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Saturday April 4th 2020

Zabriskie Point | 1970

Zabriskie Point location: Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California
Zabriskie Point location: out in the desert: Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Sixties Italian movies remain as cool as a sharp black suit. The Swinging London-set Blowup, saw the director slipping into a pair of white jeans and just about getting away with it, but with Zabriskie Point he donned kaftan and beads. Big mistake.

The resulting film tells us that there are a lot of billboards in California, the scenery is very nice, businessmen are not, and revolutionary students talk endless bollocks. Harrison Ford was in the movie, but his part was cut. Glimpse him in the background of the jail scene.

The film ran wildly over budget, proved incomprehensible to MGM bosses, and the director’s working methods flummoxed the Hollywood crew. Antonioni brought in an Italian crew, but US union rules meant that for every Italian, there had to be an American equivalent on the payroll, standing around doing nothing

Zabriskie Point location: Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California
Zabriskie Point location: out in the desert: Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

After so much negativity, why is the film here? Well, even a failed Antonioni has great moments , and the visuals, as ever, are astonishing.

Much of the movie was shot around Los Angeles. The office of heartless capitalist Lee Allen (Rod Taylor) the old Mobil Oil Building, 612 Flower Street at Wilshire Boulevard, downtown Los Angeles, where, at a cost of thousands of dollars, an extra storey was added to the roof. It has since been redeveloped into the luxury Pegasus Apartments.

The fabulous black and gold deco tower seen through Allen’s window was the Richfield Oil Building, which stood at 555 South Flower Street (now the site of the City National Bank Tower), which was – unbelievably – demolished shortly after the film was made.

Allen’s business meeting is in Phoenix, Arizona, and the famous slo-mo exploding house – a shot covered by seventeen cameras – is also near Phoenix. The city’s air traffic was held up during the filming of this profound scene, which reminds us that rich Americans have homes full of consumer goods. Designed by Hiram Hudson Benedict – a well known Scottsdale and Cave Creek architect in the 1950s and 1960s, it’s the former home of Rusty Lyons on the outskirts of Carefree, near Cave Creek northeast of Phoenix. Oh, and, yes it was a model that was blown up.

Atmosphere is everything, though, and the film does look wonderful, particularly once it gets out into the desert, around Blythe, California, and Overton, Nevada.

Greatest of all, of course, is the wondrous Death Valley and Zabriskie Point itself. The dizzying overlook, named for a Dutch businessman who mined borax in the area, is on the eastern fringe of Death Valley near the Nevada border, west of Route 190, a few miles south of Furnace Creek, between the tiny town of Death Valley Junction (a location for David Lynch’s creepily brilliant Lost Highway and for the original version of The Hitcher) and the Death Valley Visitor Center. The breathtaking sea of yellow and grey canyons is the used for the movie’s surreal orgy.