I watched three Antonioni movies last weekend. “L’Avventura”, “Red Desert” and “Identification of a Woman”.
I’ve already touched on “Red Desert” below, and described some of the qualities that Antonioni brings to his films. Qualities that I find spellbinding as a still photographer.
Although there are many outstanding movie makers, and many outstanding films, Antonioni’s work strikes me as the most purely photographic of all. Partly this is due to his predilection for long and relatively unchanging takes that force the eye to take in the scene and contemplate it much as one does a still photograph. Whatever action there is is often subtle and designed to complement the background scene, either in harmony or disharmony. The effect is always multi-leveled, one reason why Antonioni’s films can be watched over and over again and new insights gathered with every viewing.
One of Antonioni’s finest images is the final frame of “L’Avventura”. A couple is attempting to overcome sexual betrayal, yet at no point during the lengthy interaction of the two in the preceding scenes has there really been any concrete bonding between the man and woman. Every interaction has spoken of doubt and uncertainty. So the moment of tenderness shown here, as the woman touches the man, is striking in its sincerity and genuineness. The movie ends with this moment, and the glory of this final scene lies in the vertical split between two views, a long shot of a far mountain and a bare stone wall. The long shot speaks to openness and possibility, the wall to an abrupt and final end. Each component makes up 50% of the scene, hovering like a tossed coin, with the outcome left open.
This is a masterpiece of photography. An image that, hung as a still, I could gaze at for hours. Is it any wonder that I, moved so strongly by an image such as this, find the vast majority of today’s popular photography absolutely vapid?