November 29, 2010

Antonioni on Corbijn

“A man who renounces something is also a man who believes in something.”
“What I reject is this refusal to let silence have its place, this need to fill supposed voids.”
“A film you can explain in words is not a real film.”
“My contribution to the formation of a new cinematic language is a matter that concerns critics. And not even today’s critics, but rather those of tomorrow, if film endures as an art and if my films resist the ravages of time.”
“After you’ve learned two or three basic rules of cinema grammar, you can do what you like – including breaking those rules.”
“You know what I would like to do: make a film of actors standing in front of empty space so that the spectator would have to imagine the background of the characters … I want them to be so powerfully realised that we cannot imagine them apart from their physical and social context even when we see them in empty space.”
“I’m an admirer of technology … If we pull a man apart, he is revolting; do the same thing to a computer and it remains beautiful.”
“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.”
“A director is in some ways a man of action even if this action is intellectual.”
“Pretending to be objective, you annul yourself.”
“Perhaps changing one’s identity one commits an error, one succumbs to life, one dies, in essence.”
“If life were not ambiguous, if everything in life were unmysterious and fully explained, we would all be miserable to the point of wanting to die.”
“I find that Americans … take films too literally. They are forever trying to puzzle out ‘the story’ and to find hidden meanings where there are perhaps none. For them, a film must be entirely rational, without unexplained mysteries.”

The stills are from The American, directed by Anton Corbijn. The quotes are from interviews with Michelangelo Antonioni, between 1960 and 1978 (collected in Michelangelo Antonioni Interviews, edited by Bert Cardullo, University Press of Mississippi, 2008). The quotes have some relationship to what photographer-turned-director Corbijn is up to in The American and why some American audiences – primed for a George Clooney action movie – reportedly hated it. As a slow, minimalist and self-consciously mysterious Euro-thriller, the other comparison to make is with Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control (famously, “an action film with no action in it”), but that was funnier, more eccentric; The American is smoother, neater, almost a too-perfect simulation of the kind of movie it advertises itself as wanting to be (although a real 70s Euro-thriller would have more train scenes …) and as nothing about Corbijn’s other film, Control, suggested this one, you probably have to see as an exercise in adopted style rather than authorial personality. But his trick, which he accomplishes with real skill, is to never let us know how much his characters know – not even his star. You can see it in the scene in which Clooney is being followed through town by one of the Swedes – other films would signal that he knows he is being followed before he responds, but our hero just responds. Action as essence.