The Zabriskie Point Fallout (With Mel Brooks)

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A few weeks back, regarding Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, I wrote about my fascination with the great European directors crossing the Atlantic to reign in and make sense of ‘60s America.  Resigning himself to merely making a film called Made In U.S.A., Jean-Luc Godard resisted the impulse.  Michelangelo Antonioni, most spectacularly with Zabriskie Point, did not.
 
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As hatched by a team of writers that included Sam Shepard, and wife of Bernardo Bertolucci, Clare Peploe, the plot of Zabriskie Point wasn’t terribly complex.  Rebel Angelenos (my favorite kind!) Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette (who go, in the film, by their real names), hook up in the desert, have sex in the sand, then separate to meet their own explosive ends.

More complex, though, was the anger and confusion the film provoked at the time.  Typically gorgeous cinematography aside, cineasts looking for a worthy philosophical successor to Blow-Up were left disappointed by Zabriskie’s relatively unnuanced take on capitalism.  Hollywood watchers were appalled that Antonioni squandered so much time and money ($7 million in 1970 dollars) on something that, despite it’s notorious “desert orgy” sequence, managed to rake in barely a million hippie-box-office dollars.

Fortunately, 5 years later, Antonioni secured cinematic redemption with The Passenger.  Daria Halprin acted in only a handful of films, but went on to become, briefly, Mrs. Dennis Hopper.  After her marriage to Hopper fizzled, Halprin developed an interest in art therapy, and now, with her mother, runs Marin County’s Tampala Institute.

The future was far less kind to Mark Frechette.  You can read the Rolling Stone article about his “sorry life and death” here, but the shorthand goes like this:

He was the apparent victim of a bizarre accident in a recreation room at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, where Frechette had been serving a six- to 15-year sentence for his participation in a 1973 Boston bank robbery.

Frechette’s body was discovered by a fellow inmate early on the morning of September 27th pinned beneath a 150-pound set of weights, the bar resting on his throat.  An autopsy revealed he had died of asphyxiation and the official explanation is that the weights slipped from his hands while he was trying to bench press them, killing him instantly.

What the above leaves out, though, is that prior to his incarceration, Frechette was living in a commune run by American cult leader Mel Lyman.  The entirety of Frechette’s Zabriskie earnings were tithed to Lyman’s “Family,” and it’s presumed that whatever money Frechette hoped to abscond with post-robbery would have wound up there as well.

Before all this, though, back when television talk show guests could still indulge in a cigarette, Halprin and Frechette found themselves—along with Mel Brooks and Rex Reed—on The Dick Cavett Show.

As you can watch below, Cavett had yet to see Zabriskie Point—and Frechette makes him pay for it.  In defending Lyman, Frechette also goes on to argue the fine line between “commune,” and “community.”

 
Trailer for Zabriskie Point: Where A Boy And A Girl Meet And Touch And Blow Their Minds!

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
The Strangeness That Is Jacques Demy’s Model Shop

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I’m always fascinated when the great European directors come to work in America.  Zabriskie Point, while a hands-down favorite of mine anyway, in my eyes, almost succeeds more as a relative failure because there’s something poignant about Michelangelo Antonioni‘s need to make sense of a landscape more disjointed than Rome (L’Eclisse), more baffling than North Africa (The Passenger), and possibly more empty than ‘60s London (Blow-Up).  Antonioni might not have succeeded in making sense of countercultural America, but there’s something undeniably beautiful about his attempt.

Jacques Demy‘s nearly forgotten film, Model Shop, is another example of a perceived failure that somehow manages to succeed all the more so for it.  Released, briefly, by Columbia Pictures in ‘69, when Demy was still basking in the international glow of his Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Model Shop stars Gary Lockwood as a Vietnam-dreading drifter who starts trailing around Los Angeles Anouk Aimee’s older French woman (well, who wouldn’t?!)  Thus begins a hall-of-mirrors roundelay that, despite it’s strained dialogue and meandering plot, comes off as much a love letter to Los Angeles as it does to melancholy romance.
 
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And while Model Shop flirts with themes of the “universal condition,” it’s also wonderful to see (as it is in Don’t Make Waves or Play It As It Lays) what the city looked like back then, less burdened as it was by cars, noise, and signage.  A (typically) colorful clip from Model Shop follows below:

 
Bonus: Harrison Ford’s Model Shop Screen Test

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion