Rambling about The Red Desert (1964)…

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s heraldic term is Garter King of Arms – the principal herald, whose title comes from his duties to the order of the garter.
I notice that my heraldry book doesn’t say ‘his/her duties to’… I wonder if a woman can be Garter Queen of Arms?
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Michelangelo Antonioni… What a remarkably reverberating name!
Years ago I saw his film Blow-Up (1966) and thought it was brilliant, stylish, and mysterious; you didn’t know where it was going… it slotted so nicely into the bubbling creative pop culture of 1960s Britain too; a youthful David Hemmings running about London snapping black and white pictures in between slow spooky scenes of non-specific leafy green menace. Oh, the sound was so good too, the hissing rustle of the trees in the empty park where the dead body had been left… or had it?
Later on I discovered Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), which featured: United States weirdness, the dusty rocky dessert, student rebellion, money-grubbing capitalism, music, surrealism, and open-air mass sex.
Look out! The posh house on the sun-baked ridge is about to explode in spectacular slow-motion! Oh, see those items of food from the fridge floating and rotating in mid-air… and look, there goes the TV set!… and those flying books opening their pages for us… (Bang)
So, anyway, the other day I noticed that a film of his that I’d never seen, or even heard of, called The Red Desert (1964) was on the TV in the early hours of the morning, I straightway set my video recorder.
It was a very good two hours of Italian subtitled oddness. Probably the oddest thing, no, I withdraw that – one odd thing was that one of the leading characters was played by Irish actor Richard Harris; he played an Italian businessman and spoke Italian throughout; actually his voice was dubbed, but I believe that in those days all dialogue in Italian films was dubbed as a matter of course.
The film started off with a slow sequence of shots of dirty polluting industry, a chimney emitting rhythmic puffs of orange/yellow flame, rusty boilers and tanks, steam and smoke, peeling paint, machinery grinding and wheels turning… all this with a loud soundtrack of mechanical noise and roaring flames and hissing suspicious gases. It was wonderful! The film progressed to creeping around and prying into the life of a beautiful, but very troubled and damaged woman (Monica Vitti) and her strange little son, her husband, and looking very moody and often puzzled, Richard Harris – he had much to be puzzled about…
There was plenty to fill the two hours, but as I watched I decided that though it was beautifully done, it was not ‘not really my kind of film’ – a sort of ‘deep-dish emotional relationship drama’ – albeit a pretty odd one, (relationship dramas are not usually my cup of tea). There were two or three surreal interludes in it which did appeal though, (one of which was the unexpected appearance in an otherwise empty window of the bow of a large passing ship, whilst a solemn honking foghorn punctuated the misty night). It was worth watching the film just for that! But on the whole, I was glad when the word ‘Fin’ came up on the screen…
However, in the two or three days after watching it, its images kept creeping back into my mind, and I started to think that actually it was pretty bloody good! – and that I could even watch it again – a pity I deleted it from the DVR…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in art, brain, cool, drama, existentialism, Film, heraldry, history, information, photography, seeing, sex, style, surrealism, TV, Uncategorized, words and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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