Michelangelo Antonioni

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My characters are ambiguous. Call them that. I don't mind. I am ambiguous myself. Who isn't?
The moment always comes when, having collected one's ideas, certain images, an intuition of a certain kind of development — whether psychological or material — one must pass on to the actual realization.

Michelangelo Antonioni (29 September 191230 July 2007) was an Italian modernist film director whose films are widely considered among the most influential in film aesthetics.

See also:
Blow-Up

Quotes[edit]

My work is like digging, it's archaeological research among the arid materials of our times...
  • She isn't my wife, really. We just have some kids.
    No. No kids. Sometimes, though, it feels as if we had kids.

    She isn't beautiful, she's just easy to live with.
    No, she isn't. That's why I don't live with her.
  • My work is like digging, it's archaeological research among the arid materials of our times. That's how I understand my first films, and that's what I'm still doing...
    • On Zabriskie Point (1970) in Esquire (August 1970)
  • Hollywood is like being nowhere and talking to nobody about nothing.
    • Sunday Times [London] (20 June 1971)
  • The photographer in Blow-Up, who is not a philosopher, wants to see things closer up. But it so happens that, by enlarging too far, the object itself decomposes and disappears. Hence there's a moment in which we grasp reality, but then the moment passes. This was in part the meaning of Blow-Up.
    • On his film Blow-Up, as quoted in Michelangelo Antonioni : The Complete Films (2004) edited by Seymour Chatman and Paul Duncan, p. 113

Cahiers du Cinema (1960)[edit]

Sometimes I arrive at the place where the work is to be done and I do not even know what I am going to shoot.
"Autobiographical interview" in Cahiers du Cinema (1960)
  • I am not a theoretician of the cinema. If you ask me what directing is, the first answer that comes into my head is: I don't know.
  • The moment always comes when, having collected one's ideas, certain images, an intuition of a certain kind of development — whether psychological or material — one must pass on to the actual realization. In the cinema, as in the other arts, this is the most delicate moment — the moment when the poet or writer makes his first mark on the page, the painter on his canvas, when the director arranges his characters in their setting, makes them speak and move, establishes, through the compositions of his various images, a reciprocal relationship between persons and things, between rhythm of the dialogue and that of the whole sequence, makes the movement of the camera fit in with the psychological situation. But the most crucial moment of all comes when the director gathers from all the people and from everything around him every possible suggestion, in order that his work may acquire a more spontaneous cast, may become more personal and, we might even say — in the broadest sense — more autobiographical.
  • For me, from the moment when the first, still unformed, idea comes into my head until the projection of the rushes, the process of making a film constitutes a single piece of work. I mean that I cannot become interested in anything, day or night, which is not that film. Let no one imagine that this is a romantic pose — on the contrary. I become relatively more lucid, more attentive, and almost feel as if I were intelligent and more ready to understand.
  • I rarely feel the desire to reread a scene the day before the shooting. Sometimes I arrive at the place where the work is to be done and I do not even know what I am going to shoot. This is the system I prefer: to arrive at the moment when shooting is about to begin, absolutely unprepared, virgin. I often ask to be left alone on the spot for fifteen minutes or half an hour and I let me thoughts wander freely.
  • I find that it is very useful to look over the location and to feel out the atmosphere while waiting for the actors. It may happen that the images before my eyes coincide with those I had in my mind, but this is not frequently the case. It more often happens that there is something insincere or artificial about the image one has thought of. Here again is another way of improvising.
  • The principle behind the cinema, like that behind all the arts, rests on a choice. It is, in Camus' words, "the revolt of the artist against the real."
    If one holds to this principle, what difference can it make by what means reality is revealed? Whether the author of a film seizes on the real in a novel, in a newspaper story or in his own imagination, what counts is the way he isolates it, stylizes it, makes it his own.
  • A director is a man, therefore he has ideas; he is also an artist, therefore he has imagination. Whether they are good or bad, it seems to me that I have an abundance of stories to tell. And the things I see, the things that happen to me, continually renew the supply.

Encountering Directors interview (1969)[edit]

I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.
Interview in Rome (29 July 1969), published in Encountering Directors (1972) by Charles Thomas Samuels, p. 15-32
  • When I am shooting a film I never think of how I want to shoot something; I simply shoot it. My technique, which differs from film to film, is wholly instinctive and never based on a priori considerations.
Scientific man is already on the moon, and yet we are still living with the moral concepts of Homer. Hence this upset, this disequilibrium that makes weaker people anxious and apprehensive...
  • I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.
  • I try to avoid repetitions of any shot. It isn't easy to find one in my films. You might, I suppose, see something twice, but it would be rare. And then, you know, every line requires its own kind of shot. The American method of shooting one actor continuously, then moving to the other, then intercutting both — this method is wrong. A scene has to have a rhythm of its own, a structure of its own.
When a scene is being shot, it is very difficult to know what one wants it to say, and even if one does know, there is always a difference between what one has in mind and the result on film.
  • I want my characters to suggest the background in themselves, even when it is not visible. I want them to be so powerfully realized that we cannot imagine them apart from their physical and social context even when we see them in empty space.
  • We are saddled with a culture that hasn't advanced as far as science. Scientific man is already on the moon, and yet we are still living with the moral concepts of Homer. Hence this upset, this disequilibrium that makes weaker people anxious and apprehensive, that makes it so difficult for them to adapt to the mechanism of modern life. ... We live in a society that compels us to go on using these concepts, and we no longer know what they mean. In the future — not soon, perhaps by the twenty-fifth century — these concepts will have lost their relevance. I can never understand how we have been able to follow these worn-out tracks, which have been laid down by panic in the face of nature. When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them.
  • I would like to make clear that I speak only of sensations. I am neither a sociologist nor a politician. All I can do is imagine for myself what the future will be like.
  • I don't want what I am saying to sound like a prophecy or anything like an analysis of modern society .... these are only feelings I have, and I am the least speculative man on earth.
  • When a scene is being shot, it is very difficult to know what one wants it to say, and even if one does know, there is always a difference between what one has in mind and the result on film. I never think ahead of the shot I'm going to make the following day because if I did, I'd only produce a bad imitation of the original image in my mind. So what you see on the screen doesn't represent my exact meaning, but only my possibilities of expression, with all the limitations implied in that phrase. Perhaps the scene reveals my incapacity to do better; perhaps I felt subconsciously ironic toward it. But it is on film; the rest is up to you.
  • Modern life is very difficult for people who are unprepared. But this new environment will eventually facilitate more realistic relationships between people.
  • I think people talk too much; that's the truth of the matter. I do. I don't believe in words. People use too many words and usually wrongly. I am sure that in the distant future people will talk much less and in a more essential way. If people talk a lot less, they will be happier. Don't ask me why.
  • When we say a character in my films doesn't function, we mean he doesn't function as a person, but he does function as a character — that is, until you take him as a symbol. At that point it is you who are not functioning. Why not simply accept him as a character, without judging him? Accept him for what he is. Accept him as a character in a story, without claiming that he derives or acquires meaning from that story. There may be meanings, but they are different for all of us.
We know that under the image revealed there is another which is truer to reality and under this image still another and yet again still another...
  • Don't regard my characters as symbols of a determined society. See them as something that sparks a reaction within you so that they become a personal experience. The critic is a spectator and an artist insofar as he transforms the work into a personal thing of his own.
  • My characters are ambiguous. Call them that. I don't mind. I am ambiguous myself. Who isn't?
  • Sometimes I pick up a magazine and read a piece of film criticism — to the end only if I like it. I don't like those which are too free with praise because their reasons seem wrong and that annoys me. Critics who attack me do so for such contradictory reasons that they confuse me, and I am afraid that if I am influenced by one, I will sin according to the standards of the other.
  • We know that under the image revealed there is another which is truer to reality and under this image still another and yet again still another under this last one, right down to the true image of that reality, absolute, mysterious, which no one will ever see or perhaps right down to the decomposition of any image, of any reality.
    • As quoted by the interviewer from the introduction to an Italian publlication of Antonioni's screenplays.
Everything depends on what you put in front of the camera, what perspectives you create, contrasts, colors.
  • People are always misquoting me.
    • In response to interviewer stating that he had said that the two main components of his technique were the camera and the actors.
  • I've always said that the actor is only an element of the image, rarely the most important. The actor is important with his dialogue, with the landscape, with a gesture — but the actor in himself is nothing.
  • You must be painter who takes a canvas and does what he likes with it. We are more like painters in past centuries who were ordered to paint frescoes to specific measurements. Among the people in the fresco may be a bishop, the prince's wife, etc. The fresco isn't bad simply because the painter used for models people from the court of the prince who ordered and paid for it.
  • When we find ourselves up against practical obstacles that can't be overcome, we must go forward. You either make the film as you can or don't make it at all.
  • I have always imposed my wishes on the cameraman. Moreover, I have always picked them at the outset of their careers and, to a certain extent, have formed them myself.
  • Everything depends on what you put in front of the camera, what perspectives you create, contrasts, colors. The cameraman can do great things, provided he is well grounded technically. If a person hasn't the raw material, I obviously couldn't do anything with him. But all I ask of a cameraman is technical experience. Everything else is up to me. I was amazed to find that in America cameramen are surprised that this is the way I work.
  • I always want to tell stories. But they must be stories that evolve, like our own lives. Perhaps what I seek is a new kind of story.
  • One doesn't enter groups of people simply because one wants or needs to. One has an infinite number of opportunities that occur for no particular reason. Sometimes you feel a sudden unexpected pleasure at being where you find yourself.
  • Is it important to show why a character is what he is? No. He is. That's all.
  • You mustn't ask me to explain everything I do. I can't. That's that. How can I say why at a certain moment I needed this. How can I explain why I needed a confusion of colors?
  • The greatest danger for those working in the cinema is the extraordinary possibility it offers for lying.
    • As quoted by the interviewer, from a preface to his screenplays
  • It's very difficult to explain what I do. It is much more instinctive than you realize; much, much more. ... the reasons that make me interested in a subject are, how shall I say, fickle. Many times I have chosen, among three stories, one for reasons that are entirely accidental: I get up and think this one will be stupendous because the night before I had a certain dream. Or perhaps I put it better by saying that I had found inside myself reasons why this particular story seems more valid. ... I always have motives, but I forget them.

Quotes about Antonioni[edit]

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up opened in America two months before I became a film critic, and colored my first years on the job with its lingering influence. ~ Roger Ebert
  • The films of Michelangelo Antonioni are aesthetically complex – critically stimulating though elusive in meaning. They are ambiguous works that pose difficult questions and resist simple conclusions. Classical narrative causalities are dissolved in favour of expressive abstraction. Displaced dramatic action leads to the creation of a stasis occupied by vague feelings, moods and ideas. Confronted with hesitancy, the spectator is compelled to respond imaginatively and independent of the film. The frustration of this experience reflects that felt in the lives of Antonioni's characters: unable to solve their own personal mysteries they often disappear, leave, submit or die. The idea of abandonment is central to Antonioni's formal structuring of people, objects, and ideas. He evades presences and emphasises related absences. His films are as enigmatic as life: they show that the systematic organisation of reality is a process of individual mediation disturbed by a profound inability to act with certainty.
  • Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up opened in America two months before I became a film critic, and colored my first years on the job with its lingering influence. ... Over three days recently, I revisited Blow-Up in a shot-by-shot analysis. Freed from the hype and fashion, it emerges as a great film, if not the one we thought we were seeing at the time. ... Whether there was a murder isn't the point. The film is about a character mired in ennui and distaste, who is roused by his photographs into something approaching passion. As Thomas moves between his darkroom and the blowups, we recognize the bliss of an artist lost in what behaviorists call the Process; he is not thinking now about money, ambition or his own nasty personality defects, but is lost in his craft. His mind, hands and imagination work in rhythmic sync. He is happy.
    Later, all his gains are taken back.... Blow-Up audaciously involves us in a plot that promises the solution to a mystery, and leaves us lacking even its players.

External links[edit]

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