Reflections on the Film Actor
THE FILM ACTOR need not understand, but simply be. One might reason that in order to be, it is necessary to understand. That’s not so. If it were, then the most intelligent actor would also be the best actor. Reality often indicates the opposite.
When an actor is intelligent, his efforts to be a good actor are three times as great, for he wishes to deepen his understanding, to take everything into account, to include subtleties, and in doing so he trespasses on ground which is not his—in fact, he creates obstacles for himself.
His reflections on the character he is playing, which according to popular theory should bring him closer to an exact characterization, end up by thwarting his efforts and depriving him of naturalness. The film actor should arrive for shooting in a state of virginity. The more intuitive his work, the more spontaneous it will be.
The film actor should work not on the psychological level but on the imaginative one. And the imagination reveals itself spontaneously—it has no intermediaries upon which one can lean for support.
It is not possible to have a real collaboration between actor and director. They work on two entirely different levels. The director owes no explanations to the actor except those of a very general nature about the people in the film. It is dangerous to discuss details. Sometimes the actor and director necessarily become enemies. The director must not compromise himself by revealing his intentions. The actor is a kind of Trojan horse in the citadel of the director.
I prefer to get results by a hidden method; that is, to stimulate in the actor certain of his innate qualities of whose existence he is himself unaware—to excite not his intelligence but his instinct—to give not justifications but illuminations. One can almost trick an actor by demanding one thing and obtaining another. The director must know how to demand, and how to distinguish what is good and bad, useful and superfluous, in everything the actor offers.
The first quality of a director is to see. This quality is also valuable in dealing with actors. The actor is one of the elements of the image. A modification of his pose or gestures modifies the image itself. A line spoken by an actor in profile does not have the same meaning as one given full-face. A phrase addressed to the camera placed above the actor does not have the same meaning it would if the camera were placed below him.
These few simple observations prove that it is the director—that is to say, whoever composes the shot—who should decide the pose, gestures, and movements of the actor.
The same principle holds for the intonation of the dialogue. The voice is a “noise” which emerges with other noises in a rapport which only the director knows. It is therefore up to him to find the balance or imbalance of these sounds.
It is necessary to listen at length to an actor even when he is mistaken. One must let him be mistaken and at the same time try to understand how one can use his mistakes in the film, for these errors are at the moment the most spontaneous thing the actor has to offer.
To explain a scene or piece of dialogue is to treat all the actors alike, for a scene or piece of dialogue does not change. On the contrary, each actor demands special treatment. From this fact stems the necessity to find different methods: to guide the actor little by little to the right path by apparently innocent corrections which will not arouse his suspicions.
This method of working may appear paradoxical, but it is the only one which allows the director to obtain good results with nonprofessional actors found, as they say, “in the street.” Neo-realism has taught us that, but the method is also useful with professional actors—even the great ones.
I ask myself if there really is a great film actor. The actor who thinks too much is driven by the ambition to be great. It is a terrible obstacle which runs the risk of eliminating much truth from his performance.
I do not need to think I have two legs. I have them. If the actor seeks to understand, he thinks. If he thinks, he will find it hard to be humble, and humility constitutes the best point of departure in achieving truth.
Occasionally an actor is intelligent enough to overcome his natural limitations and to find the proper road by himself—that is, he uses his innate intelligence to apply the method I have just described.
When this happens, the actor has the qualities of a director.
A Talk with Michelangelo Antonioni on His Work
ANTONIONI: Someone once said that words, more than anything else, serve to hide our thoughts. Nevertheless, in answering your questions, I will try to be as direct and honest as possible, as I try to be when I’m working on a film. I didn’t come prepared to make a speech, so I’ve been asking myself what I should say to you and what it is that you want to know about me. I am a film-maker who began making feature films about ten years ago, and who forced himself to follow a certain direction, to maintain a certain coherence. Now I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but I’m saying it because it was the only way I would have been interested in making films. Had I done them in any other way, I probably would have made worse films than the ones I did make.
Now, if you ask me what were the motives and the reasons that led me to make films in this particular manner, I think I can say today that I was motivated by two considerations. (And bear this clearly in mind, these statements are being made ex post facto and not a priori, that is, I had no conception of them until I actually became involved in making feature-length dramatic films.) The first had to do with those crucial events that were taking place around us immediately after the war, and even later, in 1950, when I first started working in films; the second was simply a technical matter more closely related to cinematography per se. With reference to the first consideration, I will most certainly say that as far as their particular period was concerned, all those so-called Italian neo-realistic films, among which are some genuine masterpieces, were representative of the most authentic and the most valid cinematic expression possible, and they were also the most appropriate. After all, it was a period in which everything happening around us was quite abnormal; reality was a burning issue. The events and situations of the day were extraordinarily unusual, and perhaps the most interesting thing to examine at that time was the relationship between the individual and his environment, between the individual and society. Therefore, a film such as The Bicycle Thief, for example, where the main character was a laborer who lost his job because someone had stolen his bicycle, and whose every motivation stemmed from that specific fact, and that fact alone, which in itself was the most important aspect of the film and around which its entire story was centered—this, I say, was the type of film necessary and appropriate for its time. (I know I’ve said this all before, but I don’t mind repeating it because it’s something of which I’m profoundly convinced.) It really wasn’t necessary to know the protagonist’s inner thoughts, his personality, or the intimate relationship between him and his wife; all this could very well be ignored. The important thing was to establish his relationship with society. That was the primary concern of the neo-realist films made at that time. However, when I started making films, things were somewhat different, and my approach therefore was also different. I had arrived a little late on the scene, at a time when that first flowering of films, though still valid, was already beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Consequently, I was forced to stop and consider what subject matter was worth examining at that particular moment, what was really happening, what was the true state of things, what ideas were really being thought. And it seemed to me that perhaps it was no longer so important, as I said before, to examine the relationship between the individual and his environment, as it was to examine the individual himself, to look inside the individual and see, after all he had been through (the war, the immediate postwar situation, all the events that were currently taking place and which were of sufficient gravity to leave their mark upon society and the individual) out of all this, to see what remained inside the individual, to see, I won’t say the transformation of our psychological and emotional attitudes, but at least, the symptoms of that restlessness and behavior which began to outline the changes and transitions that later came about in our psychology, our feelings, and perhaps even our morality.
And so I began with Cronaca di un amore, in which I analyzed the condition of spiritual aridity and a certain type of moral coldness in the lives of several individuals belonging to the upper middle-class strata of Milanese society. I chose this particular subject because it seemed to me there would be plenty of raw material worth examining in a situation that involved the morally empty existence of certain individuals who were only concerned with themselves, who had no interest whatsoever in anything or anyone outside of themselves, and who had no human quality strong enough to counterbalance this self-centeredness, no spark of conscience left which might still be ignited to revitalize themselves with a sense of the enduring validity of certain basic values. It was this, unfortunately, which led the French critics quite innocently to define my style of film-making as being a kind of internal neo-realism. At any rate, this seemed to be the right road for me to follow at that time. Later, I will also tell you how and why I had adapted a certain technical approach that was directly in line with this choice.
The second consideration that led me along this particular road was an ever-increasing feeling of boredom with the current standardized methods of film-making and the conventional ways of telling a story. I was already instinctively aware of this feeling when I first started working on my early documentaries, especially N.U., which I had filmed in a somewhat different manner than what was then considered the orthodox way of making a film. (You will recall, however, that in 1943 I had already started shooting my very first documentary, which wasn’t completed until 1947. Ever since then, in addition to making films about landscapes and places of interest, which were the usual kind of films being done in Italy at that time, I began making films about people, and in a way that was much more intense, much more sympathetic, much more involved.) As far as the documentary form was concerned, and especially with N.U., I felt a need to avoid certain established and proven techniques. Even Paolucci, who was then one of the most noted documentarists, was making his documentaries in accordance with the set standards of the day, that is, in blocks of sequences. Each one of these blocks had its own beginning, its own end, and its own order; when joined together, these blocks constituted a certain parabola that gave the documentary a unity of its own. And they were impeccable documentaries, even from a formal point of view; but I felt somewhat annoyed with all this sense of order, this systematic arrangement of the material. I felt a need to break it up a little. So, having a certain amount of material in my hands, I set out to do a montage that would be absolutely free, poetically free. And I began searching for expressive ways and means, not so much through an orderly arrangement of shots that would give the scene a clear-cut beginning and end, but more through a juxtaposition of separate isolated shots and sequences that had no immediate connection with one another but which definitely gave more meaning to the idea I had wanted to express and which were the very substance of the documentary itself; in the case of N.U., the life of street-cleaners in a particular city.
When I was ready to start work on Cronaca di un amore, I found myself with these observations already acquired and with this basic experience already assimilated. So, as I was saying before, when I used that particular technical approach which consisted of extremely long shots, of tracks and pans that followed the actors uninterruptedly (the longest shot in Cronaca di un amore was 132 meters and it was the one taken on the bridge), I did it perhaps instinctively, but reflecting upon it now I can understand what led me to move in that particular direction. In effect, I had the feeling that it wasn’t quite right for me to abandon the actor at a time when, having just enacted an intensely dramatic scene, he was left alone by himself to face the after-effects of that particular scene and its traumatic moments. Undoubtedly, those moments of emotional violence had had a meaningful effect upon the actor and had probably served to advance him one step further psychologically. So I felt it was essential for me to follow the actors with the camera a few moments after they had completed their performance of the written scene. And though this may have seemed pointless, it actually turned out that these moments were exactly those which offered me the best opportunity to select and utilize on the moviola screen certain spontaneous movements in their gestures and facial expressions that perhaps could not have been gotten in any other way. (Many times, of course, I had the camera follow the actors even without their being aware of it, that is, at a time when they had thought the shot was finished.)
All this experimentation provided the basis for the results achieved in La Notte. And I want to say this, that ever since then I believe I have managed to strip myself bare, to liberate myself from the many unnecessary formal techniques that were so common at the time. I am not using the word “formal” in the sense that I had wanted to achieve results that would be strictly figurative. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact, this has never been of any interest to me. Instead I have always tried to fill the image with a greater suggestiveness—by composing the shot in a way that would assist me to say precisely what I intend, and at the same time to assist the actors express exactly what they are required to express, and also to assist in establishing a working rapport between the actors and the background, that is, the activity going on behind them as they perform their particular scene.
So, film by film, I gradually began to divest myself of certain precious and professionalized techniques. However, I must say that I don’t regret having had them, for without them perhaps I would not have been able to finally arrive at what I feel is a greater simplicity. Now I can actually permit myself to make some minor technical errors. And I do make them. In fact, sometimes I even do it on purpose, in order to obtain a greater degree of effectiveness. For example, certain unorthodox uses of “field” and “counterfield,” certain errors regarding position or movement. Thus, I have rid myself of much unnecessary technical baggage, eliminating all the logical narrative transitions, all those connective links between sequences where one sequence served as a springboard for the one that followed. The reason I did this was because it seemed to me—and of this I am firmly convinced—that cinema today should be tied to the truth rather than to logic. And the truth of our daily lives is neither mechanical, conventional nor artificial, as stories generally are, and if films are made that way, they will show it. The rhythm of life is not made up of one steady beat; it is, instead, a rhythm that is sometimes fast, sometimes slow; it remains motionless for a while, then at the next moment it starts spinning around. There are times when it appears almost static, there are other times when it moves with tremendous speed, and I believe all this should go into the making of a film. I’m not saying one should slavishly follow the day-to-day routine of life, but I think that through these pauses, through this attempt to adhere to a definite reality—spiritual, internal, and even moral—there springs forth what today is more and more coming to be known as modern cinema, that is, a cinema which is not so much concerned with externals as it is with those forces that move us to act in a certain way and not in another. Because the important thing is this: that our acts, our gestures, our words are nothing more than the consequences of our own personal situation in relation to the world around us.
And for this reason it seems most important nowadays for us to make these so-called “literary” or “figurative” films. (Obviously, these terms are paradoxical, because I am absolutely sure that no such thing as a literary film or a figurative film exists. There exists only cinema, which incorporates the experience of all the other arts.) I think it is important at this time for cinema to turn towards this internal form of film-making, towards ways of expression that are absolutely free, as free as those of literature, as free as those of painting which has reached abstraction. Perhaps one day cinema will also achieve the heights of abstraction; perhaps cinema will even construct poetry, a cinematic poem in rhyme. Today this may seem absolutely unthinkable, and yet little by little, perhaps even the public will come to accept this kind of cinema. I say this because something of the sort is already taking shape, something which even the public is becoming aware of, and which I think is the reason why certain so-called difficult films today are even achieving commercial success; they no longer remain in the film libraries, they no longer remain in the can. Instead, these films are reaching the great masses of people; in fact, I would say the more widespread they become, the more they are being understood.
ENZO BATTAGLIA (student of the Centro’s directing class) : With reference to that shot in La Notte where Jeanne Moreau, at a certain point, moves along that white wall against which she appears almost crushed—was this a planned shot, one that was in the original script, or was it improvised there on the spot? In other words, what I’d like to know is to what extent you plan your shots in advance and to what extent you let yourself be influenced by the locale during the actual shooting.
ANTONIONI: I believe that in every form of artistic endeavor, there is first of all a process of selection. This selection, as Camus once said, represents the artist’s revolt against the forces of reality. So whenever I’m ready to start shooting a scene, I arrive on location in a fixed state of “virginity.” I do this because I believe the best results are obtained by the “collision” that takes place between the environment in which the scene is to be shot and my own particular state of mind at that specific moment. I don’t like to study or even think about a scene the night before, or even a few days before I actually start shooting it. And when I arrive there, I like to be completely alone, by myself, so that I can get to feel the environment without having anybody around me. The most direct way to re-create a scene is to enter into a rapport with the environment itself; it’s the simplest way to let the environment suggest something to us. Naturally, we are well acquainted with that area in advance, from the moment we have selected it, and therefore know that it offers the proper setting for the particular scene that’s being shot. So it’s only a matter of organizing and arranging the sequence, adapting it to the characteristic details of the surrounding environment. For this reason, I always remain alone in the area for about half an hour before I start shooting a scene, whether it’s an indoor scene or an outdoor scene. Then I call in the actors and begin testing out the scene, because this too is a way of judging whether the scene works well or not. In fact, it’s possible that a well-planned scene that was written while sitting behind the desk, just won’t work anymore once it’s laid out in a particular locale, so it has to be changed or modified right there and then. Certain lines in the script might take on a different meaning once they’re spoken against a wall or against a street background. And a line spoken by an actor in profile doesn’t have the same meaning as one given full-face. Likewise, a phrase addressed to the camera placed above the actor doesn’t have the same meaning it would if the camera were placed below him. But the director (and, I repeat, this is my own personal way of working) becomes aware of all these things only when he’s on the scene and starts moving his actors around according to the first impressions that come to him from being there. So, it is extremely rare that I have the shots already fixed in my mind. Obviously, in the various stages of preparing a film, a director creates images in his mind, but it is always dangerous to fall in love with these formulated images, because you eventually end up by running after images abstracted from the reality of the environment in which the scene is being shot and which are no longer the same as they first appeared while sitting behind the desk. It is really much better to adapt yourself to a new situation, and this is especially so since film scripts today, as you know, are becoming less and less detailed and less and less technical. They are the director’s notes, and serve as a model on which one works during the course of the shooting. So, as I was saying a short while ago, improvisation comes directly from the rapport that is established between the environment and ourselves, from the rapport between the director and the people around him, both the usual professional collaborators and the people who just happen to be gathered in that particular area when the scene is being shot. In other words, it is possible that the rapport itself could suggest the outcome of a scene; it could suggest the modification of a line; it could suggest so many things, inasmuch as it too is a method of improvisation. So, I repeat, for this reason I very seldom give much advance thought to the shot but prefer to think about it when I’m there on the scene and when I put my eye behind the camera.
GIULIO CESARE CASTELLO (film critic and member of the Centro faculty) : This pertains to a natural setting, but what about the studio where the set is constructed according to a preconceived design?
ANTONIONI: What I said also applies to a studio set.
CASTELLO: Certain reciprocal stimuli inherent in a scene that is shot in a natural environment do not exist in one that is shot in a studio, which, to some extent, always creates a kind of limitation, if for no other reason than there exists a scenography; the set, therefore, is constructed in a specific way and there are certain movements which you simply cannot make, unless you plan and construct the scenography in a different way.
ANTONIONI: Aside from the fact that I’ve been working less and less in a studio (I’ve now made two films without once setting foot in a studio), I can say that even there the situation I described holds true. Of course, when preparing a set within a studio, I sketch out an idea for the designer or architect as to what I think the scene should be like, establishing thereby a certain rapport with the surroundings. But not until I actually find myself on the finished set, at that moment and that moment only, do I have the exact feeling of what the scene should really look like. And to some extent even those surroundings, which I myself to a certain extent have set up, can offer me surprises and suggest some changes, some new ideas. And I never reject those suggestions. Even here, before I start shooting, I remain alone by myself for a period of twenty minutes, a half hour, and sometimes even longer.
ANTONIO PETRUCCI (member of the Centro faculty): If I’m not mistaken, you once wrote somewhere that just before you start shooting a scene, you put yourself in a state somewhat similar to that of a writer in front of a blank page. And yet, undoubtedly, you must have some clue in mind as to what you want to do, just as a writer does; he doesn’t sit down in front of a blank page unless he first has a definite idea what he wants to write about.
ANTONIONI: No, but to continue your metaphor, you might say it’s more like a writer who has an idea in mind as to what the house in which his character lives should be like, but has not yet begun to describe it. The creation doesn’t take place until he describes it. Just as a scene in a film isn’t depicted until the actual shooting of that scene takes place. Now there are more than a thousand ways an actor can enter a room and slap someone across the face. But there is only one right way; the other fifty thousand are all wrong. It’s a matter of finding the right way. So, when I enter upon a new environment, I feel as though I were in front of a blank page—I have no idea where to begin. And I’m pursued by doubts right up until that moment when I see the material on the moviola screen. Therefore, I would think that even the studio can offer some surprises. Because the moment you place the actors on the scene, then, from the rapport established between the actors and their surroundings—a rapport that is absolutely new and spontaneous—you get an idea as to what should follow, depending on how the situation affects you. If every detail in the sequence were foreseen, well, then there wouldn’t be any need at all for the dolly. Today a film is made while in progress; it is written right there on the spot, with the camera.
CASTELLO: This method makes it necessary for you to shoot much more than the usual amount of footage. For example, how many feet of film did you shoot for L’A vventura and La Notte?
ANTONIONI: Not so much. At least, not an extreme amount. For L’Avventura, I shot about 170,000 feet; for La Notte about 140,000. So that’s not much.
CASTELLO: I would like to ask another question of a more general nature. There being no doubt that everything you did to date was done the way you wanted to do it, inasmuch as you never have to compromise yourself with the producers, is there anything in your films that you yourself reject, anything with which you are dissatisfied, not in the sense that every artist is always more or less dissatisfied with almost everything he has done in the past, but rather something you feel you shouldn’t have done or which you should have done differently?
ANTONIONI : Although I’m not completely satisfied with everything I’ve done—which is something natural and logical—I believe there’s no particular film that leaves me more dissatisfied than any other. However, there are certain parts in some films that displease me more than other parts. For example, in I vinti, and also some sections in Signora senza camelie, which is a film I consider to be a mistake, mainly because I started off on the wrong foot from the very beginning of the film by concentrating on a character who then turned out to be the wrong one. Others may find that this is not so, but for me, knowing what I had in mind, I felt very bitter over the fact that I had to make so many changes from the original idea. However, there are some sequences in the film which I would do exactly the same way today. In I vinti, I was particularly dissatisfied with the Italian episode. And even in the French episode, I would now change many things, since I have come to know France a little better since then. Perhaps I’d leave the English episode as it is. But it’s very difficult to judge this way, because even in L’Avventura it seems to me there are certain things that I don’t like anymore; even in La Notte. And then, with La Notte, I’m still so close to it that I haven’t come to like it yet, and I’m not sufficiently detached from the film to really judge it.
FIORAVANTI: In L’Avventura, what are the parts that least satisfy you?
ANTONIONI: Well, for example, today I would do the entire party scene at the end in a different way. I don’t mean it’s not good as it is now: I mean I would just do it differently, perhaps worse, but in any case, differently. Then, certain scenes on the islands, for example, certain things with the father, certain things with the helicopter.
KRYSTYNA STYPULKOWSKA (student in the Centro’s acting classes): First of all, I would like to speak about L’Avventura, or more precisely, about the significance of its ending, its conception.
I understand one should never put such questions to a director, and for this I apologize, but some of us have spent many hours, actually entire nights, in discussing this very problem because every one of us saw it in a different way. Some said it dealt with an almost Pascaban conception of life, which lays bare the solitude of man, his perpetual failure, his humiliation, his attempt to escape from a world in which there is no way out. Others found in this ending, however disconcerting, a conception of life that is perhaps more optimistic than any of your other films. What are your thoughts on the subject?
My second question, though banal, interests me enormously inasmuch as I’m a student of acting. I would like to know how you work with actors. To be more precise, do you change your methods according to the personality of the actors? For example, let’s take three actresses who have worked with you and who are quite different from each other: Lucia Bose, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti.
ANTONIONI: I think it would be appropriate at this time to read you a statement I made at a press conference given for the opening of L’Avventura at Cannes. It pretty well reflects my thoughts regarding the motives and the considerations that moved me to make L’Avventura and, in a general way, sort of answers the young lady’s question, which I will reply to more directly later on.
“Today the world is endangered by an extremely serious split between a science that is totally and consciously projected into the future, and a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice or sheer laziness. Where is this split most evident? What are its most obvious, its most sensitive, let us even say its most painful, areas? Consider the Renaissance man, his sense of joy, his fullness, his multifarious activities. They were men of great magnitude, technically able and at the same time artistically creative, capable of feeling their own sense of dignity, their own sense of importance as human beings, the Ptolemaic fullness of man. Then man discovered that his world was Copernican, an extremely limited world in an unknown universe. And today a new man is being born, fraught with all the fears and terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation. And what is even more serious, this new man immediately finds himself burdened with a heavy baggage of emotional traits which cannot exactly be called old and outmoded but rather unsuited and inadequate. They condition us without offering us any help, they create problems without suggesting any possible solutions. And yet it seems that man will not rid himself of this baggage. He reacts, he loves, he hates, he suffers under the sway of moral forces and myths which today, when we are at the threshold of reaching the moon, should not be the same as those that prevailed at the time of Homer, but nevertheless are.
“Man is quick to rid himself of his technological and scientific mistakes and misconceptions. Indeed, science has never been more humble and less dogmatic than it is today. Whereas our moral attitudes are governed by an absolute sense of stultification. In recent years, we have examined these moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this but we have not been capable of finding new ones, we have not been capable of making any headway whatsoever towards a solution of this problem, of this ever-increasing split between moral man and scientific man, a split which is becoming more and more serious and more and more accentuated. Naturally, I don’t care to nor can I resolve it myself; I am not a moralist and my film is neither a denunciation nor a sermon. It is a story told in images whereby, I hope, it may be possible to perceive not the birth of a mistaken attitude but the manner in which attitudes and feelings are misunderstood today. Because, I repeat, the present moral standards we live by, these myths, these conventions are old and obsolete. And we all know they are, yet we honor them. Why? The conclusion reached by the protagonists in my film is not one of sentimentality. If anything, what they finally arrive at is a sense of pity for each other. You might say that this too is nothing new. But what else is left if we do not at least succeed in achieving this? Why do you think eroticism is so prevalent today in our literature, our theatrical shows, and elsewhere? It is a symptom of the emotional sickness of our time. But this preoccupation with the erotic would not become obsessive if Eros were healtny, that is, if it were kept within human proportions. But Eros is sick; man is uneasy, something is bothering him. And whenever something bothers him, man reacts, but he reacts badly, only on erotic impulse, and he is unhappy. The tragedy in L’Avventura stems directly from an erotic impulse of this type—unhappy, miserable, futile. To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse, as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura, is not enough or serves no purpose. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth, which proclaims it is enough for us to know, to be critically conscious of ourselves, to analyze ourselves in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. The fact of the matter is that such an examination is not enough. It is only a preliminary step. Every day, every emotional encunter gives rise to a new adventure. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic, in remaining loyal to them. Thus moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, his adventure can only end in a stalemate.”
That was the statement I read in France. I believe one can deduce from its premise the significance of the film’s ending, which, depending on how you look at it, might be considered either optimistic or pessimistic. Georges Sadoul has made a little discovery which I later found to be in agreement with what I had intended when I shot the final scene. I don’t know if you still remember it. On one side of the frame is Mount Etna in all its snowy whiteness, and on the other is a concrete wall. The wall corresponds to the man and Mount Etna corresponds somewhat to the situation of the woman. Thus the frame is divided exactly in half; one half containing the concrete wall which represents the pessimistic side, while the other half showing Mount Etna represents the optimistic. But I really don’t know if the relationship between these two halves will endure or not, though it is quite evident the two protagonists will remain together and not separate. The girl will definitely not leave the man; she will stay with him and forgive him. For she realizes that she too, in a certain sense, is somewhat like him. Because—if for no other reason—from the moment she suspects Anna may have returned, she becomes so apprehensive, so afraid she may be back and still alive, that she begins to lose the feeling of friendship that she once had for Anna, just as he had lost his affection for Anna and perhaps is also beginning to lose it for her. But what else can she do but stay with him? As I was saying before, what would be left if there weren’t this mutual sense of pity, which is also a source of strength. In La Notte the protagonists go somewhat further. In L’Avventura they communicate only through this mutual sense of pity; they do not speak to one another. In La Notte, however, they do converse with each other, they communicate freely, they are fully aware of what is happening to their relationship. But the result is the same, it doesn’t differ. The man becomes hypocriticai, he refuses to go on with the conversation because he knows quite well that if he openly expresses his feelings at that moment, everything would be finished. But even this attitude indicates a desire on his part to maintain the relationship, so then the more optimistic side of the situation is brought out.
CASTELLO: I find it a bit ridiculous, this wanting to establish whether an ending is optimistic or pessimistic. However, I have noticed there is a certain divergence of opinion. I find the ending of L’Avventura far more optimistic than that of La Notte. And yet there are some who find La Notte more optimistic.
ANTONIONI: Once, in A situation similar to this, Pirandello was asked some questions about his characters, his scenes, his comedies. And he replied: “How should I know? I’m the author.” Now for the young lady’s second question about acting. With actors, I use certain ideas and methods which are strictly personal, and I don’t know if they are right or wrong. Looking back at what has been my experience with actors, I can say that I directed them in a certain way only because I didn’t care to work in any other way since my way seemed to give me the best results. And then, I am not like those directors, such as De Sica and Visconti, who can “show” the actor exactly how the scene is to be acted. This is something I wouldn’t know how to do inasmuch as I myself do not know how to act. I believe, however, that I know what I want from my actors. As I see it, an actor need not necessarily understand everything he is doing. In this respect, I always have a great deal of trouble when I first begin working with my actors, especially with some foreign actors. There is a general belief that actors must understand everything they do when enacting a scene. If this were so, then the best actor would be the one who is the most intellectual, which is simply not the case; the facts show us that often the reverse is true. The more an actor forces himself to comprehend the meaning of a scene, the more he tries to achieve a deeper understanding of a given line, a sequence, or the film itself, the more obstacles he sets up between the really natural spontaneity of that scene and its ultimate realization. Aside from the fact that by doing such, he tends to become, in a certain sense, his own director; and this is more harmful than beneficial. Now, I find it’s not necessary for a director to have his actors rack their brains; it’s better, in every respect, for them to use their instinct. As a director, I shouldn’t have to consult with them regarding my conception of the way I feel a scene should be done. Otherwise, by revealing to them what is after all my own personal plan of action, they automatically become a kind of Trojan horse in what is supposed to be my citadel, which is mine by virtue of the fact that I am the one who knows what I want from them and I am the one who knows whether their response to what I ask for is good or bad. Inasmuch as I consider an actor as being only one element in a given scene, I regard him as I regard a tree, a wall, or a cloud, that is, as just one element in the overall scene; the attitude or pose of the actor, as determined under my direction, cannot but help to effect the framing of that scene, and I, not the actor, am the one who can know whether that effect is appropriate or not. Furthermore, as I said previously, a line spoken by an actor where the camera is facing him from above has one meaning, while it has another meaning if the camera is facing him from below, etc., etc. Only the director can judge these things, not the actor. And the same applies to intonation, which is primarily a sound and only secondarily a line in a piece of dialogue. It is a sound that should be made to integrate with the other sounds accompanying a given image, and at that moment, when the actor speaks his line, all the sounds, including his delivery of that line, that combine to make up the total sound pattern appropriate to that image or sequence, are not there yet. The actor pays no attention to all these details, but the director does. And that’s not all. Even improvisation is a factor in connection with this particular subject. For instance, when an actor makes a mistake in delivering a line, I let him make that mistake. That is, I let him go ahead with his mistake because I want to see how it sounds, how it works, before he goes ahead and corrects that mistake. I want to see whether I can somehow utilize that mistake. Because at that moment his mistakes are the most spontaneous things he can give me, and it is that spontaneity of his which I have need of, even though he gives it to me against his will. When going through a scene before shooting it, I often try out certain pieces of dialogue or certain actions which may not have anything to do with the actual scene itself, and I am forcefully embarrassed when the actors ask me for explanations. Because beyond a certain point, I don’t want to tell them anything. When I was doing Il Grido, that excellent actress Betsy Blair wanted to go over the script with me, and she would ask me for an explanation of every line. Those two hours I spent with her going over that script were the most hellish hours of my life, since I was forced to invent meanings that weren’t there at all. However, they were the meanings she had wanted me to give her, so she was satisfied. And this should also be taken under consideration.
There is another reason why I feel it really isn’t necessary to explain every scene to your actors, for if you did so that would mean you’d have to give the same explanation to each actor. And this would not do, at least not for me. In order to get the best results, I know that I have to say one thing to one actor and something else to another actor. Because I am supposed to understand his temperament, I am supposed to know how he reacts, that when affected a certain way, he reacts a certain way, and when affected another way, he reacts differently. So it’s not possible to use the same approach with every actor. To the director, the scene itself remains always the same, but when I approach the actors, in order for me to obtain the desired results, by explanations to them have to vary in accordance with the nature and temperament of each actor.
STEFANO SATTA (student of the Centro’s acting classes): Although L’Avventura and La Notte both end with a new awareness on the part of the protagonists (you mentioned a mutual feeling of pity) while Il Grido ends with a suicide, it seems to me that L’Avventura and La Notte are more imbued with agony and despair than Il Grido. Is this merely coincidental or is it actually because of the different social climate involved?
ANTONIONI: This is a question the critics can answer more efficiently than I can. You are not really asking me a question, you are making an observation. In other words, what you’re telling me is that L’Avventura and La Notte succeeded in achieving their aims while Il Grido did not. When the critics said—with regards to Il Grido—that I was cold, cynical, and completely inhuman, they evidently weren’t aware of what I was trying to say. Perhaps I was not precisely aware of it myself at the time, and it only became clear to me after having done the other two films. Perhaps L’Avventura and La Notte help somewhat to explain Il Grido, which, if shown in Italy today might receive a greater success than when it first came out. I would say that Il Grido is a more pessimistic film, more full of despair, which may be due to the fact that I myself, at that particular moment in my life, was in a certain state of depression. So if the film didn’t reflect this, I’d really be surprised.
SATTA: I would like to express myself more precisely. In Il Grido I found a greater feeling of human warmth that I did in L’Avventura and La Notte.
FIORAVANTI: I think he means that Il Grido ends in a more dramatic and tragic manner, that is, with a suicide; but, in certain aspects, he finds this film is actually more optimistic than either L’Avventura or La Notte, which seem colder to him in spite of the fact that they contain certain glimmers of hope.
ANTONIONI : But insofar as this human warmth is no longer of any value to the protagonist, insofar as it doesn’t help to prevent him from destroying himself, the ending of this film is more pessimistic than the others. I don’t know. In spite of everything, this quality of human warmth as expressed by the main character in Il Grido doesn’t serve him at all as any link to the rest of humanity. He is a person who is no longer attached to life.
SATTA: I would like to ask you another question. Regarding the final scene in La Notte, I feel that you have departed from your usual style; in the sense that whereas you have been accused at times of making your characters say so very little to each other, in the final scene of La Notte almost the opposite is true. With that final conversation between the husband and wife it almost seems that you want to give an explanation for the benefit and comfort of the spectators.
ANTONIONI: I don’t know if it gives that impression or not. Actually, that conversation, which is really a soliloquy, a monologue by the wife, is a kind of summing-up of the film to clarify the real meaning of what took place. The woman is still willing to discuss, to analyze, to examine the reasons for the failure of their marriage. But she is prevented from doing so by her husband’s refusal to admit its failure, his denial, his inability to remember or unwillingness to remember, his refusal to reason things out, his incapacity to find any basis for a new start through a lucid analysis of the situation as it is. Instead, he tries to take refuge in an irrational and desperate attempt to make physical contact. It is because of his stalemate that we do not know what possible solution they could come to.
CHRISTA WINDISCH-GRATZ (student of the Centro’s acting classes): Between L’Avventura, La Notte and Il Grido, I particularly liked Il Grido. I liked the ending of Il Grido because it clarifies something, it arrives at a definite conclusion, one that is perhaps too cruel, that needn’t be so, but nevertheless that’s the way it is. Whereas L’Avventura and La Notte leave me cold because they don’t come to any definite conclusion.
ANTONIONI: Lucretius, who was certainly one of the greatest poets who ever lived, once said, “Nothing appears as it should in a world where nothing is certain. The only thing certain is the existence of a secret violence that makes everything uncertain.” Think about this for a moment. What Lucretius said of his time is still a disturbing reality, for it seems to me this uncertainty is very much part of our own time. But this is unquestionably a philosophical matter. Now you really don’t expect me to resolve such problems or to propose any solutions? Inasmuch as I am the product of a middle-class society, and am preoccupied with making middle-class dramas, I am not equipped to do so. The middle class doesn’t give me the means with which to resolve any middle-class problems. That’s why I confine myself to pointing out existing problems without proposing any solutions. I think it is equally important to point them out as it is to propose solutions.
BANG-HANSEN (student of the Centro’s directing class): I would like to know to what extent you believe lucidity could be a form of salvation or a way out.
ANTONIONI: Now, look, lucidity is not a solution. In fact, I would say it puts you at a greater disadvantage, because where you have lucidity there is no longer any reason for the existence of a scale of values, and therefore one finds one’s self even more at a loss. Certainly, I am for lucidity in all things, because this is my position as a secular man. But in a certain sense I still envy those who can draw upon their faith and somehow manage to resolve all their problems. But this is not so with everyone. You ask me questions of such magnitude that I feel I’m much too small to answer them.
PAOLO TODISCO (student of the Centro’s acting classes) : To go back to your experiences with actors, you said that you try to create a characterization, giving the actor a minimum amount of directions, and then wait to see how he himself develops a certain theme.
ANTONIONI: No, that’s not quite right. I never let the actor do anything on his own. I give him precise instructions as to what he is supposed to do.
TODISCO: Okay, then here is my question: In your films, you have worked with the following three actors: Lucia Bose, Steve Cochran, and Monica Vitti. Three kinds of experiences, three different types of actors: Lucia Bose, who has done very little before she started working with you; Steve Cochran, whose experience is that of a school much different than ours; and Monica Vitti, who comes to films from the stage. Which of the three gave you the most difficulty?
ANTONIONI: Steve Cochran. Because he is the least intelligent of the three.
CASTELLO: Just a moment. Only a short while ago you said you didn’t want intelligent actors; you wanted it this way yourself, so why do you regret it now?
ANTONIONI: Let me explain. He was less intelligent in the sense that when I specifically asked him to do something, he simply refused to do it. If I gave him certain directions and told him to follow those directions to the letter, he would abruptly tell me, “No.” “Why not?” I would ask him. And he would reply, “Because I’m not a puppet.” Now that was too much to tolerate . . . After all, there’s a limit to everything. As a result, I had to direct him by using tricks, without ever telling him what it was I wanted.
GUIDO CINCOTTI: But it was resolved one way or the other. Either Cochran finally resigned himself to following your directions or else this underhand method you used went well. Because the end results were excellent.
ANTONIONI: No, because he just went ahead and did everything he wanted—only he never became aware of the tricks I had to use in order to get what I wanted from him. With regards to Lucia Bose, I had to direct her almost with a sense of violence. Before every scene, I had to put her in a state of mind appropriate to that particular scene. If it was a sad scene, I had to make her cry; if it was a happy scene, I had to make her laugh. As for Monica Vitti, I can say she’s an extremely serious actress. She comes from the Academy, and therefore possesses an extraordinary sense of craft. Even so, there were many times when we were not in agreement on certain solutions, and I was forced to beg her not to interfere in my domain.
TODISCO: It is said that a stage actor generally creates some difficulties for the director of a film. Now have you had such difficulties with, for example, Monica Vitti, who was originally a stage actress?
ANTONIONI: No, I wouldn’t say so. Because Monica Vitti is a very modern actress, so even in her theatrical career she never had those attitudes which can be defined as “theatrical.” Therefore, I didn’t have any great difficulty with her. And then Monica Vitti is extraordinarily expressive. This is a great quality for a film actor. Perhaps on stage this expressiveness was of less value to her; that is, if an actor does have such a quality, it is all the better, but if he does not, it doesn’t really matter much; what is more important for the stage is the actor’s attitude. At a distance of one hundred feet, the actor’s facial expression is lost, but in a film what counts the most is the actor’s expressions. And Monica Vitti has an extremely expressive face.
MARIO VERDONE (film critic and member of Centro’s faculty): Actually, what is your opinion about the contribution music can make to a film? I say actually because it has seemed to me this contribution has diminished in your last two films.
ANTONIONI: I think music has had and can continue to have a great function in films, because there is no art form which the film medium cannot draw upon. In the case of music, it draws directly, and therefore the relationship is even closer. It seems to me, however, that this relationship is beginning to change. In fact, the way music is being used today is quite different than it was used ten years ago. At that time music was used to create a certain atmosphere in order to help get the image across to the spectator. Earlier, of course, in the period of the silent film, there was the old pianola, which was originally used to hide the noise of the projecting machine and then, later, as a means to emphasize the images that passed over the screen in absolute silence. Since then, the use of music in films has changed a great deal, but in certain films today it is still being used that way, that is, as a kind of external commentary. Its function is to establish a rapport between the music and the spectator, not between the music and the film, which is its proper function. Even to this day, especially in certain films from Hollywood, a battle scene is accompanied with violent symphonic crescendoes from a full orchestra; a sad scene is always accompanied with violin music because it is felt that violins create an atmosphere of sadness. But this seems to me to be a completely wrong way to use music, and has nothing whatever to do with cinematography.
There are, of course, certain films where music is used in a more meaningful way, as a means to complement the images, to heighten and intensify the meaning of the image. And this has been done with certain scenes in L’Avventura and in Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. And I must say that the music really worked well in these cases, that is, it expressed what the images themselves intended to express, it was used as an integral part of the image. Having said this, however, I must also say that I am personally very reluctant to use music in my films, for the simple reason that I prefer to work in a dry manner, to say things with the least means possible. And music is an additional means. I have too much faith in the efficacy, the value, the force, the suggestiveness of the image to believe that the image cannot do without music. It is true, however, that I have a need to draw upon sound, which serves an essential “musical” function. I would therefore say that true film “music” has not yet been invented. Perhaps it might be in the future. Until that time comes, however, I feel that music should be spliced out of the film and spliced into a disc, where it has an autonomy of its own.
PETRUCCI: In connection with this, I want to bring up the entire sequence in La Notte that takes place in the streets of Milan. It is clear that when those street sounds, those automobile horns, etc., are isolated from their corresponding images, they have no meaning in themselves. At the same time, however, when heard in relation to those images, their function is exclusively a musical one.
ANTONIONI: Of course. But there must be a mutual rapport. That is, the images cannot stand alone, without those sounds—just as those sounds would have no meaning at all if they were detached from the images.
VERDONE: I seem to find a certain predilection in your films for contemporary art. Not so much with regards to the paintings of Morandi which are seen in La Notte or of the abstract paintings seen in Le Amiche, but more so in your framing of the image itself, in your manner of seeing things, for example, a white wall or a gravel path or some wooden boards nailed to a window. That is, you seem to have a predilection for a kind of painting which might be called non-painting, like that of Burri, or a sculpture by Consagra, or similar artists—I could cite Vedova, Fontana, etc., etc. I would like to know if this is accidental (and I’m sure it’s not since it seems to me nothing is accidental in your films), or is there a definite rapport between contemporary art and your latest films?
ANTONIONI: I have a great love for painting. For me, it is the one art, along with architecture, that comes immediately after film-making. I’m very fond of reading books on art and architecture, of leafing through pages and pages of art volumes, and I like to go to art shows and keep in touch with the latest work being done in art—not just to be au courant but because painting is something that moves me passionately. Therefore I believe all these perceptions and this interest have been somewhat assimilated. And, naturally, having followed modern art, my taste and my predilection for a certain style would be reflected in my work. But in framing a shot, I certainly don’t have any particular painter or painting in mind; that’s something I avoid.
PETRUCCI: I’d like to ask you a question about something you mentioned before, concerning your earlier work and its particular tendency, from a a technical point of view, towards using long shots, long tracks, long pans, etc. We have not seen any widespread indication of this in your latest films. Can we therefore assume that a change has taken place in your method of expression, that you are now using your technical means of expression in a different way?
ANTONIONI: When I began Cronaca di un amore, as I said a short while ago, I did not consciously intend to make a film in that particular way, that is, it was not a preconceived style that was evolved while sitting behind the desk. But when I started climbing on the dolly to follow the actors around in the first scene, I saw that it wasn’t essential to cut right at the specified end of that scene, so I continued shooting on for a while longer. As I already said before, I felt an urge to keep the camera on the actors even after the prescribed action was completed. Evidently, I did this because I felt the best way to capture their thoughts, their states of mind, was to follow them around physically with the camera. Thus the long shots, the continuous panning, etc. Later, however, as I went along (and here I should say that even in making this film I worked quite instinctively) I became aware that perhaps this was not the best method after all, that perhaps I was concentrating too much on the external aspects of the actors’ states of mind and not enough on the states of mind themselves. Perhaps it would be better, I thought, to construct the scene and try different camera movements and montage so that by setting up the camera at one level, then using a certain pan in a preceding or following shot, I could obtain the results I wanted. In short, I realized that just one specific technical approach was not enough to obtain the particular type of shots I would need to go beyond the literal aspects of the story, but that it was necessary to work more closely with the material itself, selecting those particular objects in the scene by various methods.
FRANCO BRONZI (student of scenography): When speaking with some of the student directors here at the Centro, there are certain times when we students of scenography meet up with some rather strange notions. We find that student directors or young directors have the feeling that scenography is not very important. It seems that as far as they are concerned, to shoot a scene against a natural wall of a building is more or less the same thing as shooting a scene against a wall constructed in a studio. According to your way of thinking, is scenography an important contributing factor in the successful realization of a film?
ANTONIONI: I wouldn’t say it isn’t. It could be. It depends on the type of film you make. For example, in the next few months I’ll be doing a film where I don’t think I’ll have any need of a studio, but immediately after that, at least if I don’t change my mind and start something else, I’ll be doing another film entirely inside a studio. For it will be done in color and I want to inject my own color scheme, that is, I want to paint the film as one paints a canvas; I want to invent the color relationships, I don’t want to limit myself by one photographing natural colors. In this case, scenography becomes an extremely important element. There is also something to be said for scenography when one shoots a film outdoors and wants to obtain a specific kind of background—then scenography is as important as it is in a studio. Today there are several film-makers who are working in somewhat the same way I have and will be working. Resnais, for example, is one of these, as well as several young film-makers like Godard and others. They actually intervene and change the natural setting of the environment, and even go so far as to paint walls and add trees. It’s not a matter of merely selecting a place and accepting it exactly as it is. A natural setting provides you with enough of an idea of the background required for the realization of a scene, but even outdoors one should intervene and make what changes are necessary. So therefore scenography is important.
GIAN LUIGI CRESCENZI (student of the Centro’s acting school): In the film Le Amiche we have the portrayal of a painter who is going through a certain crisis. In L’Avventura was have the portrayal of an architect who neither plans nor designs but merely calculates figures and draws up estimates for construction materials. In La Notte, Mastroianni is a writer in crisis. I would like to know if these three characterizations, which are analogous to one another, not only in terms of their professional crises but also with regard to their personal affairs, were conceived by you for the purpose of examining a certain type of individual in order to draw some conclusions about his particular situation, or was this similarity in your choice of character type simply coincidental?
ANTONIONI: It seems rather odd that you would think it could be a coincidence. Obviously, when I select the profession of a character for one of my films, I know very well what I’m doing. I choose intellectual types mainly because they have a greater awareness of what is happening to them, and also because they have a more refined sensibility, a more subtle sense of intuition through which I can filter the kind of reality I am interested in expressing, whether it be an internal reality or an external one. Furthermore, the intellectual, more than others, is the type of person in which I can find the symptoms of that particular kind of crisis which I am interested in describing. If I take an insensitive type, a rough and rugged type, he wouldn’t have any of the particular problems I’m concerned with and the story would end right there. So I don’t quite know what you mean. Do you want to know if I’m searching for a single character type that would be representative of everyman? I don’t understand.
CASTELLO: Perhaps he means to ask if there exists a certain development from one character to another; whether your ultimate objective is to create a general character who would be representative of the intellectual in crisis, or if each character is independent of the other.
ANTONIONI: No, I don’t believe the individual characters in the various films are meant to be representative of a certain type of man. Naturally, I shall make a film that will bring an end to this cycle of films which are dedicated, so to speak, to the emotions. As a matter of fact, at a certain point in the film I’m now working on—although it too is mainly concerned with the relationships of human sentiments—due to the very nature of the story itself, this particular theme is given less prominence than it had in the other films and paves the way for the introduction of other themes.
From Film Culture, nos. 22-23, Summer 1961, pp. 66-67.
This article is based on the transcript of an open discussion that took place at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome on March 16, 1961, after a retrospective screening of Antonioni’s films for students and faculty members, arranged by the Centro’s director, Leonardo Fioravanti. It originally appeared in the school’s monthly periodical, Bianco e Nero.
From Film Culture, no. 24, Spring 1962, pp. 45-61.