Antonioni, Smooth & Striated Space *SPOILER ALERT

As you were all there to witness I had a last minute change of heart for my final. My original plan was to discuss the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Deleuze’s “Smooth and Striated”. I even had selected films, rescreened them and compiled clips to show the class. With a last minute moment of “becoming”, I had a change of heart. Since, I had done a bit of legwork, I decided to craft a blog post. I still think the correlation is worth examination.
The films I chose to highlight were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. They are two parts of an english language trilogy, that commences with another great film, Blow Up. Antonioni and Deleuze are complementary counterparts. They were contemporaries. Deleuze includes references to Antonioni’s work in his books on cinema. The most apparent connection would be with Deleuze’s concepts of time. Antonioni, with his frequent use of long takes and overall style he gives a good visual example of concrete vs. abstract time. As this is a blog post and not a paper I will discuss his later work The Passenger.

The Passenger begins in the smoothest of all spaces, the desert. David Locke is a documentary filmmaker attempting to chronicle civil conflict in Africa. His Land Rover fails in the middle of the Sahara. After a series of unfortunate events Locke spontaneously decides to take on the identity of a businessman that has passed away in the adjacent hotel room, David Robertson. After Locke becomes his acquaintance,he leaves the Sahara and travels through Europe. He attempts to evade his wife and others who are in pursuit of Robertson. In the end he takes a young lover and is murdered by Robertson’s criminal affiliates. Locke was far from innocent since he accepted Robertson’s criminal spoils. Robertson was not the innocent businessman Locke presumed him to be. He was an illegal arms trafficker.

Pardon the brief plot summary, but it is important to give context to those that have not seen the outstanding film. The film begins and ends in a smooth space, the desert. Although Locke is not killed in the desert it is ever looming in the background as many of the people whom have been great importance to him gather to confirm the identity of his body. The birth and death of his false identity take place in the smooth space. There are fewer better examples of becoming than birth and death.

After he is reborn as Robertson he quickly makes the transition to the striated city landscapes of Europe. He commences his journey into striation at the Munich airport. There are few spaces that require the extent of striation that is found at an airport. Every gesture is striated. It is a series of regulated checkpoints one must navigate and progress through to arrive at their final destination. Locke seems to follow arbitrary motions to arrive at his next striated destinations. Spain, although more culturally and physically smooth than Germany. It remains structured. The liberating architecture of Gaudi that litters the Barcelona landscape is still a means of structuring the smooth.

Locke’s journey through the smooth and striated is marked with many instances where Deleuze’s fold is at work. Antonioni’s use of windows in the film is pronounced. Robertson and Locke’s first interaction is shown through the frame of a window. The interaction is a flashback as Robertson has since succum to heart failure. The tracking shot of the men in conversation outside is intercut with shots of a drunk Locke who is taking on Robertson’s identity by the grafting of their passports. The window serves as an inbetween or folding space between past and present. The motif of the window surfaces several times in the film, but most notably in the legendary final sequence. Locke takes his final breath while in the near distance, through a partially obstructed window, the girl and his wife arrive. His past, present and future are all in intersection.  

I have included clips of the beginning and final scenes. I encourage everyone to watch any film of Antonioni’s. I was familiar with him long before Deleuze. I have a newfound appreciation of the films after the insight this class has imparted on me. I would argue that Antonioni is just as relevant to Deleuze as Tarkovsky is. Time and Space in Antonioni are a beautiful visual manifestation of Deleuzian thought.

Kyle Beechey

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “1440: The Smooth and Striated.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987. 474-500. Print.

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