Pop culture intersections are such a strange thing. Aside from some art cinema enthusiasts and a few relics from the 1960s, probably the group of people most interested in the DVD release of Zabriskie Point are Pink Floyd fans rabid for the songs the band wrote for the movie’s soundtrack (and you can’t blame us since it’s been 15 years since the Floyd’s last official release and there’s no hope of anything new any time soon). It’s a bit similar to the way the video for Metallica’s “One” got metalheads interested in the movie Johnny Got His Gun.
Well, the wait is over! Zabriskie Point is now on DVD and while watching it may not be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in pursuit of Perfect Floyd Fandom, it’s in the top fucking five.
Zabriskie Point opens with a lengthy scene at a student meeting where lots of talk about the revolution happens, along with loads of bickering about who is a more authentic revolutionary. The scene goes on and on, made all the more painful because it’s clear that Antonioni hired non-actors, presumably for authenticity.
I must insert a caveat here – the DVD I rented was defective and we had to skip a bit here. It was kind of a shame because I think we might have missed some police beating up students (not that I condone violence, but at least something would have been happening). Anyway, we rejoin the movie at the police station where students are getting hassled by the pigs, who won’t give injured people medical attention, write down a history professor’s occupation as “clerk” and when a student jokingly gives his name as “Karl Marx” they write it down as “Carl Marks”. See, not only are they fascists, they’re stupid too! How delightfully amusing! Boy, do I feel superior now!
The student who gave the “Karl Marx” name is Mark (Mark Frechette), who has a disturbing resemblance to that guy who plays Edward in the Twilight movies and is 100 percent personality free to boot. Mark and his room-mate/fellow revolutionary Sonny Bono (not really, it just looks like him) have a very vague confrontation with the police that may result in Mark killing a policeman. To be honest, it’s hard to tell if what we’re seeing is ambiguity or bad film-making. At any rate, Mark’s on the lam now and decides to do the only sensible thing – he steals a small plane and flies out to the desert.
Said desert is where he meets our heroine, Daria (Daria Halprin). (Have you noticed that the character names are the same as the actors’ real names? That’s not an accident.) Daria works for Evil Capitalist (Rod Taylor) and is driving to his mansion in Phoenix for some sort of meeting, I think. (Details may have been in that portion of the film I had to skip.) Daria drives on (and on and on) through the desert and after an encounter with some sexually aggressive 11-year-olds (thereby increasing the movie’s Squick Factor), finds herself repeatedly buzzed by Mark in his stolen plane. She writes a message for him in the sand (which we never see) and he buzzes her again. Daria realizes that Mark is a douchebag, or a fun guy, which in this movie amounts to the same thing; he lands the plane and the two of them gad about the desert for a while, exchanging the occasional bit of revolutionary/philosophical banter. They finally get to the titular Zabriskie Point and commence the second-most notorious scene of the movie: the Death Valley orgy (a bunch of other hippies appear out of nowhere for a big group sex scene and promptly disappear once the lovin’ is over).
Want to see how boring and wholly lacking in eroticism an orgy scene can be? Watch this movie. (Not to mention physically uncomfortable – they’re rolling around in the sand and don’t even have a blanket or anything. Ow.)
After the sandy frolic, Mark and Daria get some paint from a desert-dwelling hermit (because Lord knows desert-dwelling hermits always have buckets of day-glo paint laying around). They paint the plane with revolutionary slogans and crude pictures of breasts, then Mark flies the plane back to Los Angeles. Of course a boatload of cops are waiting for him and as he lands the plane they shoot him.
At this point I was desperately hoping the movie would be over, but no, we have to follow the grief-stricken (I think – her emoting leaves something to be desired) Daria to Evil Capitalist’s house. Daria wanders all forlorn past the pool where establishment women jabber meaninglessly, then hugs a fountain. Really. Then the disc went defective again and I had to skip to the film’s most notorious scene: Shit Blows Up.
Daria, having fled the lair of the Evil Capitalist, stands staring up at the mountaintop house. She imagines it blowing up. From several angles. Repeatedly. Then she imagines the trappings of capitalist society blowing up in slow motion: a refrigerator, a TV set, racks of clothes, shelves of books, and so on. It’s all done in super slow-motion so as you watch the refrigerator blow up you can see steaks and cucumbers falling slooooooowly through the air. Wheeee. Jump cut back to Daria, who smiles at her destructive fantasy, then drives off into the sunset and the movie finally ends.
Those of you who want a detailed analysis of why this movie sucks, read on. For those with limited time to read, I’ll answer your most burning questions:
Q: Does the Floyd music kick ass?
A: What you hear of it does. There’s a tiny snippet of a country-ish song. More compelling is the weird opening number “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” over the opening credits. The final number, set during the big blow-up, is a reworked version of “Careful With That Axe Eugene” titled “Come In Number 51, Your Time is Up”. The song kicks all kinds of ass but it’s honestly not worth slogging through the film. The soundtrack (complete with unused Floyd tracks) is available used on Amazon (click those handy-dandy Amazon links off to the side) or downloadable on iTunes. Go ahead and get it, Roger would want you to.
Q: Is that explosion scene as cool as I’ve heard?
A: Sadly, no. It’s impressive at first (remember, this was before CGI so it’s a real explosion) but then it just drags on and on and on. It’s as if Michael Bay had directed Koyaanisqatsi. Not helping matters is the fact that Antonioni completely bungled the meshing of music with the timing of the explosions. I haven’t been so disappointed since the novel The Wolf’s Hour made the seemingly unbeatable combination of Nazis and werewolves uninteresting.
Q: Does the chick who can’t act show her tits?
A: Yes, but only briefly and they’re all covered with dirt so it’s not a terribly sexy sight.
All right, now for the more detailed analysis, although there are so many things wrong with this movie it’s hard to know where to begin.
There’s no story to speak of. Revolutionary stuff happens, Mark steals a plane, harasses Daria, they hook up, he gets killed in a stupid way, and she imagines stuff blowing up. That’s it. And every scene in the film is stretched out as long as possible. Watch Daria drive on and on through the desert! Watch Mark buzz her over and over and over again! Watch obnoxious students prattle endlessly about their revolutionary street cred. You’ll find yourself screaming, “DO something!” more than once, I guarantee it.
I’m not going to come down too hard on Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin – yes, they can’t act and were picked solely to give the revolution a pretty face, but not even good actors could pull off the atrocious dialogue (which took five – yes, that’s right, FIVE – writers to concoct). Frechette went to jail on a bank robbery charge a few years after the film and ended up dead with a barbell on his neck; Halprin was briefly married to Dennis Hopper. So things didn’t work out too well for either of them.
Probably the most obnoxious part of the film is Antonioni’s direction. Yes, the camerawork is pretty, but it’s overwhelmed by pretentious direction (check out the framing he uses for Evil Capitalist, always shot from below at odd angles with the American flag billowing in the breeze behind him. Yes, we get it.) Just as subtle is the kids good/adults bad and the revolutionaries good/cops bad imagery. Look at the commercial for the desert development that uses mannequins instead of real people. Look at the fat, ugly Midwesterners who scarf down ice cream while they fail to appreciate the desert’s beauty. And the worst part is that this is all deadly serious. It may look like that Monty Python parody skit “Le Grande Fromage” but sadly, it’s not.
The most fun one can have watching this movie is imagining the reaction of the suits at MGM. Clearly hoping to have another Easy Rider on their hands, instead they watched the film receive scathing reviews and tank horribly at the box office.
Extras are limited to a trailer that makes this movie look lots more interesting than it really is.