The Shutter Closes for Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1912-2007

In yesterday’s posting, in listing the cinema giants still alive after the death of Ingmar Bergman, I added, “I’m sure I’ve left some out.” Well, yes. The ignored elephant in the room was Michaelangelo Antonioni, but regrettably that is no longer true. Today he died at the age of 94.

His passing hasn’t been as noted as that of Bergman -- on the CNN website , for example, it’s featured below such more pressing and important news stories as the end of the show “Simple Life,” the final dissolution of the Spears-Federline marriage, and Star Jones admitting, at last, that she had gastric bypass surgery. And, of course, the resurrection of Drew Carey’s career via game show hosting (“In a couple of months he could be Regis Philbin”).

But, though lower profile, Antonioni may have been the greater and more significant artist.  He is at least, I'd argue, more challenging: the formal starkness and abstract intensity of films such as “La Notte,”  "L'Avventura," “L'Eclisse” and “Red Desert” demand more concentrated —  and detached — viewer participation than the emotional, even melodramatic workouts of say, “Scenes from a Marriage.” More than Bergman, his eye framed the alienation and angst and the elusive beauty of the human condition in the world today.

Personally, I have a warm spot for both directors. While Bergman turned me on to death with “The Seventh Seal,” Antonioni warmed me up to sex, or at least adolescent voyeurism, with “Blow-Up,” the first X-rated film I sneaked into. Looking back, I see it as a masterpiece of mood, formal beauty and hip posturing undermining all faith in the validity of perception or the cetainty of knowledge. But way back then it was all about the Purple Paper Scene, for which I will be eternally grateful.

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