So many famous deaths in the past few days, but the one that I took note of is Michelangelo Antonioni, the director of one of my favorite films, The Passenger. It is an odd film that I suspect most people would not like, but for some reason it has captivated me ever since I watched it a few years back. The story is, loosely, about a reporter who assumes another man’s identity after his death. Jack Nicholson, as David Locke, finds that he bears a close resemblance to this man that he finds dead in a hotel room, and so he seizes the opportunity to change, or escape, his own life.
The film contains little dialogue and moves at a snail’s pace, compared to the ADD-inspired filmmaking of today (it was released in 1975). It is haunting and beautiful and I think about it a lot when writing; I feel like every idea I that I have has this story in its backdrop, or its mood, or its sense of displacement, much like the final scene of Five Easy Pieces, or the eventual alienation between Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in On The Road. Why this is, I am not sure, but these are my points of reference, in terms of writing (when I say “writing,” I don’t mean on this Booze Cabinet–this is more comparable to throwing food against the wall–it is writing that most have not seen).
But this is not about me, this about Antonioni, dead at 94 years old, whose other films I have not even seen, besides Blow-Up. It is time to catch up. But back to The Passenger–if anyone does find themselves watching the DVD of this film, be sure to listen to the commentary by Jack Nicholson. The film is such that you could have the commentary on and still not miss much because of its quiet, slow pace. And I don’t know if he has done this for any of his other movies, but it is a treat to hear him bullshit for an hour and a half.
Finally, do not forget the beautiful Maria Schneider, star of Last Tango in Paris, who is cast as the “Girl” in The Passenger. I happened to come across this article by pure chance last week, an interview with the present-day Schneider, titled “I Felt Raped by Brando.” Interesting, to say the least.
I didn’t even know that the Gene Siskel Film Center has been playing Antonioni all this summer, with The Passenger closing it out this Thursday. And I can’t go. Too damn busy! I guess I’ll have to have my own film festival, but it would be nice to see this on the big screen. And David Lynch!
Roger Ebert’s review of The Passenger: When a film so resolutely refuses to deliver on the level of plot, what we are left with is tone. “The Passenger” is about being in a place where nobody knows you or wants to know you, and you are struck by your insignificance.