08 November 2018

What's up for a few hours, v. MCMLXVII

“Up” in this case means the ol’ theatrical run, as ‘streaming’ is one Francis Scott Key gerund I don’t do, and as I’m in no position to determine whether I gleam or not, I feel compelled to reflect on two screenings of The Other Side of the Wind while it alights a cinema-house I am aware of.. ..specifically to rebut two notions I’m reading in articles (1) that it’s not a masterpiece that belongs with his top half dozen (Kane, Ambersons, Touch of Evil, Lady from Shanghai, Falstaff, The Trial) (2) that it’s intended as a dismissive parody of Antonioni. First of all, Welles wouldn’t set a film he valued as highly next door to the exploding Zabriskie Point house for a fleeting improv parody of someone he had little respect for.

Since Antonioni’s classic work came in the 60s people can forget that he was three years’ older than Welles. That Welles’ 1967 nod (the same year he started filming Other Side) “According to a young American critic, one of the great discoveries of our age is the value of boredom as an artistic subject. If that is so, Antonioni deserves to be counted as a pioneer and founding father” is followed by “His movies are perfect backgrounds for fashion models” is likely due to Blow-Up coming out the previous year. David Hemmings’ fashion photography in Blow-Up enables the petty London alpha behaviour of the protagonists’ worldly assimilation (in the city where Antonioni said the photographers lived, though the script wasn't originally set in London) as well as the relationship to the infinite and eros, while Hemmings' ‘neo-realist’ photos represented Antonioni’s film roots both stylistically and geographically. Neo-realism was what the Italian anti-fascist directors adhered to after WW2, referenced in Zabriskie Point when the romantic pairing settles into the titular landscape:

Daria: (toking) What do you mean, reality trip? Oh, yeah, they can’t imagine things. Were you in that group? Why didn’t you get out?
Mark: I wasn’t really in the group. I just couldn’t stand their bullshit talk. Really bored the hell out out of me.

Of course alongside Antonioni the would-be architect (Sandro jealously tipping over the architecture student’s inkwell in in L’Avventura, exploding the house of the Southwestern gated community developer in Zabriskie Point) and Antonioni the painter (Blow-up and L’Avventura) is the would-be neo-realist, a maze Hemmings follows in Blow-Up along with mystery genre structure, most effectively developed in The Passenger. What Antonioni hadn’t enacted yet - he would do so later in Identification of a Woman - was the filmmaker, and I think Welles thought that was his opening to go further - to take Antonioni’s “Eros is Sick” theme closer to the bone, while filming his and his girlfriend’s whimsical erotic fancies. The film within a film is also not, in my view, getting the respect it deserves - it comes off as parody at times out of aesthetic necessity, but Welles made a Wellsian erotic film that delivers on that branding. It also sets up the drama of the film, which involves the directors sadistic relation to the lead male actor. This, and the scenes in the screening room with the would-be investor/ producer clearly reference Godard’s Le Mepris, which also had come out recently (+ the car of Le Mepris and L'Eclisse). Imagine Welles watching that film after all his problems with producers - where it is the screenwriter rather than the actor being emasculated - a theme Welles took up 15 years earlier in The Lady from Shanghai. . “Eros is Sick” came from the essay Ideas and Facts which was published when L’Avventura was being booed at Cannes: “What do you think this eroticism that has invaded literature and the performing arts is? ..a symptom.. Of the illness the emotions are suffering. We would not be erotic, that is, the sick men of Eros, if Eros himself were in good health. And when I say in good health, I mean just that, adequate to man’s conditions and needs,” a statement of a 1960 Italian man’s painterly taste for allegory. Antonioni's late 60s early 70s films in English relish and utilize the escape from Italian censorship, living vicariously through his male leads filled with his own subconscious impulses, even as Britain becomes the conjugal home Nicholson leaves in The Passenger.

As with Antonioni’s best work, the first viewing of Other Side is a ‘meet and greet’ orientation session, and though the scenes on the set involve improvisation, each line functionally advances the character study.