Michelangelo Antonioni: Poet, Architect, Demolitions Expert

Michelangelo Antonioni relaxing on the set of Blow-Up in 1966.Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

How sadly fitting is it that Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman both died on the day we received an automated e-mail from Variety.com with the headline “Billion Dollar Director: Brett Ratner”? It’s hard not to think that something more than two men has passed from the Earth. It's tempting to tease out similarities between the two filmmakers – after all, in the sixties, they were ones who most effectively (and profitably) conveyed modern man’s twin alienations: from God (Bergman) and from each other (Antonioni). But they were actually diametrical opposites in many ways: If Bergman’s career represented the supremacy of dramatic structure and cinema’s continued indebtedness to the stage, then Antonioni's films were the clean break, the ones that showed us that the medium’s true kinship was with the plastic arts.

It's common to discuss Antonioni's work in architectural terms — even today, Cannes president Gilles Jacob called him "an architect of space and time" — but there was more to his films than the modernist spaces that filled them. In the end Antonioni was all about negating those spaces: Think of the tracking shot at the end of The Passenger or, more violently, the symphony of eye-popping explosions that marked the finale of Zabriskie Point, an onslaught of destruction that even the Brett Ratners of today have still not matched. Indeed, although Antonioni certainly understood space better than most filmmakers of his era, there was something he understood even more: our ceaseless desire to escape it. If there is a Heaven, then Michelangelo Antonioni is up there now, trying to find just the right camera angle to show its oppressiveness. —Bilge Ebiri

Earlier: Michaelangelo Antonioni Dies at 94