Michelangelo Antonioni's Quotes

1 [1985 interview] I thought that Fellini's latest film, And the Ship Sails On (1983) was absolutely splendid. It's the work of a director who knows what he wants and how to achieve it on film. Apparently, nothing extraordinary happens on board that ship; after all, nothing really unusual can happen on a ship. In the space of a few days the passengers get to know each other. And yet, of course, there are all sorts of things going on - from individual existential crises to conflict between social classes to political conspiracies to war. In that film you see all life represented; it caught my attention right from the beginning. It's a very perceptive work, conducted with great intelligence and "discretion," without any of the pompousness that Fellini doesn't always manage to avoid. You feel that the filmmaker is looking at the world with a great deal of respect. After 8½ (1963), it's my favourite film by Fellini.
2 Whenever I make a film I have a confusion in the pit of my stomach, a sort of tumor I cure by making the film. If I forget that tumor, I lie. It is easy to forget, even if I subconsciously realize I am forgetting. Very easy. Suppose I have to film a character coming down those stairs. I want to focus on his face because his expression while seeing a second character is very important in this moment. So I make him come down, but then my fancy is caught by that Lichtenstein. I like that, too. So I make the character stand for a moment before the Lichtenstein, with its glowing greens and whites. I like that. I'm tempted by it, but it is a mistake. It means making the painting important at the very moment that the only important thing is the character.
3 [on Professione: reporter (1975)] It was difficult working with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider at the same time because they are such completely different actors. They are natural in opposite ways: Nicholson knows where the camera is and acts accordingly. But Maria doesn't know where the camera is - she doesn't know anything; she just lives the scene. Which is great. Sometimes she just moves and no one knows how to follow her. She has a gift for improvising, and I like that - I like to improvise.
4 I have to admit that I have no method of creating [the story for my] films; a film simply occurs to me. Il Grido (1957) occurred to me while I was looking at a wall, L'Avventura (1960) while I was on board a yacht, heading toward an island in the Mediterranean. A girl that I knew, a friend of my wife's, had disappeared. A thorough search was conducted but they found nothing. She had just disappeared. The idea for the film came to me all of a sudden while we were sailing toward that island. I said to myself, "What if that girl was on the island?" That's how I thought of the story for L'Avventura. At first the film was called The Island. In short, there is no fixed method. In 1962, I was in Florence filming a solar eclipse. There was a silence different from all other silences, an ashen light, and then darkness - total stillness. I thought that during an eclipse even our feelings stop. Out of this came part of the idea for L'Eclisse (1962).
5 [on the ending of L'Avventura (1960)] Here are two people who have their own stories - rather dissimilar ones - but who are, for the moment, rather close. What their future is I don't know. I couldn't say anything about it and wouldn't be interested in the subject.
6 The world, the reality in which we live is invisible; hence we have to be satisfied with what we see.
7 I never film a lot: only three or four takes per scene. I rehearse even less - maybe twice, but not more. I am convinced that this is better for the actors. I want the actors to be fresh, not tired. This way they are more natural. To achieve simplicity through exhaustive preparation requires a certain amount of experience and technique. I prefer instead to have the actors in a more 'unrehearsed' state when they first encounter the scene. Many times the first take is the best. But sometimes I like to shoot beyond that scene. Once the actors have done all they had to do and said all they had to say, they still keep on going, by force of inertia, until they hit what I call 'dead moments'. At these moments actors often commit 'errors', which in some way are also part of the scene. I think that these are very sincere moments.
8 My work is like digging, it's archaeological research among the arid materials of our times.
9 I don't know anything about the way a film is born, nothing about the manner of it, the lying-in, the 'big bang', the first three minutes. Whether the images in those first three minutes are born out of their author's deep desire, or if - in an ontological sense - they merely are what they are. I wake up one morning with my head full of images. I don't know where they come from, or how or why. They recur in the following days and months; I can't do anything about them, and I do nothing to drive them away. I'm happy to contemplate them and I make notes in my mind, which I write down in a book some time.
10 The split between morality and science is also the split between man and woman, between snowy Mount Etna and the concrete wall on the housing estate.
11 A new man is being born, fraught with all the fears and terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation.
12 [on whether Red Desert (1964) is an attack on modern society] It simplifies things too much (as many have done) to say that I accuse this inhuman, industrialized world in which the individual is crushed and led to neurosis. My intention, on the contrary, . . . was to translate the beauty of this world, in which even the factories can be beautiful.
13 People often ask us, "How is a picture born?" A picture probably has its birth in the disorder within us, and that's the difficulty: putting things in order.
14 I detest films that have a "message." I simply try to tell, or, more precisely, show, certain vicissitudes that take place, then hope they will hold the viewer's interest no matter how much bitterness they may reveal. Life is not always happy, and one must have the courage to look at it from all sides.
15 By developing with enlargers things emerge that we probably don't see with the naked eye. The photographer in Blow-Up (1966), who is not a philosopher, wants to see things closer up. But it so happens that by enlarging too far, the object itself decomposes and disappears. Hence there's a moment in which we grasp reality, but then the moment passes. This was in part the meaning of Blowup.
16 [on Identification of a Woman (1982)] I wanted to make a complete departure from any issues over colour or setting. This time, I wanted to focus attention on the characters. If there is some visual beauty, then it's due to the truth value of the emotions I have given the characters. Before this film, I gave too much importance to the setting. But now it's become too easy to make pretty movies. Everybody is doing it.
17 You know what I would like to do? Make a film with actors standing in empty space so that the spectator would have to imagine the background of the characters. Till now I have never shot a scene without taking account of what stands behind the actors because the relationship between people and their surroundings is of prime importance. I mean simply to say that I want my characters to suggest the background in themselves, even when it is not visible. I want them to be so powerfully realized that we cannot imagine them apart from their physical and social context even when we see them in empty space. [1969]
18 Present-day people can't adapt to technology. Ravenna, near the sea, has a stretch of factories, refineries, smokestacks, etc on one side and a pine forest on the other. The pine forest is much the more boring feature. So you see, I'm an admirer of technology. From an outsider's view the insides of a computer are marvelous - not just its functioning but the way it is made, which is beautiful in itself. If we pull a man apart, he is revolting; do the same thing to a computer and it remains beautiful. In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), you know, the best things in the film are the machines, which are much more splendid than the idiotic humans. In Red Desert (1964), I also confronted this technology and these machines with human beings who are morally and psychologically retarded and this utterly unable to cope with modern life. In my films it is the men who don't function properly - not the machines.
19 We are saddled with a culture that hasn't advanced as far as science. Scientific man is already on the moon, and yet we are still living with the moral concepts of Homer. Hence this upset, this disequilibrium that makes weaker people anxious and apprehensive, that makes it so difficult for them to adapt to the mechanism of modern life. We live in a society that compels us to go on using these concepts, and we no longer know what they mean. In the future - not soon, perhaps by the twenty-fifth century - these concepts will have lost their relevance. I can never understand how we have been able to follow these worn-out tracks, which have been laid down by panic in the face of nature. When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them. Sandro in L'Avventura (1960) is a character from a film shot in 1960 and is therefore entirely immersed in such moral problems. He is an Italian, a Catholic, and so he is a victim of this morality. Such moral dilemmas will have no right to exist in a future that will be different from the present. Today we are just beginning to glimpse that future, but in 1960 we lived in a country with the Pope and the Vatican, which have always been extremely important to all of us. There isn't a school in Italy still, not a law court without its crucifix. We have Christ in our houses, and hence the problem of conscience, a problem fed to us as children that afterward we have no end of trouble getting rid of. All the characters in my films are fighting these problems, needing freedom, trying to cut themselves loose, but failing to rid themselves of conscience, a sense of sin, the whole bag of tricks.
20 What happens to the characters in my films is not important. I could have them do one thing, or another thing. People think that the events in a film are what the film is about. Not true. A film is about the characters, about changes going on inside them. The experiences they have during the course of the film are simply things that 'happen to happen' to characters who do not begin and end when the film does. In Blow-Up (1966), a lot of energy was wasted by people trying to decide if there was a murder, or wasn't a murder, when in fact the film was not about a murder but about a photographer. Those pictures he took were simply one of the things that happened to him, but anything could have happened to him: he was a person living in that world, possessing that personality.
21 My childhood was a happy one. My mother, Elisabetta Roncagli, was a warm and intelligent woman who had been a laborer in her youth. My father also was a good man. Born into a working-class family, he succeeded in obtaining a comfortable position through evening courses and hard work. My parents gave me free rein to do what I wanted: with my brother, we spent most of our time playing outside with friends. Curiously enough, our friends were invariably proletarian, and poor. The poor still existed at that time, you recognized them by their clothes. But even in the way they wore their clothes, there was a fantasy, a frankness that made me prefer them to boys of bourgeois families. I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous.
22 I never discuss the plots of my films. I never release a synopsis before I begin shooting. How could I? Until the film is edited, I have no idea myself what it will be about. And perhaps not even then. Perhaps the film will only be a mood, or a statement about a style of life. Perhaps it has no plot at all. I depart from the script constantly. I may film scenes I had no intention of filming; things suggest themselves on location, and we improvise. I try not to think about it too much. Then, in the cutting room, I take the film and start to put it together and only then do I begin to get an idea of what it is about.
23 [on François Truffaut ] I think his films are like a river, lovely to see, to bathe in, extraordinarily refreshing and pleasant. Then the water flows and is gone. Very little of the pleasant feeling remains because I soon feel dirty again and need another bath. His images are as powerful as those of Resnais or Godard, but his stories are frivolous. I suppose that's what I object to. René Clair told light stories too, but they touch me more. I don't know why Truffaut's leave me unmoved. I'm not trying to say that he has no significance. I only mean that the way he tells a story doesn't come to anything. Perhaps he doesn't tell my kind of story. Perhaps that's it.
24 The Color of Pomegranates (1969), by Sergei Parajanov , in my opinion, one of the best contemporary filmmakers, strikes with its perfection of beauty.
25 I always try to follow a certain pattern and work without thinking of the audience. It is not that I dislike my audience; I am not an intellectual, but I believe that films should not be made to entertain the audience, earn money or achieve popularity. I think that films should be made to be as good as possible. And it seems to me that this is the best way to work and to be trustworthy in the world of cinema.
26 When I am shooting a film I never think of how I want to shoot something; I simply shoot it. My technique, which differs from film to film, is wholly instinctive and never based on prior considerations.
27 I am not a theoretician of the cinema. If you ask me what directing is, the first answer that comes into my head is that I don't know. The second, all my opinions on the subject are in my films.
28 A director is a man, therefore he has ideas; he is also an artist, therefore he has imagination. Whether they are good or bad, it seems to me that I have an abundance of stories to tell. And the things I see, the things that happen to me, continually renew the supply.
29 Reality changes so rapidly that if one theme is not dealt with, another presents itself. Allowing one's attention to be attracted by each little thing has become a vice of the imagination. All one has to do is to keep one's eyes open: everything becomes full of meaning; everything cries out to be interpreted, reproduced. Thus, there is no one particular film that I would like to make; there is one for every single theme I perceive. And I am excited by these themes, day and night. However, opportunity and other practical considerations limit and direct the choice . . .
30 Actors are like cows. You have to lead them through a fence.
31 I feel like a father towards my old films. You bring children into the world, then they grow up and go off on their own. From time to time you get together, and it's always a pleasure to see them again.
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