Wednesday 23 May 2012

Sculpting the Real: Michelangelo Antonioni Studies in the Centenary Year of his Birth

This event on March 30, 2012, was part of: Homage to Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) held at the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, New York University, to mark the centenary year of the Italian director’s birth organized jointly by the Department of Italian Studies and the Department of Cinema Studies, NYU.
Above: PANEL 1: Richard Allen (NYU), ‘Hitchcock, Antonioni, and the Wandering Woman’ and Karen Pinkus (Cornell), ‘Automation, Autonomia, Anomie’; PANEL 2: John David Rhodes (Sussex), ‘Antonioni and Geopolitical Abstraction’ and Karl Schoonover (Warwick), ‘Antonioni's Toxicology’

Above: PANEL 3 Screening of N.U. (11’, 1948) and discussion with David Forgacs and Ara Merjian (NYU) Matilde Nardelli (UCL) 'Antonioni and the Cultures of Photography’ PANEL 4 Michael Siegel (Brown), ‘From Identificazione to Investigazione: Looking at Looking in Late Antonioni’ Francesco Casetti (Yale), ‘The Remains of the Modern’ PANEL 5 Eugenia Paulicelli (CUNY), David Forgacs (NYU), John David Rhodes (Sussex)
Approaching the figure and work of Michelangelo Antonioni a century after his birth, one is confronted with a number of persistent critical tropes about his oeuvre, with a substantial, if in great part dated, body of critical work and, perhaps, also with the sense that all has already been said and written on the director of the malady of feelings, of filmic slowness and temps mort, of the crisis of the postwar bourgeoisie, of epistemological uncertainties, of modernist difficulty and even boredom, of aestheticism and the hypertrophy of style, of narrative opacity. And yet, Antonioni today powerfully escapes the reach of old categorisations that have attempted to congeal his figure once and for all into an inert monument of modern cinema. His continued influence on world film-makers and the new pressing questions that his films raise today for contemporary audiences call for a renewed critical effort. [Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes, 'INTERSTITIAL, PRETENTIOUS, ALIENATED, DEAD: Antonioni at 100', in Rascaroli and Rhodes (eds), Antonioni: Centenary Essays (BFI/Palgrave, 2011)]
Despite Antonioni’s deep concerns about scientific logic and any objective representation of reality, in purely formal terms his work is always defined by a clear tension between what I would call on the one hand a documentary impulse, and on the other a drive towards fiction pushed at times to the level of melodrama.
[... H]owever hollowed-out and experimental Antonioni’s works become, they always constitute fictions since they present characters in artificial situations. As Antonioni himself put it, his primary interest lies in the moment when the context or environment suddenly takes on “relief.” Which is to say, his hybrid narratives marked by temporal disjunction, disorientation, black holes, ellipses, and a lack of resolution serve to provide just enough justification for human figuration, however “unnaturally” heightened and stylized, to take hold. This recourse to melodrama, broadly defined, offered Antonioni a means of shortcircuiting and sculpting the Real in slowed-down, distended form in order to capture it as a series of tableaux vivants. [...]
Alert to the tensions in the spatiotemporal relations between people, objects, and events, the director must, according to Antonioni, engage with a “special reality” and be “committed morally in some way.” What this means in practice is dedramatizing the narrative event in order to focus attention on the physical context that both makes it possible but also eludes it. Antonioni propels his protagonists into new or alien environments, and we follow them almost ethnographically as they develop new perceptual powers in order to negotiate their changed conditions'. [James S. Williams, 'The Rhythms of Life: An Appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni, Extreme Aesthete of the Real', Film Quarterly (Fall Issue 2008, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 46-57), pp. 50-52 - my emphasis]
Today, Film Studies For Free gleefully celebrates the publication online of just under seven hours of videoed content from an excellent, recent conference in New York City that its author had really wished she'd been able to attend. Now -- virtually -- she (and you) can! 

The conference took a timely new look at the work of FSFF's favourite Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni one hundred years on from the year of his birth. It followed on from the recent publication of an excellent, similarly inspired, BFI/Palgrave collection of work on Antonioni edited by Laura Rascaroli and John David Rhodes. 

Rhodes, a highly esteemed (and much loved!) colleague of FSFF's humble scribe, appears in the video frame still at the top of this post, and throughout both embedded videos. He was one of the organisers of, and main contributors to, the NYU conference. A very generous sample excerpt from his and Rascaroli's book may be found here.

To accompany the truly excellent videos, FSFF has assembled a rather fabulous list of links to other online and openly accessible studies of Antonioni's work. If you know of any significant resources missing below, please leave a link in the comments. Grazie!

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Antonioni's birthplace of Ferrara between September 30, 2012 and January 6, 2013, you'll be able to catch an excellent exhibition about his work, which opens following a public celebration of the filmmaker on the day of his birth itself (September 29). You can find more information here. Thanks to Antonioni scholar Ted Perry for his tip off about this event. Do look out for his new book on him which should be out next year.

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