Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Paul Fix, G.D. Spradlin, Bill Garaway, Kathleen Cleaver, Rod Taylor
Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Franco Rossetti, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 110
Date: 02/09/1970

Zabriskie Point (1970)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

What's the 'Point'?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the middle of his three-film English-language excursion, the Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni succumbed to the hippie movement, and made this existential puzzler that divided audiences in its day and continues to divide them.

It was arguably Antonioni's biggest flop, and was infamously included on the 1978 book of the fifty worst films of all time by Harry Medved, with Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved. But still others, like critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, are among its defenders.

The plot features Daria (Daria Halprin), who works for some kind of big company, being asked to drive cross-country to a meeting in Phoenix. (Rod Taylor, from Hitchcock's The Birds, plays her boss.)

Meanwhile, Mark (Mark Frechette) becomes involved in some kind of violence during a campus protest. He steals a plane and flies away. On the road, he buzzes Daria's car, and when he lands, she gives him a ride. They stop at 'Zabriskie Point,' in Death Valley (I think). They walk around, talk a lot, and have sex. Then Mark decides to fly the airplane back.

The long beginning up until the point at which the lovers meet, and then the conclusion, did nothing for me. These moments are dull, aloof, obtuse, and awfully dated. But the desert sequences start to show off a kind of visual poetry, in which thoughts, physical expression, and landscape all come together in a satisfying way. Unlike the rest of the movie, it's uncluttered.

As a fan of Antonioni's other works, I'd have to say that, of the ones I've seen, Zabriskie Point ranks near the bottom. But completists, as well as people that are curious about filmmaking in America in the 1970s, should see this; it's a good measuring stick against everything else.

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