There's A Thousand Sides To Everything: Zabriskie Point (1970)

I often think that I am the only person on earth who does not appreciate Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura.  To me it reeks of bourgeois pretension and lacks any real underlying value aside from a couple of aging men and women coming to existential realizations within themselves.  I was dreading the possibility of having the same experience with Zabriskie Point, particularly in the films opening scenes, which consist of nothing but debates amongst angst ridden college kids.  However, as the film picked up and began to gain some pacing I found myself infatuated within its eccentricities and stunning visual pondering (something that I can credit to L'Avventura).  I thoroughly enjoyed Zabriskie Point, which is funny given that it is one of Antonioni's less respected films.  Perhaps I just do not get Antonioni, but to me this is a far superior film to L'Avventura in its believability and subsequent accessibility.  It could of course have everything to do with Pink Floyd helping create the soundtrack, because after all they are one of my favorite bands.

The narrative of Zabriskie Point is incredibly disjointed involving a vague story about a group of college students revolting against "the man."  This is problematic, because the only image of "the man" we are given is that of a corporate organization whose aim is to sell homes in an idealize suburb that is so fabricated that the commercials use mannequins in place of humans.  It is obvious that these kids are revolting against capitalism, the irony, however, is that these kids are inextricably stuck inside the capitalist beast, an image that Antonioni reinforces by placing characters in the corners of frames that consist of large advertisements and corporate imagery.  This seems to be the case for every character until Mark (Mark Frechette) appears.  Mark is a spitting image of Peter Fonda's character in Easy Rider and matches him in his indifference and desire to rebel at any cost.  His rebellious nature is so strong, in fact, that he commits murder in response to what he believes to be an unjust murder at the hands of local law enforcement.  Realizing he has committed a crime, Mark flees, by plane, to the desert.  While flying he views a women fixing her car on a long desert road.  After a aerial game of cat and mouse, Mark lands and meets the girl named Daria (Daria Halprin), a woman who works for the corporate group shown earlier and is on her way to meet them at their desert abode.  Deciding that Mark is a far more interesting character the duo decide to traipse through the desert that includes intense political debate and what can be read as an LSD-induced orgiastic sexual encounter.  The result is that the couple is now reunited with the earth, Mark returns to the city with the plane he has stolen and Daria continues on to her job.  The only difference now is that Daria realizes her place in this capitalist machine and decides to sabotage the cogs in the only way she sees fit, explosive obliteration.  Thus, the film ends with images of consumer goods being literally blown to smithereens, implying that a destruction of capitalism is possible, and a very beautiful thing indeed.

I incorporated my bit of analysis into the plot, because I have a different issue to bring up as it relates to this film.  I noted that this film, to me, is far more enjoyable than L'Avventura.  This led me to reconsider the notion about a director having an undeniable masterpiece.  Many people point to L'Avventura as Antonioni's masterpiece.  While I am at no point to say that Zabriskie Point may be his best work, it does have me reconsidering the validity of a masterpiece.  For example, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is often cited as his best film, but I am of the opinion that is simply his most widely viewed and recognized, to me The Bad Sleep Well or Kagemusha are far more realized films than his early work.  This action also occurs with directors like Orson Welles whose most widely acclaimed work is Citizen Kane.  While Citizen Kane is certainly a crowning cinematic achievement, it often cast a shadow over his other fantastic works, most notably his late film Touch of Evil.  I am in no way trying to dismiss these directors other films, but I find it disconcerting that many people will cite one film as a directors best work without truly considering their entire body of work in the process.  I guess I am being a bit idealistic, but I am at a point in my film viewing life that I can say what I am about to say.  A person should not be able to definitively claim a director's best work until they have seen each of their films, it just seems illogical.  Sure, you can have a favorite, but that choice should not become the standing decision for the entirety of film criticism, and I believe this may be the case with a director like Antonioni.  Be what it may, Zabriskie Point is a better movie than L'Avventura, and I plan on viewing the rest of Antonioni's work before claiming it to be his best film.

Ignoring that rather long tangent into essentializing a director's films, I do strongly recommend getting this film, if only for its intensely captivating cinematography.  Sadly their is only a DVD copy available, but we can always hope that Criterion picks it up in the near future.

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