(Kanopy Streaming, November 2018) I’m not particularly receptive to the kind of downbeat intimate drama that is Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, but two things in the film kept me from being completely uninterested: The depiction of Milan, resurging from the post-war years in that charming 1960s energy, and Marcello Mastroianni being always cool (as a writer!) even when playing Don Draper’s early inspiration. Jeanne Moreau is also wonderful, even if her character is in the midst of a full-fledged marital crisis with a fairly obvious destination. Otherwise, well, this is the portrait of a marriage in full disintegration, which isn’t the most cheerful of topics. The premise is made even worse by Antonioni’s typically contemplative style: there is only one exit for the characters (divorce) and the viewers (waiting until the end credits) as well. What must have been a breath of fresh air in 1961 compared to the Hollywood Golden Age has been made and remade endless times since then, so modern viewers may not find anything as fresh as then-contemporary audiences. Dull, slow-moving and depressing, La Notte is a very specific kind of film for a very specific kind of viewer.
(On Cable TV, October 2018) Some movies are best appreciated with as much context as possible. Heck, a few movies are best appreciated having already seen the films they inspired, and writer/director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup is one of the best examples of them. Seen cold without any knowledge of cinematic history or later movies it inspired, it’s nothing short of infuriating. First we have a photographer living the late-sixties Swingin’ London lifestyle, taking pictures of supermodels and occasionally having threesomes with them. Then our photographer stumbles upon what very well may be a murder mystery which develops into a full-blown conspiracy when evidence of the crime disappears. Then the film concludes with an envoi that clashes with the tone(s) of the film and does not resolve anything. You’d be forgiven for wanting to set the film alight after such an inconclusive experience. But you should not see Blowup absolutely cold. You should know that it was one of the defining films of the 1960s in definitely breaking down the Hays Code that held back American cinema from 1934 to 1966—when it was released in the United States with graphic depiction of sex and nudity and no official consequences, Hollywood understood that the Production Code was dead, and that paved the way to the New Hollywood what would change cinema forever. In addition to this historical importance, that sense of atonal exasperation felt at the end of the movie would lead very different filmmakers to make two very different films based on Blowup’s two halves: In 1983, Brian de Palma would re-use the film’s thriller-based second half as the basis for Blow-Out, which really digs into the conspiracy angle to its natural conclusion, whereas in 1997, Mike Myers would re-use much of the first half of the film as a basis for Austin Powers’s shagalicious lifestyle. Having seen those movies before Blowup means that we’ve been provided a conclusion of sort to Antonioni’s unfinished work, and makes the film feel far less irritating. It may not be the best way to enjoy this film, but as someone who’s naturally not a good audience for the kind of European art-house film that Blowup aspires to (despite solid genre elements), then it’s probably the best I can hope for.