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Michelangelo Antonioni, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI
[[http://www.quirinale.it/onorificenze/DettaglioDecorato.asp?idprogressivo=11522&iddecorato=114 Honour at Quirinale website]] (29 September 1912 – 30 July 2007) was an Italian modernist film director.
Michelangelo Antonioni was born into a well-to-do family of landowners in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy. The director explained to Italian film critic Aldo Tassone:
:My childhood was a happy one. My mother, Elisabetta Roncagli, was a warm and intelligent woman who had been a labourer in her youth. My father also was a good man. Born into a working-class family, he succeeded in obtaining a comfortable position through evening courses and hard work. My parents gave me free rein to do what I wanted: with my brother, we spent most of our time playing outside with friends. Curiously enough, our friends were invariably proletarian, and poor. The poor still existed at that time, you recognized them by their clothes. But even in the way they wore their clothes, there was a fantasy, a frankness that made me prefer them to boys of bourgeois families. I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous.
While still a child, Antonioni was fond of drawing and music. A precocious violinist, he gave his first concert at the age of nine. Although he abandoned the violin with the discovery of cinema in his teens, drawing would remain a lifelong passion. "I have never drawn, even as a child, either puppets or silhouettes but rather facades of houses and gates. One of my favourite games consisted of organising towns. Ignorant in architecture, I constructed buildings and streets crammed with little figures. I invented stories for them. These childhood ''happenings'' - I was eleven years old - were like little films."
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, but left it after three months. He was drafted into the army afterwards.
Antonioni died aged 94 on July 30, 2007 in Rome, the same day that another renowned film director, Ingmar Bergman, also died. Antonioni lay in state at City Hall in Rome where a large screen showed black-and-white footage of him among his film sets and behind-the-scenes. He was buried in his home town of Ferrara on August 2, 2007.
Early film work
In 1942, Antonioni co-wrote ''Un pilota ritorna'' with Roberto Rossellini and worked as assistant director on Enrico Fulchignoni's ''I due Foscari''. In 1943, he travelled to France to assist Marcel Carné on ''Les visiteurs du soir'' and then began a series of short films with ''Gente del Po'' (1943), a story of poor fishermen of the Po valley. After the Liberation, the film stock was stored in the East-Italian Fascist "Republic of Salo" and could not be recovered and edited until 1947 (the complete footage was never retrieved). These films were neorealist in style, being 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'' (1955), Antonioni experimented with a radical new style: instead of a conventional narrative, he presented a series of apparently disconnected events, and he used long takes as part of his film making style.
Antonioni returned to their use in ''L'avventura'' (1960), which became his first international success. At the Cannes Film Festival it received a mixture of cheers and boos, [Penelope Houston, [http://film.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/0,,2138557,00.html "Obituary: Michelangelo Antonioni"], ''The Guardian'' (31 July 2007). Retrieved on 21-12-08.] but the film was popular in art house cinemas around the world. ''La notte'' (1961), starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and ''L'eclisse'' (1962), starring Monica Vitti and Alain Delon, followed ''L'avventura''. These three films are commonly referred to as a trilogy because they are stylistically similar and all concerned with the alienation of man in the modern world. ''La notte'' won the Golden Bear award at the 11th Berlin International Film Festival, His first color film, ''Il deserto rosso'' (''Red Desert'', 1964), deals with similar themes, and is sometimes considered the fourth film of the "trilogy" [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/movies/04hold.html].
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), set in Swinging London, was a major success. The script was loosely based on the short story ''The Devil's Drool'' (otherwise known as ''Blow Up'') by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. 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 explicit for the time. It starred David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. The second film was ''Zabriskie Point'' (1970), his first set in America and with a counterculture theme. The soundtrack carried popular artists such as Pink Floyd (who wrote new music specifically for the film), the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. However, it's release was a critical and commercial disaster. The third, ''The Passenger'' (1975), starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, 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 Mao government of the People's Republic of China to visit the country. He made the documentary ''Chung Kuo, Cina'', but it was severely denounced by the Chinese authorities as "anti-Chinese" and "anti-communist".
[Eco and Leefeldt, 8-12] 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 more. 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 1994 he was given the Honorary Academy Award "in recognition of his place as one of the cinema's master visual stylists." 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.
[Ian Johnston, [http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/53/cronaca.htm "We’re Not Happy and We Never Will Be: On ''Cronaca di un amore''"], ''Bright Lights Film Journal'' (August 2006). Retrieved on 21-12-08.] However, it was not well-received internationally; in America, for example, Roger Ebert claimed that it was neither erotic nor about eroticism. [Ebert, [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050407/REVIEWS/50323002/1001 ''Eros''], ''Chicago Sun-Times'' (April 8, 2005). Retrieved on 21-12-08.] The U.S. DVD release of the film includes another 2004 short film by Antonioni, ''Lo sguardo di Michelangelo'' (''The Gaze of Michelangelo'').
Film historian Virginia Wright Wexman describes Antonioni's perspective on the world as that of a "postreligious Marxist and existentialist intellectual."
[Wexman, 312.] In a speech at Cannes about ''L'Avventura'', Antonioni said that in the modern age of reason and science, mankind 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." [Interview with Antonioni conducted in Rome, 29 July 1969. Cf. Samuels, 15-32.]
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."
[Bordwell and Thompson, 427-428.] 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 seven-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 summarizes his style in the following terms: "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 colour as a significant expressive element of his cinematic style, especially in ''Il deserto rosso'', his first colour film.
Bordwell explains 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".
Film director Akira Kurosawa considered Antonioni one of the most interesting filmmakers. Stanley Kubrick listed ''La Notte'' as one of his ten favorite films in a 1963 Poll. [Ciment, 34.] Andrei Tarkovsky also listed Antonioni as one of his favorite filmmakers. Miklós Jancsó considers Antonioni as his master.
Antonioni's spare style and purposeless characters, however, have not received universal acclaim. Ingmar Bergman stated in 2002 that he considered some of Antonioni's films, including ''Blowup'' and ''La notte'', masterpieces for their detached and dreamlike quality, but found the other films boring and noted that he had never understood why Antonioni was held in such esteem. Orson Welles regretted the Italian director's use of the long take: "I don't like to dwell on things. It's one of the reasons I'm so bored with Antonioni - the 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."
* ''Cronaca di un amore'' (''Chronicle of a Love'', 1950)
* ''I vinti'' (''The Vanquished'', 1952)
* ''La signora senza camelie'' (''Camille Without Camellias'', 1953)
* ''Le amiche'' (''The Girl Friends'', 1955)
* ''Il grido'' (''The Outcry'', 1957)
* ''L'avventura'' (''The Adventure'', 1960)
* ''La notte'' (''The Night'', 1961)
* ''L'eclisse'' (''The Eclipse'', 1962)
* ''Il deserto rosso'' (''The Red Desert'', 1964)
* ''Blowup'' (1966)
* ''Zabriskie Point'' (1970)
* ''Chung Kuo, Cina'' (documentary, 1972)
* ''Professione: reporter'' (''The Passenger'', 1975)
* ''Il mistero di Oberwald'' (''The Mystery of Oberwald'', 1981)
* ''Identificazione di una donna'' (''Identification of a Woman'', 1982)
* ''Beyond the Clouds'' (''Par Dela Les Nuages'', 1995 - co-credited with Wim Wenders)
* ''Gente del Po'' (''People of the Po'', 10 min, shot in 1943, released in 1947)
* ''N.U. (Nettezza urbana)'' (''Dustmen'', 11 min, 1948)
* ''Oltre l'oblio'' (1948)
* ''Roma-Montevideo'' (1948)
* ''L'amorosa menzogna'' (''Loving Lie'', 10 min, 1949)
* ''Sette cani e un vestito'' (''Seven Reeds, One Suit'', 10 min, 1949)
* ''Bomarzo'' (1949)
* ''Ragazze in bianco'' (''Girls in white'', 1949)
* ''Superstizione'' (''Superstition'', 9 min, 1949)
* ''La villa dei mostri'' (''The House of Monsters'', 10 min, 1950)
* ''La funivia del Faloria'' (''The Funicular of Mount Faloria'', 10 min, 1950)
* ''Inserto girato a Lisca Bianca'' (TV, 8 min, 1983)
* ''Kumbha Mela'' (18 min, 1989)
* ''Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale'' (''Volcanoes and Carnival'', 8 min, 1993)
* ''Sicilia'' (9 min, 1997)
* ''Lo sguardo di Michelangelo'' (''The Gaze of Michelangelo'', 15 min, 2004)
Episodes in omnibus films
* ''Tentato suicido'' ("When Love Fails", episode in ''L'amore in città'', 1953)
* ''Il provino'' (segment in ''The Three Faces of a Woman'' - ''I tre volti'', 1965)
* ''Roma'' (segment in ''12 registi per 12 città'', promotional film for Soccer World Championship, 1989)
* ''Il filo pericoloso delle cose'' ("The Dangerous Thread of Things", segment in ''Eros'', 2004)