The Night, The Eclipse, The Dawn (November 1964)

Your three previous films, L’avventura, La notte, The Eclipse gave, the impression of developing out of one another and standing along the same line of inquiry. And now you seem to have reached a new destination with Red Desert. For the ‘woman in the film, perhaps, it is a desert but for you, it is something fuller; more complete: it’s a film about the whole world and not just about the world of today.

For the moment, it’s very hard for me to talk about Red Desert. It’s too recent a film. I’m still too close to the “intentions” that drove me to make it; I don’t have the clarity of thought and the detachment necessary to judge it correctly. Still, I think I can say that this time I haven’t made a film about feelings. The results that I had obtained from my previous films – good or bad as they may be – have by now become obsolete. The question is completely different. At one time, I was interested in the relationships of characters to one another. Now, instead, the main character must confront her social environment, and that’s why I treat the story in a completely different way.

It’s too simplistic to say – as many people have done – that I am condemning the inhuman industrial world which oppresses the individuals and leads them to neurosis. My intention – and I realize that one always knows where one starts off, but very rarely where one is going to – my intention was to translate the poetry of that world, in which even factories can be beautiful. The lines and curves of factories and their chimneys can be more beautiful than the outline of trees, which we are already too accustomed to seeing. It is a rich world, alive and serviceable. Continue reading


The Eclipse (October 1975)

Thirteen years ago, The Eclipse appeared as the film that would complete the existential discourse that began with L’avventura and was followed by La notte. Their common theme was alienation and the crisis of emotions within a bourgeois context. The Eclipse ended with the total silence of the human voice, with man reduced to a simple object. How would you represent middle­ class man today? The same way you represented him then or would you give him a different destiny? 

I would say that the bourgeoisie of that time was quite different from the one of today. From what it’s possible to understand – from things that happen every once in a while, most of all in Italy – it seems to me that the middle-class is very much involved in social and political life in order to defend its privileges, but also because of an internal corruption, which will eventually bring the middle-class, I believe, to its extinction. Society is proceeding along certain channels where it’s difficult to find a way out. I am neither a sociologist nor a politician, but it seems to me that – not only in Italy, but throughout the world – we are moving toward a certain type of society. The middle-class is showing signs of deterioration with its “angry” reaction to the leveling-out that is taking place in society. Therefore, if I had to make The Eclipse today, I would be even harder on them, more violent.

In the film I directed thirteen years ago, there are signs of violence that are connected with money. Today it would be even more so. It probably would no longer be connected with the Stock Exchange, because the Stock Exchange – although it still survives-already shows signs of its ineffectiveness. Probably – but I am not sure of it – the society of tomorrow will no longer have a need for the Stock Exchange. The changes in the price of gold, of the dollar, of the lira, the “monetary serpent” and all of these things so difficult to follow (I studied finance when I was at the University and it was so abstruse that I had to strive hard to pass the exams) are manifestations of mechanisms that are getting more and more “rusty.” I could be mistaken, but on the outside, to a non­ expert like me, that’s how things look. And yet the survival of the middle­ class is tied to these mechanisms. I am not making a political statement, nor am I speaking as an economist of the left would. I am speaking as a fIlmmaker, as someone who is used to looking at reality, to drawing certain conclusions from events, from facts, from feelings. I would say that The Eclipse is still a modern film in that its protagonists are people who do not believe in feelings – that is, they limit them to certain things. Continue reading

L’Avventura (September 1960)

How would you define your journey toward realism? 

I think that cinema, as a form of spectacle, is destined to undergo a transformation in the near future. For years now it has been showing signs of fatigue. In many countries, cinema is no longer able to compete with television, although from the artistic point of view television is at a much earlier stage of development. This is proof that cinema has wasted time following paths which are by now well-trodden. Cinematic narrative has lost a lot of its original character, and it is less and less able to satisfy the demands of today’s public. Old formulas are constantly reiterated.

Despite the changes which have occurred in the last few years, directors are limited by technology. Forced to respect a series of conventions which influence his style, the director has lost his freedom over the subject of the film, over his own reality. This is alarmingly apparent in today’s films, and instances of interesting experimentation remain isolated incidents. Producers are undoubtedly the main culprits in this state of affairs. With few exceptions they are highly conservative; and they are such, if I may say so, almost by definition. At times you can still find some producers who venture onto less traveled paths to make unconventional films, but very often the lack of freedom from which cinema suffers almost everywhere dampens their initial enthusiasm. So they end up adapting to the norms and sticking to the tried and true.

After the war-after years of dramatic events, of fear and anxiety, of uncertainty over the fate of the world-it wasn’t possible to talk about anything else. A great French writer said: “There are moments when you don’t talk about trees because you are angry with trees.” There are also times when it would be dishonest for an intelligent man to ignore certain events, for an intelligence that quits is a contradiction in terms. I think that anyone who makes cinema should never lose the link with his own times. This doesn’t mean however that he has to reproduce and interpret its most dramatic events. (You can laugh too, why not? As a viewer I enjoy funny films). It’s a question of finding in ourselves the echo of our times. For a director this is the only way of being sincere and consistent toward himself, and honest and forthright toward other people-the only way to live. And yet I believe that the principle of”ever-greater truth” which in its most crude form is at the root of Italian neorealism, should today be broadened and deepened. Continue reading

Conversation (June 1985)

Having seen your films, especially Red Desert, the show of  “Enchanted Mountains” didn’t surprise me at all. I know you have always been a painter. Do you think there is a close relationship between painting and cinema? 

No, I think that cinema is very close to all forms of art – in a sense, it is the culmination of them all. It is a richer, fuller medium. Through cinema it is possible to tell what is true and what isn’t, what is beautiful and what isn’t – everything, truth and lies. The only thing that matters is to be convincing on screen. At that point there is no longer any true or false; all that’s left is cinema on a blank screen, and that is extraordinary.

How did you come to painting?

I painted when I was young and I kept it up as a student; I enjoyed it. I did portraits (of my mother and father, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin), I did architectural drawings. But I never had any artistic ambitions. Then, when I was working on Red Desert, I took up my brushes again in order to refamiliarize myself with color. And in the last few years I have gone back to painting again, taking advantage of the fact that I could not make films, since my inner rhythm is different from what the film industry requires. But I suppose it was really curiosity that brought me back to painting. I began with abstract things. One day I was putting together the bits of a painting that had been ripped to pieces, and I realized that they were mountains. Such fun! One of those paintings, looked at under a magnifying glass, gave me a really odd feeling – I was fascinated by the material. And since I had always wanted to explore the hidden side of what appears to the naked eye, I decided to photograph it and enlarge it, using a procedure similar to what I used for Blow-Up. Photographic enlargement modifies some effects, changes certain relationships with the object, gives colors a different tonality. It’s a bit like putting a piece of pottery into a kiln: you never know what’s going to come out of it. Naturally, experience is a big help; more and more, you get to anticipate what the transformation will be. But there’s never any lack of surprises! What strikes me most is that in this way one really comes to grips with the materials of the painting. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Zabriskie Point (August 1970)

Writing is not my business. I know that I’m not a good judge of myself or of my films. Each time I must put something down on paper about myself, the same embarrassment returns. The questions put to me are always the same: why did you make that film? What were you trying to say? I’m tempted to reply: I wanted to make a film and that’s that. But if you want to know why and how I did what I did, what prompted me to do it, what I was thinking while doing it, what I wanted to say, in other words, if you want me to summarize my reasons and explain what is almost impossible to explain (impulses, intuitions, figurative choices), you will only come to this: you will come to spoil the film itself.

I think that what a director says about himself and his work does not help to understand the latter. In my case, what little knowledge I have of myself, words can, at best, clarify a particular moment, or a state of mind, a vague awareness. The answer I prefer to the above question is that, at a certain period when a film was being prepared and shot, I saw certain people, read certain books, loved X, hated Y, had no money, did not sleep well. … But even in saying that much, perhaps I am supplying involuntary explanations.

Let’s talk instead about Zabriskie Point. Talk about it now, long before these words will see print. There are marches on Washington. American universities are in revolt, four youths have been killed on an Ohio campus and two more in Jackson. It is difficult, unfortunately, to reject the temptation of feeling like a prophet. I would prefer, however, to reflect on some of the psychological aspects of violence. I’m convinced that a policeman does not have death on his mind when he enters a university or faces a mob. He has too many things to do, too many orders to follow. The policeman is not thinking of death anymore than a hunter is thinking of the death of a bird. Astronauts, in the same way, are not afraid, not because they do not know the dangers, but because they do not have the time. If the policeman gave some thought to death he probably would not shoot.

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The World Is Outside The Window (March 1975)

First of all, we would like to talk about your work on the set, about what it means to live a film-that is, to live a certain period of time, to go over that kind of work that the film itself, in its final state, tends to cancel out. 

For me, making a film is always a way of experiencing life. Generally, one thinks that when a director makes a fIlm, it is just a “parenthesis” in his or her life, while waiting for the next film and the next parenthesis. In my case, at least, this is not the way things are: I go through a continuous maturation process that involves observations, experiences, reflections, which are occasionally of political and moral character. This process goes on when I am not working, but also when I am shooting. I have previously said that my way of being autobiographical does not involve representing my own personal stories, but rather having my daily state of mind reemerge within the film. In this way, for example, when I go to work in the morning, the people I meet, the things I think about, and even the light of that day can all impress themselves upon me and can influence the way I resolve, sometimes even technically, a certain sequence. It seems to me that even this is a way of being autobiographical.

But in cinema things take time. Between the initial plan and its completion, between the idea of an image and its final actualization, months can pass, even years, often not very productive. 

Yes, but for me the process is different. I never try to produce images that I have thought of I have found that if I did this I would end up with a rough imitation of my thoughts and images. Instead, when I arrive on the set, I like to feel in a state of total “virginity” toward the scene that I have to film. Sometimes, obviously this is not always possible, I prefer not to even know what I have to film. I do not want to have the time to think too much about the scene. The first idea for me is the best.

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Apropos Of Eroticism (November 1967)

Your last film, Blow-Up, was shot in London. Were you trying to avoid censorship troubles in Italy because of its erotic scenes? 

The eroticism has nothing to do with Blow-Up. There are some scenes where you see nudes, but these are not what’s important in the film. Italian censors have passed it with very little cutting.

Was it intentional, in the scene where the photographer has an orgy with the two girls in his studio, that pubic hair appear visible? 

I didn’t notice. If you can tell me where, I’ll go and look.

Do you feel that moviemakers should be free to depict total nudity on the screen? 

I don’t think it’s necessary. The most important scenes between a man and a woman don’t happen when they are naked.

Is there anything you think shouldn’t be shown on the screen? 

There can be no censorship better than one’s own conscience.

What made you choose London as the setting for Blow-Up? 

I happened to be there by chance, to see Monica Vitti while she was working in [Losey’s] Modesty Blaise. I liked the happy, irreverent atmosphere of the city. People seemed less bound by prejudice.

In what sense? 

They seemed much freer. I felt at home. In some way, I was impressed. Perhaps something changed inside me.

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