Zabriskie Point

Warner Bros., 1970, Rated R

Just before making Zabriskie Point, Michelangelo Antonioni — one of cinema’s great existential modernists — had paired his view that the world makes little sense but has great beauty with the swinging London of the 1960s, resulting in the enduring masterpiece Blowup. So the next logical step was to put the Italian filmmaker’s vision up against California youth culture of the day — its radical politics, its sexiness, its search for transcendence, its music. He cast non-actors (and it shows) Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin in his minimalist story of two disaffected young people on the run — he from an L.A. campus shooting he might have committed, she from her straight-world job with a housing developer — who meet in the California desert when his stolen plane buzzes her car. Antonioni sees the desert as a dreamscape, a refuge from the physical ugliness of the city, and cinematographer Alfio Contini amazingly captures that. There is the hallucinatory sequence known as the “desert love scene,” where members of the Open Theatre pair off to fight and embrace at Zabriskie Point, the lowest spot in North America, while an original guitar piece by Jerry Garcia plays. The film also blows up a house in the desert (to music by Pink Floyd) and lets the detritus free-float across the screen for what seems like eternity. Too abstract for an audience at the time, the movie finally gets a DVD release and shows that, as ever, Antonioni always is worth watching for the way he’s willing to push narrative storytelling to the brink … and beyond. Grade: B