Riding the coat tails of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up, Zabriskie Point is a film that promised to embarrass, objectify and awaken. Employed by MGM after the financial success of his first English-speaking film, Antonioni decided to make a film forthright in its criticism of Los Angeles Government and police in the late 1960s. Under the initial guise of an outline by playwright Sam Shepard (Paris, Texas), MGM thought Zabriskie Point was sticking to the theme involving real estate developers exploiting the wilderness. Perhaps it was long overdue for a Major Hollywood studio to feel the sting of exploitation first hand.
Antonioni’s improvisational approach to exposing social discontentment and the consumerist affluence of America in the late sixties landmarks his film in a Woodstock era. The soundtrack featuring Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and Kaleidoscope not only reflects the films anti-establishment theme but the songs Love Scene (Garcia) and Crumbling Land (Gilmore, Wright, Mason, Waters) harmonize Antonioni’s images of beauty amid desolation and give the film a cognizant melodic dimension. In addition to the musical tone of the film the opening scenes disclose the tensions in the American youth revolution in a way that allows notions of anti-establishment certain sophistication, as opposed to the malicious reputation Hollywood has branded non-conformist movement in its classical era. An audience engages with proletarian views first and foremast in the film’s intimate scenes with University student revolutionaries. In the protest scenes that follow, the police appear to represent an unreasonable force and ultimately a question of whether the films opening discussion promoting revolutionary violence in order to exist as something more substantial than localized radicalism. In fact all the characters that represent the ‘establishment’ in this film are offered to the viewer as superficial, driven by money and shallow.
However, Zabriskie Point is not limited to the political confines of an urban American condition and finds a vehicle in its protagonist to explore a much larger American canvas.
Much of the metropolitan and desert landscape is observed by way of the car or plane. It is from these perspectives and the repeated images of billboards and product advertisement, that one identifies the films conjunction with themes of prevailing consumer mentality. The aerial scenery as the film transcends from industrial disorientation to institutional detachments evokes moments of freedom as a reality and as images of the city sprawl open into an immeasurable desert landscape, the congested consumerism of the films opening dissolve into a utopian alterative. What better way to demonstrate a fictitious concept such as freedom from establishment, than by leading the audience into an uncontested space by way of a young revolutionary who just so happens to know how to fly a stolen plane into the desert.
Zabriskie Point is a film that provides definite examples of consumer affluence; individuality and most importantly demonstrates the exploitation of a capitalist system from the inside. Antonioni himself states that he is ‘ diametrically opposed to the way things are done in that enormous bureaucratic machine known as Hollywood’ (Cardullo, B 2008) and considering its time of production, Zabriskie Point is a reflection of a transforming Hollywood studio system. In the late 1960s Hollywood was making the transition from old to new. During this time foreign films and independent films found larger audiences and with the new rating system put in place by The Motion Picture Association of America, studios began producing films to satisfy a variegated American audience. Zabriskie Point, alongside films such as Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde stand as testaments to a revolutionized studio system where youth culture had found its market.
Zabriskie Point is a unique example of how film can be more that art; it can be revolutionary.