SLEEP NEVER CRASHES 1968 INTERVIEW WITH MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI


(Antonioni on the right. Me on the left. Not sure who’s in the middle.)

Upon my return from ‘The Last Road Trip,’ I went to Palm Springs to decompress. First thing I did was strip naked. Second thing I did was pop a Xanax, and then I picked up Michelangelo Antonioni “The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interview on Cinema” off the coffee table off the luxury mid-century I was borrowing for the week.

I flipped open to the middle and by chance landed on an interview with Antonioni conducted by L’Espresso colore on August 11, 1968 entitled ‘The American Desert.” It was just after he’d shot “Zabriskie Point” (which, for some unknown reason, is still not on DVD at Rocket Video) and he was obviously still on the fence about his opinion of the U.S. and its citizens. The socio-political parallels one could draw between then and now are obvious and I’m not going to go so far as to say that after my equally enlightening and exhausting adventure, stumbling upon the interview felt like “kismet,” but I knew I needed to do something with it, if for no better reason than the fact that I’m certain nobody else will ever mention our two names together in print again.

Cheers.

How does the revolt of young people (students, hippies, beatniks) fit into your usual world? I mean: until now you have shown us the middle-class grappling with its problems, but you have shown us them from within, you’ve accepted the values of the bourgeoisie itself. Students, young people, it seems to me, deliberately place themselves outside of the system; they try, as they say nowadays, to challenge it. Does this dissent interest you?

Antonioni (1968): Yes, it interests me; in fact, I have incorporated it into film.

Sleep Never (2008): I can’t afford film, I can barely afford tape, but before I address the question of my interest in dissent, I have to say it’s odd you lump these groups together. Although many members of two of these groups are equally disenchanted and annoying, one of them no longer exists.

The Beatniks are dead, or at least all the good ones are dead and though grouping the Hippies together with the Beatniks isn’t totally unreasonable when considering their overall “vibe,” I think students and hippies each have their own separate agendas.

And by agendas I’m mean hippies smoke weed and do hallucinogens and complain while students prefer to get drunk, smoke weed, do prescription drugs and complain.

Dissent as a concept it seemed was a dead for a while, a victim of Wii, too much Myspace and TV. We let Bush steal a fucking election for Christ sake! We’ve should have burned that fucking White House to the ground when that happened.

Oddly enough it was the Hippies that carried the torch while everybody else watched “Lost”: Crashing the G8, throwing paint on Paula Abdul or whatever, protesting the war in Iraq, skipping work to go “Burning Man.” Unfortunately change does not start with dreadlocks and a “Fuck Bush” bumper sticker.

Dissent interests the shit out of me. I look forward every morning for to finding some supposed “truth” to question and it would be my greatest wet dream to be there when Cuba’s or North Korea’s or The Union of Myanmar’s dictatorship crumbles. But the way shit’s been going here, I may soon be able to watch my own country self-destruct from the comfort of my own vibrating American-made La-Z-Boy.

Don’t you think that something has changed in these last years? Western society seemed entrapped in the mechanism of well-being, without an escape route and, what’s worse, without being aware of it. Revolt is always an indication of an attempt at consciousness raising, objectivity, explanation, comprehension. To revolt does not only mean to reject subjugation, but also to affirm one’s own autonomy. In this case, it means to reject not so much society as much as the idea that man is powerless to change society, and that reality is an impenetrable mystery. What do you say?

Antonioni (1968): I think so, too. Nevertheless, reality continues to be just as much of a mystery. What’s new, if anything, is that young people today do not want to submit passively to this mystery. And that they use it as a springboard, so to speak, for revolt. Anyway, I don’t believe that man is powerless. The change for the better that has taken place in recent years, if nothing else, proves that.

Sleep Never (2008): Heady question there, chief. It’s nice that the country’s riled up now. Barack Obama really lit a fire under the ass of America in the past year and it’s nice to not only see people giving a shit again, but willing to try and do something about anything. It’s great to see friends that never read the morning paper volunteering for Barack and protesting Prop 8, but I refuse to be lulled back to sleep by the fact that our president elect is brilliant and handsome, plays basketball on election day and snorted coke in college.

I’m choosing to stay pissed and you should too. We can smile when the work is done.

With regards to the second portion of your question, no mystery is impenetrable. People are just too lazy to think for themselves. And no matter how enlightened or empowered we’re beginning to think we are, motherfuckers just keep ignoring history and making the same mistakes. I’m not just talking about Iraq = Vietnam. I’m talking about individual personal histories: the simple act of giving up or giving in, settling for shit jobs, being driven by fear into complacency, or to religion, being thrust by tradition to the altar. People having kids when they know they’ll be shitty parents because “that’s just what you do.” Fuck those people. Wake up. Exercise your free will. The “that’s just what you do”
mentality is a social cancer that pervades the humanity of this planet on every level and inevitably hinders our evolution as a species. This is “your” world as much as it is “our” world, so make it that.

Do what works for you.

What is your relationship with America? I mean, what are the points of friction? In ways do you feel provoked, offended, humiliated, irritated?

Antonioni (1968): My relationship with America reflects the division of Americans into very distinct categories: in one camp are two-thirds of the population, irritating and unbearable people; the other third are wonderful people. The first group is the middle-class; the second one is today’s youth. Among young people there is an absolute indifference toward money, there is purity, disinterestedness, revolt and change. The middle-class, instead, I would call a social class of crazy people because, after all, despite all their alienation, they are uncorrupted and well-meaning. The European middle-class, you see, is corrupt and therefore crazy.

Sleep Never (2008): It’s a love/hate thing and it changes every day. Crazy dudes in wigs rode on horses through knee-deep snow for days just to be able to speak their mind and cast a vote. People sacrificed their lives for freedom and the fact that we don’t honor the vision and sacrifice of our forefathers irritates me.

Would you like to become an American director? Do you consider the American experience as the beginning of a new phase of your career?

Antonioni (1968): No, I consider it a transitory experience.

Sleep Never (2008): I’d like to be considered anything other than a mouthy bum, actually. A title would be nice. I’ve been directing some shit or whatever, but whether you want to call me a ‘director’ will be obviously up to you. New phase? No. First phase, yes. You have to get paid to call it a career and you have to have a career before you can have a career phase.

Figuratively speaking, has America suggested something new to you?

Antonioni (1968): Yes, in a figurative sense, America has really made a strong impression on me. It was jarring. Particularly advertising. Everything is so photogenic that you don’t know where to begin.

Sleep Never (2008): As of this past November 4th, America has suggested that the “American Dream” may one day be in reach again.

But not today.

In America, they say, there aren’t classes, but races. In your opinion, is this true?

Antonioni (1968): In America there is everything as far as divisions go: there are races, sub-races and so on, and then there are classes, sub-classes and so on. And there’s more. Their mania for inequality persists even within a democracy that should function as an overall equalizer. For example, there are these receptions where, for lack of other criteria, only people with an income greater than one hundred thousand dollars are invited.

Sleep Never (2008): We have a black president elect whose middle name is Hu-fucking-ssein. This isn’t 1968. From now on the only people getting fucked in American will be “Americans.”

Do you generally like your relationship with Americans? Doesn’t it seem automatic, impersonal? Don’t you miss the relationship you have with Italians, which is so much more irregular and sometimes even unpleasant but always personal?

Antonioni (1968): I do prefer the relationship with Italians. But my relationship with the American world is an important experience.

Sleep Never (2008): My relationship with Americans is rocky at best and definitely not automatic. I seek truth and if they can’t give me that, which many can’t, then I don’t want to know them. We’re only here a short time on this earth and I’m not going to spend mine figuring out what somebody else “might be” thinking. People who can’t be honest or be themselves are of no interest to me.

Most Italians I meet fucking love me, but I think it’s because they don’t know I’m American at first and I don’t act like a loud tourist asshole when I’m there. I don’t get drunk and fall down the Spanish steps, complain about the small showers or ask everybody where the Coliseum is. I also doll myself up like an indie-rock Mastrioni when I go there, so I feel like there’s an immediate emotional connection when they see me.

Travel tips: Sip your drink, if you drink at all. Talk life. Kick the soccer ball around the square if it comes your way and don’t forget to say grazi.

In general, does the United States thrill you or depress you?

Antonioni (1968): It thrills me when I understand it. It depresses me when I don’t understand it.

Sleep Never (2008): The idea that America is still so young and naïve thrills and depresses me.

The idea that we set standards of what humanity can do when we rise up thrills me.

The idea that America’s spent most of my adult life watching the game from the sidelines depresses me.

Have the themes of your films been enriched by the American experience?

Antonioni (1968): Yes they have. Then again, novelty is always a great thing. I was tired of seeing the same people all of the time, the same landscape.

Sleep Never (2008): My films are the American experience much of the time and whatever comes out of the subject’s mouth becomes the theme essentially.

What is it that attracts you about young people’s revolt?

Antonioni (1968): The fact that it’s not tied to any ideological system, that it’s anarchistic.

Sleep Never (2008): The image of an ugly man waving a banner and screaming crazy political shit at the top of his lungs is somehow even sexier than a hot girl singing her favorite song at the top of her lungs alone in her car, but both remind me that I am alive. That being said, if the girl was naked and body-painted to resemble the Statue of Liberty, I’d have to call it a tie.

One last question: ‘would you like to be younger?’

Antonioni (1968): I am younger now, younger than I will be when I am older.

Sleep Never (2008): Wow, Michelangelo, you are seriously killing me with your answers. How am I supposed to follow that? Yes, technology is making the smart smarter and the dumb dumber – Wait, what was the question? Younger you say? Yes. I would love to fuck up all over again.

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