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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:15 am 
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lubitsch wrote:
Antonioni's weaknesses are clear and obvious: His characters are uninvolving cyphers, merely illustrating a master thesis. His shots, however well done individually, not necessarily add up to a picture or serve the "story". The stories finally often merely are an excuse to let either a character wander aimlessly or group characters together in a room where they fail to connect and bore each other. And for a director who supposedly has to offer an analysis of contemporary society, his films rarely move beyond the boredom of upper class people and fail badly when engaging more tangible developments like Mao's China or the 60s USA. To sum it up, it is a blunt cinema of messages not very far from Stanley Kramer.

Talk about the pitfalls of supposed objectivity. I think you're making a lot of assumptions about the uses and abuses of cinema and narrative art in general, lubitsch. Characters and story are only two possible desirable ends amongst many. Antonioni is concerned with both (as is clear in the way he shifts focus amongst individuals and abruptly dead ends the main narrative in L'avventura, for example) but neither have any primacy or priority over the other elements of his art. As I understand his films, he is most concerned with depicting subjects or subjectivities (different from characters) attempting to mediate time and space between themselves and other subjects. There are many, many other aspects to his work and others would have different opinions. But you're barking up the wrong tree if you come to him expecting undivided attention to the twin pillars of classicism, story and character.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:21 am 
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rrenault wrote:
Mr Sausage wrote:
rrenault wrote:
...even Bunuel are all highly objective filmmakers who film the outside world just as it exists without engaging in much philosophical/intellectual inquiry.

Wow, you could not be more mistaken. Bunuel is a parodist and a surrealist. Nothing in his films is objective; they are mediated by a highly distorting, playful subjectivity. Dream and fantasy are as important to the narrative as reality, and even reality is always distorted by obsession, fetish, eroticism, and other subjective and symbolic qualities.

I disagree. All he did was highlight the most absurd aspects of reality, drawing attention to things we otherwise would have overlooked or clarifying the inanity of aspects of life most people would have otherwise taken for granted. Bunuel makes the ordinary extraordinary while Antonioni makes the extraordinary ordinary. That's not to say Antonioni is a dishonest filmmaker, but he films people and events through a prism of his own making. Bunuel, like I said, simply draws our attention to the absurdity of things people take for granted.

Luis Bunuel doesn't film things through his own personal prism? That's all he does. There isn't a single thing you've said here that makes him an objective filmmaker (whatever that is). Luis Bunuel was a surrealist. Anyone who could call a filmmaker so concerned with the unconscious and so willing to fill his movies with his own personal fetishes an objective recorder of reality doesn't understand what he's talking about.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:24 am 
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rrenault wrote:
Bunuel, like I said, simply draws our attention to the absurdity of things people take for granted.

You're confusing the mission of absurdism and its methods. Yes, like any artist not working entirely for the sake of entertainment or fantasy, Bunuel is trying to show something that is of the world and "real". But he does this by making very grand or subtle gestures that either rip or fray the fabric of reality, that irritate our sense of how the world is and should be.

Unless you have actually been to a dinner party where a force field and bears kept you at table for days. Which you might have, I don't know.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:31 am 

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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
But he does this by making very grand or subtle gestures that either rip or fray the fabric of reality, that irritate our sense of how the world is and should be.

Except this is essentially what I'm trying to say, so we're just arguing over semantics here. You say he "irritates our sense of how the world is and should be". Well I'm also saying he does just that. We simply disagree on whether this is an objective or subjective end on his part. Isn't "irritating our sense of how the world is and should be" essentially the same thing as drawing our attention to the absurdity and inanity of things we would otherwise take for granted?


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 10:43 am 
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rrenault wrote:
Isn't "irritating our sense of how the world is and should be" essentially the same thing as drawing our attention to the absurdity and inanity of things we would otherwise take for granted?

In what sense is this objective? For something to be objective it has to be working independently of the perceptions of an individual consciousness.

It seems like you think any movie that deals with reality in some way is objective. All of Bunuel's observations are modified by his own subjective views and perceptions; all of the distortions have their origin in Luis Bunuel's mind, not reality. Can you deny that? Can you deny that the distortions in his films are all a product of his individual perceptions and not what would be seen by any objective observer not named Luis Bunuel? If you can't deny that (and I don't see how you can, this is the definition of subjectivity), then you have to admit his films are not objective.

No film highly characteristic of a particular mind and its perceptions is objective.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:24 pm 
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FerdinandGriffon wrote:
lubitsch wrote:
Antonioni's weaknesses are clear and obvious: His characters are uninvolving cyphers, merely illustrating a master thesis. His shots, however well done individually, not necessarily add up to a picture or serve the "story". The stories finally often merely are an excuse to let either a character wander aimlessly or group characters together in a room where they fail to connect and bore each other. And for a director who supposedly has to offer an analysis of contemporary society, his films rarely move beyond the boredom of upper class people and fail badly when engaging more tangible developments like Mao's China or the 60s USA. To sum it up, it is a blunt cinema of messages not very far from Stanley Kramer.

Talk about the pitfalls of supposed objectivity. I think you're making a lot of assumptions about the uses and abuses of cinema and narrative art in general, lubitsch. Characters and story are only two possible desirable ends amongst many. Antonioni is concerned with both (as is clear in the way he shifts focus amongst individuals and abruptly dead ends the main narrative in L'avventura, for example) but neither have any primacy or priority over the other elements of his art. As I understand his films, he is most concerned with depicting subjects or subjectivities (different from characters) attempting to mediate time and space between themselves and other subjects. There are many, many other aspects to his work and others would have different opinions. But you're barking up the wrong tree if you come to him expecting undivided attention to the twin pillars of classicism, story and character.

I'm fully aware that these are only two aspects of filmmaking. But over the last hundred years of filmmaking they have proved to be quite durable and they play a big role in most films including Antonioni's. What he does is still narrative cinema and in that case there's no way out, you have to deal with characters and story. You may decide to deliberately weaken that part of your film to foreground other aspects, but I think you're paying dearly for it.
It is generally accepted that it's problematic when characters are just mouthpieces for certain opinion's a writer has, Stanley Kramer somehow became the embodiment of that, but Antonioni is really no better even though his mouthpieces are mostly silent. Especially the men are resolutely shallow in these films. To put it simple, Antonioni's 60s films strike me as terribly unsubtle. They make very early on their point and then beat you with a club over your head for the next two hours repeating it.
What also bothers me is how unspecific the alienation is which the characters suffer from. He occasionally is more precise like in the scene with the stock exchange, but often one has the impression that something is wrong with the airheads in his films not the society and life in general which supposedly alienates them. The absolute nadir is Deserto Rosso where he tries to aestheticize industry and pollution and crudely sees people who can't adapt as deficient. I have the strong suspicion that he reflects here fascistic and futuristic impressions from his youth. I found the incredibly pointless ramblings in the interviews on the Criterion quite illuminating because they confirmed to me that he essentially has nothing to say, but certainly tries to say it with great seriousness.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:38 pm 

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lubitsch:

My presumption would be you must not be a huge fan of Ozu, Bresson, or Godard either...


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:59 pm 

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Mr Sausage wrote:
No film highly characteristic of a particular mind and its perceptions is objective.

I am afraid you are misunderstanding what we refer to as Bunuel's objective camera. We are not saying he doesn't have a highly characteristic point-of-view, but he tries to express his own mind through a certain "simplicity of expression". We are talking about style, not content.

Example:
An "objective" shot from Viridiana (1961). He doesn't stylize reality, he "films the outside world just as it exists".
Image

...and a not-so-objective shot from Red Desert (1964), "engaging philosophical/intellectual inquiry".
Image


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:23 pm 
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lubitsch wrote:
What also bothers me is how unspecific the alienation is which the characters suffer from. He occasionally is more precise like in the scene with the stock exchange, but often one has the impression that something is wrong with the airheads in his films not the society and life in general which supposedly alienates them.


That's precisely the point, and that's why I find the stock exchange sequence a bit clumsy, as it seems to give a rational, 'social' explanation for this feeling of 'uselessness' and depression, as if he were trying to be a leftist filmmaker from the 20s for once. It isn't more precise, but only reductive. Not that I find the vagueness of other explanations for the characters' frame-of-mind in other films necessarily more convincing (if he even intends any explanation, which I doubt), but as a portrayal of inner hopelessness/emptyness in an increasingly incomprehensible world these character studies are quite convincing, and in a way, even 'objective'.

You've got a point about the aestheticising of the industry in "Deserto Rosso" hearkening back to futurism perhaps, but given the optimistic belief in modernism/industrial development in the 60s/70s these moments also seem to me a snapshot of a specific frame of mind which might not necessarily be fully endorsed by the filmmaker, but might have nevertheless been seen as an undeniable fact of the 'evolution' of Western civilization. Adapt or die; this may sound cynical but as experience proves, it is often all too true. So in spite of his very clearly discernable personal style, Antonioni's films also truthfully portray a certain 'zeitgeist' in a very much to-the-point manner, just as Kraftwerk's "Radioaktivität" would do a decade later. What may be irritating is the absence of any clear 'opposition' to it, but at least Antonioni doesn't hit you over the head with any messages. A bit more work for the viewer here than in Rossellini, for sure.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:29 pm 
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Saimo wrote:
I am afraid you are misunderstanding what we refer to as Bunuel's objective camera. We are not saying he doesn't have a highly characteristic point-of-view, but he tries to express his own mind through a certain "simplicity of expression". We are talking about style, not content.

Sorry, "we"? I don't remember arguing with more than one person about this.

As best I can tell, you're conflating stylization with subjectivity. As in Bunuel doesn't have a baroque visual style, therefore he's an objective recorder. I'm very sorry, but this is daft. It's a false dichotomy and it also shows a fairly unsophisticated understanding of the ideas of subjective/objective. As best I can tell, your argument can only be saying that Bunuel is objectively filming his own deep subjectivity, which makes any attempt to place it on one side or the other incoherent. Plainly you have to admit that Bunuel grossly distorts social conventions and religious ideas in order to make them look ridiculous, absurd, and grotesque--to make the audience see reality as he, personally, sees it. In which case you may as well be claiming that political caricatures are objective drawings. The simplicity of the style (which I myself don't see) is neither here nor there--as tho' filming one's own dreams and fantasies in a simple way were enough to get you called an objective filmmaker, if such a thing even exists. Bunuel is a parodist. Parodists do not make objective films.

As for Antonioni, he never caricatures, parodies, or inflates anything in his films (deliberately). A composition like that one above isn't subjective in any obvious way. Indeed it meets your own criteria for objectivity as, however strikingly framed, it is just a collection of real objects assembled in a normal way.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:42 pm 

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Sorry, I must assume we have very different positions about the centrality of film style.

Quote:
As best I can tell, your argument can only be saying that Bunuel is objectively filming his own deep subjectivity

Exact.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:50 pm 

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rrenault wrote:
Antonioni makes the extraordinary ordinary.
I'd say he does the exact opposite.
Like J. G. Ballard he's transformed and enchanted the way I look at the world.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 4:58 pm 
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Saimo wrote:
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As best I can tell, your argument can only be saying that Bunuel is objectively filming his own deep subjectivity

Exact.

Except that statement of mine is meaningless outside of its irony. It's a fundamental contradiction. If this is exactly what you mean, you mean nothing at all.

Objectivity means being external and independent of the mind. Not only that, it also means not being influenced by personal feelings or opinions. If you think any of these things true of Bunuel you do not understand his movies. He is the least disinterested of filmmakers.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 7:26 am 

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To clarify, I feel I was probably categorizing filmmakers based on a physical/metaphysical dichotomy. There are plenty of cinephiles who seem to have a bias against filmmakers whose work is more metaphysical in nature, as if it were improper for cinema as a medium to explore metaphysical issues. That would include filmmakers such as Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Mizoguchi, some of Antonioni, some of Resnais, some of Fellini, as well as others. Granted, Dreyer's work certainly has strong metaphysical elements and is often not the victim of said bias, but the aforementioned filmmakers also don't have a "Passion of Joan or Arc" they can rest on (i.e. a beyond reproach interwar period European cinematic benchmark). Godard may be "arty", but he still tends to get the physicality brigade's seal of approval, as his work does not in the least deal with the metaphysical/supernatural.

You may say Bunuel is metaphysical due to his surrealism, but his surrealist imagery is still highly materialist in its nature. The absurdities that permeate his work are integrated into the material world. There's never any suggestion of a higher force at work. Everything is attributed to the absurdities of humanity itself.

As for Antonioni, painting an entire bedroom pink in order to reflect the inner psychological turmoil of the film's main character is metaphysical.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:20 am 
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Yeah, Bresson and Dreyer are extremely metaphysical filmmakers. Again, the various likes and dislikes you're highlighting seem very random and unsystematic. If there were a notable amount of serious cinephiles who hated all of the supposedly transcendental filmmakers, you might be on to something, but that's rarely the case.

rrenault wrote:
You may say Bunuel is metaphysical due to his surrealism, but his surrealist imagery is still highly materialist in its nature. The absurdities that permeate his work are integrated into the material world. There's never any suggestion of a higher force at work. Everything is attributed to the absurdities of humanity itself.

Bunuel's films aren't very metaphysical, no. Although Subida al cielo does rely heavily on religious symbolism, and not in an especially parodic manner, tho', so I'd be inclined to count it. Also, materialist imagery is present in many metaphisical artist's work, like Tarkovsky for instance. It depends on whether or not transcendence can be approached through the natural world

rrenault wrote:
As for Antonioni, painting an entire bedroom pink in order to reflect the inner psychological turmoil of the film's main character is metaphysical.

That's merely symbolist.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:33 am 

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Mr Sausage wrote:
Also, materialist imagery is present in many metaphisical artist's work, like Tarkovsky for instance. It depends on whether or not transcendence can be approached through the natural world.


<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/h0fkS6dbQO0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Oh yes, very materialist.

P.S. Okay, how do you post a clip on here?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:38 am 
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You have to post the url, you can't embed videos.

Obviously I haven't seen the clip, but if you're hoping to prove Tarkovsky didn't have a firm grounding in the physical details of the world on the evidence of only a single clip, please don't bother.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 2:01 pm 
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Mr Sausage wrote:
As for Antonioni, he never caricatures, parodies, or inflates anything in his films (deliberately).

Doesn't Antonioni deliberately caricature male lechery? L'Avventura contains some examples- the young man on the train with his obvious come-on to the naive girl overheard by a bemused Sandro and Claudio; the painter's exaggerated desire for Guilio; the fierce gazes of the idle men directed at Claudio as she walks through Messina; the whole male population of Messina in near riot trying to get a glimpse of an aspiring actress/prostitute. When Claudio finds Sandro in dalliance with the actress she may be realizing that Sandro has been offering her only a more sophisticated version of these illustrations, and pities him.

I'm also thinking of a scene in Zabriskie Point, in which Antonioni seems to be parodying the Messina street scene, as a group of very young boys chase Daria through the desert whilst ogling her beautiful mini-skirted legs. All of which are componets of larger strands, the inability of Antonionis' (non) heroes to connect with much of anything in life except for sexual desire, and their own deep sense of futility.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 4:51 pm 
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Hmm. That could be true, that there's an exaggerated, satiric edge to those depictions. When I think of Antonioni I think of someone more sedate and cool (certainly when compared to Bunuel), so I could be overlooking those aspects you mentioned.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:12 pm 

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Mr Sheldrake wrote:
Mr Sausage wrote:
As for Antonioni, he never caricatures, parodies, or inflates anything in his films (deliberately).

Doesn't Antonioni deliberately caricature male lechery? L'Avventura contains some examples- the young man on the train with his obvious come-on to the naive girl overheard by a bemused Sandro and Claudio; the painter's exaggerated desire for Guilio; the fierce gazes of the idle men directed at Claudio as she walks through Messina; the whole male population of Messina in near riot trying to get a glimpse of an aspiring actress/prostitute. When Claudio finds Sandro in dalliance with the actress she may be realizing that Sandro has been offering her only a more sophisticated version of these illustrations, and pities him.

I'm also thinking of a scene in Zabriskie Point, in which Antonioni seems to be parodying the Messina street scene, as a group of very young boys chase Daria through the desert whilst ogling her beautiful mini-skirted legs. All of which are componets of larger strands, the inability of Antonionis' (non) heroes to connect with much of anything in life except for sexual desire, and their own deep sense of futility.


You see, this is the problem. People read way too much into Antonioni, at least in a certain sense. He's been painted with this ennui brush for half a century, and it's done more harm than good for his reputation. Maybe people would actually "get" and feel his films if they could just accept that Sandro is a middle-aged man with problems just like every other bourgeois European man his age. Antonioni's work isn't simplistic. Viewers are simply on the look out for allegories they could intellectualize in an effort to "explain" his work. There's no message. Antonioni never intended for there to be one. All he wanted to do was make an intuitive impressionistic film depicting bourgeois life in mid-century in Italy, and he succeeded at that. Sometimes you just need to see the forest for the trees. My point is I think it would help to examine and appreciate Antonioni the artist as opposed to Antonioni the philosopher or intellectual. He's an artist like Degas or Gorky, not friggin' Walter Benjamin.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:37 pm 
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It's an interesting question - does Antonioni go in for parody and caricature? The most obvious examples would be the protagonists in Blowup and Zabriskie Point (see some of the recent discussion of the latter in the 70s thread), who I think are noticeably less 'authentic' than most of the characters in the earlier films. Hemmings seems to embody the world of fashion in '60s London; to see him as a sort of caricature helps to make sense of the final shot, in which the pressures placed upon him, his world and his identity finally reveal him to be non-existent. (One for Pseuds' Corner, that.) Something similar happens to Mark and Daria in ZP, and at times it seems pretty obvious that they are mindless, identity-less mouthpieces - stuttering mouthpieces, increasingly, like Hemmings' photographer - who represent youth, rebellion, counter-culture, etc; and again, pressures are placed upon them and they dissolve into some bathetic demise or a cliched sunset. In these two films, Antonioni seems less interested than ever in telling a character-driven story. As the people become more 'symbolic', so they also seem more like caricatures.

The Passenger represents the sort of nadir of this process (I don't like it very much), as it seems to resist both character development and clear symbolism. It would seem as misguided to try and pin down what Nicholson's or Schneider's characters 'represent' as it would to discuss their psychology. The banality of the dialogue in the previous two films pales in comparison to the stultifying claptrap we hear in The Passenger, although in this case I tend to see this as plain and simple bad writing (blame Mark Peploe, maybe?), rather than a conscious and thoughtful attempt at caricature or parody. Identification of a Woman seems to regress (in a really good way) and is far more like Antonioni's early '60s work in terms of its approach to character.

Red Desert might be seen as a sort of 'bridging' work in this respect, because most of the characters aside from Vitti come to embody the modern, industrial world from which she is alienated. As such, there are definitely times when her robotic husband and son come across as deliberate caricatures, and it's interesting to think about how Harris' character also comes to take on this quality as the film progresses.

The difficulty here, I suppose, is that defining something as a caricature, parody or exaggeration involves distinguishing it from what is natural, authentic and sincere - an attempt to portray an event or character in an 'objective' or 'subjective' manner - and such distinctions will always depend a great deal on your point of view. For instance, Mr Sheldrake just brought up some interesting examples, but for the most part I wouldn't see them as 'caricature' exactly - other examples would include the killer in the English segment of I Vinti, Mastroianni's sexual encounter in the hospital in La Notte, or the stock exchange sequence in L'Eclisse. All these elements seem somewhat 'heightened', but I think we're supposed to feel that real life is sometimes like this: sometimes you just find yourself being watched in a vaguely threatening way by every man on the street; that scene in L'Avventura is, for me, not quite Kafka-esque enough to seem inauthentic or unnatural. Sometimes real life is 'heightened'. But like I say, I think this gets taken to another level in the later films. The orgy in the desert in ZP, for example, or the explosions at the end - these are heightened and inflated beyond reality or authenticity.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:47 pm 

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Sandro is certainly not a caricature. I actually find him to be one of Antonioni's more complex characters. He has flaws, but I find him very human, and I think that's part of the point. Would Alain Delon's character in L'Eclisse tear up after being caught cheating on her? I have my doubts. That's not meant as a criticism of the film, but having that specific character be merely a caricature serves the overall artistic goals of the film, whereas such a stand-in would be out of place in a film like L'Avventura which is far more indebted to neo-realism.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 6:02 pm 

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Quote:
Godard may be "arty", but he still tends to get the physicality brigade's seal of approval, as his work does not in the least deal with the metaphysical/supernatural.

Whut?


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 5:28 am 

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Your point are well taken Sausage, but you can't deny that many of the mid-century European filmmakers, Antonioni and Bergman especially, have suffered a backlash of sorts in the years since. There was a time where many, Tarkovsky among them, viewed "Euro-art" cinema of the fifties, sixties, and seventies as virtually synonymous with "film as art" at the expense of neglecting all other aspects of the medium, including pretty much all of Classic Hollywood. While I certainly don't agree with this viewpoint, I do sympathize with and understand the impulse. John Ford is just as significant a figure as Antonioni, but I can understand the urge to view the development of "European arthouse" cinema as the culmination and apotheosis of cinema as a legitimate form of art. It's this indeed faulty attitude that has probably fallen out of favor in the interim, causing figures like Antonioni, Bergman, and Resnais to go along with it. "Euro-art cinema" has been put in its place so to speak whether wrongfully or rightfully.

People will say, "Oh, Bergman didn't contribute to cinematic form" or "his themes have grown stale with time and have already been explored far more successfully by Ibsen", or whatever other excuse they want to use for dismissing Bergman, but he's essentially just that big elephant in the room postmodern film critics hate having to contend with. Regardless of what one may think of him, he practically invented "serious cinema" as one conceives of it today. People take for granted that the entire "arthouse" tradition started with him. However, that very fact has probably worked against him in many ways. Rosenbaum excepted, it seems critics these days hate having to contend with "high modernism". Why, I don't really know? Maybe they feel condescended to by it. Or perhaps being unabashedly "highbrow" in every facet of one's intellectual life has become politically incorrect. Maybe Bergman's films have been seen by too many Upper East Siders and residents of Westchester County.

Yes, Rosenbaum has put Bergman "in his place", but he's one of the few critics of his generation who hasn't disowned modernism in general.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 6:32 am 
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rrenault wrote:
Your point are well taken Sausage, but you can't deny that many of the mid-century European filmmakers, Antonioni and Bergman especially, have suffered a backlash of sorts in the years since.

Aside from one or two prominent critics who'd always disliked Bergman using the occasion of his death to criticize his career, Bergman hasn't suffered any backlash I've ever seen.

You'll have to point me towards the Antonioni backlash. As best I can tell, people've mostly just become (not inappropriately) indifferent.

rrenault wrote:
"Euro-art cinema" has been put in its place so to speak whether wrongfully or rightfully.

Which, again, does not explain the continued popularity of Bresson and Dreyer.


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