Feature image: Inherent Vice artwork.
Michelangelo Antonioni and Paul Thomas Anderson make for an odd coupling, but as it turns out, they make up the greater part of this issue.
The Melbourne Cinémathèque’s 2015 calendar commenced with respective back-to-back seasons devoted to the two directors. Given our long standing association with the Cinémathèque and our commissioning of the Annotations on the individual films that make up their screenings, it seemed appropriate to use the opportunity to frame a larger focus around the two filmmakers.
It helps, of course, that in Anderson’s case our current issue more or less coincides with the Australian national release of his latest film Inherent Vice. Though unmistakably a film that carries many of Anderson’s signature traits, it also feels like a transitional film, an attempt at stretching himself stylistically. As such, it is an opportune time to take stock of his œuvre to date. The Annotations cover the films that made his reputation –Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), as well as his first troubled production, Hard Eight (aka Sydney, 1996); and a more extensive reflection on The Master (2012)in the light of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and the concept of ‘becoming animal’ also features. To round out the Anderson spotlight, there are two views on the success, or otherwise, of his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel.
While Anderson’s career is still very much a work in progress, Antonioni’s œuvre is well and truly canonical. Nonetheless, since his death in 2007 the critical literature on his work has continued unabated, as scholars find new and fascinating ways to discuss his films, within both an historical and contemporary framework. Antonioni (along with Ingmar Bergman, Alain Resnais, and others) was a key figure in what is commonly referred to as the ‘High Modernist’ period of formal experimentation in narrative cinema: something that receives a thorough airing in Hamish Ford’s ‘Hard Clarity, Vaporous Ambiguity’ which surveys Antonioni’s films of the early-to-mid sixties and the many debates regarding his modernist cinema. There is also a reappraisal of the less seen and discussed, comparatively speaking, Chung Kuo Cina, Antonioni’s monumental 1972 documentary on China in the era of the cultural revolution.
As it happens, this year marks the 40th anniversary of The Passenger’s release in 1975. Arguably, this film, more than any other by Antonioni, has exponentially grown in reputation over the course of time. David Thomson, in his Moments That Made the Movies, in discussing the famous mobile long-take that concludes the drama, says, “You may see it on DVD or television –you may have to–but there is a real feeling in theatres that that last hotel room is like the room we once called a cinema. It is one of the most beautiful and unfathomable moving shots in the history of cinema.” There’s a tone of nostalgia in Thomson’s voice, but warranted, for there is still a mystery about this film. Rather than run a contemporary take on the film, we are reprinting an article – a kind of ‘time capsule’– published nearer to the years of the film’s initial release as a means to capture the nature and flavour of the debates around the film at the time.
In terms of little known facts about Antonioni’s projects, most intriguing of all, is the Antony Sellers piece on the history of a film that he had wanted to make in Australia during the latter half of the seventies. The project went under the title of ‘The Crew’ – based on an actual incident, an account of it was written up by the filmmaker as ‘Four Men at Sea’, published in translation in his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber: Tales of a Director (1986). The filmmaker had visited Australia in 1976 in the hope of securing an international co-production deal with the Australian Film Commission. By all accounts, ‘The Crew’ was to be the film that followed The Passenger, but it was not to be. Nonetheless the account of this failed project makes for fascinating reading.
We hope you enjoy the issue.
Rolando Caputo (for the Editorial team)