Movie scripts and landscape experiences

by paulroncken

 

On the set of 'The Passenger' by Antonioni Michelangelo, 1974

On the set of ‘The Passenger’ by Antonioni Michelangelo, 1974

Hi there. In addition to last month post, that produced quite some positive response on diverse linkedIN networks, I would recommend to watch this TEDtalk by David Byrne (former singer/frontman of the Talking Heads). He reveals the relationship between architecture and the evolution of musical styles. See here.

There is another cross disciplinary influence on landscape experiences to be discussed, that of cinematography. How many times have your thoughts drifted from the actual place you where in, to a remembered scene from a movie or TV-series? A specific situation could be similar to a remembered scene; or a typical musical score would suit that very moment. In my opinion, the greatest contribution of cinematography over for example musical or literary highlights, is the exact alignment of a soundtrack, an atmosphere and a psychological/social interaction. These three aligned, create a powerful token to contribute to a showcase of worthy experiences. A soundtrack, complemented by a camera framing, can match up to a specific type of human interaction. A cliche and somewhat boyish example is the entrance of Darth Vader in the oldest Star Wars movie. He strides into the entered space ship like the villain that is both powerful and yet also heroic. The musical score underneath (Pa, pa, papa…. Pa, papa… Pa, papa………) makes sure to remember this slide of cinematography as a dominant and new archetype for a landscape experience. The landscape is the fantasised environment of the space ship, floating somewhere far, far away; involved in the same power struggle that so dominates the life on earth. Landscape and meaning nest themselves in a collective memory that can be brought up just by humming the ‘Pa, pa, papa….’.

The same is true for excerpts from the ‘House of Cards’ series (striking is the way Kevin Spacey addresses the camera/us immediately when things get really tough) and one of my new favourites ‘True Detective’; a rough soundtrack and dark atmosphere set in the marshes of some southern State of the USA, aligned by philosophical existential ideas of detectives biting through a child related murder case. The urban or natural landscapes within these powerful pieces of cinematography, enhance, extent and reprogram us. After having experienced this alignment of sound, atmosphere and human drama, we are inclined to change our experiential expectations, for good and for bad. Other cliche examples (and therefore proving their power as new archetypes?) are: the African landscape (‘Out of Africa’ or ‘the English Patient’), Cowboy landscape (‘Once upon a time in the West’ or ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’), Underwater landscape (‘Das Boot’ or ‘The life aquatic with Steve Zissou’), Gothic cities (‘The Dark Knight rises’ or ‘Blade Runner‘), etc.

One specific excerpt I would like to reveal here. It is a movie script that has not been filmed yet. So it does not yet contain a powerful glue in between soundtrack, visual atmosphere and human psychology. This is advantageous because it allows us to participate in the act of creation. What soundtrack do you hear underneath this script and what type of visual framing do you see fit? What type of landscape experience can be created here?

To me, reading this script struck a bell. It confronted me with the many parallel experiences that are possible in one single moment. No experience is singular, it consists of paradoxical views upon the same situation, including counter productive arguments. Driving in a car, alone, may cause to race your mind until you are no longer sure; or, is slowly becoming clear, to become a more solid perspective amongst the jingle jangle of thoughts that have passed your mental eye. We make internal movies so many times during our everyday life, testing what strikes us most and what is desirable; intermingled by the occasional lucid shard of real landscapes, exaggerating their inherent meanings. Enjoy this selection of text of an unfinished work by Italian movie maker Michelangelo Antonioni and do watch one of his masterpieces: ‘The Passenger’ (with a young Jack Nicholson) or ‘Blow-up’.

from: ‘Unfinished Business, scenarios, screenplays and ideas’, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1998, Marsilio Publishers, Broadway New York. A copy is in ownership by me since December 1998.

p. 117 ‘The Color of Jealousy’ screenplay 1971.
‘A street in Rome at dusk. A man in his car, stuck at a red light, his fingers drumming on the passenger seat. He looks impatient and checks his watch. He’s surrounded by a lot of yellow taxis, and in the taxis there are all sorts of people: a very calm guy who is waiting patiently, another who is reading the newspaper, a fat man who is constantly fidgeting, someone who is smiling to himself, …
The man turns around to look at the passengers in the taxis and they too turn to look out of their own windows; when people’s gazes meet, some seem embarrassed to see someone up close like that. But everybody ends up looking at the impatient man, the only one in a private car. The man is embarrassed by it, and he becomes even more uncomfortable when he realises there is a long-haired young man next to him who is sketching and looking up at him every two seconds as if drawing his portrait. The man changes his position and turns his head away, but the other guy carries on regardless. So the man hides his face behind his hand and sneaks a look at the time. Then he checks the light. It is still red.’

p. 118-119
‘Matteo – that’s the man’s name – looks at his watch. He checks the clock in the dashboard against his wristwatch. He does this while recklessly but calmly continuing to drive on. In fact, he’s a very calm sort of guy, about thirty-five, with longish hair that he sometimes runs his fingers through. But despite his self-control, it’s obvious he’s in a hurry and in a state of mental turmoil. His self-control comes from his tendency to be self-critical, and his quality keeps his fits of jealousy – which we shall shortly see – from becoming foolish or ridiculous. For example, he starts to shout at someone who manages to miss his car by a hair but then immediately breaks into laughter and makes a gesture of apology to the other driver. He’s easily distracted now he has to brake hard because a gorgeous woman in black steps in front of him and blocks his line of vision. Matteo stares after her, lost in thought, and is only brought back to reality by the sound of car horns honking behind him.

The road takes him out of town onto a tree-lined avenue. Overhead, the tallest branches are intertwined to form a kind of green roof, and at the sides there are green bushes. Traveling through this greenery Matteo should be reassured, but it is just too much green, especially when lit up by his headlights which are also a sickly greenish color. In fact, they make the green plants look false, as if they were made of plastic. Matteo drives on, wrapped up in his own thoughts, without taking any further notice of the outside world whose colours are slowly fading into darkness.’

p. 120
‘MATTEO (voice over): What’s the point of calling each other every day, loving each other, if we can never get beyond these same old issues, the stupid arguments… Each time I promised myself this will be the last time, that I’m not going to stand for it anymore. And yet, every few weeks or so, every month, when it seems that everything is going along just fine, something sets us off and our hang-ups start to get on each other’s nerves, we don’t get along anymore and we have a fight. (Pause.) I didn’t want to go and see her this evening. But we said some pretty serious things.’

p. 124
‘The images look less real now. Matteo is on the phone taling to Yvonne.
MATTEO: How are you then?
Yvonne is very serious, with a long-suffering look about her.
YVONNE: Bad, very bad. How do you thing I am?
Mateo smiles in satisfaction. The color of the image changes, and the phone call starts over.
MATTEO: How are you then?
Yvonne is smiling and appears calm.
YVONNE: Fine, How about you? What are you calling back for? Didn’t you say…
Matteo frowns… and hangs up. Suddenly the images take on their original, true colours because the gesture of hanging up belongs with the scene that had been interrupted before these two possible outcomes.’

p. 125
‘MATTEO (voice over): It was right not to call Yvonne. You can’t sort these things out over the phone. There’s only one way to do it: make a trip to Pescara… a trip to Pescara… Pescara…
He keeps on like this until he’s fixed his hard the way he wants it.’

p. 126
‘Matteo’s car is flying along the freeway. It’s really dark and the headlights illuminate a bend in the road through the mountains. The radio is playing classical music.
The same car on the same freeway, with the same bend in the road, but in daylight. It’s a cloudy dawn on an autumn day and the radio is broadcasting the political news.
Matteo in a different car, but the same freeway and bend in the road. It’s midday in summer. The radio is playing pop music.
Matteo in the car we saw at the beginning. Matteo is driving, holding the wheel with two fingers. The white line down the center of the road seems to run along with a life of its own, curving and twisting through the turns in the road. Matteo stares at the line which gradually gets wider and wider until it becomes the whole glistening white road. Signs pass with directions to various towns and mile markers indicating the distance left to go. The car’s dashboard is lit up and you can see the miles fly by on the odometer.’

p. 127
‘Matteo’s face seems to focus on a single thought.
MATTEO (voice over): I wonder what Yvonne is doing right now? What’s she thinking about? Did she really mean it when she said she’d call Arrigo… or was that just a threat to get back at me? If she was serious, did she do it straight after I hung up, or did she wait a little to make up her mind? If she phoned him, I’ll bet he went straight over to Pescara in his car. Which would mean he’s on this freeway too, somewhere. Any of these cars overtaking me could be him, or any of the ones that I’m overtaking. Perhaps he’s in this one here…

The car in front of Matteo isn’t going very fast and overtaking it is easy: obviously, the guy driving it isn’t in any particular hurry. After passing the car, Matteo goes back to staring straight ahead of him, scanning the area lit up by his headlights.
MATTEO (voice over): There’s only on thing to do: I mustn’t let Arrigo pass me, whatever car he’s in.’

[several remembrances of past conversations with Arrigo, Yvonne and himself pass]

p. 137
‘MATTEO (voice over): All I need is to be a few minutes ahead of him. If she sees that I’ve rushed over to her, Yvonne will forget the reason for our quarrel, and everything will go back to being the way it was before. And that prick, Arrigo, will know she only called him over because of what had gone on between the two of us, and he’ll feel so out of it he won’t want to hang around. In fact…
Matteo’s expression suddenly changes as he gets a new idea.
MATTEO (voice over): In fact, at this very moment, Yvonne might be regretting what she said to me, she might be trying to call me back… or maybe she had the same idea as me and thought the best thing to do would be to come in person, and she got behind the wheel and right now is headed in the opposite direction.’

[He gets obsessed with the opposite idea now, of Yvonne driving in one of these cars coming towards his. More memories of his life with Yvonne pass, a near accident occurs involving his car]

p. 159
‘Matteo, in his car on the freeway. He rubs his hands over his brow as if he were tired. Tired of thinking, remembering, imagining.
MATTEO (voice over): That’s how it would end. That’s why I feel such a need to travel, to become one with this car, to transform the things that I need to say into a beam of light, a shaft of brilliance from these headlights traveling at 90 miles-per-hour – much better than talking to her, especially on the phone.’

p. 165
‘In his car, Matteo shakes these thought away and gets into the exit lane to a real gas station. Matteo goes into the bar and buys some tokens for the telephone. He dials the area code for Pescara, and then a number. Nobody answers. Matteo seems satisfied. He re-dials just to make sure and there’s still no answer.’

Matteo hurriedly leaves the bar, gets into the car, and gets back on the freeway, but he exits at the first opportunity. In front of him, at a fork in the road, there’s a signpost with the name of the town. Matteo takes the opposite direction, back onto the freeway, but in the other direction, back towards Rome.’

[he witnesses an accident in which a young couple is instantly killed]

p. 172
‘The landscape around is also more recognisable, at least the outlines of boulders and other rigid shapes. The car radio is playing Bach’s Prelude No. 8 as Matteo drives calmly along. …
His face is tired but serene, although if you looked closely you could probably see the traces of fright. He’s re-entered the normal world where cars are just cars and the beams of the headlights are just beams of light, merging into the light of the dawn, and not cryptic signs of love, messages to be decoded only by those who are capable of receiving them and understanding them.’