In the late nineteen-sixties, a college student called Mark (Mark Frechette) is caught up in the changing mood of the era but is unsatisfied with his fellow radicals when they would rather sit around discussing their plans rather than carrying them out. Meanwhile a secretary called Daria (Daria Halprin) must drive through the desert thanks to her boss (Rod Taylor) having a business meeting out in his swanky, clifftop apartment there.
It took five people to write director Michelangelo Antonioni's controversial sixties hangover movie - Antonioni himself and Sam Shepard among them. Here, many hands make heavy weather of this countercultural muddle, but it is notable in being a strange film for a major Hollywood studio to release considering how anti-American it was, or at least it was perceived to be by agitated observers who regarded it as the worst kind of left-leaning propaganda and possibly dangerous to their society. They must have been satisfied when audiences stayed away in droves. However, it does look nice.
Was Antonioni really delivering his own brand of agitprop to the United States, or was it more he was trying to show he was in touch with the kids of the day? The generation gap is played up, with all the young people shown as free spirited, in touch with what truly mattered in life be that political, social, sexual or simply with an ability to be at one with the natural world, while the older people (bearing in mind the director was somewhat middle-aged himself) were depicted as oblivious to such vitally important things and slaves to a consumer society, indicated by the weird commercial film the land developer businessmen, led by Taylor at that meeting, watch.
As opposed to the freedom of the desert both leads discover when they venture out into the wide open spaces, life in the city is a mixture of huge billboards and police brutality for Mark, who steals a light aircraft for extra underlining of his revolutionary spirit spurring him on to escape the drudgery of conservative control. We're never very sure if he actually has shot the cop, but his radical views are obvious, as he walks out of a student meeting because the uprising isn't moving fast enough for him (and indeed would never really happen as the seventies arrived). He also gives his name as Karl Marx when he's arrested for a minor offence early in the film - in a smug wink to the audience, the clueless officer types it out as "Carl", never having heard of the father of Communism.
Unfortunately Frechette is a very poor actor, conveying none of the fervour of a political militant, despite his being an actual commune-dwelling hippy who had been in trouble with the law on and off for a while; Antonioni thought he could convey all his misgivings for the American way of life, but he comes across as less an untouched encapsulation of youthful world-changing, and more amateur theatre. Halprin isn't much better, even after she has a consciousness-raising shag out in the desert, though she too was involved with the counterculture, briefly marrying one-time hippy icon Dennis Hopper before involving herself with dance instruction. Yet Alfio Contini's photography is excellent, and Zabriskie Point's most famous sequence, the explosive ending played out to the music of Pink Floyd, is a truly great representation of what Daria would now like to see happen to the establishment.
It should be mentioned that the Floyd recorded a whole soundtrack that Antonioni only used three tracks from, which probably made the spin-off LP a bigger seller than its parent movie would ever be. No, by 1970 the wave had broken on the shore and people were looking ahead to the Me Decade, not wholly rejecting the hippies' self-actualisation, merely adapting it to something more self-centred now the news filled with turmoil was a daily occurrence and easier to ignore if you believed that any change began with your own mindspace; and maybe even stayed there. However, in these cynical times, you just can't help get the feeling that Frechette, rather than businessman Rod Taylor, would be one of those first up against the wall when the revolution comes. "Blow up my TV, would you?!" See if you can spot Harrison Ford.
Although he divided audiences into those who found his mysterious works pretentious or fascinatingly enigmatic, this celebrated Italian writer and director was always interesting and stylish. L'Avventura in 1960 was his international breakthrough although he'd been directing since the forties, and he followed it with La Notte, L'Eclisse, The Red Desert, Blowup (perhaps his most famous film), Zabriskie Point (with its explosive climax), The Passenger and Identification of a Woman among others. He even continued working after serious stroke, Beyond the Clouds being his best known film from his later period.