Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Antonioni is currently represented on DVD with a scattering a truly fine discs, a couple of decent ones and then a handful of very collectible out of print items. While most of his best films are represented, a couple of his most important are still unavailable.
Here is a brief guide for those interested. This is more of a look at the quality of the dvds and not the films themselves.
STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR: (1950) This is the earliest work by Antonioni currently available and it is put out by the great No Shame dvd company. No Shame has been one of the most exciting companies to emerge in the past few years and this disc was most welcome, even if it is not among the maestro's best works. The print is a bit worn, which isn't surprising considering the age of the film, but NoShame have done a decent job with it. The most notable thing about this disc is the welcome second disc of extras that include an interview with cinematographer Guiseppe Rotuno, actress Lucia Bose and a handful of others connected to the film. Antonioni is himself seen at a touching modern screening of the film. No Shame's set is a valuable addition to anyone film lovers dvd library.
LE AMICHE (1955): This is another one of the few of his early films that is currently available. While not among his greatest works this film is well worth searching out even though the dvd is disappointing. While not the disaster of some of Image's dvds, the print offered here isn't anything spectacular but is reasonably clean and sharp. The disc's biggest drawback is that no extras are offered to put this film into any kind of historical perspective.
IL GRIDO (1957): This is one of his first truly great films which makes it all the more disappointing that Kino's bare bones disc is all that is currently available. The print used here is actually a little worse that LE AMICHE which makes this disc a real missed opportunity. Many of Antonioni's reoccurring themes really kick into gear with this film and it is an essential work.
L'AVVENTURA (1960): Arguably his first great masterpiece, although IL GRIDO could make that claim as well, L'AVVENTURA is available in a remarkable set from Criterion. The picture is miraculous looking for the most part with just some very minor damage and the extras are exhaustive. They include an informative commentary by Gene Youngblood and a William Arrowsmith essay on the first disc while an hour long documentary takes up most of the second disc. My favorite extra on Criterion's great set is Jack Nicholson reading some of the master's writings. Nicholson is very reverent and his unmistakable voice reading these is wonderful to hear. Criterion's double disc set is essential.
L'ECLISSE (1962): Criterion again presents another Antonioni masterpiece in a great two disc set that features an incredible looking print of the film including an authoritative commentary by Richard Pena on disc one while disc two contains the great Italian documentary THE EYE THAT CHANGED CINEMA. Also included on disc two is a fascinating interview with Antonioni friend Carlo di Carlo that really manages to give some real insight into the man. Like Criterion's L'AVVENTURA, their set of L'ECLISSE is highly recommended. I actually prefer L'ECLISSE to the more celebrated L'AVVENTURA with special mention going to both Alain Delon and Monica Vitti.
LA NOTTE (1963): Unfortunately Criterion didn't put out Antonioni's next feature, the striking LA NOTTE starring Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau. Fox Lorber's disc is terrible. The print hasn't been restored properly, it feels overly digitized at times and annoyingly shaky at others. No extras are included. One can only hope that Criterion eventually puts out this important film and gives it the kind of quality release it deserves.
RED DESERT (1964): How is it that one of the greatest films ever made is currently absent on dvd? Image's dvd , featuring a hazy and messy widescreen transfer, is a bare bones and very out of print affair that is currently going for up to $300.00 dollars on Amazon and Ebay. I love this film so much and treasure my Image disc even if it is a bit of a disaster. RED DESERT is one of the major must get re-released discs on the market.
BLOW-UP (1966): While Criterion had put this massively important film out on laser disc, Warner Home Video are responsible for this disappointing dvd. The picture quality is solid for the most part but the sound is a mess. This film is so dependant on it's sound design and Warner's disc is mixed way too low. I always have to crank my speakers when watching this disc and it is extremely irritating. Even more disappointing is the lack of extras, if ever a film demanded a good set of extra features it is BLOW-UP. The only supplement offered is a pointless commentary by critic Peter Brunette (who wrote the valuable book THE FILMS OF MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI) that I have still not managed to make it all the way through. Along with Richard Schickle's irritating ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA commentary, it is one of the most unlistenable I have ever heard. BLOW-UP is a hugely exciting film and it deserves an engaged and informative commentary, it's a shame that Brunette didn't deliver a better one. A Criterion set of this film would be a major release.
THE PASSENGER (1975): A fine and welcome release, Sony's dvd offers a beautifully restored print of one of the maestro's greatest works. More extras would have been welcome, I would love to see an interview with the miraculous Maria Schneider but the disc does offer two fine commentaries. The track by screenwriter Mark Peploe assisted by journalist Aurora Irvine is informative and entertaining but it is Jack Nicholson's track that is the real stunner. Not too many stars of Jack's stature would bother with a little European Art film they made over thirty years ago but it is obvious listening to this track that this is the film Jack is most proud of. His stories are fascinating, his love for Antonioni is infectious, and one gets the feeling he would go to the end of the earth for this film. It's one of my favorite commentaries of all time and it couldn't have been featured on a better film.
BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995): Like RED DESERT, this dvd has slipped out of print and now fetches huge prices. Antonioni's erotic and undervalued late period film features Sophie Marceau and Irene Jacob among others. Image's hard to find dvd offers just a decent print of the film and the audio is strangely missing some of the voice over narration but it is notable in that it includes the great documentary TO MAKE A FILM IS TO BE ALIVE. This film, while not one of his greatest, is an extremely valuable addition to his filmography and is in need of a re-release.
EROS (2004): Antonioni's final film is a short in this flawed anthology film. His short is the best to my eyes and the disc also includes his remarkable short EYE TO EYE, which is even better than his main contribution to the film. The disc is fine even though outside of the extra short is bare bones.
This was just a listing of dvds that have been, or are currently available, in the United States. My apologies if I have overlooked any. Many more discs are available throughout Europe including box sets and a special edition of RED DESERT that I am dying to see. Hopefully soon we will see some more quality releases of his work as I am really holding out for Criterion to pick up LA NOTTE, RED DESERT and BLOW-UP.
The most notable absences right on DVD, outside of his early work in the fifties, are ZABRISKIE POINT (1970), the documentary CHINA (1972), THE MYSTERY OF OBERWALD (1981) and his last truly great film (although I love BEYOND THE CLOUDS) IDENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN (1982).
It is frankly ridiculous that a director of Antonioni's stature has so many holes with his filmography on the DVD market. With some luck that will hopefully begin to change very soon.