Staff Review

Vintage Sundays: ZABRISKIE POINT

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Like our weekly Discover Tuesdays initiative and specially curated strands such as Culture Shock, Vintage Sundays is all about celebrating a diversity of cinema culture on the big screen at Picturehouse. A mix of Hollywood classics, masterpieces of World Cinema and rediscovered gems, Vintage Sundays is about bringing the very best in film to the big screen on a Sunday afternoon.

As with Discover, from this week, we plan to provide our viewers with accompanying programme notes, written by members of our staff from across the cinemas, in order to expand on the experience and bring a personal spin to the screenings. Cinephilia is at the core of the strand, so it’s apt that our diverse roster of talented writers bring their own views to the table and get to speak about the films that really make them tick. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s unique 1970 counterculture classic ZABRISKIE POINT today feels like a perfect way to start.

2998movie1A box office flop on its initial release, the film has since rightfully earned cult status as a masterpiece, praised for its unusual storytelling, elegant cinematic flourishes and poetic style. But it’s also a film that, much like a wealth of New American Cinema from the period, remains little seen outside of film classes and niche programming. It’s certainly less than a staple of repertory cinema, in part due to its challenging style and strange visuals, but also because decent print versions have remained so difficult to track down until relatively recently.  

A follow up to Antonioni’s first English language hit BLOW UP (1966), the film centres on a rebellious young Californian man who steals a plane and retreats to the desert in search of fulfilment and personal experimentation. Much like the heroes of counterculture classics from BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to EASY RIDER (1969), our hero is ultimately doomed, but his rebellion becomes emblematic of a mood of change, a desire to react against the numbing conventions of American society. It’s an astonishingly vivid, sad and often shockingly violent film, and one which vividly evokes a mood of uncertainty in youth culture at the beginning of a new, very different decade in American history.MA25-25.tif

Beautifully restored from original elements, the restoration we screen today superbly highlights the film’s hyper cinematic qualities and haunting widescreen cinematography, most iconically seen in an exquisitely rendered orgy sequence, in which writhing, beautiful bodies are seen making love against the stark backdrop of arid desert and dust. The image could not be more rich in symbolism and stark visual power. Documentary elements, haunting music and jolts of shocking violence complete the picture. It’s a weird, sad and unforgettable cinematic experience and one which perfectly maps the spirit of a strand which is as much about reconsidering old films as it is about celebrating cinematic canon.

Happy viewing. 

Paul Ridd, London Cinemas and Acquisitions at Picturehouse & Discover Tuesdays Programmer

 

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