Antonioni, Michelangelo

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ANTONIONI, Michelangelo

Nationality: Italian. Born: Ferrara, Italy, 29 September 1912. Family: Married 1) Letizia Balboni, 1942; 2) Enrica Antonioni, 1986. Education: Studied at University of Bologna, 1931–35, and at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografica, Rome, 1940–41. Career: Journalist and bank teller, 1935–39; moved to Rome, 1939; film critic for Cinema (Rome) and others, 1940–49; assistant director on I due Foscari (Fulchignoni), 1942; wrote screenplays for Rossellini, Fellini, and others, 1942–52; directed first film, Gente del Po, 1943 (released 1947). Awards: Special Jury Prize, Cannes Festival, for L'avventura, 1960, and L'eclisse, 1962; FIPRESCI Award from Venice Festival, for Il deserto Rosso, 1964; Best Director Award, National Society of Film Critics, for Blow-Up, 1966; Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, for Blow-Up, 1967; Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film, 1995. Address: Via Vicenzo Tiberio 18, Rome, Italy.

Films as Director:


Cronaca di un amore (Story of a Love Affair) (+ co-sc)


I Vinti (I nostri figli; The Vanquished) (+ co-sc)


La signora senza camelie (Camille without Camelias) (+ co-sc); "Tentato suicidio" episode of L'Amore in città (+ sc)


Le amiche (The Girlfriends) (+ co-sc)


Il grido (The Outcry) (+ co-sc)


L'avventura (+ co-sc)


La notte (The Night) (+ co-sc)


L'eclisse (The Eclipse) (+ co-sc)


Deserto rosso (Red Desert) (+ co-sc)


"Prefizione" episode of Tre Volti (+ sc)


Blow-Up (+ co-sc)


Zabriskie Point (+ co-sc)


Chung Kuo (La cina) (+ sc)


Professione: Reporter (The Passenger) (+ co-sc)


Il mistero di Oberwald (The Oberwald Mystery) (+ sc)


Identificazione di una donna (+ sc)


Kumbha Mela; Roma '90




Beyond the Clouds (+ sc, ed)


Destinazione Verna (+ co-sc, pr)

Short Films as Director and Scriptwriter:


Gente del Po


N.U. (Nettezza urbana); Roma—Montevideo; Oltre l'oblio


L'amorosa menzogna; Bomarzo; Superstizione; Ragazze in bianco


Sette canne e un vestito; La villa dei mostri; La funivia del Faloria; Uomini in piú

Other Films:


Chambre 666 (role as himself)


Making a Film for Me Is Living (role as himself)


Liv (pr)


By ANTONIONI: books—

La Nuit: La Notte, with Tonino Guerra and E. Flaiano, Paris, 1961.

L'eclisse, with Tonino Guerra and E. Bartolini, Capelli, 1962.

Screenplays by Michelangelo Antonioni, New York, 1963.

Michelangelo Antonioni, Rome, 1964.

Blow-Up, with Tonino Guerra, Turin, 1968; New York, 1971.

L'Avventura, with E. Bartolini, New York, 1969; New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1989.

Il Primo Antonioni (screenplays or working scripts for early Antonioni documentaries and films), edited by Carlo di Carlo, Bologna, 1973.

Il mistero di Oberwald, Turin, 1980.

That Bowling Alley on the Tiber: Tales of a Director, Oxford, 1986.

By ANTONIONI: articles—

"Brevario del cinema," in Cinema (Rome), nos. 11, 16, 20, 37, 41, 1949.

"Le allegre ragazze del '24," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), 1956.

"There Must Be a Reason for Every Film," in Films and Filming (London), April 1959.

Interview with M. Manceaux and Richard Roud, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960/61.

Interview with André Labarthe, in New York Film Bulletin, no. 8, 1961.

"Reflections on a Film Career," in Film Culture (New York), no. 22–23, 1961.

"Eroticism—The Disease of Our Age," in Films and Filming (London), January 1961.

"La malattia dei sentimenti," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), February-March 1961.

"Making a Film Is My Way of Life," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1962.

"The Event and the Image," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1963/64.

"What Directors Are Saying," in Action (Los Angeles), September/October 1969.

"Conversazione con Michelangelo Antonioni," in Filmcritica (Rome), March 1975.

"Antonioni after China: Art versus Science," interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1975.

"Antonioni Speaks . . . and Listens," interview with R. Epstein, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1975.

"Antonioni and the Two-Headed Monster," interview with J. F. Lane, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1979/80.

Antonioni, Michelangelo, "Il 'big bang' della nascita di un film," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), December 1981.

Interview with Gideon Bachman, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1983.

Interview with F. Tomasulo, in On Film (Los Angeles), Fall 1984.

"Michelangelo critico cinematografico (1935–1949)," edited by Aldo Tassone, in Bianco e Nero (Rome), July-September 1985.

"Quel big-bang con cui esplose lo spazio," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), January/February 1987.

"Entretien avec Michelangelo Antonioni," in Camera/Stylo (Paris), December 1989.

On ANTONIONI: books—

Carpi, Fabio, Michelangelo Antonioni, Parma, 1958.

Cowie, Peter, Antonioni, Bergman, Resnais, New York, 1963.

Leprohon, Pierre, Michelangelo Antonioni: An Introduction, New York, 1963.

Taylor, John Russell, Cinema Eye, Cinema Ear, New York, 1964.

Strick, Philip, Antonioni, London, 1965.

Sarris, Andrew, Interviews with Film Directors, New York, 1967.

Cameron, Ian, and Robin Wood, Antonioni, New York, 1969.

Huss, Roy, editor, Focus on "Blow-Up," Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.

Samuels, Charles Thomas, Encountering Directors, New York, 1972.

Rifkin, Ned, Antonioni's Visual Language, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982.

Barthes, Roland, and others, Michelangelo Antonioni, Munich, 1984.

Biarese, Cesare, and Aldo Tassone, I film di Michelangelo Antonioni, Rome, 1985.

Chatman, Seymour, Antonioni; or, The Surface of the World, Berkeley, 1985.

Dervin, Daniel, Through a Freudian Lens Deeply: A Psychoanalysisof Cinema, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1985.

Mancini, Michele, and Giuseppe Perrella, Michelangelo: Architecture in Vision, Rome, 1986.

Perry, Ted, and René Prieto, Michelangelo Antonioni: A Guide toReferences and Resources, Boston, 1986.

Tinazzi, Giorgio di, Michelangelo Antonioni, Firenze, 1989.

Cuccu, Lorenzo, Antonioni: il discorso dello sguardo: da Blow-Upa Identificazione di una donna, Pisa, 1990.

Giaume, Joëëlle Mayet, Michelangelo Antonioni: le fil intéérieur, Crisnée, Belgium, 1990.

Ranieri, Nicola, Amor vacui: il cinema di Michelangelo Antonioni, Chieti, 1990.

Rohdie, Sam, Antonioni, London, 1990.

Michelangelo Antonioni, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethevon Trotta, Zurich, 1991.

Prédal, René, Michelangelo Antonioni, ou, La vigilance du désir, Paris, 1991.

Kock, Bernhard, Michelangelo Antonionis Bilderwelt: einephänomenologische Studie, München, 1994.

Arrowsmith, William, Antonioni: The Poet of Images, New York, 1995.

Cuccu, Lorenzo, Antonioni: il discorso dello sguardo e altri saggi, Pisa, 1997.

Brunette, Peter, TheFilmsofMichelangeloAntonioni, Cambridge, 1998.

Scemama-Heard, Céline, Antonioni: le désert figuré , Paris, 1998.

On ANTONIONI articles—

Bollero, Marcello, "Il documentario: Michelangelo Antonioni," in Sequenze (Italy), December 1949.

Cavallaro, Giambattista, "Michelangelo Antonioni, simbolo di una generazione," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), September 1957.

Renzi, Renzo, "Cronache del l'angoscia in Michelangelo Antonioni," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), May/June 1959.

Roud, Richard, "Michelangelo Antonioni: Five Films," in Sight andSound (London), Winter 1960/61.

Kauffmann, Stanley, "Arrival of an Artist," in the New Republic (New York), 10 April 1961.

Pepper, C. F., "Rebirth in Italy: Three Great Movie Directors," in Newsweek (New York), 10 July 1961.

Special Issue of Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1962.

"Antonioni issue" of Seventh Art (New York), Spring 1963.

Barthelme, Donald, "L'lapse," in the New Yorker, 2 March 1963.

Gerard, L. N., "Antonioni," in Films in Review (New York), April 1963.

"Michelangelo Antonioni: l'homme et l'objet," in EtudesCinématographiques (Paris), no. 36–37, 1964.

Houston, Penelope, "Keeping up with the Antonionis," in Sight andSound (London), Autumn 1964.

Garis, R., "Watching Antonioni," in Commentary (New York), April 1967.

Kinder, Marsha, "Antonioni in Transit," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1967.

Simon, J., and others, "Antonioni: What's the Point," in FilmHeritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1970.

Gow, Gordon, "Antonioni Men," in Films and Filming (London), June 1970.

Hernacki, T., "Michelangelo Antonioni and the Imagery of Disintegration," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Fall 1970.

Lane, J. F., "Antonioni Discovers China," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.

Strick, Philip, "Antonioni Report," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1973/74.

Renzi, Renzo, "Antonioni nelle vesti del drago bianco," in CinemaNuovo (Turin), May/June 1974.

Bachmann, Gideon, "Antonioni Down Under," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1976.

Burke, F., "The Natural Enmity of Words and Moving Images: Language, La notte, and the Death of the Light," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 1, 1979.

Barthes, Roland, "Lettre à Antonioni," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1980.

Special Issue of Camera/Stylo (Paris), November 1982.

"Antonioni Section" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1982.

"Antonioni Section" of Positif (Paris), January 1983.

Ranvaud, Don, "Chronicle of a Career: Michelangelo Antonioni in Context," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1983.

Aristarco, G., "Notes on Michelangelo Antonioni," and A. Graham, "The Phantom Self," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1984.

Casetti, Francesco, "Antonioni and Hitchcock: Two Strategies of Narrative Investment," SubStance (Madison, Wisconsin), vol. 15, no. 3, 1986.

"Michelangelo Antonioni," in Film Dope (London), March 1988.

Lev, Peter, "Blow-Up, Swinging London, and the Film Generation," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 17, no. 2, 1989.

Jousse, Thierry, and others, "Antonini, l'homme invisible," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1992.

Walker, Beverly, "Michelangelo and the Leviathan," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1992.

Moore, K.Z., "Eclipsing the Commonplace: The Logic of Alienation in Antonioni's Cinema," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1995.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, "Antonioni," in Sight and Sound (London), December 1995.

Hattendorf, Manfred, "Der Rest ist Nebel," in Film-dienst (Cologne), 30 January 1996.

Chatman, Seymour, "Antonioni in 1980," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1997.

Schliesser, John, "Antonioni's Heideggerian Swerve," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), October 1998.

* * *

Michelangelo Antonioni's cinema is one of non-identification and displacement. In almost all of his films shots can be found whose striking emphasis on visual structure works in opposition to the spectator's desire to identify, as in classical Hollywood cinema, with either a protagonist's existential situation or with anything like a seamless narrative continuity—the "impression of reality" so often evoked in conjunction with the effect of fiction films on the spectator.

Since his first feature, Cronaca di un amore, Antonioni's introduction of utterly autonomous, graphically stunning shots into the film's narrative flow has gradually expanded to the point where, in Professione: Reporter, but even more emphatically in Il mistero di Oberwald and Identificazione di una donna, the unsettling effect of these discrete moments in the narrative continuity of the earlier work has taken over entirely. If these graphically autonomous shots of Antonioni's films of the fifties and sixties functioned as striking "figures" which unsettled the "ground" of narrative continuity, his latest films undo altogether this opposition between form and content, technique and substance, in order to spread the strangeness of the previously isolated figure across the entirety of the film which will thus emphatically establish itself as a "text."

That which might at first seem to mark a simple inversion of this opposition—where narrative substance would take a back seat to formal technique—instead works to question, in a broad manner, the ways in which films establish themselves as fictions. Antonioni's cinema strains the traditional conventions defining fiction films to the breaking point where, beginning at least as early as Professione: Reporter, those aspects always presumed to define what is "given" or "specific" or "proper" to film (which are commonly grouped together under the general heading of "technique") find themselves explicitly incorporated into the overall fabric of the film's narration; technique finds itself drawn into that which it supposedly presents neutrally, namely, the film's fictional universe. One might name this strategy the fictionalization of technique.

Such a strategy, however, is anything but self-reflexive, nor does it bear upon the thematics of Antonioni's films. In even those films where the protagonist has something to do with producing images, narratives, or other works of art (the filmmaker of La signora senza camelie, the architect of L'avventura, the novelist of La notte, the photographer of Blow-Up, the television reporter of Professione: Reporter, the poet of Il mistero di Oberwald, and the film director of Identificazione di una donna), their professions remain important only on the level of the film's drama, never in terms of its technique. It is as though the image of the artist were trapped in a world where self-reflection is impossible. Indeed, one common strand linking the thematics of all of Antonioni's films—the impossibility for men to communicate with women—might be seen to illustrate, on the level of drama, the kind of communicational impasse to be found on the level of "technique" in his cinema. Though his films are far from "experimental" in the sense of the work of Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, or Andy Warhol, Antonioni's fictional narratives always feel flattened or, to borrow a term from Roland Barthes, they seem curiously mat, as if the spectator's ability to gain immediate access to the fiction were being impeded by something.

Antonioni's films, then, are not simply "about" the cinema, but rather, in attempting to make films which always side-step the commonplace or the conventional (modes responsible for spectatorial identification and the "impression of reality"), they call into question what is taken to be a "language" of cinema by constructing a kind of textual idiolect which defies comparison with any other film, even Antonioni's other films. This may at least in part account for the formidable strangeness and difficulty of Antonioni's work, not just for general audiences but for mainstream critics as well. One constantly has the impression that the complexity of his films requires years in the cellar of critical speculation before it is ready to be understood; a film that is initially described as sour and flat ends up ten years later, as in the case of L'avventura, being proclaimed one of the ten best films of all time ("International Critics Poll," Sight and Sound). To judge from the reception in the United States of his most recent work, it appears that we are still at least ten years behind Antonioni.

As Antonioni has himself stressed repeatedly, the dramatic or the narrative aspect of his films—telling a story in the manner of literary narrative—comes to be of less and less importance; frequently, this is manifested by an absurd and complete absence of dramatic plausibility (Zabriskie Point, Professione: Reporter, Il mistero di Oberwald). The nonverbal logic of what remain narrative films depends, Antonioni says, upon neither a conceptual nor emotional organization: "Some people believe I make films with my head; a few others think they come from the heart; for my part, I feel as though I make them with my stomach."

—Kimball Lockhart

Michelangelo Antonioni

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Michelangelo Antonioni

The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni (born 1912) demonstrated in such compelling and original films as L'avventura and Blow-Up his belief that the failure of human feelings is the cause of modern tragedy.

Born into an upper-middle-class family in Ferrara, Michelangelo Antonioni took a degree in political economics at the University of Bologna. Having decided on a film career, he worked with the directors Roberto Rossellini and Marcel Carné, among others. The first films Antonioni directed were three notable documentary shorts: Gente del Po (1947), La funivia del Faloria (1950), and La villa dei mostri (1950).

Antonioni's first full-length dramatic effort, Cronaca di un amore (1950), was distinguished by its disavowal of the fundamental precepts of Italian neorealism as practiced by the directors Vittorio de Sica and Rossellini and later modified by Federico Fellini. Antonioni's next work, I vinti (1952), proved an unsuccessful attempt to lend thematic unity to an episodic and discursive narrative. Considerably more interesting as indicators of the consistent subjects and themes of his film career were Le amiche (1955) and II grido (1957). Both these narratives present the spiritual complexities that trouble Antonioni; they show human beings in quest of meaningful life in a hostile world.

With L'avventura (1960) Antonioni, after 10 years of virtual obscurity, suddenly set fire to complacent sensibilities of international film audiences and critics. A penetrating voyage into the tortured recesses of the mind, this film explores the difficulty of sustaining love in a cauterized and fraudulent society. This theme also provided the basis for the two subsequent works: La notte (1961) and Eclipse (1962). In both these films Antonioni stresses the impermanence of love and difficulties of communication.

Red Desert (1964) was Antonioni's first film in color. He used color to create psychological nuances and conceptual patterns not possible in chiaroscuro. The images of Red Desert explore the theme of human uneasiness in a world full of the splendors and miseries of technology. Blow-Up (1966) is a metaphysical mystery drama set in London. This film is an evocative mixture of asceticism and lyricism, which eludes patterns of interpretation and frustrates conventional expectations of plot and theme. Zabriskie Point (1970) suffers from the director's unfamiliarity with his American milieu. A portrait of troubled youth in a wealthy, neofascistic society, the work is nevertheless far superior to its American counterparts. In The Passenger (1975), Antonioni again explores the ills of modern society as the hero, a TV reporter, exchanges identities with a dead gun-runner in a futile effort to evade his own fate. The Oberwald Mystery (1980) is an adaptation of Jean Cocteau's play The Eagle Has Two Heads; shot on video, it is interesting mainly for its experimentation with color. Identification of a Woman (1982) follows a movie director's search for a new leading lady; here Antonioni returns to the theme of finding one's identity in contemporary society. The film was awarded a Grand Prix at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.

Antonioni suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1985 and was unable to complete any film project until 1995, when he released Beyond the Clouds. Codirected by German director Wim Wenders, the film presents four stories that each explore the failure of a couple to establish true communication. When the film was shown at the Venice Festival the Economist noted that its "main fascination is to watch how Mr. Antonioni looks back on his entire career and yet comes up with something different and modern."

Perhaps no other body of cinematic work depicts the frustrations, delusions, and possibilities of life and love as profoundly and truthfully as that of Antonioni. His characters move in a real world but never make meaningful contact with their environment or with each other in their search for a truth that eludes them.

Further Reading

Analyses of Antonioni's artistry are contained in Jonathan Baumbach's "From A to Antonioni: Hallucinations of a Movie Addict" in W.R. Robinson, ed., Man and the Movies (1967); in Stanley Kauffmann's "Some Notes on a Year with Blow-Up" in Richard Schickel and John Simon, eds., Film: Sixty Seven to Sixty Eight (1968); in Sam Rohdie's Antonioni (Indiana University Press, 1990), and in William Arrowsmith's Antonioni: The Poet of Images, ed. by Ted Perry (Oxford, 1995). See also the relevant sections in Stanley Kauffmann, A World on Film: Criticism and Comment (1966), Dwight MacDonald, Dwight MacDonald on Movies (1969), Economist (September 16, 1995), New Republic (October 28, 1996). □