Shot hot the heels of Blow-Up‘s international success, Michelangelo Antonioni flew out to the barren wastelands of Americana in 1968 to make Zabriskie Point which would ultimately be released in 1970 to damning reviews.
Forty five years later and Zabriskie Point looks a whole lot better. While it hasn’t quite been reappraised as a lost classic, general consensus seems a lot warmer now. The film acts as curious needle drop on 60s counterculture and captures that time and mentality with real vividity. Sure the skin of it is quite scrappy here and there – the performances especially are nothing to write home about – but the meat and bones are really something.
As with any great Antonioni movie, there are moments in Zabriskie Point of pure visual thought. He is a filmmaker unafraid of not making sense if it means filming something that captures a feeling or a mentality. His ideas are not meant to be taken literally, they are feelings expressed on screen as image. So here Antonioni represents the death of the free-love generation by showing a mass orgy in the American desert. There’s also a plane with tits painted on it. Make of that what you will. His vivid use of music as sound is also on display with the two blurring together repeatedly in perfect unison.
The real showstopper here though, and the film’s obvious talking point, is the explosive finale which sees endless symbols of the material world – a luxurious desert house, a TV, bookcase, clothes rail – blown to total fucking smithereens. Antonioni slows the destruction down to such a hypnotic pace that the swirling debris feels like ballet. Add to that Pink Floyd on the soundtrack and you have pure, undiluted 100% cinema! These final moments of Zabriskie Point are easily among the most awesome I have ever seen. It’s a serious contender for most cinematic ending ever committed to celluloid.
That ending filled me with such chills, such joy and such wonder at the power of the medium that not a day has gone by since where I haven’t thought about Zabriskie Point. It might not be Antonioni’s masterpiece but it’s still a bold, singular work and certainly one of the most underrated movies to come out of the 70s. I absolutely fucking loved it.