Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

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Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby wpqx » Sun Aug 14, 2005 1:06 am

Well I was amazed for several reasons. One that the film was good itself, and two that a picture hyped up by myself was actually better than I thought. I was also amazed at the simple fact that I got a copy of the movie, but that's a whole other story.

Antonioni wasn't exactly on a hot streak when he made this movie. His film prior to this, the even harder to find documentary Chung Kao went unseen, and Zabriskie Point was considered a muddled mess of a movie. He was a director without a home, wandering from Italy, to England, to America, to China, and for this film to Spain. The rootlessness of Antonioni is reflected in the Passenger, and it is the central theme of the story. Anyone who ever wanted to just get up and start a new life can identify with Jack Nicholson's character. He may do it in an extreme fashion, but it is his desire to break free that is universal.

He is a man fed up with his life. Not to say his life is particularly horrible, he just doesn't want it anymore. His wife is ineffectual, he has no children of his own, and despite having a decent high paying job, he isn't happy in it. The angst of the affluent is the central theme of Antonioni's career. People with everything, who want nothing. Not to say Nicholson's David was rolling in dough and could travel the world at his leisure, but he is pretty far from poor.

The identity of the dead man becomes somewhat melodramatic on first inspection (he smuggles weapons for a terrorist group), but it brings up the question of morality. David is intrigued by it, and appreciates the mystery of it, but has no moral obligation to doing it. There is no morality in the film. He has no guilt for leaving his life in the states, and he feels no guilt for handing weapons over to a group that is most likely gonna do more harm than good. This makes him a self centered protaganist, and one that only really warms to human contact when he meets another rootless soul, played by Maria Schneider. She is his match, much more so than his wife, for she has no home, and no destination. Running weapons seems even more idealistic to her.

Now the Antonioni style is all over this. Towards the end there is one of the most incredible long takes I've seen, as a static camera observes the action outside of David barred windows, it seems pointless. The camera slowly inches forward observing the action outside, until somehow it goes through the bars, and ends looking back in on his room from the outside. I justt sat in awe of this shot, that was longer than any other director would have made it, but it was the feeling that Antonioni was after. He wanted you to take this time, near the conclusion to think about what happened, and I personally had to watch this take a second time. The settings, shots, and general feel of the film are much more in tune with his trilogy, and to me it is his finest English language film. Hell for a first viewing, I liked it more than any of his previous films, but that's because I needed a repeat screening of L'Avventura to adequately "get it".

The DVD is available in Japan I believe, and don't hold your breath for the release here. Jack Nicholson owns the rights, and he has no intention of ever getting it released here. This is probably the least Jack-like I've ever seen him. Perhaps the reason he doesn't like the film. His acting is much more downplayed, and the cocky charm that we all love so much is absent. It makes unique in his career, but I believe that nearly any actor could have played this role, which is perhaps the intention. It is more of a look that Antonioni is after, not a performance.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby A » Sun Aug 21, 2005 2:09 pm

Thanks for your review.
Another film few people seem to have seen, but which I like very much. What I like most about it, is it`s air of mystery, the fact, that one never really knows what`s going on. And the use of landscape to counterpoint the characters is awesome. The ending shot was filmed - so i was informed - this slowly, because the bars were removed manually, and it could had only been done very slowly, as the sound was shot on location in this scene, I believe. The result is magnificent.
I wonder why nicholson doesn`t want this out in the US? Probably bad memories of the shooting, or Maria Schneider?

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Aug 21, 2005 9:06 pm

I was a little surprised to find out that Sony Classics (?) is re-releasing the film in the U.S. theatrically. The new print will have its premiere at the NYFF.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby A » Sun May 14, 2006 10:59 pm

originally posted by Sara on 5/14/06 6:48 pm

I've waited several years to see the Passenger. Finally it is on DVD. It was worth waiting for. (Seeing a young, skinny, beautiful Jack Nicholson was wonderful...)

The film was beautiful. The colors of the desert, the spaces Antonioni allows, the sparse architecture that sometimes
looks like totem poles or gargoyles, the emptiness, and the contrast in the concept of time (ie, the man going by in the desert on a slow camel, seeming content and unhurried - contrasted with the car chase), and the unbeliveable last 7 minutes of the film...

A few weeks ago I watched the Eclipse. I got mad half way through it because nothing seemed to happen. Slow. Slow. Slow. But I stuck with it, and I am so glad I did. The last part of the film gives a real feeling of emptiness. Of nobody showing up. Of usual scenes but with no one in them. It finally dawned on me that this was a wonderful, meaningful film.

I have seen La Avventura and Blow Up, too. Both were really good.

But I have come away from watching The Passenger with a complete love and admiration for Antonioni - his unhurried pace and his beautiful camera work.

The DVD here in the USA has a wonderful commentary track given by (an older) Jack Nicholson. It is not like some of those silly, babbling commentaries. Jack's gives a deeper understanding of the film and he increased my appreciation of it.

The Passenger has made me a true lover of Antonioni's works, and yes, of that young Jack Nicholson!


Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby Anasazie » Fri May 19, 2006 4:08 am

Quote:Zabriskie Point was considered a muddled mess of a movie.

A lot of the greatest films ever made were received in a similar way WP, maybe you should re-watch it!

Be careful though, it might turn you into a hippy.

Also, big mistake on the name spelling.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby wpqx » Tue May 23, 2006 2:54 am

Wow amazed at how long it took someone to catch that. Well its fixed now.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby jcdavies » Fri Aug 18, 2006 7:38 am

Well, it's utterly wonderful- i see why it's critic David Thomson's favourite film.

I hadn't realised Antonioni had so much humour. Forget angst, this film is in love with cinema as an art form and in love with life. It overflows with a love of creation, space, architecture, the possibilities that each shot and scene can open up. It's a film about freedom and it's totally liberating.

Edges of the frames, Tati, off-screen space, bikes crossing the screen, Angelopoulos, desert, Paris Texas, Until the End of the World (is this one of WW's favourites? can't remember, seems it must be), genre-defying, road movie, cars, Pierrot le Fou, Weekend, colour, Contempt, Voyage to Italy, voyeuristic mystery, church scene, Carlotta + Vertigo, tape recording, Blow Out- Blow Up, escape (including identity), The Sheltering Sky, 360 degree pan, camera moves, mirrors, Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, Mr Arkadin, speech mannerism- Kubrickian deadpan/pauses- red, The Shining (+ its opening shot of car from above), great locations, widescreen, compositional precision, Jenny Runacre-Vanessa Redgrave-Monica Vitti (!), Maria Schneider-Anna Karina, Nicholson- Harvey Keitel for Angelopoulos, the music (a couple of lovely moments), Spain (wow, love that ending).. just things that came to mind, may cohere some time

What's not to love? And that camera edging through the bars, we're freed, a miracle, Bresson eat your heart out; i nearly had an orgasm (well, perhaps i exaggerate, but it's so exhilarating). You can see that famous scene on its own as an academic exercise, which i 'd done, but it really comes alive, carries weight of meanings only as part of the whole feature- perhaps why some admired experimental films don't do much for me. I mention Bresson cos for me it's a sublime moment of spiritual release to match anything in A Man Escaped (for all that film's superb + meticulous creation of tension); yet another deft touch- as it approaches the bars (i'd been busy admiring the scene's geometric interest), ever closer, there's a growing urge..and then like levitating or flying in a dream, we find we're freed, we can do + achieve anything. Some time since i had a dream flight but i do fancy hand/g-gliding.

One of the most vivacious films ever made, never heavy-handed or pompous; Antonioni-ennui? Nah!

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby A » Fri Aug 18, 2006 3:24 pm

You make me want to see it again.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby jcdavies » Fri Aug 18, 2006 3:46 pm

I doubt i'll tire of it, as long as i treat it with the necessary respect, don't overwatch. I really like that seamless time shift with Nicholson sitting inside then he's outside with Robertson earlier (again brought to mind Ulysses' Gaze, Angelopoulos' masterful choreography of the annual family gatherings). Angelopoulos has said his films are only really influenced by Mizoguchi and Welles but for me Antonioni has the most obvious similarities. Then again i did also think of the ghostly homecoming scene in Ugetsu.

I also love the scene with Schneider in the car, as we look at her along the avenue of trees, the light and shadows, the sense of joy (a la Pierrot le Fou + Karina, i thought).

The cars criss-crossing on and off screen; refreshingly impish, playful (Playtime) film, belies the lugubrious reputation.

Re: Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Aug 18, 2006 10:40 pm

Who is Michelangelo Antoini? :D

Watching the restored version last year on the big screen truly made me realize that The Passenger is nothing short of a masterpiece, and it's arguably one of Antonioni's 2 or 3 best films.

Here's what critic Robert Koehler, who played a role in its restoration, had to say about the release:

"What caused this unexpected, delayed timing to meet up with current events? According to Nicholsons attorney Ken Kleinberg, the actor had long wanted to purchase the worldwide rights to a film he loved as an art collector might; if he wasnt able to hang it on a wall, he could at least protect the film from potential corporate skullduggery and exercise some control over its proper exhibition. This is painfully ironic, since The Passenger had been mutilated to begin with. Antonioni had first made a four-hour cut of the film himself, and then brought in editor Franco Arcalli to trim it to JUST under two-and-a-half hours. This was still too long for MGM, which demanded a cut under two hours for the North American market, and required that it be titled The Passenger (certainly a more interesting title than the one its generally known by on other continents"Professione: Reporter.") At 118 minutes, the MGM version is shorter than Professione by approximately five minutes, and excludes two crucial scenes, one dealing with Lockes surreptitious return visit to his London home, where he finds evidence of Rachels infidelities with her lover Stephen (played with feral intensity by the great Steven Berkoff, whose name is misspelled in the closing credits, and whose screen time was clearly greater in the nearly 150-minute version.). In one of the last interviews he conducted before his massive stroke in 1983, Antonioni publicly condemned the MGM version, and was so disturbed at the cuts forced on him that he considers the longer version mutilated as well.

Nevertheless, Nicholson, through his company Proteus Films, negotiated a purchase of the negative in 1983, and obtained global rights to all versions in 1986. As part of an asset sale of portions of the MGM library to Ted Turner, the film was licensed to video for Warner Home Video until 1992. (This video version, a poor, non-letterboxed, full-screen transfer, has been the format in which most have seen the film for the past two decades.) A new round of video licensing continued in the 90s, all involving tape transfers of Professione in various countries, except in Japan where the license was held long enough for a DVD edition. (Its the only one to date, and, while a less than optimum transfer, its an instantly hot item for cinephiles with multiregion players. This version is now out of print.)

Nicholson was unhappy with all suitors for a theatrical and subsequent DVD release until discussions began with Sony Pictures Classics in early 2003, with a deal finalized in May 2004. In the meantime, Professione only rarely popped up on the special exhibition and festival circuit: in Canada, Cinematheque Ontarios 1998 screening as part of its comprehensive Antonioni retrospective amounted to a sighting of Halleys Comet. The new release print is culled from elements that have resided in reportedly excellent film vaults.

But nothing is ever simple with The Passenger. Sony Classics was originally intending to release Antonionis hated MGM edition. As part of the research for this essay, I came across Antonionis unqualified condemning statement (on page 218 of the edited compilation of the directors writings and interviews, "The Architecture of Vision") and passed it along to Michael Barker, co-President of Sony Classics and Richard Pena, director of the New York Film Film Festival, where the film is receiving a special presentation. The evidence, fortunately, was convincing enough for Sony Classics to pull the MGM version and instead release the longer version, which will retain the title of The Passenger. That there has been no apparent effort to search for the 20-odd minutes worth of material (described vividly by Antonioni in "The Architecture of Vision," in a chapter tellingly titled "The Passenger that you didnt see") which made up the longer version before the final excisions is clearly a tragedyfor the moment at least. Antonioni, turning 93 on September 29, remains vital and active, as does the work to restore and maintain his oeuvreto say nothing of the vigorous movement in film archival restoration and (albeit sometimes controversial) projects to "reconstruct" previously trimmed films, from Touch of Evil (1958) to The Big Red One (1980). For a film about a man seeking to find another self, it should be possible to find this other Passenger, and bring its own history back full circle."

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