Jack Nicholson is a journalist in Africa, fed up with his job and his life. When an acquaintance in an adjoining hotel room dies, Nicholson, struck by the other man’s physical resemblance to himself, switches identities, allowing everyone to believe that he is the one dead. But his new self doesn’t turn out quite to be the escape he had hoped for, as the man he has now become turns out to be an arms dealer.
Though that kind of a set-up is pure thriller, in the hands of Michelangelo…Antonioni, the result is, of course, anything but. Instead, Antonioni returns once again to his favourite theme of humans alienated from themselves and their landscape. In his commentary, Jack Nicholson describes Antonioni’s view of actors as “moving space,” and that’s a nice encapsulation of what one experiences here: many long, dialogue-free scenes of people moving through barren yet aesthetically interesting landscapes. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, anyone watching this for the thriller plot (which has such howlers as when Nicholson, knowing he is impersonating a gun runner, is told he is in danger, and asks, genuinely puzzled, “What from?”), will be driven to hang him/herself. But as a mood piece and a meditation, it is very strong. Viewers will either hate it for its pretensions, or groove off things like the virtuoso tracking shot near the end of the film.
The sound is the original mono. It’s clean and rather desolate (which is a compliment). Most importantly, there is no hiss. This means that the plentiful silences in the movie really are silent. A stereo remix is not missed here; it would be completely pointless. The dialogue is clear and distortion-free.
The ad copy claims this is a remastered release. Perhaps. The fact remains that the grain is quite noticeable, especially at the beginning. The colours during the credits are also drab and aged. Post-credits, things get better, though the grain never goes away entirely. The colours do improve, and the image is decently sharp. Flesh tones are solid, as are the contrasts and the blacks.
Along with a re-release theatrical trailer, there are two commentary tracks. The first, by Jack Nicholson, is almost as meditative as the movie, and though he does spend too much time pointing out the obvious, he also has plenty of real insight into how Antonioni works. The other track has screenwriter Mark Peploe talking with friend and journalist Aurora Irvine, and is more about how the film came to be. All of this is good, but a track by an actual film scholar would have been even better. The menu is basic.
An important film, though not an easy one, and even while acknowledging its importance, I find myself divided over what is brilliant and what is just art-wanking. Nonetheless, a release of note.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- Theatrical Trailer