Page 6, 9th April 1965

9th April 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 9th April 1965 — THE CRITICS

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Locations: Canterbury


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FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART ON FILMS fliNE of my few certainties which grows firmer is that impetus in every great work comes from the artist's unconscious. This is true, I think, even of the cinemaa group activity if ever there was one. It is true even of work of Michelangelo Antonioni, whose films are thought of as coolly calculated creations. How can the synthesis which is a film achieve the personal touch except by a mysterious element of inspiration? 1 believe this powerful subconscious element has been underestimated in appraising Antonioni's work in general, by both his admirers and his critics (and I think of no great director over whom professional opinion is more sharply divided). In particular, I believe it partly explains a sense of unease, of disappointment felt by some over The Red Desert ("X", Academy One and Academy Two). To me, Antonioni is a revelation among directors, the first since bygone days to manipulate motion pictures as another language, as the "seventh art", comparable with music. Or with painting. Ever since "L'Avventure-or still earlier "Cronaca d'Amore"-it seemed to me that here was a man who had taken his mastery of the movie. his confidence in its use, .further than anybody else, established his personal style more firmly.

Doubtless my enthusiasm is partly due to a taste for his style. for the long flowing line of his pictures and gratitude for their triumphant visual beauty. But here perhaps comes the parting of the ways over Antonioni. Everybody admits the ravishing beauty he can put on the screen. I am grateful for it; a present mood is to reject and resent beauty. Both opinions may feel a difficult difference between the marvellous visual lucidity of Antonioni's pictures, and an element of obscurity in his thought. . He has achieved an almost classical formal beauty in film; while the content, the "message" is apt to be wrapped in secrecy. The story, the drama, of most Antonioni pictures falls almost into the "do-it-yourself" school of modem drama -like the plays of Becket or Pinter-but because of its beautiful exterior is, I think, less readily recognised. Personally I have never seen an Antonioni film often enough (they are very long) to feel I had extracted anything like its full substance. That is part of the fascination-and no doubt part of the irritation for those who don't like his work. Nor have I had the opportunity yet to know much of the quite extensive Antonioni bibliography now published in Italy. The Red Desert is both the most beautiful and the most difficult. Not that the story is as difficult to follow as sometimes. The poor distracted heroine (Monica Vitti) supposedly recovering from a breakdown and attempted suicide, is simply unable to come to terms with the astonishing world represented by industrial Ravenna, or to get ahy human comfort from her engineer husband, or from the blond stranger (Richard Harris), who can offer her nothing more than friendship and a moment of passion. Even her little boy is ensnared in his mother's neuroses. She is a tragic figure, finely played. But like many real-life neurotics, the character ends by exhausting sympathy and leaving the spectacular background of the modern world to triumph. Never has an industrial background been so spectacular as this wide horizon with skeletonic chimneys billowing golden smoke, yellow with poison, beautiful as stagnant fireworks. They are as much part of the landscape as the familiar Italian trees lined up mistily along the background, or the handsome boat sailing into the romantic story with which the heroine tries to charm her difficult child. There is nothing of the other Ravenna here; of the mosaics, the churches. The background, like its figures is a total. concentrated abstraction. This is Antonioni's first film in colour and he takes colour a stage beyond any I have seen. Colour always seems to flatten the film; Antonioni has discovered how to make colour give the screen an extra dimension. But the connection between the heroine and her surrounding is never made.

It is emphatically a worth-while choice to open the new Academy Cinema Two (in the adjoining basement to Academy One) elegant and free of smoking. It was enterprising of the Hampstead Everyman to put on a preliminary four weeks of Antonioni's pictures. The last of them The Eclipse, may still be caught there today and tomorrow.

At the Jacey in the Strand is a revival of The Wages of Fear ("A"). Clouzot's melodrama of how Yves Mbntand got his lorry-load of gelignite through South American perils has proved one of the most popular of French thrillers and as powerful a piece of suspense as any cliff-hanging serial. JAMES GRAHAM ON TV-RADIO IVO electronic magic has yet been conjured out of the cathode ray tube to replace the parable and the sermon as the standbys of religious instruction. And in view of the rather sucessful Christian precedents for them this is perhaps hardly surprising. Two examples of the television interpretations of these forms were to be seen last Sunday. On BBC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, gave the first of three talks on the meaning of prayer, using the direct, into-camera technique. Ile said that prayer was not a pious chatter or a sort of bombardment of God with requests as if lie were a sort of target, but was more like a relationship. And the Archbishop's prayer which began: "I scarcely believe; increase my tiny Faith . . ." made a striking effect al. the end. This method of talking direct to the viewer has rather fallen out of favour with television producers except in the news departments. But it can be extremely successful if the speaker either has a natural gift for this sort of communication or can master the techniques involved.

The parable, equally interesting in its way Was to be seen in the Jack Shepherd play A Face for Judas in About Religion. This was basically a programme about the Christian attitude to free will, but coated in the more easily digestible form of the problems of a casting director looking for an actor to play Judas. Was he a neurotic, a political agitator, a saint. a hero? Or none of these, an outsider perhaps'? Mr. Shepherd used these hares to run to earth his main quarry that Judas suffered essentially from intellectual pride, and far front being preordained to betrayal could and did exercise his own free will. The dramatic momentum was perhaps a little slow. The casting director, admirably played by Mr. John Carson, had no one to play off other than his secretary, a rather thinly drawn character, and the lack of conflict put too great a burden on the actor-a burden which it is the writer's task to carry in any case. But it was nonetheless a great pleasure to see another of Mr. Shepherd's parables on television. And the form-like that of the sermon-has been a little neglected on the small screen lately. 'These two programmes could he indications of a revival.

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