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Italy/USA 1970
Directed by
Michelangelo Antonioni
110 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
3 stars

Zabriskie Point

Synopsis: In the revolutionary 1960s students are on strike at a LA university. Mark (Mark Frechette) soon realizes he may be framed for murder after a police shooting. He escapes by stealing a plane and flying into the Mojave Desert. Here he meets Daria (Daria Halprin) the daughter of a rich real estate businessman (Rod Taylor). They live the hippy dream until Mark decides to return the stolen aircraft. He is shot by the police and Daria decides she wants to destroy the dream of freedom forever.

Zabriskie Point was Michelangelo Antonioni’s first film shot in America.  For such an emotive subject as the death of the Flower Power 60s his style does not match the material. He appears to be more interested in the desert scenery and Los Angeles architecture than characterisation and plot. Well-known for his indifference to actors, he cast unknown, untrained actors in the two lead roles. The result is a preponderance of surface over depth and, not surprisingly, the film was a financial flop making back less than a million dollars as against the seven million it cost to make it. Antonioni’s aim was sharper with Blow Up (1966), perhaps because the '60s was still swinging and the film lacked the fin-de-siecle cynicism that had overtaken the hippy movement by the beginning of the '70s.

The soundtrack to this revolutionary tale, provided by Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and a plethora of 60s psychedelic combos, however, manages to achieve what Antonioni desperately wanted to do at a visual level, perfectly encapsulating the decade without resorting to cliché.

The film’s much-vaunted finale features Daria’s father’s desert retreat, the symbol of the rotten state of America, being destroyed in a series of massive explosions; the shot is repeated ad nauseum as the blast is shown from a multitude of different angles. This device was repeated by Antonioni fan, Brian De Palma, during the explosive demise of John Cassevetes in The Fury (1978). De Palma would later go on to reinvent Antonioni’s ode to swinging London in his political thriller, Blow Out (1981)

The film was misunderstood by the critics and audiences alike on its original release; some found the film’s leisurely pace hypnotic and mesmerising but the majority thought the film was over indulgent and dull, finding the film’s non linear plotting infuriating. High on symbolism but low on storyline, Zabriskie Point is still an entertaining snapshot of a bygone age, the end of an era. Just let the film’s languid style wash over you and there is much to enjoy.

FYIDaria Halprin went on to make a couple more films before marrying Dennis Hopper and having a child by him. Mark Frechette also made a couple more films but he got involved in the radical politics of the time, robbed a bank and was sent to prison. He was found dead in his cell in September 1975, allegedly after a set of barbells fell on his neck.




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