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Zabriskie Point (1970)

After enjoying the biggest success of his career with Blow Up (1966), Michelangelo Antonioni spent two years and $7 million of Hollywood’s money-making Zabriskie Point, a mind-expanding odyssey of two youths on the run from the police after a violent student demonstration.

Their surreal adventures in the California desert climax in a slow-motion apocalypse to the strains of Pink Floyd.

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After a meeting about student rebellion, handsome young radical Mark (Mark Frechette) is suspected of shooting a cop during a demonstration at his LA college. He denies it and the viewer is never certain.

Mark flees the city by stealing a small plane and flies out to the desert where he meets free-spirited secretary Daria (Daria Halprin) who is on her way to meet with her new wealthy land developer boss Lee Allen (Rod Taylor).

The two spend some time making love in the desert with nature (and many other imagined people) before painting the stolen plane in groovy colours – although where they get the paint is a good question!

Mark then flies the plane back to LA to give himself up and is shot dead by clearly trigger-happy and psychopathic cops. Daria, meanwhile, goes on to join her boss at his palatial home in Phoenix.

The film ends with televisions, refrigerators, and other household appliances being blown to smithereens in slow motion as Daria drives off while Roy Orbison sings So Young . . .

But this is not a script-driven film. Except for the first ten minutes, it is mostly visual, with stunning cinematography. But the beautiful images seem random and lack synthesis.

It’s worth seeing, though, just for the classic slow-motion explosion ending with Pink Floyd‘s Careful with That Axe, Eugene playing and symbols of commercialisation floating through the air.

The film had equally strange echoes in real life: Mark Frechette later robbed a bank (for political reasons, he claimed) and died mysteriously in prison in 1975 at the age of 27, and co-star Daria Halprin was Frechette’s off-screen girlfriend for a short time when they lived together in a Boston commune. Halprin was also briefly married to Dennis Hopper.

Watch out for a very young (unbilled) Harrison Ford as a cop.

‘Zabriskie Point’ is a rainbow-coloured spot in Death Valley, where layers of multi-hued sediment in the jagged crests of rock create the impression of a sand picture given three dimensions.

Mark
Mark Frechette
Daria
Daria Halprin
Lee Allen
Rod Taylor
Cafe owner
Paul Fix
Lee Allen’s associate
G D Spradlin
Morty
Bill Garaway
Kathleen
Kathleen Cleaver

Director
Michelangelo Antonioni