Friday, October 19, 2007

The Dangerous Thread of Things

In Memoriam Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)

Shot 1. Cathexis of super-detail, vibrations of the flora, the nudity en plein air (that becomes exhibitionism not within the context of the film-world but before the eyes of the spectators only), the arcing branches, the citadel impervious — each element the key to the other, every line and canopy alive with the song of the sirens. The following shot commences the quarrel between the two lovers and, closer now, we manage a better view of the details. Draped angled across the chaise-back, a sheet of hazy-sky blue; an assortment of fruit in a bowl on a table to the side; and a woman garbed in sheer accessories that invite the viewer to peer through, to squint, increase focus upon her skinny figure, at the small bare breasts, the pronounced ribcage, the dragon-mark tattoo... as garments the skirt and top are negligible, not even afterthoughts. Tubercular-chic, and so we recall that the romance languages have always pulled the shroud back slightly further than "still-life" in English — an arrangement that Italian names la natura morta, French la nature morte...

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

A film so steeped in death it will adopt the moribund forms — the telenovella, the cable-channel porno — and cast each away (regurgitation...?) as though it has adopted also a method of showing that has taken on a characteristic of viewing — channel-surfing — and halts finally upon a program about modern dance... although to be sure medium-specific experientiality has well before the film's final scene already bled across all margins.

A film at a remove, a film one must first open oneself to feeling absolutely on the level of form. A deconstruction, and a réassemblage. And yet a reassertion in faith of form, arrived at by mimicking the modern symptoms of "form"'s corruption. Eros is sick once more... Postulation, diagnosis: dialogue has lost its impact, become the aural strips of wallpaper, window-dressing, in the dehumanized entries of cine-/tele-visual expression. Antonioni, then, will sculpt his lines in The Dangerous Thread of Things to express incessant missed-connections of meaning between the conversants, a babble not merely of banal sentiments but of resonances detected in then culled from the audiovisual ether. These are deceptive lines — if they come (re-corrupted) from the porn of Euro-soaps and late-night aids as just so much filigree, Antonioni doubles their ephemerality, and forces us to hear them only as audio, or as the manifest abstractions of abstract ideas.

"Is this an invitation?"

"I hope you don't mind the chaos."

"What kind of chaos?"

"Total chaos."

A superabundant and fractal film of synaptic overload, of "too-much connect" — false masteries — the dangerous thread of things —

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

— a feedback-film, a scrambled cypher; Eros may be sick but whence the infection? Can't we perceive, in this film-world of The Dangerous Thread of Things (a cautionary title), that "the modern media" and "modern living" have to some extent merged into one, and that these two phenomena have accordingly assumed the roles of both contagion and host? Might we even diagnose this convergence as taking place not only between "the modern media" and "modern living," but also between "the modern media" and its fictions? Take this exchange, occurring well past the soap- and cable-inflected episodes (for we accept this feedback of fiction-onto-life as a given in-and-of-itself in this film-world and in our lives; for convenience here I entertain the consideration of each realm as an entity separate from the other), between the woman from the opening episode (Regina Nemni) and a cellphone that emits the voice of the man (Christopher Buchholz) —

Nemni: "I'm at the beach. The horses have run away again. I have to get them back to the house."

Cellphone-as-Buchholz: "I'm watching the snow fall."

Nemni: "Where?"

Cellphone-as-Buchholz: "Paris."

Not communication; cut-ups — interceptions —

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

— and so a film that will be silent, despite and very much due to its dialogue, in the way that painting and sculpture will be silent too. Or the Martello tower of Joyce's Ulysses. Or that gaze across the sea in Godard's Contempt [Le Mépris, 1963] that solidifies the certainty of death. "Silencio..."

Le Mépris [Contempt] by Jean-Luc Godard, 1963:

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

"How come we've never been here before?"

"We haven't been paying much attention..."

"About anything."

"That's right."

Within oblivion, glimpses of the terror and the beauty — in solitude —

Lo sguardo di Michelangelo [Michelangelo's Gaze] by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

— and connection. Think about the brilliant shot halfway through the film that delineates Buchholz and Nemni like mere ghosts inside of a world belonging more concretely (or so the illusion continues?) to the group dining at the table nearby. (Who we must understand are presented as belonging to no one social group in particular, neither "the older generation" nor "the bourgeoisie," not even, should one opt to conclude so, "the contented" — just human beings — and very "concretely" so, for Antonioni's wife Enrica is seated with the group — but Others all the same.) Without warning (but: accept the conditions of the moment in this film; traverse the throughline-as-it-is), Nemni removes a wineglass from her table and rolls it across the restaurant floor — in order, it would seem, to follow its trajectory ("total chaos," to quote the words spoken later by her Antipode?) and, in the process, to inscribe on the virtual material of the screen the course of an arc, a figure immediately absorbed by the camera-mechanism itself, which subsequently swoops upward and back in order to fix with digital-controlled fluidity the nearby diners, and hold them in continuous hyper-focus. (Such, after all, is one power of the new HD medium.)

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

And so the dolor of tangents. But if we consider Nemni's character and that of Luisa Ranieri as two opposite-poles (materialized in the "twin-towers" in which they reside and signifying another link with the death-zone in Contempt), then we understand their figurative loci, and appropriately, as the double nodes of two intersecting arcs. Nemni activates Buchholz's liaison with Ranieri at the moment she informs him: "That girl is the girl that lives at the other tower." That's all he needs to know — the siren-call issues forth from the one (RN) to draw its quarry to the other (LR), who are as linked in the overarching fiction-of-the-reality/reality-of-the-fiction as they would seem to be in that "vision of they-themselves," i.e., the vista of the materialized sirens at the water (which, as an expression of the restorative qualities of Eros — this is a pagan film too — recalls explicitly the similar vision in Antonioni's earlier The Red Desert [Il deserto rosso, 1964] ). At the scene of the fuck, Ranieri's tower, objects agglomerate in the "real" proportions of fetish — the earring, the toe-ring, the anklet —

Le Mépris [Contempt] by Jean-Luc Godard, 1963:

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

Il deserto rosso [The Red Desert] by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964:

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

— at which shot directly above Buchholz evaporates corporeally from the film. (It's the analogue of the disappearance of Lea Massari in L'avventura [The Adventure / The Fling, 1960], a comparison that The Dangerous Thread of Things' detractors probably regard as unconscionable as the earlier film's contemporary naysayers found the notion of L'avventura-as-high-art ludicrous. Although we must distinguish the two disappearances — again, in an evaluation "symptomatic" of the new, that is the newly ineffectual, modern age — by noting that Buchholz's disappearance is really a reduction-to-voix-off... but a diminishment nonetheless via his re-embodiment as cellphone.)

What's left is the doubled siren of Eros Sick, and Vital. As the two manifestations strip to dance on the sand, the dual personae of the old deity flit tangent-ward once more (Antonioni gives us the one dance, then the next) in the same fundamental rite portrayed by Matisse so well, before at last, in the final shot of his oeuvre, the two that were just equated are, within the same frame, made separate, antipodes, nodes of arcs intersected, once more — Ranieri inscriptive in repose upon earth, redolent of easy id and satiated in movement and fuck; Nemni foreshortened, anamorphosized, memento mori unto herself — and unto the viewer, too — indivisible from the "rictus shiver" with which she was first overcome upon glimpsing the sirens. La natura morta: one shot proposes the prospect of meaning and solipsism in perpetual, moebial interchange; and the sky-blue hue from the chaise of Shot 1 that became the electric-blue of the appointments of the restaurant tables at the conceptual core of the film returns here in the fabric of the sun-shade that casts its penumbral blazon...

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

La Danse [The Dance] (Second Version) by Henri Matisse, 1910:

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:

Die Gesandten [The Ambassadors] by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533:

The Dangerous Thread of Things by Michelangelo Antonioni, 2004:
The final shot in Antonioni:

L'eclisse [The Eclipse] by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962:


P.S.: The integral version of Eros — the omnibus film that houses this final, astounding work by Antonioni — can be found here, on Region 3 DVD. More on matters surrounding the integrality ("complete form") of The Dangerous Thread of Things to follow soon. Note that in addition to the Antonioni film, Eros also contains the 42-minute Wong Kar-wai piece that falls chronologically between his supreme-masterpiece 2046 and My Blueberry Nights; it's titled The Hand, and stars Gong Li and Chang Chen. It is absolutely extraordinary. The other film in Eros is Equilibrium by Steven Soderbergh; to borrow a phrase from the Cahiers' Council of Ten, this work falls under the category of: "Pointless to Trouble Oneself With."


Some thoughts on what's happened with the new Stanley Kubrick re-issues — their aspect ratios, their bonus-features, and their cover artwork — also to follow soon, hopefully.


In Remembrance of Beauty:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943:


In close: this evening I spoke to Mike Eastman about the death of Joey Bishop. I share here, verbatim, his thoughts on the matter:

"Today when I saw that Joey Bishop died, this is what I daydreamed — around 4pm: I daydreamed that Jerry Lewis's butler came up to Jerry and said: 'Sir, Joey Bishop has passed.'

"And Jerry responded: 'Passed? He couldn't take a shit without Frank giving the okay. He was dead before he started.'"


1 comment:

  1. Frankly, I'm not sure I quite follow a number of your observations, but I sure am glad to see this fascinating, great film get some due. Wonderful post, and I like your image/film connections.


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