They’ve Murdered a Man

They’ve murdered a man at Ferrara by making his car plunge into a branch of the Po. In winter, with the fog veiling the countryside. The car was under water all night, headlights burning.

The story of this man summed up in this, his final moment, tells us little. Something else has to happen in that place, in the course of that same night, in the glare of those headlights under water. That watery light beating on the fog as on a window of frosted glass is too suggestive not to be utilized. And then there’s novelty in a narrative structure that starts from one fact — serious as a crime — to arrive at another with no relation to the first, except that it’s illuminated by the selfsame light.

Michelangelo Antonioni, That Bowling Alley on the Tiber — Tales of a Film Director.


13 Responses to “They’ve Murdered a Man”

  1. As per Richard Pena’s commentary on L’ECLISSE, a similar scene to the excerpt above was shot but removed from the film by Antonioni. It precedes the one where the car is removed from the pool. It also summons up Hitchcock’s PSYCHO where dead people in buried cars are important conceits.

  2. This script fragment recalls Antonioni’s great first feature Cronica di un Amore — his rendiiton of The Postman Always Rings Twice with the impossibly beautiful Lucia Bose, the ever-handsome Massimo Girotti and a great Giovanni Fusco score for saxaphone and piano.

  3. Another interesting film set in Ferrara is De Sica’s Il giardino dei Finzi Contini, based on the novel by Giorgio Bassani. Bassani was also responsible for the publication of that great novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), by Lampedusa.

  4. Cronaca di un amore is one of his very, very best. And yes, “And then there’s novelty in a narrative structure that starts from one fact — serious as a crime — to arrive at another with no relation to the first, except that it’s illuminated by the selfsame light.” that applies to that movie, and to L”Avventura, Blowup and to The Passenger. In the case of Cronaca the relationship is linked to death, the accident/murder in the distant past that separated them, her to becoming a social climber, him to remaining in his class and then the murder that was supposed to seal it is thwarted by a genuine accident, and so they part ways for good thereby showing how empty the love affair in question was all along.

    Lucia Bose was Antonioni’s first muse, this and La Signora Senza Camelie also a great Fusco score there(especially the main theme) are probably the peak of her career.

  5. The Antonioni-Hitchcock connection is very interesting, as each was influenced by the other without, it appears, realizing the two-way nature of the influence. A little of the Antonioni vibe can be detected in Torn Curtain, and it would have been very prominent in Kaleidoscope/Frenzy had that been made.

  6. I’m reading The Architecture of Vision, a book of lectures and interviews with the Man…and there’s only one citation of Hitchcock when Antonioni talks of his interest in thrillers but felt that no one, not even Hitchcock, took the possibilities to the limit. On the other hand, the DP of Cronaca said that Antonioni and he looked at many films noir in preparation for that film and Shadow of a Doubt was a favourite. Antonioni’s neither the first nor the last to be Janus-Headed about his influences. Antonioni does have a point regarding thrillers vis-a-vis his The Passenger however, that really took it to the hilt, taking a modernist thriller story and then strip-mining it and laying it bare.
    “People disappear every day…”
    “…every time you leave the room!”

    And in North by Northwest – “You live in his hotel, you wear his clothes, you answer his phone and you say you are not him.” It could be a dialogue in an Antonioni movie, whiler the later exchange would not be out of place in Rear Window, Vertigo and of course Psycho. In the end of that film it takes on a very special meaning when the room disappears and leaves the protagonist in its indifferent wake.

    The Antonioni vibe is also there in Topaz, especially the street scenes in Harlem. It’s shot entirely on sets but it has an urban landscape of fragmentation that’s present in many an Antonioni, although unlike there, here it’s in service of a narrative, trying to infiltrate the hotel where the Cuban foreign diplomacy is residing. Hitchcock’s ability is that he can convey those avant-garde qualities while working in narrative while Antonioni can convey emotional truth without leaning on narrative resolutions.

  7. Well, Antonioni had a kind of mystique which wouldn’t have been well served by speaking too overtly of influence. And in fact, what he does is sufficiently original for talk of influence to be in some ways misleading. While he may borrow devices from the thriller or crime movie, what he produces is so far from that genre in effect that it’d be a mistake to get hung up on where the ideas may have originated.

    I’ll post some clips of Hitchcock’s test material from Kaleidoscope/Frenzy so we can judge the extent of the counter-influence.

  8. Nowadays many first-time film-makers are so highly cinephillic that all they talk in their interviews are influences and rarely the film they made. So yeah it might have been a sound strategy. Altman was another director who didn’t talk too much about influences and his favourite movies. Like Godard is a key influence on his movies but I don’t recall he ever spoke His Name.

  9. What’s nice is how Altman talks about how his films relate to life — his experience that overlapping dialogue is natural, and abrupt tonal shifts happen to us all the time…

  10. david wingrove Says:

    As for the two Antonioni films being “the peak” of Lucia Bose’s career – alas, she never gave her own career much of a chance! She retired in 1956 to marry the Spanish bullfighter Dominguin and bring up a brood of children (among them Miguel Bose, the cute Eurotrash pop star and sometime actor.)

    She returned to films after her divorce from Dominguin in the late 60s, mainly in offbeat or obscure movies. (Check out NATHALIE GRANGER

  11. david wingrove Says:

    As for the two Antonioni films being “the peak” of Lucia Bose’s career – alas, she never gave her own career much of a chance! She retired in 1956 to marry the Spanish bullfighter Dominguin and bring up a brood of children (among them Miguel Bose, the cute Eurotrash pop star and sometime actor.)

    She returned to films after her divorce from Dominguin in the late 60s, mainly in offbeat or obscure movies. (Check out NATHALIE GRANGER, where she co-stars with Jeanne Moreau, or LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE, where she plays a glamorous lady vampire.)

    Bose remains active in her 70s, most recently in Robert Faenza’s period epic I VICERE (THE VICEROYS) – where she easily wipes the floor with all her younger co-stars. She is one of my three favourite actresses of all time, and it astonishes me that she is not better known.

  12. Lucia Bose is well worth seeing in De Santis’ Non c’è pace tra gli ulivi .

    I enjoyed Neil Oliver in A History of Scotland on the BBC last night.

  13. david wingrove Says:

    Still haven’t seen that one, as I’m not a great fan of Neo-Realism. However, it is available and I should check it out.

    Bose is also surprisingly effective as the partisan heroine in Francesco Maselli’s GLI SBANDATI. Her forte was playing decadent rich bitches (CHRONICLE OF A LOVE, DEATH OF A CYCLIST) but her range was much wider than that.

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