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Review: Zabriskie Point (1970)

Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni | 110 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Paul Fix, G.D. Spradlin, Bill Garaway, Kathleen Cleaver, Rod Taylor, Button, Michael L. Davis, Lee Duncan, Harrison Ford, Jim Goldrup, Lake

The name Mark Frechette will ring a bell with few people. In 1970, he played the male lead in Michelangelo Antonioni’s only American film, “Zabriskie Point”. By coincidence, Mark had ended up in the world. He was working as a carpenter in Boston when Antonioni discovered him. He yelled at a passerby in the street and threw a flowerpot at her head. Antonioni cast him right as Mark, a college student who is being pursued for the murder of a police officer. “Zabriskie Point” is – along with “Easy Rider” (1969) – one of the ultimate epochs of hippie culture. Frechette was typically a child of his time. The money he earned with his short-lived acting career he donated largely to the commune in which he lived. After starring in two Italian films, Frechette chose a new career: as a bank robber. He was arrested in 1973. As the reason for his act – in which one of his partners in crime was killed – he stated: “It would be like a direct attack on everything that is choking this country to death”. Two years later, at just 27 years old, Frechette was killed in a freak accident in the gym of the correctional facility in Norfolk, Massachusetts.

As an outsider in late 1960s LA, Antonioni focused on the radical protests that were taking place on college campuses at the time. Mark (Mark Frechette) has dropped out of his studies and now works on a forklift truck. He still spends a lot of time with his radical study buddies. Experienced protesters have warned that the police could use violence at the next protest. The bored Mark, who wants to perform a revolutionary act, buys a gun. When during the fierce protests there is actually shooting and a police officer is killed, the suspicions logically turn to Mark. In panic, he flees and ends up in Death Valley. In the middle of the desert, he meets the handsome Daria (Daria Halprin), the sweetheart of property developer Lee Allen (Rod Taylor), for whom she works as a secretary. She tells him she survives by using her imagination. At the well-known viewpoint Zabriskie Point, they fall in love, after which they share their philosophy of life. Then Mark decides to go back to LA, if only to bring back the small plane he stole from an airport. The police are, of course, already waiting for him … Daria meanwhile repents and takes revenge on the capitalist world in an unmistakable way.

Antonioni was at the peak of his commercial success at the time. He had just scored his only international hit in England (“Blowup”, 1966) and hopes that he could make something similar about alternative culture in America were undoubtedly high. But as with so many of Antonioni’s films, the received varying degrees of reception. In the US, people could hardly appreciate this accusation against their consumer society, which in their view was also put down far too artfully and elusively. In Europe people were now familiar with the work of the idiosyncratic Italian filmmaker and understood him better. ‘Zabriskie Point’ is above all an atmospheric film full of breathtakingly beautiful shots, which sketches in the typical Antonioni way (with many static and artificial images) how people who have fled a certain situation (in this case the intrusive consumer society), see reality. experience in a completely different way. Antonioni consciously chose unknown actors for the lead roles. From Mark Frechette we know how it ended with him, has since become known only as the woman who was briefly married to Dennis Hopper. Next to them we see the somewhat matured professional actor Rod Taylor, who had long passed his peak. In short, the acting is nothing to write home about. Then Antonioni with “L’eclisse” (1962) – starring and Alain Delon – was a lot better.

The director himself said about the film: “The New World with its young extremism in all directions, with its tensions between prosperity and well-being utopia that can lead to sharp conflict, intrigues me. I am by no means trying to explain the United States in the film, but I am trying to feel the country by having an intuitive view of it. The story is simple, but the content is very complex. You shouldn’t read between the lines, but look between the images. “The highly unrealistic and poetic approach to the myths surrounding alternatives and the slow pace of the story in” Zabriskie Point ‘are still not appreciated by everyone. But with its melancholic atmosphere, beautiful image compositions, time-determining yet timeless soundtrack (including Pink Floyd and The Doors) and Pop Art-like colors and themes, the has a long lasting effect. The grand apocalyptic finale is absolutely spectacular. As in “L’eclisse”, Antonioni once again dares to end with scenes that are so daring stylistically that they radically revise and simultaneously summarize everything that has gone before in the film. Whoever takes a good seat will be rewarded, but the road to that reward is certainly not easy to follow.

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