For reasons that are not at all clear, there has been a distinct revival in the film “Zabriskie Point” in recent years. Directed by Italian Michelangelo Antonioni – his only US film – this film was widely regarded as a major commercial and critical failure upon its theatrical release in February 1970. This was the man who made the haunting “Blowup” (1966). After spending some $7 million (US) on the production, filming in the California and Arizona desert, the film only returned some $1 million in its theatrical box office. My $2.50 was part of that $1 million, and the film has haunted me to this day.
Not because the film is great; I never thought it was. But because the film captures a certain sense, a resonance of that period, that time of student protests (think Kent State University) and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. The plot: “Mark” (Mark Frechette) is arrested after a student demonstration and later goes “on the run”, stealing a small plane and flying to the desert. He meets up with “Daria” (Daria Halprin, daughter of the San Francisco landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and the dancer Anna Halprin), “a sweet, pot-smoking post-teenybopper of decent inclinations” who is driving through the desert.
It’s a convoluted plot, fantastical in many places, and ends with one of the more memorable screen images, the blowing up (real or imagined) of a lonely wealthy desert house in the Arizona desert. Symbolic? Deeply. A commentary of American materialism? Definitely. And what else? Who knows.
“Zabriskie Point” made a big impact on me; it was that time of life when you’re young and things make a difference. So then, so seven years later, I was thrilled to do an environmental planning workshop at Sea Ranch, on the northern Sonoma Coast of California, led by Lawrence Halprin along with Daria Halprin. My first real “movie star” contact (in retrospect, not true: see my reflections on Meryl Streep), a magical ten days of 1970s San Francisco-style creativity.
Want to know more? Quinn Martin’s May 2010 blog post tells you everything you ever wanted to know about “Zabriskie Point”, including the eventual life outcomes of its stars: Daria and Mark lived together for a time in a “hippie commune”, and Daria now runs a dance workshop in San Francisco. Mark was killed in jail in 1975 after robbing a bank. Life turns in very strange ways.
Other resources: The Rolling Stone 1985 article entitled “Where Are They Now: Daria Halprin” by Ira Robbins, and Emma Hope Allwood’s “Three Things You Didn’t Know About Zabriskie Point” (2015).
(image below: a still from the final scene of the movie)