Posts Tagged ‘Peter Eisenman’

In the Mood for Love

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010


In the Mood for Love
2000, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Well, this was the last film I  screened at Yale before I graduated with my M.Arch, and I suppose it was fitting that I showed the film that got me interested about the exploration between film and architecture in the first place. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who was working on a PhD on “atmosphere” at the GSD showed this film to me, and seeing it was a small revelation. First of all, the film is a profoundly beautiful film (it remains one of my favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors). Secondly, I had no idea that there was scholarship on something as seemingly disparate as cinema and architecture. In the Mood for Love is a beautiful document of love, urbanism, and cultural identity. It’s about space, atmosphere, and time; the beautiful actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are the players. For more on Wong Kar-Wai, read my post about his other movie, Chungking Express.


When I first started the film society at Yale, it was mainly as a means for creating a debate about the relationship between architecture and media within the school. Specifically, the focus would be films, but broadly, about all of technology in general. Film is technology, and both architecture and technology share the same etymological root (tech: from Gk. tekhne-, “art, skill, craft, method, system”). The moving picture, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, contemporaneously accompanied a sequence and succession of technological changes that have fundamentally altered the world around us and architecture to no lesser degree. Le Corbusier changed the way we put buildings together at the same time, but he changed it in part because he was inspired by the technology of film. To understand these changes is to understand why our built environment is the way it is. In short, architecture is, like film, an expression of humanity.


On this topic of cultural technologies, humanities, and digital media, there is nobody more eloquent and erudite as Mario Carpo. Having initially come across him in the first semester while writing a paper for Alan Plattus’ urbanism class, it was incredible to have him come and teach a graduate seminar in my final year. Much of what had only begun to approximate in thinking I found had already been expounded upon at length by the world’s most prominent architectural media theorist. In terms of thinking about media and architecture, Mario Carpo is, so far, the last word. His lecture at Yale in the spring of ’08 was an exciting reminder of how contentious the fields of history, historiography, philosophy, media and technology are when they come together in the study of architecture. Earlier in that same day, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Mario Carpo, and Bob Stern sat and debated the changing paradigms of architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and reminisced about their shared background as young architects in New York. They were seated next to about twenty students. In one room. Such is the power of the place of Yale and its community of individuals. I miss it dearly.


The format of the Yale Architecture Film Society wasn’t really well thought out; it was simply a matter of cobbling together something that I thought was sufficiently time manageable—screen a movie once a week or so and argue a position about the movie and its relation to architecture in a distributable format for the Yale community. However, at the time, I was simply printing out sheets of paper and posting them around the school. Looking back, it was a laughably low-tech way of going about it. I should have created a website or blog, posted links, film clips, and the written portions as well. This blog is an attempt to redistribute that information and reanimate those discussions. All the struggling I did each week over the years with how much to write, what images to include, or different ways to advertise the screenings and communicate with those who were interested would have been elegantly solved by the Web 2.0. It would have been an exploration of a modern medium using the new forms of media that are starting to influence architecture irreversibly. This blog is a continuation of that goal.

in-the-mood-for-loveThis marks the end of the series of films I began discussing under the theme of “The Future is Asian.” The next theme I will blog about will be “American Landscapes.”

-    quang truong

Modern Palladio

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Tala Gharagozlou attended the Yale School of Architecture Symposium this past weekend, and this is what she had to say about it.


“Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn”

Rhett Butler’s line in Gone with the wind was not only voted as the most famous one movie line by the American Film Institute in 2005, but it seems to have been the motto of some of the most famous 20th c. architectural figures.

Architects definitely care about ideas, but what about “function”?

I was struck by a comment made by Kurt Forster this week-end at a symposium dedicated to Palladio at YSOA. In response to the concluding presentations by Peter Eisenman and Rafael Moneo, Kurt said that Palladio was the first real modern architect because he did not “care how his buildings were meant to be used”. Have a look at Villa Rotonda. Not exactly a place to live in. But oh the beauty of minimalism, of art for art’s sake…


Beyond the fact that Kurt was the one making that statement, it seemed to ring shockingly true. How many times have I wondered what the point of architecture was anyway?

And if you omit a few “hygienist” architects of the turn of the century –think Bruno Taut or Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky and the design of the Frankfurt kitchen, use has really been one of the last things on architects’ mind.

The statement was also perfect in the company of someone like Peter Eisenman, whose entire project has been to define the autonomy of architecture by dealing with its “pure” syntax. And there it was, the perfect ending to the symposium, Peter Eisenman, Rafael Moneo, Greg Lynn, Robert A. M. Stern and all the others, all smiling at each other contently. Yes, Architecture is still here to stay…

On a side note, the poster to the symposium (at the top of the post) was designed by Michael Bierut’s Pentagram and I just love it. I also happen to be in a class he is co-teaching with William Drenttel at Yale. The hot topic has been, what if we designed as if we gave a damn?

The book that came out a few years ago was a pretty big success, part of that whole environmental/let’s save the world with buildings frenzy.

Drenttel’s own project though should be a very exciting one to keep track of.

– Tala Gharagozlou

Wild Strawberries

Friday, January 23rd, 2009


Wild Strawberries
1957, 91 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

I’m not sure if this is obvious, but I did select the theme for this semester’s film series with a large amount of trepidation—there are no safer, more obvious, and less objectionable subjects for a film series than the films of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. They are, without doubt, some of the most studied and written about films since the invention of cinema, and therefore their artistic merits might actually start to veer towards a level of cliché.

And so it is with equivalent parts relief and sadness that we are not going to be screening any more Antonioni films and are now going to be watching the work of that Nordic master, Ingmar Bergman, beginning with this one, Wild Strawberries. On the one hand, I am going to miss those sullen, beautiful and well-dressed actors and actresses elegantly lounge about the Mediterranean landscape and the quiet, rhythmic syncopation of their Italian. On the other hand, those Antonioni films were just so hard to watch sometimes, and it’s not really going to get any easier with Bergman. Let me explain further.

The issue of difficulty is something that we’ve been exploring a bit in the Eisenman studio—in fact, it could be seen as a key driving force to the entire oeuvre of Peter Eisenman—his theory, his writings, his pedagogy, and lastly, his architecture. Eisenman has always wanted a difficult architecture, one that initially began by an elaborately documented process of formal moves to one interested in partial figures or post-indexicality. In either case, his work has always been concerned with something other than the “easy” part of architecture concerned with opticality, which is why for his entire life he has constantly refused to talk about anything in visual terms. Though Peter’s attempt to erase opticality or visuality from architecture is as self-contradicting and as impossible a project as any other attempt to create to a closed system of logic (see Incompleteness Theorem, Kurt Godel), it nevertheless makes for some fairly entertaining discussions whenever Luis Fernandez-Galliano or Jeffrey Kipnis are around.

It is in this sense that the films of Bergman and Antonioni are germane to this discussion of difficulty. When I say that their films are hard to watch, it’s not because the images are disturbing, or because the sequence of events is ghastly. Instead, it is because the films never let you relax into a state of conditioned expectation of what will occur next. They were challenging assumptions about being, time, and existence. They were, in short, difficult. You aren’t sure why events occur or what they mean; the narrative structures and devices that have governed and organized other films are simply not present in these films. So you are kind of on edge during the entire viewing—there is, in essence, no easiness. There is no cliché.

This is why we still deride certain films as formulaic, and why you’d have to be a fairly cynical and detached hipster to find these films without value. It is in those terms that these films are valuable as studies in architecture—it is that same difficulty and challenge to assumption that charges any good architectural project with electricity. It is why practitioners as vastly different as Rem Koolhaas and Peter Eisenman are so highly vaunted within our field.

Gilles Deleuze spends the first couple of chapters in his book on Francis Bacon talking about the blank canvas as being precisely the opposite—it’s not that the canvas is empty but instead is already filled with expectation and cliché that is imperative to avoid. Bergman’s project is vastly different from Antonioni’s, but it’s not something that you can necessarily see. It has to do with the specific ways they don’t do certain things. It is their affront to cliché.

originally written October 30, 2007

Perspecta Party

Friday, January 16th, 2009


Tonight there is a release party to celebrate two new issues of Perspecta, issues 40: Monster and 41: The Grand Tour.

It’s tonight: Friday, January 16th, 7:00 PM at 7 World Trade Center (250 Greenwich Street), 45th Floor.

The editors of these two issues are my friends, Marc Guberman, Jacob Reidel, & Frida Rosenberg for Perspecta 40 “Monster;” and Gabrielle Brainard, Rustam Mehta, & Thomas Moran for Perspecta 41 “Grand Tour.”

I know there will be at least a few contributors showing up as well, so come hang out for a bit.

The contributors for 40: Monster include Mario Carpo, Mark Gage, Marcelyn Gow and Ulrika Karlsson (servo), Catherine Ingraham, Mark Jarzombek, Terry Kirk, Leon Krier, Greg Lynn, John May, John McMorrough, Colin Montgomery, Guy Nordenson, Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Emmanuel Petit, Kevin Roche, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto (Atelier Bow-Wow) and Ryuji Fujimura, Michael Weinstock, and Claire Zimmerman.

The contributors for 41: The Grand Tour include Esra Akcan, Aaron Betsky, Ljiljana Blagojević, Edward Burtynsky, Matthew Coolidge and CLUI, Gillian Darley, Brook Denison, Helen Dorey, Keller Easterling, Peter Eisenman, Dan Graham and Mark Wasiuta, Jeffery Inaba and C-Lab, Sam Jacob, Michael Meredith, Colin Montgomery, Dietrich Neumann, Enrique Ramirez, Mary-Ann Ray and Robert Mangurian, Kazys Varnelis, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, & Enrique Walker.

You can order the books here and here.


Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


1960, 145 minutes
directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

L’Avventura is really Antonioni’s most important film. Some of his most famous images and scenes are in here, as well as some of his most shocking narrative devices—they’re not shocking like an instantaneous, loud, surprising cut in a teenage slasher-flick, but shocking more like the way a finger run slowly over the rim of fine glassware slowly sets the entire glass into reverberation. Monica Vitti, the beautiful actress who stars in all three of his trilogy films, though she plays slightly different characters in all three, is the singular constancy throughout the trilogy, imbuing the three films with the existential dissonance for which Antonioni became famous and from which this semester’s theme takes it title, “Identity & Fragility.”

The theme of identity and fragility was on display last night during the lecture, though only as a subtext. Last night, at the “Writing on Architecture” panel, there was an animated debate about the value of writing to architecture. In short, books and buildings. At one point or another, various assertions were made about the ascendancy of one over the other in terms of the capacity to affect the environment, or the way we live, or our understanding of architecture and architects, living or dead. All of the arguments were made, however, with the unstated, underlying assumption that the capacity to transcend time being the most desired result of either endeavor. If the point of architectural writing is primarily self-promotional, as Dean Stern argued on one end of the panel, or a discipline unto itself which may be a more lasting document of ideas than the buildings themselves, as Peter Eisenman argued on the other end of the panel, then it is our place in time which is the real issue; specifically, the identity of an architect or architecture in relation to his or her milieu and the history of architecture in general. Time was the giant elephant in the room. I should note that the panel was sandwiched in the middle by Kurt Forster, whose wit, verve, and eloquence rendered time null and void, sort of like being absorbed in a great movie or book or under the influence of the best sort of recreational drugs.

In L’Avventura, as it is in the films of Wong Kar-Wai or Sergei Eisenstein, or the architectures of Aldo Rossi, or last night’s panel discussion, the real subject is time. The movie moves ploddingly, sometimes almost disturbingly slow, and the camera lingers as the characters wander seemingly without purpose through the landscape. This, in essence, is the invention of Michelangelo Antonioni. It is the relationship between his framing and pacing of images through time which was so disturbingly unconventional at the time (and still is). As the movie progresses, you are thus made aware of the ideas of distance and proximity– the distance between people, the distance between a person and his/her environment, and the distance between an idea and its realization. It is why it is said that only in an Antonioni film is the architecture a protagonist. I would disagree, and say that the architecture in an Antonioni film is not a protagonist, but an antagonist—it makes you aware of the formal delineations between things and is constantly pushing and pulling on the beautiful, languid characters in ways that subjugate them and belittle them. The architecture, in more ways than one, makes the characters disappear, though we never lose our interest in the pretty things that move about the frame of the camera—they just seem pitiably trivial to the power of the place and the landscape.

originally written October 9, 2007


Mon Oncle

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008


Mon Oncle
1958, 110 minutes
directed by  Jacques Tati

What a beautiful film this is. Last year this film series screened Playtime, Jacques Tati’s later, larger, and more ambitious, though not funnier, film that deals with a similar scenario: the character Monsieur Hulot and his comic interactions with his urban environment of old and Modern Paris. You can’t look up Jacques Tati and not read about his films as a critique of Modern architecture; however, I’m not going to get into that here. My foot is getting tired from incessantly kicking at the dead horse of Modernism.


What I’ve been thinking about recently are children. The title Mon Oncle means “my uncle” in French, and though there isn’t really anything that resembles a traditional plot in this film, a continuing narrative strand involves Monsieur Hulot and his playful nephew. Monsieur Hulot is himself a large child in these films, dispossessed of the sophistication and suavity to understand how to operate within Modern environments. What’s surprising to me is the poignancy of an architectural critique from the viewpoint of a child (and/or man-child, as the case of Monsieur Hulot may be). In fact, children are constantly poignant to me —be them in the published photos of James Stirling’s buildings or as a political device in the recent film by Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men. What children could then represent is something that is imminently necessary to acknowledge in the study of architecture: that is, the presence of something beyond the reach of intellection.

bacon_study1953Philip Nobel wrote that changes in governmental policy, among other factors, forced architects to compete with engineers in the middle of the 20th century. I agree with him to a certain extent—I think the bigger factor was the dominance of German philosophy that prioritized progress and science in the Modern era. Thus, architects had to sell themselves and their work as scientifically rigorous. But as Alberto Perez-Gomez has written, the way we know that architecture is separate from science is that architects are constantly using scientific metaphors. If architecture and science were really conjoined, there would be no need for architects to reach for flimsy scientific metaphors to justify their designs.

I’ve stated glibly many times before that “logic will break your heart,” which is a phrase partially taken from a mediocre album by The Stills, a rock group from Montreal. But the phrase succinctly (and catchily if not also reductively) sums up the theories of one of my favorite figures of late, Kurt Gödel. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems of 1931 essentially stated that in any closed system of logic there are both true and false statements that cannot be proven from within that system. Therefore, the attempt to create and justify any closed system of logic is fraught with inconsistencies and incompleteness—this is the hole that Derrida fell into in his otherwise brilliant theory of differance. This is also why the charge of arbitrary hurts Eisenman more than any other critique—he wanted his designs to be logically inevitable from within the parameters of architecture that he so painstakingly constructed.


Lately, Gilles Deleuze has taken the helm of the most inspirational writer for architects of the moment. Everybody is jumping on the Deleuzian bandwagon, and for good reason. His recently translated book, The Logic of Sensation, is amazing. His ideas of “figuration” and “sensation” are explicitly defined as something that passes beyond the brain, an “irreducibly synthetic . . . plurality of constituting domains of sensation.” In essence, the logic of sensation is distinctly different and separate from formal logic. In Deleuze’s theory, though it is ostensibly about painting, he brings into architecture those aspects that Modernism had left out: namely, the other four senses.

In that way, Deleuze is deliriously liberating. He renders null and void the need to endlessly and unyieldingly generate meaningless diagram after diagram, encourages us to break rules, play around, abandon logic, and explains why stunningly, rigorously formal architecture, like that of Ben Van Berkel and Preston Scott Cohen, sometimes ends up feeling soulless and dead. The work of great architecture lies beyond logical coherency—it lies somewhere in the realm of sensation.

(originally written March 6, 2007)


Monday, December 29th, 2008

One of the great things about working with Dietrich Neumann from Brown University (click here for a great link about Brown) was that he selected movies that I knew I had to watch but just couldn’t make myself for one reason or another. Well, when film and architecture are mentioned together, this is one of the first movies people think of, so it was overdue.


Metropolis (1929) 123 minutes, directed by Fritz Lang

Let’s face it: today, technology is no longer an important part of our collective image of the future. Or maybe I should define “technology” as specifically the sort of industrial/machine age concept which is represented by cars, trains, airplanes, and skyscrapers. Today we have technology in the form of cellphones, iPods, laptops, Blackberrys, the internet and Maya, which are a distinctly different beast than cars and airplanes. In fact, stuff like a 3-d modeling program isn’t technology at all. It’s magic.

A week ago or so, the New York Times published an article about how the recent proliferation and popularity of certain “magic-realist” television shows such as “Lost,” “Heroes,” “Medium,” “Ghost Whisperer” and others were indicative of a popular fascination with the supernatural and the unexplainable. The article goes on to say that this is the harbinger of a society’s decline, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that yet. What I will say, however, is that I think what has happened is that technology has come to signify something else to us: it’s complexity, sophistication, ubiquity and incomprehensible power has breached a tipping point and technology has morphed into magic.

This follows what is sometimes commonly referred to as Clarke’s Third Law (after Arthur C. Clarke): Any sufficiently complex technology is indistinguishable from magic. Don’t think that’s true? Try explaining to me how a television works, on a subatomic level. What about a microprocessor? Still don’t think technology is magic? Did you know that even common household electric wiring systems can only be predictably accounted for using quantum mechanics? And do you know what the single most important principle of quantum mechanics is? The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: that at a certain scale it is impossible to know what is going on. Which is why string theory is simultaneously both extremely exciting and extremely disappointing: it can never be scientifically proven or disproven because it theorizes phenomena at a scale that we simply cannot test for. Somebody explain to me quantum mechanics. I don’t care if you’re Michelle Addington (more Michelle). You can’t. Because it’s magic. iPods and cellphones and Blackberrys and laptops run on magic.

The film Metropolis is the godfather of all filmic images of the Modern conception of the city. In this film the city under the influence of Modern technology was imagined to its logical extreme: layers upon layers of traffic all flowing in orderly grids between behemoth sized skyscrapers with Babel-esque proportioned hubris. In a sense, all films dealing with the city have been a response to Metropolis. But the age where Metropolis represents our image of the future may be closed, along with our faith in the promise of skyscrapers (except in Asia, but more on that later): prominent architects have all said or proposed as such: Rem called his CCTV (known in China affectionately as “Big Shorts”) loop a death knell to the age of the skyscraper, Eisenman’s Max Reinhardt building was also theorized as such, and Thom Mayne even said in spoken lectures that skyscrapers make no sense for cities today. Metropolis, with its grand skyscrapers, is the image of the city under the spell of technology.

As an element of urban planning, the Grid may be the most conspicuous example of an obsolete machine-age emphasis on the vehicle. How pernicious the grid has been to cities in the Twentieth century! It’s no wonder that today we care most about the cities and spaces that were developed before the car and hence, before the grid: lower Manhattan, parts of Boston, parts of San Francisco, and of course, old Europe.


Another holdover from Modernist urban planning is the vertical stratification of traffic: designers since the Modern era have always attempted to create vertically layered levels of traffic: clover freeways, elevated railways, pedestrian skybridges, etc., all in alignment with the image that Metropolis helped propagate. But in every instance the attempt to create just one more level of streetlife has failed miserably (save for in Asia, but again, more on that later). Wherever pedestrian skybridges have been built they’ve managed to kill the street life both on them and below them, and the images of clover freeways are somehow always juxtaposed next to images of suburban angst: be it Columbine High School or Insane Clown Posse. The reason why layering pedestrian traffic doesn’t work may be most simply explained using a concept Molly Steenson introduced to me: FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out). It may be hard to reside in any one place when you can see a more activated streetscape one level above or below. The next test of this idea will be seen in New York’s High Line, a competition won by Diller, Scofidio+Renfro in collaboration with Field Operations, which faces the unenviable task of trying to design an artificial environment to compete with the bustling, organic streetlife of Manhattan.

(originally written 2/20/2007)

The Man with the Movie Camera

Sunday, December 28th, 2008


The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) 67 minutes

Nearly as soon as cinema was invented were there theoreticians who wrote about the expansive possibilities of film to change the way we document and understand architecture. In fact, Modern architecture can be seen as an attempt to reconcile the possibilities of technology with the way we build. Walter “the J is like a Y” Benjamin, Le “Little Devil” Corbusier, Aldo “Crayola” Rossi, Bernard “Ah-” Tschumi, and Rem “Cool-Hizzy” Koolhaas, just to name a few, have all famously used film to advance ideas about architecture and urbanism.


Cinema is the dominant medium of today (though that may be changing), and this is no small potatoes. There have only been a few changes in dominant media since the dawn of history; first was language and oration, the Renaissance gave birth to perspective and thus monocularcentric text and image, and then the twentieth century gave us relativity and motion. Eisenman would call these moments of change shifts: from theocentric to anthropocentric to technocentric; Marshall McLuhan would say they were sensual-spatial: from aural to visual to electro-acoustic.

Dziga Vertov was one of the first to experiment with the extreme technical possibilities of film. Vertov uses slow-motion, fast-motion, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, double-exposure, freeze-frames, Dutch-angles and tracking shots to document the day in the life of a Russian city. This film is unabashedly ambitious in its attempt to document space and urbanity free from the tethers of literature.


Rem Koolhaas as the l’homme d’architecture par example du jour (that’s French for “dude be the man right now”) presents an interesting case for a study of the intersection between film and architecture. Though his contemporary Bernard Tschumi more explicitly draws on film as a possible source of architectural inspiration (see The Manhattan Transcripts, Architecture & Disjunction), Remment Koolhaas actually was a screenwriter before he became an architect (he wrote, among other things, soft-core porn scripts for Russ Meyer–which explains some of the pages in his book, Content).  Though it’s hard to say anything specific about Rem, which has a lot to do with the way OMA runs, it nevertheless may be interesting to use him to understand the contemporary condition. For if we are to assume the canon of critical architecture, then we could use Rem to theorize a paradigmatic shift from criticality to post. The moment that this occurred, if I were to try and pin it down Charles Jencks-style, would have to be around 1997 with the appearance of Frank Gehry’s Bilbao. But Gehry himself, who was born Ephraim Owen Goldstein in Toronto, Canada, never was a player in architecture beforehand—he was building parking garages in California before Bilbao. Rem, then, could be the architect that represents the shift from a critical paradigm to a projective or post-critical paradigm (see Jussieu vs. Porto). And if we grant him that, then he is in rare company indeed. For before Rem, James Stirling was the man sitting on top of the fulcrum that swung from Modern to Post-Modern (see Leicester vs. Stuttgart), and before him Le Corbusier was the man that spanned pre-Modern to Modern.


But of course, this is all predicated on the idea that we accept criticality as a continually valid project for architecture, and not a distinctly Modern-with-a-capital M and Western invention. For criticality may be fatally linked to Hegel and the distinctly twentieth century notion of a canon, to say nothing of the contemporary challenge that Asia presents to criticality (more on that later). It also may be interesting to note that those three Fulcrum Men: Corb, Stirling, and Rem, came to architecture after initial careers in other fields. Le Corbusier was a painter and never had a formal architectural education, James Stirling went to art school and served in the military before attending Liverpool University (as someone who was trained as a painter myself, I love pointing out other architects who were also painters), and Rem wrote porno screenplays before going to the AA in London. However, this makes sense if we understand that any creative act is as equally destructive as it is creative (one could use the laws of thermodynamics as an analogy). It seems to point to the idea that there is nothing so dangerous to the status-quo as an artist bent on destruction. Which is why I’m a lifetime member of the NRA.

Just kidding. Or am I?

(originally written 2/13/2007)

4/21/2006: Photographing Nihilism

Friday, December 26th, 2008

More film notes from the past:


Blowup (1966), 111 minutes

*Palme d’Or (Best Film), Cannes Film Festival
*nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
*National Society of Film Critics Award, Best Film and Best Director

“Blowup daringly suggests that an image without politics isn’t an image at all.” — Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine

“Antonioni’s chic study in ambiguity calls into question the notion of photographic truth, and indeed reality itself.” — Thomas Delapa, Boulder Weekly

“Antonioni is the kind of thinker who can say that there are ‘no social or moral judgments in the picture’; he is merely showing us the people who have discarded ‘all discipline,’ for whom freedom means ‘marijuana, sexual perversion, anything,’ and who live in ‘decadence without any visible future.’ I’d hate to be around when he’s making judgements.” –Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

“A great film.” –Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

It’s great to read the alternating rave/pan reviews of this Italian neo-realist’s most famous movie, with some critics calling it as important as Citizen Kane while others say that it’s a bunch of pretentious crap. Like everything, it’s probably somewhere in-between. However, next time you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of hipper-than-thou modsters, simply mention that you’ve seen this movie and you’ll get instant Cool Points™ from skinny black pants wearing hipsters and film students from across the globe. It’s like an artsy-fartsy shibboleth.

This was Antonioni’s first film in English, and his first film shot outside of Italy (it was filmed in ’60’s swinging London). It caused a near-riot in its day, both winning all the top critic’s prizes and also garnering the notoriety of being banned in several countries and being officially denounced by various religions. It’s the story of a bored and cynical fashion photographer who may or may not have accidentally photographed a murder. Vanessa Redgrave turns in one of her most memorable performances, managing to hold her own against the nearly unbeatable cinematic phenomenon of two young girls rolling around naked on the ground (ever seen Girls Gone Wild? It’s like visual crack cocaine—probably what David Foster Wallace was writing about when he wrote about a movie that was so captivating it incapacitated its viewers in his novel, Infinite Jest).

But amongst the critics who do not dismiss this movie out of hand, the thing everybody talks about is Antonioni’s exploration of the relationship between image and reality, both through his own directorial decisions and through the story of the main character (the photographer as played by David Hemmings). Bear in mind, this movie came out in 1966, which is within two years of Andy Warhol’s first exhibitions of his Campbell’s soup cans (1964), Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1968), Peter Eisenman’s declaration of a second epistemological shift (1968), and Arthur C. Danto’s declaration of the End of Art History (1964). Most reviews also connect the photographic confusion explored in this film with the Zapruder films of Kennedy’s assassination (1963). In general, the times they were-a-changin’, and this movie was one of the harbingers of a general artistic and intellectual movement that interrogated of the role of machines and technology on our perceptions of the world. No doubt germane as we CAD-draft and Maya model our virtual worlds.