In the master’s presence
As Beyond The Clouds opens in Scotland, Trevor Johnston remembers his last meeting with its director, Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers.
You could get very metaphorical about it ifyou wanted to. It‘s November I995 and legendary Italian ﬁlmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni is giving his London Film Festival press conference. Nothing too unusual in that. you might think. but these are remarkable circumstances. We‘re all packed into the leopard-skin-carpeted screening room in the basement of the Planet Hollywood restaurant. where the stellar burger-bar's corporate logo remains video-projected throughout on the screen behind the platform. a constant reminder of Tinseltown cultural hegemony.
Antonioni is speechless. A stroke thirteen years previously has reduced his vocabulary to a few monosyllablcs and left him with only the weakest movement in his left arm. And yet in this reduced physical state. at the age of 83. he‘s here to mark the completion of his latest movie. Linked by connecting tissue shot by Wim Wenders. Beyond The Clouds is a pomnanteau of stories drawn from Antonioni‘s collection That Bowling Alley ()n The Tiber — failed affairs. teasing lovers' games and amorous pursuit constitute the terrain in question. A genuine Antonioni movie to show that. yes. there is life after the special Oscar he‘d received earlier in the year.
From real to reel
The film documentary is a strange beast. Through the artifice of editing and personal selection of material, it tries to persuade us that what we see is real life as it happens. This contradiction is encapsulated in the title of Imagining Reality (Faber and Faber, £20), in which Kevin Macdonald and former Edinburgh Film Festival director Mark Cousins chart the development of the documentary from the lumiere Brothers’ first footage to the present day.
This isn’t simple history or dreary academic theory, but a constantly entertaining selection of enthusiastic and insightful pieces, some contemporary to their subject, others more retrospective, most written by
In the event. the next half an hour or so is more about honouring the great man‘s presence than anything else. His wife Enrica Fico and producer Stc’phane Tchalagadjieff answer most of the questions. while he nods or gestures his approval or disapproval. We see Antonioni directing the
likes of Sophie Marceau just
by peering Into her eyes and
wrlltng a performance out of
Havingjust been shown Enrica’s 50- minute location documentary For Me Making A Film Is Like Living (which would make a great pendant to the video release). we can now grasp how he actually made the new film: through an extraordinary combination of fortitude and tenacity. and an unshakeable vision of what he wants to put on screen.
We see him directing the likes of
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filmmakers themselves. Moving chronologically through the chapters - with an interlude for Asian work - the book mines the genre’s richest seams, through travelogue, propaganda, Grierson, social commentary, artistic expression and so-called verife. Like
Documentary and 08 Independent: Michal Moore's ltoger & Me
it , l
love affair: Peter Weller and Fanny Ardant in Antonionl's Beyond The Clouds
Sophie Marceau and Fanny Ardant just by peering into their eyes and willing a performance out of them. while drawings and hand movements convey where and how he wants to put his customary two cameras for shooting. The end result is atmospheric. melancholy. pretty damn sexy and the son of Euro An Movie in the classic mould that‘s become a dying breed these days. simply because there aren‘t too many like Antonioni around anynnue.
Wenders agreed to take co-director credit simply for insurance purposes. and it seems clear from the available evidence that Antonioni was quite capable of doing it all by himself. grazie very much. The German‘s contribution is reduced to rather less than was first imagined — a few linking shots showing ﬁlm director John Malkovich scouting wintry Italian locations for his next project. Malkovich also features in the second
the medium itself, the book succeeds in carrying us off to different times and places, sharing unique perspectives and re-awakening ourselves to the wonder and immediacy of the artfonn.
like Imagining Reality, John
of Antonioni's four sections. picking up Sophie Marceau in the Etnporio Armani shop in coastal Pottoiino. Taken together. the various strands contribute a leisurely. handsomely designed journey into familiar Antonioni themes. Perhaps it's not the most compelling of his films. but it's still part of the uniquely composed celluloid landscape that brought us the desolate mysteries of L'Avventum or The Passenger. the haunted sensuality of ldenlijiealion ()f/i ll’oman. and the sheer plastic visual control seen in the likes of Blow-Up and The Red Desert. An Antonioni film. for all that. and just when we imagined it might be his last. he’s about to shoot another one. with Atom Egoyan the willing standby this time. Words might fail him. but the Italian macstro's creative juices are still flowing. a late vintage. Beyond The Clouds opens at the Glasgow I’ihn Theatre and Film/louse. Edinburgh. on Fri [0 ./an.
Pierson’s Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes (Faber and Faber, £11.99) acts as a guided tour, but this time through American independent cinema from 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise to 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Pierson writes from the heart of a filmmaking sector that has rejuvenated US cinema, chronicling his personal involvement as a producer on key projects. His down-to-earth personality shines through, making the subject immensely accessible.
Key directors, actors, films and themes are brought together in The BFI Companion To llorror (Cassell, £19.99), edited by Kim Newman. Avoiding the high-brow approach to low-brow material that marrs Sight And Sound, this volume is lucidly and intelligently written by a crew of experts including Mark Kennode, Alan- Jones, Neil Gaiman and Anne Billson. In fact, it’s worth it alone for the hundreds of perfectly reproduced stills. (Alan Morrison)
30 The List lO-23 Jan I997