By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Michelangelo Antonioni is one of my favorite directors mostly on the strength of his incredible showcases for Monica Vitti’s passionate acting. Besides his Italian masterpieces, he made a few English language films, most notably Blow-Up and The Passenger. Zabriskie Point was the only film he made in the U.S., however. It also was the worst reviewed film in his storied career.
Italian Spiderman was quite well-received, actually.
The film is about a late 60s flower child who goes on the lam after being accused of killing a cop by stealing a small plane (apparently airport security in the 60s consisted of a friendly mechanic telling you to have a good day). He flies over an attractive girl driving through the desert near Zabriskie Point, a geological formation and park, who is on the way to her employer’s opulent desert homestead to help out with a job. Things progress in typical 60s fashion from there.
Antonioni was clearly trying to tap into the Love Generation zeitgeist with this film, and to some extent he succeeds. We witness everything from militant student and Black Panther meetings and rallies that end up in the county jail (keep an eye out for a super-young Harrison Ford in the background) to psychedelic orgies covered in dust courtesy of The Open Theater.
I don’t even like dirt under my fingernails, so… pass.
The soundtrack is perfectly tailored to the theme, featuring songs from Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Patti Page, and Roy Orbison among others. In fact, it’s so good that The Doors didn’t even make the cut. As always, Antonioni oversees a gorgeous film, with billboard-covered cities, winding highways, and breathtaking natural formations alike coming off beautiful and iconic.
Zabriskie Point also has an undercurrent of anti-commercialism running through it that bursts like a geyser during the film’s climax, in a literal explosion of capitalism and consumer goods. It’s an emphatic, surprising moment that brings the film together much better than maybe it has any right to.
That’s because, plot-wise, Zabriskie Point’s a bit of a mess. It takes about 40 minutes before we even figure out who the main characters are. From there, coincidence and convenience drive the plot more than anything, when it’s not meandering about, that is.
The characters themselves are more archetypes than people. The actors do fine, they’re just not given much to work with. While it can be argued that’s partly the point, the film would also undeniably be more effective if you cared for or even knew who these characters were.
Zabriskie Point is a beautiful-looking film, and an interesting artifact of the 60s mindset, but its unevenness keeps it from true greatness.
Take a Drink: whenever someone talks revolution, man
Take a Drink: whenever someone smokes
Take a Drink: for every public phone call
Take a Drink: for hippy slang
Do a Shot: whenever a cop acts like a dick or idiot