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Zabriskie Point (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Michelangelo Antonioni's indelible portrait of the American counterculture screens in 35mm. Info

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After the minimalist photography mystery of Blow-up (1966) in the London art scene, Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni set up camp in the States in an effort to capture our similarly anti-establishment counterculture movement. The resulting Zabriskie Point (1970), named after a ridge in California's Death Valley National Park, is a sort of political mosaic of youthful anarchism and spontaneity, and drew inspiration from the brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As UW Cinematheque has done in past semesters with Antonioni films, the campus film program will host a one-off 35mm "Special Presentation" here.

Opening with obscured close-ups of college students preparing for a general strike scored with the eerie psychedelia of Pink Floyd (newly post-Syd Barrett), Zabriskie Point initially hones in on rising social discord. One of the meeting's attendees, Mark (Mark Frechette), even expresses an acerbic dissent to his peers' solidarity and finds himself amidst the chaos of a mass arrest and police confrontation. After fleeing the Los Angeles area into the Mojave Desert, Mark encounters Daria (Daria Halprin) escaping harassers herself, at a juncture where their free-spirited dispositions and volatile narratives intertwine.

Zabriskie Point is perhaps best known for its infamously digressive conclusion, but its historical relevance and artistic merits are worth revisiting. With it and the director's two prior color features, the aforementioned Blow-up (1966) and Red Desert (1964), his singularly brilliant attention to architecture and ever-transforming urban landscape form an arresting triptych. Here, in Los Angeles, Antonioni is specifically drawn to advertising billboards. As the film sprawls, he then turns his lens to the phantoms of the open road and dust bowl at the titular location, which peaks in a nude, hallucinogenic, transgressive sequence between Mark and Daria that the controversial Lars Von Trier attempted to recreate in Antichrist (2009).

However, maybe most significant is Zabriskie Point’s soundtrack, which is rather conventional in Antonioni's filmography. It pulls from popular artists of the period like Kaleidoscope and The Grateful Dead as well as American Primitivism pioneer John Fahey in a haunting scene, ensuring the film's inseparability from its politically and cinematically revolutionary aspirations. —Grant Phipps