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June 01, 2009


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"I certainly don't want to offend my right-leaning readers"

Then why say "putatively" responsible, rather than simply "responsible"?


"you don't have to scratch that surface too hard to find a substantial number of sentiments that can only be described as righteously murderous."

Scratch the surface of what, exactly?


Thanks for the reminder that this was released-- I remember reading about it years and years ago in one of those oversized "Great Films of the 70s"-kind of books that I would get out of the library, and it always sounded fascinating.

I take your point about the right, too; I'd add that even though my sympathies lie more on the liberal side of things, the left is hardly immune to this rhetoric, even forty years after Antonioni's film-- I think it was David Sirota who posted a column on Salon about a month after Obama's inauguration with the title "It's starting to look a lot like an apocalypse." And the comments sections of Digby, firedoglake, and crooks & liars are often difficult to read for the same reason-- lots of scary, bitter people out there.


None of which is to take away from the horror over Tiller, which I completely share. I guess I'm just exhausted by the screaming rhetoric (what Al Giordano calls "poutrage") on my side, too.

Glenn Kenny

@Bill-as I said, I'm rattled, and purposefully writing somewhat more from the gut than the head, hoping maybe to get myself set straight. I acknowledge a certain innate prejudice on my part; for instance, I simply do not believe that, say, Kathryn Jean Lopez doesn't think that somehow some form of justice hasn't been meted out, although maybe LaShawn Barber is a more pertinent and obvious example. I think Brian's point is very well taken; rhetoric on both sides can get creepily out of control, and the gun-shop scene in "Point" shows rhetoric turning into action in a way that's newly unsettling to me.


Well...you know, it's just possible that I've harbored some roughly similar views of the Left as a whole, so it's not like I don't know the feeling. But still. It's the "I don't mean YOU, of course" -- which I come across pretty frequently -- that rankles almost more than the original sentiment.

Glenn Kenny

@Bill: I hear ya. As that guy in that awful Hoobastank song says, "I'm not a perfect person." I'm always deeply ambivalent of introducing politics here, especially given that I don't consider myself a consistently coherent thinker in that area; hence I tend toward the awkward and shambling when doing so. That said, the film is getting me thinking. Incoherently. Maybe.


I do see. And it's "not a problem", as the saying goes. I come across so much political stuff on-line that makes my blood boil, and I ignore most of it because I really don't want to get into fights with people. I manage to comment here because I know things will remain civil (unless that one guy shows up again), and look, I was right.

Oh, and hey, I'll be watching "The Girlfriend Experience" tonight. When you appear, I'm going to point at the screen and tell my wife, "That guy e-mails me sometimes!"


You don't need a looking glass to see that much of the leftist movement is still very radical and violent. You saw this just as recently under the Bush administration, and even since the inauguration of Obama, the leftists are still quite violent toward symbols of global corporations such as the WTO, the continued semantic protests over Prop 8, and even as recently as today's Army recruitment center shooting.

You also probably should not simplistically equate the non-violent free speech protests that were the tea baggers with the murder of a late-term abortion doctor by someone with a clear mental illness.

Regardless, I've always read Zabriskie as a criticism of political activism in general, that it's just as empty as a new planned community in the middle of the desert.

Herman Scobie

Saw Antonioni make a non-appearance appearance at a Baton Rouge sidebar to the New Orleans International Film Festival in the early 80s. He began by saying he had nothing to say about his films, that they speak for themselves. That didn't stop the audience from asking questions, to all of which he responded with a non-answer. Folks began leaving five minutes into about an hour of this. It was just like an Antonioni film but funnier.

Speaking of auteurs, the cable channel Reelz has a program entitled Hollywood's Great Directors. Up this week are F. F. Coppola and Chris Columbus. Ah, they don't make greatness like they used to.

Glenn Kenny

@Filmbo: Look, I think the notion of dissent being the highest form of patriotism extends all the way across the board, and commend the tea-partiers in that spirit. Still, when I see a picture of one of the demonstrators holding up a sign addressed to "Barack Hussein Obama" and reminding him "this is still a Christian nation," it creeps me out a little more than seeing some Code Pink yo-yo comparing Bush to a chimp, or Hitler.

As for the incoherence of my own politics, well, for example, I'm shaving at my gym today, and again I notice that little sign stuck up on the wall that says "EVERY DROP COUNTS: Save water and help make the Earth a better place," and my impulse is to go down to a manager's office and tell them I don't pay the place's not-inconsiderable monthly fee to get an ecology lecture. Which doing so, of course, would qualify me for official crankdom. And it's not even as if I disagree with the sentiment...


A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Glenn Beck, because he is the funniest show on TV and makes me wish I had cable. Beck had a timeline up of where the American government landed on a left-to-right scale. Everything was as you'd expect: regain solidly in the middle, Bush a little closer to the left, T. Roosevelt way out there, and Obama near the end of the line. Thing is, there were photos over the left side of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin. So Beck didn't have to *say* Obama was like Hitler; he just let the photos talk for him.

That's the kind of thing I think Glenn is talking about. It's hilarious, but it's freaky. And obviously pretty nuts. I do dig Victor Morton, whose blog seems to have gone dormant but provided some of the most interesting, dissenting conservative film criticism around. We need more like him.

The Chevalier

Movie = terrible.

Ending = brilliant.

Mixed on the middle orgy scene that seems to have partially inspired the video for "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins.

Kent Jones

Greetings, GK. On the "Godard in America" disc bundled into The Believer (thanks to Jake Perlin), there's a great moment in the little film of Godard and Gorin at Columbia, where Molly Haskell asks them what they thought of ZABRISKIE POINT. Godard's response: "That's like asking me what I think of this ashtray."


I don't know. I think the percent of pro-lifers in favor of Tiller's murder is about equal to the percent of anti-war protesters who would be shaking the hand of the hypothetical guy who killed Dick Cheney or the percent of PETA members thrilled about the stabbing of Ruth and/or Chris. (Or apparently of their dead bodies, W'pedia tells me.) People really don't like people whom they perceive cause the death of other humans, and sometimes when the second set people die, the first set are less than sad about it. It's human nature, and it has nothing to do with party affiliation or political persuasion (other than probably being more prevalent at the extremes than the middles).

Also, uh, to, uh, keep this on-topic, movies yay. Got to love movies.


@Glenn, as a cynic, I saw Zabriskie Point as a relevant comment on political activism among the youth, both right and left. The desire to belong as well as the attempt to create/find meaning as an adult can lead one to become politically active and to pretend that these protests actually 'do good', just as one can also create meaning by building a utopia in the middle of the desert in the name of 'doing good.' It may not be a criticism of this human behavior, but its definitely an exploration of these flaws, just as his earlier films explored similar failed attempts to find meaning through romantic desire.

As for your politics, I didn't mean to criticize where you stand, but I was bothered at what I thought was a highly unbalanced comparison between tactics of the left and the right to show that the left was more righteous under Bush than the right is currently under Obama.

To soften my hotheadedness in your comment section (but not to exaggerate), your performance in The Girlfriend Experience was terrific, easily the best part of the film.


Great news, Glenn: you'll be happy to know you have been tagged yet again.



Zabriskie Point and Twentynine Palms would make a nice double bill. Both seem to capture something honest and true about America at a specific time. Zabriskie Point doesn't capture the late 60s zeitgeist as well as, say, the 1970 CCR Concert live on Oakland's KQED, but it comes pretty close, or, at least, the ending of the movie does. I would argue, however, that Twentynine Palms is the best movie about America post-9/11, and it shares a lot of qualities with Zabriskie Point. My question is this: how come Europeans are so adept at coming over to America and giving a diagnostic report but not the other way around? I can't even think of an American filmmaker who has gone over to the Continent and made a movie and said, Here, this is what Europe is like right now. Does that film or filmmaker even exist?

Ryan Kelly

OT and I apologize, but how come Glenn has no IMDb page for "The Girlfriend Experience"?

steve simels

Just watched Zabriskie Point, and I felt about it exactly the same as I did when I saw it theatrically back in the day.

You could fit what Antonioni knew about the counterculture and American culture in general into a thimble.

It's mishegass from stem to stern, and what a waste of the great Rod Taylor.

Glenn Kenny

@ Ryan: Nah, the IMDB page for "GFE" was taken over by a lot of the SAG-card-striving extras in the picture a long time ago. They need the exposure more than I do, so more power to "Restaurant Patron" and "Chatty John" and whoever. The Erotic Connoisseur don't need no stinking IMDB page.

@Steve Simels: I love ya, man, but nertz.

@movieman: That's a tagging I can get behind, or in front of, or whatever it is you do with relation to it. Workin' on it!


"for instance, I simply do not believe that, say, Kathryn Jean Lopez doesn't think that somehow some form of justice hasn't been meted out..."

Thought not a fan on KJL's myself (but I am a fan of some of her collegues), in her defence, she was one of the first to not only condemn the murder of Tiller but also the political opportunism latched onto by Operation Rescue, which she rightly pointed out acted much like CAIR does whenever a Islamist murders someone: instead of condemning they become borderline apologists.

No matter whether Tiller was a good person or not (even pro-choice people questioned his late-term tactics), does not matter. He was murdered for doing something that is still legal in this country. Operation Rescue acted like scum, but Kathryn Jean Lopez acted respectfully and genuinely.


First of all, I very much look forward to Glenn's response.

Secondly, a very interesting point about the 60s left & the 00s right. I tend to find the circumstances too divergent to draw any meaningful analogies, but a cursory comparison is compelling nonetheless. I will say I think the radicals of 40 years ago had better taste in pop culture...

Thirdly and finally, I don't like to get drawn into an issue this passionate (and irrelevant to cinematic discussions), but it's such a thorny and frequently misunderstood and underappreciated issue that I can't quite resist. So here goes.

Fox, one thing that bothers me about the discussion vis a vis Tiller is that we see an ossification of opinion which had seemed to be thawing somewhat in the last few years. Suddenly, on the pro-choice side we have a blurring of the lines between late-term and early-term abortions (which are not at all the same thing) and a hostility towards the opposition which may have been cooling in the rapprochement with certain tentative social conservatives (not the hardcore Religious Right, but cultural traditionalists of various stripes) in the fallout from the Iraq War, the unpopular Bush administration, and the advent of Obama's unifying rhetoric.

And on the pro-life side, as has been duly noted here we have (often at best) mealy-mouthed defensiveness instead of outright condemnation and at worst tacit or outright endorsement of violence which is grotesque and hypocritical (and, incidentally, self-defeating). Also, a recourse to generalizations which, just like their pro-choice brethren, do not make the distinction between early-term and late-term abortions, or, for that matter, attempt to ascertain to what extent Tiller's "late-term tactics" may have been medical necessities rather than law-bending infanticide. Furthermore, there is absolutely no grappling with the poisonous atmosphere which facilitates a killing like this - and that's not to stomp on the First Amendment because Bill O'Reilly had a right to run whatever irresponsible program he wanted on his show; rather, it's a question of both morality and political efficacy.

The marriage of the pro-life movement and the religious right has been a disaster for all concerned - it has served to retard any progress anti-abortionists could make towards changing public consciousness, and getting the issue to be seen as one of human rights (as opposed to reactionary traditionalism), and it has created a culture of acerbic opposition and cultural vilification and even the occasional outright violence, as seen in the killing of Tiller, which makes it much harder for pro-choicers to reach a critical mass of the public so that their cause can find mainstream acceptance the way once controversial issues like racial equality or gay rights have (or are well on their way to).

Lest my own position be confused, I cannot get behind banning early-term abortions for reasons ethical (it seems too much of a stretch to classify a zygote as a human being on equal standing with the pregnant woman) and especially practical (banning abortion will not end the practice, only wind up in more mutilated and dead women). That said, I do make a distinction between this early cluster of cells and a fetus at a later stage of development and potential viability, at which point there is no real difference between it and a premature infant save location and perhaps consciousness, neither of which seem compelling grounds to deny its humanity.

That said, it's my understanding that the vast majority of late-term abortions are performed in situations in which the fetus is going to die anyway and the mother's health is at stake. I do know this is not exclusively the ground for this procedure; hence it seems to me that the fetus, after a certain stage of development, should be re-defined as a person of the same class as a newborn infant, with all the legal protections and considerations that would thereby ensue (I think this is actually the position of a majority of Americans, pro-life and pro-choice).

I do not know to what extent Tiller bent the law in performing late-term abortions, if he considered the operations tragic necessities to save the mother's life, or if the questions of fetal viability and humanity played any role in his life whatsoever. Either way, as goes without saying, his murder is not justifiable and should be roundly condemned.

Well, here we are discussing abortion on a movie blog. (You started it, Glenn!) To bring the discussion around again, has anyone seen a movie they felt did the complex and inflammatory issue justice? I did not see that recent doc (cannot recall the name, but I believe it was by a British filmmaker), but I heard both good and bad things about it.


And, incidentally, if anyone else is as interested as I am in the complexity of this issue (as opposed to the black/white abortion dialectic we're usually confronted with) you could do much worse than head on over to The New Republic's talkback section from a few days ago which (as always) offers some of the best and most thoughtful political commentary on the web:


Bruce Reid

CBO: I dearly love Zabriskie Point, am rather less impressed by Twenty-Nine Palms, but think the pair together doesn't capture a dollop of the "honest and true" swirling about in the efforts of Lang, Preminger, Chaplin, Sirk, von Sternberg, Buñuel, Siodmak, Mackendrick (I know), Forman, etc.

"I can't even think of an American filmmaker who has gone over to the Continent and made a movie and said, Here, this is what Europe is like right now."

Welles, Losey, Borzage, Fuller, Ray, Minnelli, Demme....

Which may have no bearing to the larger conversation beyond expressing a distrust of absolutes and my certainty that most streets run both ways.



Good points. Personally, I see no correlation between 60's lefty radicals and 00's righty radicals simply because just as many lefty radicals still exist today as did righty radicals during the Bush years. The thing about radicals (how many times can I say that word in a post??) is that the spotlight tends to shine on those whose ideology opposes the party in power. Meaning, I don't see coverage of as many International ANSWER protests since Democrats took Congress and the Presidency.

The Tiller murder is disgusting. I think any morally correct person would agree. But what bothers me is the political exploiting of it, already, by both sides of the abortion debate. Some pro-lifers are glossing over it as just an isolated incident (which it may be, but that's not the point) while some pro-choicers are talking about this as if they need to leave their houses with US marshals for the rest of their lives.

I didn't use the phrase "late-term tactics" to mean anything more than that Tiller was one of the doctors who performed late-term abortions. But I see how it could have come off as loaded since "tactics" implies that there was something additionally sinister to his procedures. I didn't mean to suggest that, nor do I know the circumstances of which he performed his late-term abortions. Personally, I find late-term abortions grisly, and, in agreement with you, to be a distinct difference between an early embryo or cluster of cells. I think pro-choice activists would benefit their cause if they expressed the same kind of line drawing.

Thing is, where do you draw the line? That's always been the problem for pro-choicers. I'm pro-choice (though I think late term abortions should be illegal, save for cases where the mother's health is in question), and I realize that when chatting with someone who is pro-life, they have the stronger leg to stand on b/c the line is very clear for them: abortion is always killing of a innocent life. It's pretty hard to debate that because it IS killing life. But someone like me sees a difference between life at 2 weeks, 10 weeks, 3 months, than life at 7 or 8 months to birth. But how do I clearly define that??? I don't know. I think that is a huge hump for pro-choice advocates to get over, and I don't think it's possible.

As I mentioned to a friend earlier today, abortion is probably issue # 98 in a the list of 100 things that I'm personally concerned with at this point in my life, but I enjoy discussions of it because I feel extreme point-of-views too often dominate the debate (as usual).

BTW, MovieMan, there is also good discussion of this at Megan McArdles blog on the Atlantic web site that you might find interesting.

jim emerson

1) How did Casey Affleck (left, above) get into "Zabriskie Point"?


This is true, Fox. I understand, and even to a certain extent, sympathize with the reasoning of the average pro-lifers (up to a point: if they make an exception for rape/incest, isn't that a contradiction of the idea that the emryo is just as much a human being as an infant? You wouldn't kill an infant for the crime of its origin - this to me seems a gaping hole in their logic and, far more than the reluctance to kill abortionists, evidence that perhaps many of them deep down do not totally believe what they say. But I digress). I seem to be in very close agreement with you on the issue; in favor of legalization early on, opposed thereafter. However, I'm not comfortable applying the label "pro-choice" to myself, and certainly not "advocative," perhaps a vestige of my wholeheartedly pro-life past. Ultimately I am quite comfortable with the practical argument - that illegalization only causes more deaths - than with the biological - that human life begins sometime after fertilization rather than at it (and I'm less concerned with viability, a rather ghastly standard as it impugns the fetus for its involuntary parasitism, than with vital signs and physical development). And on the same note as with viability, I am entirely uncomfortable with the ethical argument which holds that the entity in utero is at all stages a full-on human being, but one whose life is expendable.

It is indeed a fascinating issue. One almost wishes it were an philosophical abstraction, rather than a real-life live wire with so many grotesque and grim real-world applications.

Jim, I'm trying to think of a clever rejoinder. Something to do with Joaquin Phoenix (or is it already passe to make fun of him?). Ah well, "it's late" is my excuse...



Another good point on the "incest/rape" exception, because the "innocent life" argument really falls apart right there. I know that some pro-lifers stand for no exception even in incest and rape cases, but I would be curious as to how much of that segment makes up the entire pro-life movement.

And I agree with you on the illegalization issue. Much like arguments to illegalize other societal hot-buttons like, say, pornography, I think doing so would only push it to the black market and make it a much more dangerous and deadly practice and enterprise. Just look at the drug wars.

I guess I really just take issue with the hysteria that comes after a incident like the Tiller murder. For instance, one of Tiller's friends was on MSNBC yesterday, and, he was understandably upset, but he compared pro-lifers to the Taliban (compare the one suspect of being a religious extremist, fine, but the whole movement?!?). I think that's outrageous, and really just spins the discussion off into nutsville.

James Keepnews

Movie -- terrible

Ending -- worse!

+ I have to say, however "apt" Zabriskie's politics may be to the time in which it was produced, they are pretty damned superficial where not outright laughable (Mr. Frechette is not the only one liklely to die of boredom). Antonioni is an important director, and I'll warily give this restored version a looksee -- if only until Jerry Garcia's hot solo upon the plane's lift-off -- but I think we demean the memory of Dr. Tiller by yoking his struggle with the ZP's rad-chic commedia dell'non l'arte.

John Fahey wrote a memorable essay about dealing with the supremely condescending Michelangelo in his book How Bluegrass Saved My Life -- can't find a good link for this online. + at the risk of self-promotion, other thoughts James has had on l'oggetto della auteur: http://www.fairfieldweekly.com/article.cfm?aid=2491

Lastly, I know someone who participated in the infamous Death Valley orgy scene. Evidently, M.A. got the actors into "place" and disrobement, got on a megaphone and offered this priceless direction to his cast: "And now....MAKE LUFFF!" I can never NOT think of this when the subject turns to Signor A.

Glenn Kenny

James: I wasn't trying to objectively yoke the two so much as describe how the film converged with my mood. But I guess I did open a can of worms.

Fahey's piece is quite a hoot. One can't be entirely sure of its overall accuracy, but I'm sure it's true of Fahey's experience. Among other things, it functions as a hilarious account of that shortest-lived of phenomena: the big-budget international art film!

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