It must be tough when you realise you’re old but still want to be seen as hip. You know your experiences are still relevant, but the kids just don’t want to listen and you find yourself having a hard time speaking their language. This is a little bit how it feels watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s first American effort Zabriskie Point.
North America was a pretty different place in the late 60’s. The anti-war sentiment was a big wave washing its way through colleges across America and The Man didn’t know what to do about it. The rise of an educated rebel rousing youth movement, hell bent on telling their parent where to stick it must have been a pleasing sight for European eyes, where people were already well versed in the art of rebellion, revolution, fascism and the freedom of expression through exaggerated hand gestures. Released the same year four students were shot and killed at Kent State University, Antonioni uses a protesters’ shooting of a police officer during a demonstration as a catalyst for his characters who, while on the run, drift through the film struggling to understand the world around them, as well as themselves.
Shot in the verite style and using non professional actors, the film is a love-in to the American mood of youthful rebellion. But Zabriskie Point is a far cry from a straightforward agit-prop film. Instead it is an expressive attempt to explore a new country’s political and popular landscape as seen through the eyes of an old Italian master. Antonioni grafts together elliptical scenes of pot smoking aspiring professionals, college protests gone wrong, misconstrued political rantings and youthful orgies in the desert and fills the scenes with music by bands like The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and with original tunes by Pink Floyd. But instead of coming across as an authentic protest that taps into the youthful energy of a political rage, it ends up being a distanced and oblique search for meaning and identity, kind of like when that old uncle squeezed into a new pair of bell-bottoms and bought a roach clip key chain. I mean you’re a little embarrassed but you still love him.
Zabriskie Point plays tonight at 7pm & 9:15 pm and again on Monday September 17th at Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour)