a man. So, I followed their advice and shot the scene in the village’s piazza. I think that it came out much better that way.

Why did you choose an American actor to play the part of a worker from the Polesine? Maybe this is what disturbed some critics

The distributors definitely wanted a foreigner. They thought that an American name would be more appealing to the public. But I must say that I did like Steve Cochran in the film. If no one knew that he was American, if his name had been “Sergio Michelini,” no one would have objected to him.

The Cry was not one of your most modern works, but it seemed to be one of the most distressing, well-constructed, and sincere. You could feel there the immediacy of life and the depth of your more mature works. 

The idea for the film came very naturally to me within just a few minutes. The day before I had read Cortazar’s story, where I got the idea for Blow-Up, and I was already working on it. I went out for a walk and I stopped without any reason in front of a wall, and the plot for The Cry came into my head – this is a mystery to me. 

Let’s go back to your first films. Recently, the Italian television presented a retrospective of your first works, from the documentaries to The Cry. How did you react seeing them now? Are you still convinced that The Lady without Camellias was not too good? 

I reacted very strangely to this film. I always thought of it as a mistake, but instead I discovered that it has a narrative balance of its own and also that it was filmed in a curious way – a very subdued way, with characters in insignificant situations and environments, as if I wanted to ignore their psychological motivations. I thought that it was a cold film and then instead I discovered that it was very warm, and precise, both sentimentally and psychologically. I think that I am praising myself a bit too much, excuse me.

Why did you call your first film Story of a Love Affair? Story [in the Italian sense of cronaca, “chronicle”}, is a word ala Rossellini, and it’s tied to neorealism, from which you moved away since your very first film. Would it not be better to use the word “inquiry”? 

But it is a chronicle. It is a chronicle of a love story taking place at two different times and looked at very objectively. The French spoke of”interior realism.” In fact, it is the intimate chronicle of a love affair. “Inquiry” does not seem like the correct word to me. The film probes into the souls of two characters.

Your second film should have been The White Sheik, which Fellini ended up directing. Why didn’t you do it? 

The White Sheik should have been my first film. While I waited for Ponti and his associate Mambretti to approve the script I went to Bomarzo, the “villa of the monsters,” to make a documentary. I got sick at Bomarzo and had to stay in bed with an intense headache. I was very ill. I could not even tolerate the daylight. It was a situation which was horrible for me, but turned out to be great for Ponti and Mambretti’s company. They told me that they were in trouble because Lux [the production company] had refused a script on Miss Italy by [Alberto] Lattuada, and they needed another story. Ponti really liked The White Sheik and proposed to buy it from me, promising to accept another film of mine. I did not know Ponti, then. It was the first time I had even been in contact with him and so I sold him the subject for practically nothing. Later he sent me a novel to read, but it was all a pretense. I made a film with Ponti sixteen years later, Blow-Up. 

Was your version of  The White Sheik much different from the one Fellini made? 

Not very much, but the structure was different. I have to say one thing, and I hope Fellini doesn’t mind. The opening titles did not say that the story was entirely mine, as it really is. However, in my script there was no precise plot, just a series of interconnected events. It was a rather free narration, a little like Federico’s own films today. At the time, Fellini and [Tullio] Pinelli criticized the fragmentary quality of my stories.

Thematically, The White Sheik seems to develop some elements of your short film Lies of Love. 

Yes, in fact I wanted to make the film with the same two actors who played in the documentary.

Since it is impossible to talk about all of your films, let’s move on to the so-called “trilogy if alienation”: L’avventura, La notte, and The Eclipse. Besides being sentimental stories, La notte and The Eclipse are also cross-sections of a specific social climate, the rich bourgeoisie of Milan and Rome. These films could be interpreted today as indirect commentaries on the conditioning power of money in the Italian society of the economic boom. It is enough to think of the extraordinary scene at the Stock Exchange. 

In The Eclipse, money is seen from the viewpoint of those who do not have any, while in La notte everything happens independently of money. If I had to film The Eclipse today, I would make it even harsher.

Is it true that you wanted to make two different films out of  The Eclipse?

Yes – one from the point of view of the woman, and the other from the point of view of the young stockbroker. I made a proposal to the producers to do two versions precisely to explore the question of money. Whoever lives within the Stock Exchange sees life through banknotes. The consequence of this is that even real feelings can be filtered through the cobweb money creates around the mind of whoever is involved in it and doesn’t see anything else all day long. I wanted to tell the same story through his point of view, but the producers preferred to make only one film. What I wanted to do was not the same as what Bertolucci did with 1900, which is a two-part story. My idea was to make two autonomous films.

In The Eclipse there is a sort of correspondence. The emotional crisis is always related to the more general crisis affecting moral values. 

Yes, this might be true.

While speaking of Antonioni as the filmmaker of alienation, critics have over­ looked that, in your films, the instability of feelings is closely connected to what Fitzgerald called “the hyper transitoriness of prosperity.”Even if you deal more with effects than causes, as Strick points out, one cannot deny that there is a specific social representation in your films. Why do you think this second aspect has been neglected? 

Maybe because I always dealt with it in a very discreet way, and also because I never took these terms much to heart.

In the opening sequences of some of your films, such as L’avventura and La notte, the conclusion of the story is already anticipated In a certain sense, when the couple in La notte ‘visit the sickbed of their gravely ill friend, this alludes to the imminent death of their relationship. 

I cannot look at my films in this way. It seems to me that the opening sequence of La notte places the viewer in a specific atmosphere, giving him the opportunity to view the rest of the film from the right angle. It is also as if, from the beginning of the film, the two protagonists find themselves in front of a painful yet clarifying situation. I say all of this to answer your question, since at that time I was not dealing with these problems. It is very difficult for me – I hope that you realize this – to respond to what you asked me. I do not enjoy reviewing my earlier work. The history of cinema is made by films, not by the words of their directors. Too often the interviews become pretexts for unpleasant speeches.

I still have a.few more questions. Please be patient. All of your films until Blow-Up, with the exception of The Cry, all center around women. Your male characters (the architect in L’avventura, the writer in La notte, the stockbroker in The Eclipse, the engineer in Red Desert) are in general less positive, more morally insensitive. 

The architect in L’avventura seemed to me a strong character in his negativity. He is a professional who is going through a crisis, I would say, just like the writer in La notte. I think that in both films, you find a woman’s point of view rather than a man’s. Overall I feel more at ease with female characters than with male characters. At least, I have felt this way up to a certain moment. Starting with Blow-Up, I began to talk about men too.

L’avventura, La notte, The Eclipse, Red Desert are all very strong testimonials to the Italy of the “economic miracle. How do you feel about the Italy of the economic boom, now that it is only a memory? 

Well, I think that Italy will always be involved in some sort of boom. It was enough to go out at Christmas time and see what was going on in the stores. Someone might prove me wrong, but that was what it looked like. That the motivations behind it might have been more complex, is certainly possible; but that’s another story. In this concept that I am trying to explain – perhaps not too clearly – is the key to my documentary on China. I portrayed China through a series of images, not through the ideas that the Chinese wanted to give me about their country. Their social structures are abstract entities that call for a different visual discourse, more didactic than my own, so extemporaneous and instinctual. They were more fragile entities than they seemed to be, if it took just two years to modify them. There has not even been the need for a second revolution.

What you say about Chinese social structures can also can also be applied to {joris} Ivens’s film How Yukong Moved the Mountains, which today, in light of the facts, seems out of date. It seems to me that Ivens saw China through ideological lenses, while you filmed it as you saw it. Since no one likes a bare truth, your film was criticized, while no one had any reservations about the idyllic vision of Chinese reality that was portrayed in Ivens’s film. When I interviewed Ivens and his wife, Marceline Loridan, at the time of the film’s release, I remember that she reproached you for making a film from the outside, without knowing the people. Loridan simply concluded: ”How can the director of alienation understand the Chinese?” 

I think that my documentary gives an image of China of that time, with also a “prefiguration” of the China of today. But it is not for me to judge this. I remember that one day (Mao was still alive) I asked Ivens’s wife: “Do social classes exist in China?” And she responded: “Of course they exist!” I should have replied: “Then why don’t they appear in your documentary?” But that would have seemed too much of a naive question. And, after all, China is a very difficult subject.

When Zabriskie Point was released you said to me: “I will never make another film in a country that I don’t know.” Did you mean that it is difficult to understand a country in a short time? It seems to me, however, that you did understand America, also from what the American critics wrote about your work. 

Years ago I took a trip to Northern Europe at the end of the fall. I took a helicopter to see how the people lived on one of a group of islands in Finland. During the summer, it was a resort place, while in the winter no one was there except for the indigenous people. There were two or three men who cut wood, a few women who cooked inside of their houses, a few children who were playing. Pines, birches, ice, snow, muffled voices, children laughing: a serene atmosphere that left me spellbound and at the same time disturbed. If had filmed a documentary in that part of Finland on that day, what would have been my method of operation? Which “truth” would I have expressed? Probably none at all, apart from the curiosity of those people who saw us. It is the usual sense of melancholy that I feel during some of my trips: of not being able to participate in the reality that I see; of always being an outsider and, as such, condemned to seeing a reality that is affected as soon as it comes into contact with my own. It is like studying a microcosm: while you observe a phenomenon, you change it, and the particle that you try to photograph changes its course. In other words, observing reality is only possible on a poetic level.

L’avventura, La notte and The Eclipse have been referred to as the “trilogy of alienation.” What do you think of this classification? 

I never talked about a trilogy, much less of alienation. I do not mean that these classifications do not make sense. But, there are four, not three, of my films that touch on that same topic. Red Desert also deals with an existential crisis. 

Actually Red Desert completes one discourse and at the same time opens another. Not only because it was your first film in color, but because it introduced new elements: the industrial civilization, and – why not – ecology. 

Yes, it is perhaps a film that anticipated the ecological theme. At that time no one talked about it.

Red Desert, in addition to portraying a social class, also developed a detailed and profound analysis of the relationship between the individual and the environment, and between the individual and industrial society. Was this a conscious effort on your part? 

I faced these problems in a narrative way. The ecological problem had a lot to do with the story that I telling. The neurosis of these characters originated directly from the environment. 

What did you mean when you then said that ‘factories are beautiful”? 

Factories are extremely beautiful. So much so that in many architecture competitions the first prize often goes to factories, probably because they are places that offer the imagination a chance to show itself off. For example, they can profit from colors more than normal houses can. They profit from them in a functional way. If a pipe is painted green or yellow it is because it is necessary to know what it contains and to identify it in any part of the factory.

Here, too, as in many of your films, there is a character who wants to leave, to go away. The desire to change one’s skin, to change one’s place, is one of the themes that returns in many of your films. Is there a reason behind this? 

I am convinced that in the soul of every Italian there is a small desire, not so much to escape, but to have an adventure. People in Italy are bored. We are not very organized in terms of amusement, which is very important, especially for the young. Opportunities to play sports are scarce. This important outlet, which in America serves to channel sexual aggression, is lacking in Italy. Don’t you think that there is a game like component in the criminality that has infested our country? I am convinced of it. The father of a twenty-year-old accused of belonging to the Red Brigades went to visit his son in jail. Upon leaving, he said: “He is still a boy who hardly knows how to hold a Molotov cocktail in his hand.”

Do you think that the violence shown in cinema has had a negative influence on everyday life? 

It isn’t that cinema creates violence; it justifies it.

One time, speaking of Red Desert, you said: “If today there is still some auto­ biography left, it is in color that you can find it. Would you care to clarify this statement? 

I’ll bring as an example a conversation I had a few days ago. What was behind that person while we were talking? A wall? A curtain? A painting? What color were those objects? If I now try to remember all of this, I do not see neat and precise images and colors like those you can see in a film’s flashback. One has to invent the distortion of memory. This is what I meant by saying that one creates an autobiography by telling the colors of one’s life, not only the events.

[Andrze;} Wajda told me that spectators watch primarily, if not solely, the faces of the actors – not the objects or the setting of the scene. With a close up of Brigitte Bardot nude, no one looks at the scenery. Instead, you always give a lot of importance to objects and settings. 

Of course. But if next to a nude Brigitte Bardot you place a picture of the explosion of a bomb, all red and yellow, the spectator will look at it, too.

Your research with color has advanced a lot. How did the idea come to you for a “color of the mind,” in Red Desert? 

I am very interested in the dynamics of color. This is why I really like [Jackson] Pollock. His paintings have an extraordinary rhythm. I have always felt the need to use color in a functional way. I would like to make my next film with a video camera. In using magnetic tape there is a better control of color, there are many more possibilities than there are in working with film in a laboratory. In Red Desert I had to change the appearance of reality – of the water, of the streets, of the countryside. I had to paint them with real paint and brush. It was not easy. Violating reality is easy when you are in a studio, but it becomes a problem when you are outside. It is enough for some frost to ruin everything. I tinted an entire forest gray to make it seem like cement, but it rained and the color ran off With video cameras, all of this can be done electronically; it is like painting a film.

Is this system already in use? 

It has been used a few times, but it was a bit overdone. It is a system that lends itself to fun solutions, and it is easy to let it get out of control.

Don’t you think that with video cameras, which offer so many opportunities in the use of color, better images will be achieved through the ”composition”? 

I have to say that from Blow-Up on I tried to “compose” the images in my films less carefully than before. I think that the material always needs some help in its composition. But today this is no longer a problem. Everyone knows how to “film” – if not very well, then at least decently. The problem is something else. It has to do with identifying the material – a material which, in these years of crisis hitting our Western world, has been so traumatically stirred and changed. I think that we have to find different ways to make films. This issue is two-sided: one side deals with technique, and the other deals with subject matter. I will first touch upon the latter, which is not only the most important but also the basis for, the very premise of the former. I confess that I do not have very clear ideas about subject matter. But it seems to me that, within the political and economic turmoil that characterizes this period of time, many alarming signals have surfaced. For example, the nature of happiness, which everyone used to aspire to, has changed. Now it is more of an animal-like, wilder type of happiness. Or it could be that people no longer pursue happiness. They choose instead to pursue other satisfactions, other tensions, which can give their lives some sort of purpose, regardless of what kind. I am also under the impression that today people no longer want to “fIgure things out.” There are too many people who feel that the reality around them is unfamiliar, and they do not even want to get to know this reality because they feel that it would not solve anything. They hear over and over again that the world lacks ideals, that it lacks family or religious values. It seems that no one in this world has any reason to be one way or another, and that science, art, and morality do not exist any longer. It comes as no surprise that this new biological man rebels sometimes with a violence that is often criminal. It depends on the level of injustice that caused him to act. The violence of the oppressed against the oppressors is a well-known, legitimate argument-and ethics can go to hell! After all, who defines the crime? And on the basis of what value? Of a higher value? Or on the basis of those historical laws which humanity should obey if it doesn’t want to annihilate itself? From within his monodic solitude, man continues to act socially, thanks to an innate calling. But it is a calling that becomes more and more difficult to respond to. Don’t be surprised if I deal lightly with such problems. I’m just trying to find a conclusion that has to do with cinema. The consequences of this ethical confusion are even verifiable in everyday events, and that’s where we find subject matter. It is a fact that human relationships today are not the same as they were in the past, and the stories and their endings have changed as well. At the same time – and also, perhaps, independently – technology advances. The symptoms are already apparent. The laser disc will signify a big step forward. I have seen incredible things done with it. Certain experiments have shown that it is possible to project an image onto a screen that is no longer a screen, but a transparent three dimensional space. In this way, one can move around it and choose ones own visual angle. I really think that the future of cinema will be in science fiction.

Then the frame will no longer make sense. Or am I mistaken? 

No, you are not mistaken. The viewers will be free to choose their own frame as they wish, their own visual angle. I have to add that this will probably be only an apparent freedom, in the sense that this participation can be induced and controlled. What will change, however, is our relationship with the public.

Will this take long? 

Probably years. It will involve upsetting the current industry structure. This includes the film-material industries, the development and printing laboratories, the movie theaters. But no doubt this type of evolution will occur, because the means we now have to make films are inadequate, and no longer correspond to our needs or to the needs of the public.

People talked about “phenomenology” with regard to your films. Do you accept this term? 

Even Enzo Paci (Italian philosopher Enzo Paci [1911 – 1976] played a fundamental role for the study and dissemination of Existentialism and Phenomenology in Italy) used to say it, but it does not really matter whether I accept it or not. Just think of the names that will have to be mentioned, from [Max] Scheler to [Edmund] Husserl to [Martin] Heidegger – I do not even think about it.

What about behaviorism? This term has also been mentioned with regard to both yourself and Rossellini. 

I really think it is a bit forced on the part of the critics to try at all costs to qualify in this way an attitude of Rossellini’s, which for him was very natural. The stamp of his style was precisely to refuse any sort of classification because his language was free, uncontrolled, disrespectful of syntactic rules. I think that this was exactly what was needed to represent the chaotic world at which he directed his camera. This is why Rossellini is one of the greatest directors of our time, because his style – which is a lack of style-was perfectly suited to the issues of that historical period.

Can you say the same about Godard? In a way Godard continued where Rossellini left off. 

The same can be said of Godard in the sense that he is ingenious, he invented many things in the cinema. His style, however, fits the facts and the characters that he portrays, which are quite often tied to a very personal vision of the world. Rossellini instead looked at things with an eye that could be defined as “public.” The horizon that Rossellini looked at was wider than Godard’s. Rossellini’s open-mindedness is disturbing.

Speaking of Rossellini, one cannot but bring up the “chronicle” issue. 

It is true that Rossellini made chronicles, but they were fundamental. To “chronicle” was necessary at that time. When we speak of the past we say: “Chronicles tell – ” They are what allows us to make history.

In a certain sense, some of Rossellini’s main themes in Stromboli, Europe’ 51 and Voyage to Italy anticipated the issues some of your own films dealt with. Do you agree? 

Yes, especially Voyage to Italy. However, I do not think that they are the most penetrating things that he has done. The two films by Rossellini that I like best are Paisan and The Flowers of St. Francis. The Flowers, in particular, is wonderful. Of his last films, the most interesting is The Rise to Power of Louis XIV. There, the old Rossellini and the new Rossellini, who tended to be a little superficial, happily met. From this casual and hurried encounter, a film full of grace and eloquence emerged. 

Have you worked with Rossellini? 

Yes. I liked him as a person, even if he was such a big and empty talker. Not so empty, however, since he always knew, when he spoke, where he wanted to get. But he was an extraordinary speaker, a real captivator of audiences.

What is your favorite film by Visconti? 

The one that left the greatest impression on me was La terra trema. Ossessione is a wonderful film, visually, while the dialogues are today a bit dated. Not because they are wrong, but because they no longer fit the images. It is because today we look at those images with different eyes. 

It has been said a few times that Antonioni is the only modern novelist in cinema. 

And where does this leave Visconti? Or, in a different way, Bertolucci? But while Bertolucci makes “films,” Visconti, with an uncommon artistic temperament, illustrates novels. An exception must be made for La terra trema, which is, I repeat, an authentic cinematographic work. 

Overall, Visconti illustrated yesterday’s novels: [Camillo} Boito, [Albert} Camus, [Thomas} Mann, [Fedor} Dostoevskij, and [Gabriele} D’Annzmzio. Rocco [and His Brothers] is an exception. You, on the other hand, do not illustrate. You write narratives with your camera, and you always deal with novels of today, if not of tomorrow. 

Camus is a contemporary, too. But the film The Stranger shows that this novel was not the right kind of novel for Visconti. As for myself, I can tell you that I try to “show” stories, and in showing them I tell them. Naturally, these stories thereby become something personal, even in their form. In Visconti, instead, there is the strength of the facts, a great deal of respect for what happened to others. I do not know – if you were to ask me the same question ten minutes from now, I might answer differently.

Blow-Up came from a story by a South American writer. Why did you set the film in London? 

I read Cortazar’s story, I liked it, and I wrote a subject, adapting it to myself In Italy I did not find the right environment, so I went to London. It was the period of  “Swinging London.” That sparkling milieu, if I can call it that, was what I wanted.

Since the film dealt with the problem of knowledge, of whether reality can be attained or not, every viewer interpreted it in his own way. Was this what you wanted? 

Blow-Up is a film that lends itself to many interpretations because the issue behind it is precisely the appearance of reality. Therefore, everyone can think what he wants.

You were, without a doubt, sympathetic toward the character of the photographer. Is the film in some way your ideal self-portrait? 

I like the protagonist. I like his life. When I made the film, I also lived his sort of life and enjoyed it. It was a fun lifestyle, which I led only to follow the character, not because it was my own life.

What about the idea for the tennis match with no rackets and no balls? 

You are asking where ideas come from. In general, ideas have a very confusing history. They come out of nowhere and then, little by little, they become more precise. I think this is what happens in poetry: words are born in the mind of the poet, and then they put themselves into place and they become verse.

Then, in the film, is reality only appearance? Is reality equal to appearance, illusion, dreams? 

I would not say that the appearance of reality is equal to reality itself, because appearances can vary. There can also be many realities, but I am not sure about this, I do not believe it. Maybe reality is a relationship. I am not in the habit of thoroughly examining the themes of a film from a philosophical point of view; that is not my job.

In thinking of  Blow-Up and The Passenger, I’m prompted to ask what Pirandello represents for you. 

Pirandello remains very fascinating today, although the issues he raised are a little muddled and forced. On a practical level, nonetheless, if we examined people’s lives today, many of Pirandello’s dramas would turn out to be true in our foolish Italian society. Pirandello is among the writers who best understood our country, those who “most saw it live.”

Besides your discovery of Camus and your experience with Carne, has France meant a lot in your life? 

I have to say that I thoroughly studied French literature, poetry in particular. But then, when I moved on to English literature, I put my French studies aside. Maybe because I felt that English poetry adhered more directly to life. France has been a cultural experience, while the study of English literature, especially poetry has been a life experience. I felt that those works belonged more to reality, while the French works belonged to exceptional figures of a certain reality. Mallarme has an extraordinary mind, but it is a mind, not the symbol of its age. It is just him, that is all. But maybe I am wrong. Or maybe you are wrong by wanting me to answer these questions.

During the 1960s someone defined you, with perhaps a hint of disappointment, as “the eternal experimental director.” What effect did this ambiguous opinion have on you? 

I was flattered. Being experimental was a novelty, and since I consider art to be the pinnacle of novelty and beauty, to call me an experimentalist meant to call me an artist.

Not knowing who to compare you to (since it is easier to compare other directors to you), a French critic compared you to [Orson] Welles. Maybe because Welles was one of the greatest innovators in the history of modern cinema. 

Or maybe because he, too, always dealt with love stories.

Truffaut maintained that Welles was a “feminine” filmmaker. 

Sometimes Truffaut says strange things. I find Welles very masculine as an artist and a narrator. He deals with stories and characters in a masculine way.

Were there any directors who were an inspiration to you, when you were starting out? 

I really liked Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne. I liked his way of  “dodging” the main scenes; he let you see only the consequences of the main scenes. What also seemed extraordinary was his way of enhancing the characters against the environment. Certain full shots of Maria Casares remain unforgettable. Maybe this was also because Casares was an actress that was gifted with a unique presence.

Of the French directors of the Golden Age, who left the biggest impression upon you? 

I really loved Vigo’s A propos de Nice, which I think is a fantastic documentary. Vigo was a man who made you love him through his films. But, I think that the greatest of them all is Renoir. I believe he made the most beautiful films of that time in his country: The Rules 0f the Game, La Marseillaise, Grand Illusion; and then La Chienne, Boudu Saved from Drowning – it is impossible to stop naming them. 

Let’s talk a little about our national cinema. After Rossellini and Visconti, is there another director that you like? 

I never said that I only liked Rossellini and Visconti. One day, just for fun, I made a list of Italian directors worthy of that name. The list was more than one hundred names long. The best are known by everyone: Fellini, Rosi, Petri, Ferreri, Bertolucci, Bellocchio, Olmi, the Taviani Brothers, Zurlini, Brusati, Vancini, etc. Someone who is often ignored, but who actually is an unusual director, is “Citto” Maselli.(Francesco Maselli began his career as assistant director in Antonioni’s early films. He then went on to make his own features, such as one of the episodes of Love in the City and an adaptation of Moravia’s Gliindifferenti [The Indifferents; 1963].) He leads a rather reckless life and is involved in too many things. But he’s someone who brings Italian cinema back to an original sensibility. 

What do you think are Fellinis best films? 

8 1/2  and Amarcord. But also The White Sheik, I vitelloni, and certain episodes of Casanova (I would place the Roman episode among the best of Fellini, like the scene on the expressway in Fellinis Roma.) How is it possible to speak of Fellini in a few words?

What do you think of Italian comedy? This is not supposed to be a provocative question, because I know that you are an extremely open-minded viewer. 

I am an attentive viewer, but when I go to a movie I like to laugh and be moved. After all, I am a rather candid viewer. I watch films with a candid eye. If Italian comedy is funny, I laugh.

What about the critics? I have a feeling that at the beginning the Italian critics did not help you as you deserved. No one said, for instance, that Story of a Love Affair was a striking debut. 

In the beginning, the critics were more or less benevolent, as they only accused me of being over-refined, and therefore cold. Then they changed their stance and said that I was difficult. But they also praised me a lot, in Italy and abroad. I cannot complain about the critics, even though I often think that they praise me for the wrong reasons.

Among the many, and sometimes odd, learned references put forth by critics, there was an attempt to place you within the 50-called ecole du regard. According to these critics, you had carried on an experiment in the field of cinema similar to the one attempted in writing by authors like Robbe-Grille!, Simon, Butor, (i.e., the new relations between subject and object, the “primacy” of things, the restraint from proposing specific meanings, etc.). What do you have to say about this comparison? 

I must say honestly that when the French began to talk about the ecole du regard for my films, I had never read a nouveau roman. I read them later. I have always given a lot of importance to objects. Within a frame, the object can be as important as the characters. What is important is to influence the viewers to become aware of the objects as they are of the characters. 

By now everyone knows that you write very well. Were you ever tempted to become a writer? 

I enjoy writing. By this I mean putting one word after another, giving form to a thought that comes to my mind – almost always in inappropriate or not-too-precise words. The pieces that I do for Corriere della sera are very sincere. I remember that the first time I was tempted to write was while I was reading Gide’s translation of [Conrad’s] Typhoon. There is a passage that Gide translated very freely and that is more beautiful than in the original. For me, Conrad is a more important writer than Gide, but here, however, Gide had an intuition that Conrad had not had. Many times people have called me a formalist, and I cannot deny that I have always paid a great deal of attention to form. What I cannot under­ stand is why one shouldn’t. If you transform an object into an image, it’s not only a question of form, but also a more subtle question that has to do with the relationship of things to the air, of things to the world. The world of reality is the concept that is always present in an image – that is, the world of those things that are seen, and the world of all that is behind those things. Cinema is a mnenomic synthesis, which always presupposes in the memory of the viewer what is not present on the screen, or what happened before, as well as all of the possible developments of the present situation. That is why the best way to watch a film is to have it become a personal experience. At the moment in which we watch a film, we unconsciously evoke what is inside of us, our life, our joys and our pains, our thoughts­ our “mental vision of the past and the present,” as Susan Sontag would say. 

Are there writers who meant a lot for you in your youth? And later on? In 1961, you mentioned Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pasternak – 

I often changed. I was infatuated with Gide and I read all of his work in two months. Then I moved on; he was too much of a moralist. I do not think that I mentioned only the authors that you recalled. Many others were important to me, not only the classics but also minor authors like [Paul] Nizan, [Adelbert von] Chamisso, or even [Raymond] Chandler. Don’t be surprised that I mention such different types of writers. My readings are very disorderly. After all, I do not think that there should be an absolute hierarchy in literature. By reading or by seeing films or pictures or buildings, I try to fill up those empty spaces that I think all of us face now and then as an abyss that opens in front of us. In this way, it is not the choice that counts, nor its quality. What one needs is material that can be used. It is like filling up ditches that we find in our path; you throw in a lot of fertile soil, but also other things, things that are found nearby, even in the trash. What is important is to refill the hole.

It seems like a wager. You talk about how feelings change, about how consciousness evolves through abstraction, through a fixity in the style of – the paintings by Piero della Francesca. This might sound naive, but this is what has always struck me in your work. I am thinking of Bernard Dorts observation: ‘In Antonioni’s films all changes and nothing is transformed ” 

I like the reference to Piero della Francesca. Piero is my favorite painter.

Is this almost abstract fixity something that you consciously search for? (This is an attempt to force you out of your restraint, but maybe I shouldn’t insist.) 

A frame is never the fruit of reason, it is an instinctive choice. But to go back to Bernard Dort’s observation – it is intriguing. How many things do they see in my films! The other day I received a thousand-page manuscript from an American on Red Desert. I can’t understand how so much can be written on one film.

You once stated: “First I became aware of a disease affecting the emotions and then of the actual emotions. What did you mean by this? 

Whenever a relationship deteriorates, emotions come under discussion. When all is going well, nobody thinks of them. I meant it in that sense.

How closely can this disease of our emotions be connected to the type of society that we live in today? 

Emotions are so fragile that they can become sick very easily, like human beings. It is not that you can easily say how they could get better. They would have perhaps to live in a healthier society. But then I wonder what is meant by a “healthier” society! Give me an example of a healthy society in the world.

Both Catholics and Marxists have criticized you at times for your “resigned sadness,” “bitter psychologism, a will to categorically demonstrate that “the heart of man is a cemetery of feelings.” 

Literature has always dealt with sickness and pain. I do not think that there exists a great work that is motivated by joy or goodness. They say that goodness has no history.

An artist’s political and social obligations are discussed more than his moral ones. Assuming that this distinction makes sense, what do you think is the most important obligation for an artist? Can an artist’s work be detached from an ”ethical” basis? 

What’s important is to be at peace with your conscience. That’s all. I do not know if this means reasoning in ethical or political terms. I am sure that politicians rarely reason in this way.

Will you tell us something about the latest projects you are hoping to complete? We can begin, if you don’t mind, with The Color of Feelings. 

This film was intended to be a kind of small treatise on jealousy, viewed from an obsessive standpoint – that is, it was the story of a man obsessed by jealousy. The story developed on three levels: the level of reality, the level of memory, and the level of the imagination. This structure gave me the opportunity to, let me say, “color” the events in three different ways, according to each of the different levels they belonged to. I wanted to make this film with video cameras so as to have a wider range of effects. In agreement with Barthes, I also used fragments of his book A Lover’s Discourse. Fragments. I sent him the script and he wrote me a very nice letter, with pertinent and flattering observations. One day I hope to pick up this project again, if someone doesn’t do it before me. Another project was a film I was going to make in the U.S.S.R. It was called L’aquilone [The Kite]’ I traveled all over Russia scouting for locations, and in the end I stopped in Uzbekistan, in a city called Khiva, with a medieval historical center that is practically untouched. It was supposed to be a very costly film (it was a science-fiction fable), and although the Russians were prepared to give me all I needed, they could not have given me what they did not have: a special-effects crew like the Americans and the English could provide. So I had to give it up. 

In conclusion, when you make a film, what do you worry about most? 

The only thing I worry about is myself. I am never happy when I film; I do not know why. One of the rare times when I was happy was during the final explosion in Zabriskie Point. I was very tense, but happy. The audacity of the scene was so appealing! I hope this confession of mine will not be misinterpreted. I will steal a wonderful quotation from Chekhov’s diary to make myself understood: “I was happy only once: under a parasol.”


“La storia del cinema la fanna i film,” from Parla il cinema italiano, edited bv Aldo Tassone, Milan: Il formichiere, 1979.

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