No one could deny that Antonioni, who died in 2007, was a remarkable film-maker. But there are plenty who say that Zabriskie Point, the first film he made in the United States, for MGM in 1970, was his worst.
Even if that’s true, it is well worth seeing again, especially as it’s beautifully restored and re-released this week. What it has to offer are shrewd insights into the beginnings of the consumer society and a wonderful cinematic view of the America of 40 years ago.
The story is of a young radical, Mark (Mark Frechette), accused of shooting a police officer during a riot, who steals a plane and flies off to Zabriskie Point, the lowest land point in the US, in Death Valley, California, where he meets a girl called Daria (Daria Halprin).
In truth, it’s poorly scripted, by a whole posse of distinguished writers, including Sam Shepard and Tonino Guerra, and acted amorphously by Frechette and Halprin, two physically striking but inexpressive performers. It’s left to Rod Taylor, as the nasty capitalist, to add any actorly blood to the bones of the film.
Antonioni’s horror at the country he saw is expressed in a series of clichés. Visually, however, the eloquence is often stunning as the film-maker traverses Death Valley’s long, winding roads, the slogans and the billboards of the time, and a natural habitat half-wrecked by those who live in it.
In the end, that’s what makes Zabriskie Point fascinating and worth seeing again: it’s a European’s view of America, summed up by a final furious explosion that many action directors would envy.
Zabriskie Point is at Curzon Mayfair and selected Picturehouse cinemas (picturehouses.co.uk)