RUNACRE RECALLS WORKING WITH ANTONIONI
Antonioni projects his characters, and it is precisely right that it is
in this hot, dry soundless place, that Locke, played by Jack Nicholson,
first encounters death in close-up, when he returns to his dusty hotel room
to find the dead body of Robertson. From that moment on death never really
leaves the film in the strange compulsion of Locke to take on the identity
of the dead man and follow the route of his mysterious appointments, which
finally lead to his own death.
It is never exactly made clear why Locke wants to assume Robertsons identity, which is entirely in keeping with the lack of narrative function that Antonioni loves to employ. Nevertheless, one or two scenes had to be omitted in the editing room, because the film was too long. However had they remained I think they would have clarified the failure of Lockes and Rachel‚s marriage and showed how it would influence his behaviour in the rest of the film.
Antonioni rarely talked to his actors on the set, and the actual takes‚ were accomplished relatively quickly - all the time was taken in the setting up of each shot, in which every detail, every camera angle and every lighting set up had been minutely planned beforehand.
Or as he has been quoted as saying:
“I can direct the camera any way I want; as the director I am God. I can allow myself any kind of liberty. Actually the liberty I have achieved in the making of this film is the liberty the character in the film tried to achieve by changing identity.”
The scene, of course, that the film is most famous for, is in the film’s penultimate shot, the final long take, lasting seven minutes, an extremely slow tracking shot through the hotel room, out the barred window, round the piazza outside, taking in two apparently random old men talking on a bench, a dog, a car, a child playing ball, the Woman [played by Maria Schneider], the hired killers, a police car and ultimately, Rachel. The camera continues its
remorseless journey round the piazza and finally pans right back towards
the room and in through the windows from the piazza, to the dead body of
This was the most exciting shot to be in, the filming of it took eleven days, partly because the wind kept disturbing the camera, which was suspended on a sort of crane, but also because the balance between the interior and exterior lighting meant we could only film between 3.30 and 4.30 each afternoon. Antonioni was stationed in a lorry at the side of the piazza, in front of a monitor, from which he controlled everything, every position of the camera, every turn, every inch of movement, like a General ordering an advance. Positioned round the square were numerous Assistant Directors with earphones, listening to Antonioni‚s instructions from the lorry and then beckoning and gesticulating the various actors in a choreographed set of movements which compose the final sequence in the film.
The final scene that was filmed in fact, was one half way through the film, set in Notting Hill, London, when Rachel goes to the African Embassy to find out details about Lock‚s death. The rest of the filming was finished ˆ Jack had a very dramatic exit from the desert after filming his last scene, when a helicopter descended on to the set, to take him to his next film which he was starting the following day.
So on this last day of filming there was just the camera man, a wardrobe mistress, Antonioni, the actor playing the Embassy official and me ˆ the rest of the unit were frantically packing up and loading equipment into vans because they had to be back in Rome the following day. I remember finishing the scene, saying goodbye to Antonioni and the camera man who both sped off in a car, and then the other actor and I were left, by ourselves, in an empty, silent house in Notting Hill and like a sequence from an Antonioni film it slowly started to rain.
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