Thanks for that link. It was great to hear Antonioni talking in English, even if he didn't feel comfortable with the language. And our friend David Thomson certainly likes Antonioni much better than you do, so maybe you should check out one of the films he highly recommends, like ‘The Passenger.’ Thomson says: "It leaves no doubt about Antonioni’s mastery," calling it “one of the great films of the ’70s.”
However, just a brief clarification to your first post. You wrote that Antonioni says that "the climactic 'love scene in the desert,' " when it actually should be "the climatic love scene in RED Desert." This is rather important, because ZABRISKIE POINT actually features a climatic love scene in the desert of Death Valley. So when you leave out the word RED, people like me may think you were confusing RED DESERT with ZABRISKIE POINT. Maybe it was just all those gin gimlet's you were plying me with the other night at the Palomar Hotel Bar.
It's also interesting to note that at the same Palace of Fine Arts theater in San Francisco, where Antonioni answered questions in 1969, he returned to in 1993, when there was a special screening of ZABRISKIE POINT, where I saw the film for the first time. Maybe it was the fact that Antonioni and his leading actress Daria Halprin where in the theater, along with several other crew members of the film, but at the end of the screening, the sold out house of 1,000 plus people all seemed to really have genuinely liked the film, and stood up and gave Mr. Antonioni quite a long standing ovation. Unfortunately, by this time Antonioni couldn't answer any questions, as it was after his stroke, but his wife Erica and Daria Halprin answered many questions for him. One of the amazing things that I remember quite clearly, was it seemed like everyone in the audience wanted Antonioni to explain the ending of the film, where the incredibly designed "desert house" created by Dean Tavoularis (ironically in Cave Creek, Arizona, where Welles shot THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND), blows-up.
Now, seeing ZABRISKIE POINT in 1993, a sophisticated audience of film buffs (including myself), thought there was enough ambiguity in the ending to wonder if this apocalyptic climax was supposed to be imagined in the mind of the heroine, or was supposed to be reality. In retrospective, it seems obvious it was Daria's desperate fantasy of blowing up the fucked-up world of the then "establishment," which at that time would be President Nixon, who was waging the hopeless war in Viet Nam, and would also have included California's then actor-Governor, Ronald Reagan. Now if you watch the film today, it's still very relevant, since the anti-establishment message would be aimed at a President who is even worse then Nixon, George W. Bush, who is waging the hopeless war in Irag, and a California actor-Governor, Arnold S.
So in retrospect, it's no wonder the film was "badly received." Here was an Italian director, taking the side of the "hippies" and directly attacking the lifestyle of the United States. Considering what the FBI had to say about Orson Welles in the forties, when he was so outspoken, I wonder what might be contained in the FBI file on Antonioni and ZABRISKIE POINT.
Anyway, for myself, seeing the movie in 1993, I really enjoyed it's gorgeous widescreen cinematography of Death Valley, shot entirely on location. It was also Antonioni's only film to use widescreen Panavision. So, I really became obsessed with the film, and even went to Death Valley to visit the locations, a few years later. But I couldn't understand why everything I had heard about the movie beforehand claimed it was so awful! Well, for one thing, at the time the film was made, Richard Nixon was President, and J. Edgar Hoover was still in charge of the FBI. And there was actually a ridiculous FBI charge lodged against MGM about the film transporting woman across state lines "for immoral purposes" (i.e. to have simulated sex in a movie). It seems that transporting woman across state lines was against the thirties era "Mann act." And now we have "the Patriot Act." Nuff said.
The joys of ZABRISKIE POINT led me to completely rediscover Antonioni as a great director, and it's still my favorite Antonioni movie, and I've now seen all of his films. Before 1993, however, I was very much an anti-Antonioni person, but after seeing ZABRISKIE POINT, I revisited most of the director's films, when the Cinecitta retrospective came to San Francisco a few years later. Seeing such early masterworks as THE GIRLFRIENDS and IL GRIDO really opened my eyes, and I was much more impressed with L'AVENTURRA, ECLIPSE and RED DESERT after seeing Antonioni's earlier films. A very good example of the auteur theory at work. Then last year I caught up with all the Antonioni films I had missed when there was yet another Antonioni retrospective in Berkeley, where the rare I VINTI was screened.
But getting back to RED DESERT, I think you have a very good point to make about that film, because if Richard Harris walked out on Antonioni, I wonder if that was because of how he was treating Harris. Maybe it was just like Jake Hannaford treats his leading actor in OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.
Jeanne Moreau said about working with Antonioni in LA NOTTE: "Antonioni gave me no direction, he rarely spoke to me, and he drove us all beyond the point of exhaustion. I never believed in the crisis of my character and it was useless to talk to Antonioni." So if Richard Harris felt the same way, no wonder he left the set! But as Antonioni says, he still had to shoot his climatic love scene between Monica Vitti and Harris, without his leading man! It sounds just like how Welles had to shoot most of OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, without most of his major actors. Of course, it also relates to Jake Hannaford shooting his own Antonioni-like sex scenes for OSOTW. Jake has to finish his movie and it's love scenes without his leading man, John Dale, because he has walked off the set!