Red Desert Screen 17 articles

Red Desert

1964

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    Cavalier: Manny Farber
    December 1966 | Farber on Film (pp. 580-581)

    A silly film in which there is a continual shift away from murky characterization to take advantage of the director's suavity with color, his knack for suggesting decay-apathy-strain by doing a photographic doodling with stiffness and stillness in modern landscape. Antonioni's message, his mordant feelings about the New Class, is always filtering into kinds of puffed-up color, scenery which seems to be pulled apart from inside by a highly abstract Modrian-ish sensibility.

  • More a series of paintings unfurled in time than the kind of dramatic spectacle we've been calling a movie for the past half century. Every composition has been framed with the utmost preciseness, and the signification of every color has been carefully calculated... Antonioni may be "in," all right, along with the notion that this is the worst of all possible times, but include me out. Why? I suppose I am too sensitive to the fallacy of the Idealized Past even by implication.

  • The film came at the end of his most fertile period, just after L'Avventura, La Notte, and Eclipse, and it isn't as good as the first and last of these, but the ecological concerns look a lot more prescient today... Antonioni does eerie, memorable work with the industrial shapes and colors that surround [Vitti]; she walks through a science fiction landscape dotted with structures that are both disorienting and full of possibilities.

  • Antonioni transformed Ravenna, the city of Dante's tomb, Byzantine murals, and marble churches into a terrifyingly beautiful industrial desert of slagheaps, factories, and sulphurous skies... RED DESERT is counted by most critics as one of the greatest works of European cinema.

  • A visually dense, metaphoric, and emotionally austere portrait of spiritual desolation, technological disconnection, and environmental malaise. Exploring similar themes of estrangement and ennui as his seminal trilogy of alienation, Antonioni's color palette juxtaposes muted earth tones and bold, artificial (and often primary) colors to reflect the unnaturality and inherent competition between natural order and industrialization in a modern, and increasingly alienated, society.

  • [Giuliana] is stirred by the lusts of a capitalist (in this case, a moody businessman played by Richard Harris) as well as her desire to protect her young son. But the world is too much for her -- her psychological breakdown is signalled by Vittorio Gelmetti's eerie synthesizer tones -- and Antonioni takes an almost sick delight in discovering new ways of crushing his butterfly.

  • The most ambitious of all of Antonioni’s attempts to ground the condition of our modern existence in a theory of alienation. The alienation in question is very complex, and it is part of the film’s difficulty, but also its achievement and seriousness, that the feelings evinced in its dramatization are so fundamentally contradictory and intractable.

  • Thematically, Red Desert is a distillation of Antonioni's preferred themes and imagery: alienation, anxiety, modern life, and industrialized landscapes.

  • Vitti still fascinates, while Harris, all dimply and young-Dennis-Hopper-ish, seems dropped in by helicopter—but both are subservient to the imagery, which desaturates, beautifully, when the world isn’t simply painted neutral, as with the enigmatic grey fruit glimpsed on a vendor’s cart (that no one noticed also appeared in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerthat same year) and the mountains of streaming ash that could, if you’re of a mind, represent Everything.

  • Antonioni's first film in color (and how!) begins deliberately out-of-focus; it seems as though the theater projectionist has erred until the credits appear fully legible. There are plenty of similar tricks throughout RED DESERT, which befits the theme of humanity's disorientation from modern life... RED DESERT represents the full-on Antonionification of the world, a film in which individuals make little impact on their surroundings, whether they inhabit them or not.

  • Antonioni’s film was lodged in my memory as an environmental dirge: billows of steam and smoke, ravaged landscapes, people dwarfed by machinery, a woman going mad amid the devastation. But a recent viewing brought back its essential ambiguousness. No green jeremiad this: it’s a movie that’s fascinated—even thrilled—by the new forms of modern industrial life, even as it acknowledges the psychic and physical devastation modernity exacts.

  • Aesthetic analyst of the bourgeoisie, which geometrically framed with neither absolving nor condemning tones, Michelangelo Antonioni captured the moral degradation and emotional apathy of the "affluent society" like no other.

  • Michelangelo Antonioni's visual ode to female angst... A new 35mm print has been struck from the original negative so that the 1964 film can once again be viewed in its ravishing, metaphoric colors.

  • Michelangelo Antonioni’s first film in color, from 1964, is his most mysterious and awe-inspiring work... Antonioni, in his most intense and virtuosic depiction of the horrors and monstrosities that pass for ordinary life, portrays Giuliana’s breakdown as a crisis of conscience and identity.

  • One sees the first discernible instance of not only Di Palma’s distinct filmic imprint, notably his keen ability to imaginatively render the deepest of emotional states, but also how cohesively he and a respective director could work in tandem to a common thematic and stylistic aim. Although it took some convincing to get Antonioni to agree to color (Di Palma conducted tests to make his case), the already legendary filmmaker acquiesced and Di Palma knew the venture would be something special.

  • Despite his reputation as some sort of hyper-modernist scold, Antonioni clearly finds something beautiful, almost sensuous in this milieu — otherworldly and enrapturing. Indeed, his films can never be reduced to simple laments for the spiritual pollution of the world. What makes the movies so unsettling is that they resist such easy meanings.

  • A woman in a modern desert, her mind abuzz but surrounded by men who are drawn to her body. That description fits just about every character Monica Vitti ever played for Antonioni, but this may be its most potent incarnation, purely for how the addition of a frenzied mental illness makes her the only one in step with a chilling industrialized world. An immediate masterpiece for a director who is so often obscure.

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