restricted access The Passenger: Antonioni's Cinema of Escape
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The Passenger: Antonioni's Cinema of Escape THOMAS ALLEN NELSON During the final stages in the shooting of a film provisionally titled Profession: Reporter, Michelangelo Antonioni in an interview witii Philip Strick ("The Antonioni Report," Sight and Sound [Winter 1973/74]) talked about his enthusiastic involvement in the development of its script (from a story by Mark Peploe titled "Fatal Exit") and how it would inevitably be his most "rationalized" film. He described the film's story as a complex mosaic which in the shooting began to crystalize : "one day everything was clear in my mind, every part of the script" (31). Antonioni indicated that he made alterations in the original script (credited to Peploe, Peter Wollen, and Antonioni) to fit his own ideas and especially in its beginning and ending sequences. In a later context, he described the film to Gideon Bachman as "my story as an artist, as a director" ("Antonioni After China: Art Versus Science," Film Quarterly [Summer 1975], 27) and dwelt extensively on the point that he, as a filmmaker, discovered a heretofore unrealized "liberty" in his camera's abandonment of the film's characters and their movements. Such liberty, he added, provided him the opportunity to return to the piano-sequenza (the long camera take) which allows for "events to change and grow in the frame" (29). Since the first interview, of course, the film has been retitled and released as The Passenger (1975), along with Kubrick's Barry Lyndon perhaps that year's most uncompromising and challenging narrative film. The total structure of Antonioni's The Passenger resembles diose Gaudian architectural landscapes which stand out so prominently in the film's narrative and visual center: a contrary blend in its natural and functional form of surrealistic spatial freedom and organic unity. The key to Antonioni's mosaic, however, resides in those beginning and Thomas Allen Nelson teaches at San Diego State University. 198ANTONIONI'S CINEMA OF ESCAPE ending sequences which form a frame for the film's opposed patterns of narrative entrapment and cinematic freedom. While David Locke (Jack Nicholson), detached journalist turned reluctantly involved gunrunner , fails to escape the prison of self and narrative fate through his efforts at identity transmigration, Antonioni moves his camera — and ideally, his audience — through the symbolic bars of Locke's last window and thereby frees the film from the rigorous mechanics of its plot structure and the grim implacabilities of its central character's fate. Traditionally two areas of emphasis have represented something of a litany in the critical estimation of Antonioni's film achievement. Critics have eidier expressed enthusiasm for Antonioni's overt themes of alienation and spiritual emptiness or the aesthetic brilliance of his spatial compositions and camera movements. The first group, intelligently and eloquently represented by Robin Wood's essays in a book devoted to Antonioni and co-written with Ian Cameron (New York, 1969), views Antonioni's moving camera and fondness for an austere mise-en-scène as cinematic metaphors for themes of cultural rot and cosmic determinism. Wood, for instance, concludes his comments on Blow-Up by saying that the "overall effect of Antonioni's films is still to limit radier dian extend the spectator's sense of the possibilities of life" (140). Garrett Stewart describes Antonioni's vision as die "art of spiritual depletion" ("Exhumed Identity: Antonioni's Passenger to Nowhere ," Sight and Sound [Winter 1975/76], 36) and sees die camera's striking movements in The Passenger as primarily a symbol for nature's indifference. Richard Roud, perhaps the critic most responsive to Antonioni's film aesthetic, has argued for over fifteen years diat his camera movements serve "autonomous and non-functional" purposes and create "spatial patterns which are satisfying in their own right" ("5 Films," Sight and Sound [Winter 1960/61], 11). In his more recent review of The Passenger, Roud concludes that the film is about itself, "a cascade of sound and images, spatial music" (Sight and Sound [Summer 1975], 137). While this essay will develop no essential disagreement with eidier of the above approaches, it will suggest a basic realignment and integration of critical focus in its discussion of The Passenger. Thematically ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW199 analyzed...


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