After hearing about the death of Ingmar Bergman yesterday, I began thinking about Michelangelo Antonioni. I knew the legendary Italian filmmaker was older and I feared he'd be the next to pass on. As it turns out, he was. Antoninoni died the same day as Bergman, in fact, on July 30. The director of classics like L'Avventura and Blow-Up, Antonioni was the more accessible of the two filmmakers for me, at least when I was first introduced to both as an ignorant teenage film student with a distaste for slow-paced cinema. To this day, I still prefer the films of Antonioni, although not for the same reasons. Back then it was the music and the women that attracted me; today it is the curiosity of his camera and the nonchalant simplicity of his plotting. Of course, I also still think of Antonioni's films as being some of the sexiest art-house pictures ever made. Thanks to Blow-Up, I still have a thing for the now 70-year-old Vanessa Redgrave.
Born in 1912, Antonioni earned a degree in economics and was a film journalist before deciding to attend film school. His first credit was as screenwriter for Rossellini's A Pilot Returns and he continued writing scripts, including Fellini's The White Sheik, while carving out a filmmaking career for himself, initially making documentary shorts. Antonioni's debut feature came in 1950 as Story of a Love Affair. A decade later he achieved his first widespread critical acclaim for L'Avventura, the first in a trilogy -- in themes only -- that also includes La Notte and L'Eclisse. In the mid-60s, Antonioni signed a three-picture deal with producer Carlo Ponti to make English-language films. These films were Blow-Up, for which he was nominated for two Oscars, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, which stars Jack Nicholson. He had a stroke in 1985, leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Yet he still managed to make Beyond the Clouds, aided by Wim Wenders, in 1995, and his final work, a disappointing segment of the 2004 film Eros.
If his death occured in one of his own films, Antonioni would likely become forgotten, replaced, or thought of as inconsequential. But a film depicting Antonioni's life and death as so meaningless would be too implausible. There are so many memorable scenes and images in his films -- the ending of Blow Up is one of my favorites in all of cinema -- and he has been a great inspiration to and influence on directors following him. Perhaps he would want us to accept his passing as just another event in time, but there's no way he would expect us to think of what he did in life as unimportant.