|Date of birth:||September 29 1912|
|Date of death:||July 30 2007 (aged 94)|
|Death location:||Rome, Italy|
|Academy Awards:||Academy Honorary Award
1995 Lifetime Achievement
|Spouse:||Letizia Balboni (1942–1954)
Enrica Antonioni (1986–2007)
Michelangelo Antonioni, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (September 29, 1912 – July 30, 2007) was an Italian modernist film director whose films are widely considered as some of the most influential in film aesthetics. His non-linear plot and open-ended style became one of the hallmarks of the European art film.
Antonioni's films reflected the intellectual milieu of his day, especially Marxism and existentialism. A critic of traditional morality, his films displayed the modern paradox that humanist values often lead to both hedonism and boredom.
Michelangelo Antonioni was born in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna. Upon graduation from the University of Bologna with a degree in economics, he started writing for the local Ferrara newspaper, Il Corriere Padano, in 1935, as a film journalist.
In 1940, Antonioni moved to Rome, where he worked for Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine edited by Vittorio Mussolini. However, Antonioni was fired a few months afterward. Later that year, he enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to study film technique.
In 1942, Antonioni co-wrote Un pilota ritorna, together with Roberto Rossellini and worked as assistant director on Enrico Fulchignoni's I due Foscari. In 1943, Antonioni traveled to France to assist Marcel Carné on Les visiteurs du soir. Antonioni started shooting short films in the 1940s, with Gente del Po, a story of poor fishermen of the Po valley, on which he worked from 1943 until 1947. These films were neo-realist in style; semi-documentary studies of the lives of ordinary people.
However, Antonioni's first full-length feature film, Cronaca di un amore (1950), broke away from neorealism by depicting the middle classes. He continued to do so in a series of other films: I vinti (The Vanquished, 1952), a trio of stories, each set in a different country (France, Italy and England), about juvenile delinquency; La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camellias, 1953) about a young film star and her fall from grace; and Le amiche (The Girlfriends, 1955) about middle class women in Turin. Il grido (The Outcry, 1957) was a return to working class stories, depicting a factory worker and his daughter. Each of these stories is about social alienation.
In Le Amiche, Antonioni had experimented with a radical new style. Instead of a conventional narrative, he presented a series of apparently disconnected events, and he utilized the long take frequently. This style is potentially frustrating due to its slow pacing and lack of forward momentum. However, Antonioni returned to the style in L'avventura (1960), which was his first international success. The response at the Cannes Film Festival was a mixture of cheers and boos, but the film was popular in art house cinemas across the world. Antonioni followed it with La notte (1961) and L'eclisse (1962). These three films are commonly referred to as a trilogy because they are stylistically similar and all concerned with the alienation of humanity within the modern world. His first color film, Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964), deals with similar themes, and is sometimes considered the fourth film of the "trilogy."
Antonioni then signed a deal with producer Carlo Ponti that would allow artistic freedom on three films in English to be released by MGM. The first, Blowup (1966), which was set in England, was a major success. Although it dealt with the challenging theme of the impossibility of objective standards and the ever-doubtable truth of memory, it was a successful and popular hit with audiences, no doubt helped by its sex scenes, which were quite explicit for the time. It starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.
The second film, Zabriskie Point (1970), was Antonioni's first set in America. It was much less successful, even though its soundtrack incorporated popular artists, such as Pink Floyd (who wrote new music specifically for the film), the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones. It depicted the counterculture movement, but was heavily criticized for the blank performances of its stars, neither of whom had acted before.
The third, The Passenger (1975), starring Jack Nicholson, received critical praise, but also did poorly at the box office. It was out of circulation for many years, but was re-released for a limited theatrical run in October 2005, and has subsequently been released on DVD.
In 1972, in between Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, Antonioni was invited by the Government of the People's Republic of China in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution to visit China. He made the documentary, Chung Kuo/Cina, but it was severely denounced by the Chinese authorities as "anti-Chinese" and "anti-communist." The documentary had its first showing in China in November 25, 2004, in Beijing with a film festival hosted by the Beijing Film Academy to honor the works of Michelangelo Antonioni.
In 1980, Antonioni made Il mistero di Oberwald (The Mystery of Oberwald), an experiment in the electronic treatment of color, recorded in video and then translated to film, featuring Monica Vitti once again. It is based on Jean Cocteau's story, L'aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle With Two Heads).
Identificazione di una donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982), filmed in Italy, deals one more time with the recursive subjects of his Italian trilogy.
In 1985, Antonioni suffered a stroke, which left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak. However, he continued to make films, including Beyond the Clouds (1995), for which Wim Wenders filmed some scenes. As Wenders has explained, Antonioni rejected almost all the material filmed by Wenders during the editing, except for a few short interludes. They shared the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival with Cyclo.
In 1996, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. It was presented to him by Jack Nicholson. Months later, the statuette was stolen by burglars and had to be replaced. Previously, he had been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Blowup.
Antonioni's final film, made when he was in his 90s, was a segment of the anthology film Eros (2004), entitled "Il filo pericoloso delle cose" ("The Dangerous Thread of Things"). The short film's episodes are framed by dreamy paintings and the song "Michelangelo Antonioni," composed and sung by Caetano Veloso. However, it was not well-received; Roger Ebert, for example, claimed that it was neither erotic nor about eroticism. The U.S. DVD release of the film includes another 2004 short film by Antonioni, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo (The Gaze of Michelangelo).
Antonioni died on July 30, 2007, in Rome, aged 94, the same day that another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman, also died. Antonioni lay in state at City Hall in Rome until his funeral, where a large screen showed black-and-white footage of him around his film sets and backstage. He was buried in his beloved home town of Ferrara on August 2, 2007.
Film historian Virginia Wright Wexman describes Antonioni's perspective on the world as that of a "postreligious Marxist and existentialist intellectual." In a speech at Cannes about L'Avventura, Antonioni said that in the modern age of reason and science, humankind still lives by "a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness." He said his films explore the paradox that "we have examined those moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this, but we have not been capable of finding new ones." Nine years later he expressed a similar attitude in an interview, saying that he loathed the word "morality:" "When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them."
Hence, one of the recurring themes in Antonioni's films is characters who suffer from ennui and whose lives are empty and purposeless aside from the gratification of pleasure or the pursuit of material wealth. Film historian David Bordwell writes that in his films, "Vacations, parties, and artistic pursuits are vain efforts to conceal the characters' lack of purpose and emotion. Sexuality is reduced to casual seduction, enterprise to the pursuit of wealth at any cost."
Antonioni's films tend to have spare plots and dialogue, and much of the screen time is spent lingering on certain settings, such as the ten-minute continuous take in The Passenger, or the scene in L'Eclisse in which Monica Vitti stares curiously at electrical posts accompanied by ambient sounds of wires clanking. Virginia Wright Wexman describes his style thus:
The camera is placed at a medium distance more often than close in, frequently moving slowly; the shots are permitted to extend uninterrupted by cutting. Thus each image is more complex, containing more information than it would in a style in which a smaller area is framed … In Antonioni's work we must regard his images at length; he forces our full attention by continuing the shot long after others would cut away.
Antonioni is also noted for exploiting color as a significant expressive element of his cinematic style, especially in Il deserto rosso, his first color film.
David Bordwell states that Antonioni's films were extremely influential on subsequent art films: "More than any other director, he encouraged filmmakers to explore elliptical and open-ended narrative."
Antonioni's spare style and purposeless characters have not been admired by all critics. Ingmar Bergman once remarked that he admired some of Antonioni's films for their detached and sometimes dreamlike quality. However, while he considered Blowup and La notte masterpieces, he called the other films boring and noted that he had never understood why Antonioni was held in such esteem. Coincidentally, both Antonioni and Bergman died on the same day in 2007.
In the 1992 interview book, This Is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich, Welles remarks: "I don't like to dwell on things. It's one of the reasons I'm so bored with Antonioni—that belief that, because a shot is good, it's going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, 'Well, he's not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.' But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she's gone."
Antonioni's name appears in the song "La Vie Boheme" from the popular musical Rent, in the company of other cultural icons like Bernardo Bertolucci and Akira Kurosawa.
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