ANTONIONI is a director about whose work I feel intensely. Like most great artists who inspire one's extreme enthusiasm, he has always convinced me that I discovered him for myself. So, in a way I did: at a decidedly obscure and private showing of "Cronaca d'un Amore" made in 1950.
It was a revelation of the same superb style and from which were more fully revealed to the world at the Cannes Festival in 1960. Ever since then I have liked the way Antonioni makes films much as I like the way Mozart wrote music.
H seemed to have mastered an absolute perfection of film form, and for years I was ready to take the content on trust. Under Antortioni*s direction, the camera revealed a completely new world.
If its plots and arguments were obscure, I was ready to think the shortcoming one of my Italian rather than the filmmaker's vision.
Now that he has started to make pictures in English or American, or what could at least pass as I.C.E.L. English, it isn't quite so easy to take for granted that the superb vistas of his vision are filled with more than a vacuum.
For Zabriskie Point ("X", Empire) he has found in America all the scenic scope he could desire. In the huge oil company building in Los Angeles, in the busy local airport, in the wide open spaces outside, he finds all the tong vistas he makes an eloquent, all the devastatingly brash and gaudy signs and lights of which to make a firework display of what he wants to show of capitalist society: its supposed brutality, illiteracy, vulgarity.
In Death Valley ("Zabriskie Point" is, I understand, one of the panoramic viewpoints on it) he has found the same kind of forbidding volcanic landscape he used so mysteriously in "L'Avventura." For the climactic final firework display he conjures up a vision of hatred by an innocent victim to send up every symbol of the system in fantastically beautiful, slow-motion smithereens.
So much is superb. But the rather dreary couple of young lovers round whom all this happens—a student (Mark Frechette) fleeing from his campus in a "borrowed" plane, a secretary (Dana Halprin) from her office-desk by car to make very basic love in a dried-up river bed, while the camera picks out scores more couples on the surrounding
sun-scorched slopes—are rather like the soft brown heart of a beautiful apple.
Antonioni's sound -track aspires to the level of his vision; neither the dialogue nor the non-professionally acted characters approach it. Even so I should rather see his film than those of any other director I can think of.
Old vehicles often have plenty of good service in them if intelligently maintained, repaired and driven. Old fashioned films may similarly be refurbished to provide a kind of entertainment for which today's cinema provides few equivalents.
The plot of Cactus Tree ("A", Columbia) is typical French farce. A middle-aged bachelor dentist (Walter Mattau) finds a smooth design for living with an efficient nurse (Ingrid Bergman) in his consulting-room, and an attractive young girl-friend (Goldie Hawn) in the evenings. The only complication arises from his unnecessary precaution in telling the girl-friend he has a wife and children.
Since the original French play by Barillet and Gredy, there has been a New York production of a stage play, apparently by Abe Burrows. and now the screenplay by I. A. L. Diamond. One or more of these gentlemen has written thoroughly bright and amusing dialogue, and enough of it to keep the comedy lively; and the producer, M. J. Frankovich, a n d director. Gene Saks, have got together a first-rate cast.
There isn't much suspense about the outcome. Hollywood knows no more tedious cliché than the blossoming of the middle-aged spinster with the dawn of sex, and when Ingrid Bergman changes her starched cap for a hair-do and goes dancing, a few twinges of embarrassment retail dear Irene Dunne in "Theodora Goes Wild."
But Bergman does the thing with more self-mockery than most, and it's nice to see her back and in such splendid looks. Walter Mattau is always a joy and Goldie Hawn of "Laugh-in" is a seat droll in Judy Holliday tradition.
With the bubbling dialogue the old-fashioned farce has been made into an easy comedy of the kind many people today may be glad to laugh at. Like all the best French farce, too, it is a wry comment on the moral situation it overturns.