the cinematic void: desert iconographies in michelangelo antonioni’s zabriskie point
On a warm summer evening in Berlin one can occasionally see a vast desert landscape shimmering beneath the blinking lights of the Alexanderplatz Fernsehturm on the city’s skyline. The Freiluftkino, or “open-air cinema,” has now become something of a shrine to one of the oddest yet most enduring movies to emerge from the late 1960s, bathing its mildly intoxicated audience in a visual phantasmagoria of billboards, bodies, and
bleached gypsum. The release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970) was met with a mix of adulation, incredulity, and outright animosity, not least because of the enormous expense and mystery surrounding its production. The Italian filmmaker’s excoriating yet obtuse critique of American society has subsequently acquired something of a cult status in its guise as existential desert drama rather than in its originally intended role as counter-cultural representation of impending social and political revolution. Part psychedelic passion play and part neo-Marxian road movie, the film Zabriskie Point is mostly set in the extraordinary desert landscapes of Arizona and southern California.