|Forever Monica Vitti|
Red Desert (1964)
Criterion Collection #522
Finally, an Antonioni film that scores high on the "watchability" scale. (1)
Antonioni is the apogee of a certain kind of 60s era European director. His films are consistent in terms of their tone and visual style. The tone is melancholy/"existentialist" although if he was working today he would inevitably be considered "post-modernist." The visual style consists of long takes, static compositions and a painterly concern with framing and camera movement.
These traits both conspire against Antonioni ever breaking through to an enduring 'popular' audience for his work while securing his acceptance among a smaller Audience concerned with the role of art in film. That leaves the modern viewer with the choice of whether to ignore Antonioni because his films are slow and often boring, whether to dip into the better films to get a sense of what he was about OR to go 'all in' and watch all available. Ignoring a specific artist and their work is often unconscious simply because the prospective audience member simply hasn't heard of the artist, let alone their work. Consciously ignoring and Artist and Audience member "knows" is "important" is a different matter entirely. You have to seriously question the importance of Audience members who proclaim expertise in a certain field of art and simultaneously celebrate their limited knowledge base. This describes many critics.
But is a "completist" mentality required? Obviously not, simply because the amount of time that exists is limited. You can't dedicate your entire waking life to viewing art products, so cuts need to be made. I would humbly suggest that Red Desert is a top 3 Antonioni title because of the following:
1. Classic Monica Vitti performance: Monica Vitti stars in most (if not all?) of the top tier Antonioni films, and here she is in living color.
2. Color: Antonioni is kind of synonymous with the conscious choice to use black and white film instead of color, but Red Desert is his first color movie and it really livens up the scenery. He also hand colors specific scenes
3. Industrial Landscape: Like many Antonioni films Red Desert has a very minimal plot, leaving the viewer plenty of time to ponder the scenery. Here, said scenery is an industrial town in Southern Italy, and the quasi-environmentalist tone of the film gives Red Desert a futuristic vibe.
(1) Blogger auto-corrects on "watchability." I did an internet search and discovered that "Watchable" is a word (going back to 17th century England.) and that "watchability" is a form of watchable.