After initially getting panned, the box office bomb turned counterculture classic remains an inspiration – we unearth some trivia gems
“This is such a silly and stupid movie, all burdened down with ideological luggage it clearly doesn't understand, that our immediate reaction is pity.” So said the late, great Roger Ebert in his review of Zabriskie Point (1970). Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni – who had had a surprise hit a few years prior with Blow-Up (1966), a tale of murder and mystery in the midst of Swinging London – the film was a critical flop, with commentors quick to point out its meandering plot and the disaffected nature of its main characters. Yes, the story is a little bare at points, and yes, the main characters seem languid, bored, dispassionate – but that’s kind of the point. Unfortunately, by the time it came out, the similarly disaffected audience it was hoping to snag just weren’t interested.
The film’s principal actors, Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette, were not professionals. Frechette was scouted when he was spotted having an argument at a bus stop by Antonioni’s assitant, who was impressed with his attitude (“he’s twenty and he hates”, she reportedly told the director) while Halprin was chosen after appearing in hippie doc Revolution. The film ignited a storm of controversy at the time of its release, and is now a certified cult classic, still inspirational today. Look no further than Iceberg’s SS16 collection, which took its cues from the film’s desert colour palette and, most importantly, its rebellious 70s attitude. “I really love those movies like Zabriskie Point and Blow-Up,” admitted menswear designer Federico Curradi, a big Antonioni fan. “They are a big inspiration for me.”
ITS STARS JOINED A CULT
The two principal actors developed a relationship while shooting the film, with Frechette at the time heavily invested in a group spearheaded by a man named Mel Lyman – to the point of donating his paycheck to his commune and annoying Antonioni by constantly telling him to read Lyman’s books. Halprin and Frechette moved to the HQ outside of Boston together, and when promoting the film appeared a little zombie-like in one TV interview, with Frechette saying they lived in a community with the purpose of “serving” Lyman. Halprin later left (and married Dennis Hopper) while Frechette was killed in a prison accident in 1975 – he was locked up after getting caught robbing a bank as a protest against Watergate, reportedly seeing it as a way to steal from President Nixon.
ITS SEX SCENE GOT THE GOVERNMENT INVOLVED
It probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but to find the host of extras needed for his infamous desert mass orgy scene, Antonioni advertised in a newspaper. No camera magic here, those really were over a hundred hippies rolling around in the California dust. Early reports had been circulating that the film was recruiting up to 10,000 people for the scene, so it’s no surprise that the American goverment had their eye on the film, especially after the wife of a prominent Black Panther was cast. They investigated Antonioni for breaching the Mann Act, or taking underage women across state lines for illicit purposes, but as no actual sex was being filmed (and many of those involved were professional actors) no charges were filed. “They saw the airplane all painted up and the kids talking politics, so maybe they thought I was a Communist starting a revolution,” Antonioni said after the film’s release.
ITS ORIGINAL ENDING GOT CUT
Although the film’s final scene is truly iconic – a model home perched on a mountain is seemingly blown up in a protest against corporate America, debris flying into the sky to the sound of Pink Floyd – it wasn’t the original ending Antonioni had planned. In his version, filmed but not released, a plane sky-writes the phrase ‘Fuck You America’ in the air. Truly subtle. Unfortunately, the movie’s backers (MGM) couldn’t allow such a blatant show of anti-Americanism, and the scene was cut. By the end of production, the Italian was truly fed up of the wastefullness of Stateside filmmaking – and if there was a more obvious way of saying that than by spelling it out for his audience, we can’t think of it.
Check out Iceberg SS16 below: