Cast & Crew
Ugo, an electronics engineer, his neglected young wife, Giuliana, and their 5-year-old son, Valerio, live in industrialized Ravenna. Corrado, a mining engineer, arrives from London to recruit skilled workers. He meets Giuliana, and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Corrado learns from Ugo that Giuliana is suffering from nightmares and depression as a result of shock from an automobile accident, but he soon realizes that her mental condition is much worse and that she had tried to commit suicide. When Ugo goes away on a business trip, Valerio pretends to be paralyzed, a trick which badly frightens his mother. Upon learning of the deception, Giuliana angrily leaves him and goes to Corrado's hotel room. She compels the reluctant man to make love to her, but she realizes that the affair will not "cure" her. Wandering aboard a ship, she and a Turkish sailor have an uncommunicative sexual encounter. The next morning, she and her son walk calmly by Ugo's factory where yellow smoke pours from the chimney; Giuliana explains to Valerio that the poisonous smoke does not kill the birds, because they have learned to fly around it.
Emanuela Pala Carboni
Hiram Mino Madonia
Eraldo Da Roma
Giancarlo De Leonardis
De Luca Of Rome
Carlo Di Palma
Dario Di Palma
Dino Di Salva
The Red Desert
Although Antonioni had been directing shorts since 1947 and feature-length films beginning with Story of a Love Affair (1950), he established his international reputation as one of cinema's leading avant-garde artists with his trilogy L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L'Eclisse (1962). Their slow pacing, often non-communicative characters, and minimalist visual and narrative style, combined with ambiguous story lines and brooding themes, led critic Andrew Sarris to coin the term "Antoniennui" to describe their style. "Ennui," as in "boredom," is misleading as an approach to these works. For all their empty spaces and silent stretches of soundtrack, the films are richly poetic examinations of individuals lost in landscapes, both interior and exterior.
Red Desert (1964) was Antonioni's first film in color, and he made use of a broad chromatic scale, from the boldness of plastic objects in primary hues to subtle shades covered in mist and fog to paint the world his people inhabit. Where the actual locations didn't render the tone he was seeking, according to the film's initial publicity, he had his art director, Piero Poletto apply paint to the landscape itself and to such selected objects as fruit in a vendor's cart. Some stories claim he even had smoke tinted yellow to reinforce a sense of death and desolation.
On the other hand, Antonioni once told Jean-Luc Godard that he was actually aiming to celebrate the beauty of the industrial landscape and dismissed the notion that he intended the focus to be on an inhuman, industrialized world that crushes his heroine and leads to her fragile, imbalanced mental state.
In any case, the film was an exciting new step for the director and the audiences who appreciated his work. "I want to paint the film as one paints the canvas," he said. "I want to invent the colour relationships, and not limit myself to photographing only natural colours." (Chatman, Seymour Benjamin, and Paul Duncan. Michelangelo Antonioni: The Investigation. Taschen, 2004)
The story is set in Ravenna, an Italian coastal city that underwent significant industrialization in the postwar period. Giuliana, the wife of a plant manager, wanders the bleak, toxic terrain, doing her best to hide the mental illness she suffers from and briefly dallying in flirtation with an engineer.
Giuliana is played by Antonioni's muse, Monica Vitti, who starred in the earlier L'Avventura and L'Eclisse, had an important supporting role in La Notte, and would work for the director again in The Mystery of Oberwald (1980). A couple in real life at the time they made these first four movies, theirs has been one of film history's major collaborations between director and actress, on a par with Gish and Griffith, Dietrich and von Sternberg, and Karina and Godard. Their work together in this period is a dance of gazes--the actress's much acclaimed way of looking at her surroundings and the people she encounters and the director's equally penetrating look at her face and movements, using the camera like a detective to investigate the nature of her psychological state.
The engineer with whom Giuliana flirts is played by Irish actor Richard Harris. The production was not a happy one for him. Antonioni apparently spoke little or no English, making communication difficult. The picture was completed without Harris, although stories differ about why. Some claim Harris behaved erratically, taking LSD for the first time while in Italy and acting bizarrely in public. Actor David Hemmings wrote in his autobiography that Harris warned him about working with the director before Hemmings began production on Blow-Up (1966) and told him he was fired after punching Antonioni. Harris's remaining scenes were then finished with another actor shot from behind. Other stories claim Harris stormed off the set when Antonioni directed him to walk diagonally across a yard and told the questioning actor, "You don't ask me why. You're an actor, just do it." Whatever the case, it probably had most to do with the fact that the production was behind schedule (19 weeks shooting in all) and Harris was due to start work on Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965).
Red Desert was co-written by Antonioni and his frequent collaborator Tonino Guerra, who also wrote Federico Fellini's Amarcord (1973), a nostalgic and decidedly different take on the coast near Ravenna before the war. Carlo Di Palma shot Red Desert, the first of six films he did for Antonioni. In recent years Di Palma has become mostly associated with Woody Allen, directing the cinematography of 11 Allen films, including Hannah and her Sisters (1986).
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Producer: Antonio Cervi
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra
Cinematography: Carlo Di Palma
Editing: Eraldo Da Roma
Art Direction: Piero Poletto
Music: Giovanni Fusco, Vittorio Glemetti
Cast: Monica Vitti (Giuliana), Richard Harris (Corrado Zeller), Carlo Chionetti (Ugo), Xenia Valderi (Linda), Rita Renoir (Emilia)
By Rob Nixon
The Red Desert
Red Desert - Monica Vitti & Richard Harris in RED DESERT, Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 Landmark Work
Nowhere is this more apparent or clearly stated than in Red Desert (Il deserto rosso), Michelangelo Antonioni's first color film. Controlling every aspect of every shot, the director conjures an encroaching industrial world and challenges poor Giuliana (Vitti) to find her place in it. We're told that the neurotic Giuliana hasn't properly recovered from a traumatic car accident. She picks at her clothing and is prone to irrational urges, like buying a half-eaten sandwich from a striking worker. It soon becomes obvious that Giuliana's environment is more responsible for her condition than any accident.
Giuliana is the wife of Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), an industrialist planner who provides for her material needs while her emotional life goes wanting. She wanders around the grounds of her husband's enormous chemical plant, a grotesque wasteland of massive constructions, black mud, multi-colored pollution and plumes of smoke and steam. Ugo is outwardly thoughtful but lacks passion, and her small son (Valerio Bartoleschi) provides little emotional satisfaction. Giuliana gravitates toward Corrado (Irishman Richard Harris, dubbed into Italian), an associate of her husband who is putting together big plans for a chemical plant in far-off Tierra del Fuego. Corrado describes himself as a loner and a drifter, albeit a very upscale one. Giuliana shows Corrado the space she's rented for a ceramics shop, an idle project seemingly chosen as personal therapy. Giuliana and Corrado eventually make love, an act that solves nothing. Along the way she makes an reckless gesture that might be a suicide attempt, and another that seems an abortive attempt to run away.
Giuliana's muted anxiety plays out against one of the most carefully controlled backgrounds ever concocted for a movie. Her modern house sits right on the waterfront. Huge freight vessels are seen crowding its window views, as if beckoning the woman to escape. One would think that a wealthy industrialist's wife would spend her leisure time in a more accommodating locale, but Giuliana takes walks through blighted land covered with black soot and sickly vegetation. The marshy wetlands give off noxious gases. A small group of equally wealthy friends congregates at a tiny shack on a fog-shrouded pier, choosing to lounge about on mattresses (and each other) and exchange spicy conversation about quail's eggs being an aphrodisiac, etc. There's no stability to be found there -- another husband talks openly about his extramarital affairs.
Red Desert's obvious distinguishing aspect is its famed color stylization. Antonioni approaches color in a painterly, classical manner, carefully modulating hues and complimentary contrasts for specific emotional effects. In this respect the film is often completely unrealistic. Antonioni, his cameraman Carlo Di Palma and his art director Piero Poletto paint entire streets in muted blue-grays, and cover the ground with inky tones of tar. The fruit on a vendor's cart appears to be painted to match the objects around it. Anyone who has ever been in a petroleum or chemical plant knows that every surface will be coated in grime, but Giuliana walks with ease among clean railings and brightly colored piping. Antonioni uses real locations as if they were stage scenery, customizing them for specific psychological effects.
Although the director claimed that many of his choices were intuitive, the film's themes beg to be decoded. Giuliana's temperament is incompatible with the futuristic power stations and earth-destroying industrial facilities. The materialistic lifestyle of her husband's associates also doesn't appeal -- she craves a sensual existence while they settle for trivial teasing. A technocrat in the making, Giuliana's son finds it easy to trick his mother into thinking he's paralyzed. By contrast, the boy's toy robot walks when it shouldn't walk; Giuliana must come in to 'put it to bed', as if it were the son's mechanical twin.
Giuliana seeks escape (all those big, intimidating boats) but is afraid to go it alone. Her infidelity and her suicide attempt are alternate forms of escape. Corrado is a momentary diversion, but he can offer Giuliana no real relief. Once again, the architectural landscape is used to make unsubtle thematic statements. Giuliana visits a striking array of radio telescopes, giant constructions stretching into the distance. Scientists are trying to listen to the stars, but men haven't yet learned how to communicate with each other.
Although the future is clearly destroying the natural environment, industry has its own beauty. The factory smokestacks belch colorful bursts of flame. Huge volumes of vented vapor billow from a gigantic building, white plumes of 'artificial fog' that contrast with the real fog that will later blanket the seashore. Unlike the man-made steam, the fog on the pier with the mystery boat is not under human control. Giuliana gets lost in it, and it may inspire her to do away with herself. Antonioni is not making a conventional ecological statement. We see no wildlife affected by the corrosive pools of chemical sludge -- it's just another photogenic post-industrial reality.
As in science fiction films, humanity is forced to adapt to the demands of technology, as seen in the group of Italian workers willing to leave their families to take jobs in a barren area of South America. Ugo and his friends barter for skilled workers as if they were livestock. Giuliana's neurosis seems rooted in her resistance to change: she doesn't want to become less emotional or less sensual. In her storybook vision she imagines a girl enjoying a colorful, pristine tropical lagoon. Like Giuliana, the girl in the story also cannot leave by boat, but she hears beautiful, soothing singing. The music emanates from the sea, the rocks -- from everything. Giuliana's post-industrial environment is the exact opposite of this vision of paradise, but it sings as well. Throughout Red Desert we hear the humming of machines and the droning of pipes pumping chemicals. The final scenes are dominated by strange electronic noises that resemble the electronic score for Forbidden Planet. Industrial man is replacing nature's harmonious singing with his own artificial music, and Giuliana will just have to live with it.
The only aspect of Red Desert we must adapt to is Richard Harris' subdued appearance and dubbed Italian voice. It's actually rather startling how quickly we accept his new identity. Ms. Vitti is the expressive center of the story and is in almost every scene. She does quite well with the mysterious Giuliana, whose inner confusion is never directly expressed in words.
Criterion's Blu-ray of Red Desert is an excellent opportunity to see Michelangelo Antonioni's much lauded color experiment in a reliably accurate transfer. The muted, arresting color schemes will be of great interest to viewers conversant with the intriguing theories of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, correlating specific emotional value to specific colors. At any rate, the visual control imposed on the film's look by Antonioni and cinematographer Di Palma is nothing short of masterful.
Criterion's disc producer Kim Hendrickson offers a short list of prime-source extras. The aristocratic Antonioni appears in a French interview, using charm and diplomacy to deflect requests to explain his movie. IN her much newer interview Monica Vitti is as intent on reminiscing about her fond relationship with Antonioni as recounting what it was like to make films with him. She recalls how difficult it was for the director to raise the money for L'avventura when backers realized that the missing girl in that story would never be found.
The commentary by scholar David Forgacs delves into all aspects of Red Desert, from its odd title to myriad technical details. When Giuliana wanders down a marsh road, she passes a lonely house. Although it is seen only for a few seconds, Forgacs tells us that Antonioni had the entire house painted charcoal black.
Of special interest is the inclusion of director Antonioni's first two documentary films, made in the 1940s. Both Gente del Po and N.U. are handsome studies of Italians at work. The second film follows the daily routine of Rome's street cleaners, who go about their business around public monuments and sleep on benches during lunch breaks. The disc's fat insert booklet contains a useful essay by Mark Le Fanu, and Antonioni's own screening notes on these interesting short pictures. With their acute sense of locale, they directly inform the architectural context of the director's later feature films.
For more information about Red Desert, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Red Desert, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Red Desert - Monica Vitti & Richard Harris in RED DESERT, Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 Landmark Work
Richard Harris, 1930-2002 - TCM Remembers Richard Harris
Harris was born October 1, 1930, in Limerick, Ireland, one of nine children born to farmer Ivan Harris and his wife, Mildred Harty. He was a noted rugby player as a youth, but shortly after his move to London in the mid-50s, Harris studied classical acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After a few years of stage experience, he made his screen debut in Alive and Kicking (1958) and quickly developed a reputation as a talented young actor. His film career became increasingly impressive with such strong supporting turns in Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).
Yet it wasn't until 1963 that Harris became an unlikely star after thrilling movie viewers and critics with his electrifying performance in This Sporting Life. His portrayal of a bitter young coal miner who becomes a professional rugby star marked the arrival of a major international talent and won him the Best Actor award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination.
Strangely enough, Harris' next projects were multimillion dollar epics and he went largely unnoticed amid the all-star casts; he had a small role as Cain in John Huston's production of The Bible (1966) and in Hawaii (1966) he played a sea captain who falls in love with a married woman (Julie Andrews). He also tried his hand at a mod spy comedy opposite Doris Day - Caprice (1967). A much better role for him was playing King Arthur in the film version of the Broadway hit Camelot (1967). The movie was not well received critically, but Harris' singing skills proved to be a surprise; not only did he win a Golden Globe for his performance, but the film's soundtrack album proved to be a bigger commercial hit than the film itself. Even more surprising was his unexpected success the following year with the pop hit "MacArthur Park" - that kitsch cornerstone of lounge karaoke. The song just missed topping the Billboard singles chart in the "Summer of 1968;" It was topped by Herb Albert's "This Guy's In Love with You."
The '70s proved to be a mixed bag for Harris. He scored a huge commercial hit with his best-known film of that decade, A Man Called Horse (1970). It became a cult Western and featured him as an English aristocrat captured, tortured and eventually adopted by Sioux Indians. He also showed some promise behind the camera, co-writing the screenplay for the psychological thriller The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun (1970) and directing (as well as starring) in The Hero (1972), a drama about an aging soccer star. But the quality of films in which Harris appeared declined as the decade progressed: Orca (1977) - a terrible Jaws rip-off, The Wild Geese(1978), and worst of all, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), in which he had a thankless role as Bo Derek's explorer father.
Based on those films and his general inactivity in the '80s, Harris' comeback performance in The Field (1990) was a wonderful surprise. In that film he played a man who has nurtured a field into a prized piece of real estate only to lose his sanity as the property is taken from him; the role earned him a deserved Oscar nomination and showed that he was still a vital screen presence. Harris took full advantage of this new spurt in his career by committing himself to many fine character roles: the cool, refined gunslinger in Unforgiven(1992), his intense portrayal of a father mourning the death of his son in Cry the Beloved Country (1995), the resident villain of Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997), and as the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in the epic Gladiator (2000).
Yet Harris will probably be best remembered by current audiences for his portrayal of Dumbledore, the benevolent and wily head of Hogwarts School in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) which will be released nationwide in just three weeks. Harris is survived by his three sons, Jared, Jamie (both actors) and the director Damian Harris.
by Michael T. Toole
Richard Harris, 1930-2002 - TCM Remembers Richard Harris
I feel my eyes tearing up. What should I do with my eyes? What should I watch?- Giuliana
You ask what you should watch. I ask how I should live. It's the same thing.- Corrado Zeller
Richard Harris agreed to star in Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) in December 1963 whilst still in the middle of making this film. Harris walked off Antonioni's film as it went further behind schedule to ensure that he did not miss Major Dundee's start date of 5 February 1964. Harris said that Il Deserto Rosso had to be completed without him and a double was used for his character in some of the long shots.
Filmed in Ravenna and Sardinia. First shown at Venice Film Festival in September 1964 as Il deserto rosso; running time: 120 min; in Paris in October 1964 as Le désert rouge; running time: 115 min.