Michelangelo Antonioni’s first American feature was a critical and commercial disaster on its release in 1970, but it’s enjoyed something of a quiet renaissance in the years since. Both views have their merits: this is a visually sumptuous experience, steeped in period charm. At the same time it typifies the very worst excesses of hippie-era filmmaking: rampant indulgence, self-satisfied narcissism and truly dreadful performances.
Opening with a gripping, clamorous debate about the nature of violent protest, the film ultimately focuses on navel-gazing dullard Mark (non-actor Mark Frechette) who steals a private plane and heads out into the desert where he meets office girl on the lam Daria (Daria Halprin). The pair wander aimlessly, indulge in rambling non-sequitur conversations and inevitably end up rolling about in the dust.
Criticising an Antonioni film for being slow and insular risks missing the point, but there’s a shallow emptiness to ‘Zabriskie Point’ that can’t be forgiven. That said, the music is terrific, few directors ever shot barren landscapes better than Antonioni and the breathtaking, explosive, gravity-defying final five minutes achieve something close to perfection.