Zabriskie Point (1970)

“There’s a thousand sides to everything – not just heroes and villains. So anyway… so anyway… so anyway… so anyway ought to be one word. Like a place or a river. ‘So Anyway River.’”

‘Zabriskie Point’, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1970, is an American counterculture movie featuring a pair of students who independently travel to Death Valley. Mark, played by Mark Frechette is initially apathetic about a planned series of protests on his campus but then becomes involved in a riot and suspected of murdering a policeman. He steals a plane and travels to the desert. Meanwhile, Daria, played by Daria Halprin, is travelling to meet and advertising executive. The two meet at Zabriskie Point where they become romantically involved, then separate, Mark to meet his fate in LA and Daria to meet the executive, where she fantasises about his extravagant house exploding in flame. I was reminded of ‘Pierrot le Fou’, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 movie. It has the same relaxed, road-trip narrative, the same sense of outlaw counterculture and even ends on an explosion, although in the case of Antonioni’s film a fantasy one. ‘Zabriskie Point’ is a beautiful looking film. The centrepiece is the time the characters spend in the desert, and the director makes the most of the weird, open spaces, the rippling rock formations and the silence. Aside from these scenes, the film is scored with a soundtrack that includes Pink Floyd, Jerry Garcia, Patti Page, Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, but these central scenes are eerily quiet. In many ways it’s a frustrating film, far more so than Antonioni’s earlier ‘Blow-up’. It has the same feeling of political dislocation as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cuban movie ‘Memories of Underdevelopment’ from 1968, but here the dislocation is such that the characters seem entirely absent and distant, presumably intentionally. Made in 1970 this could be seen as a critique of the pointless activism of the 1960s, and as such it stands as a cynical movie with ground breaking cinematography and a unique soundtrack.

Would I recommend it? Yes – for the visual experience and those desert scenes alone. The similarities between this and ‘Pierrot le Fou’ are such that I’d suggest that as a double bill.

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