by Michelangelo Antonioni
Cahiers du Cinema, October 1960
Cannes, May 12, 1996
I am not a theoretician of the cinema. If you ask me what directing is, the first answer that comes into my head is: I don't know. The second: All my opinions on the subject are in my films. Among other things, I am an opponent of any separation of the various phases of the work. Such separation has an exclusively practical value. It is valuable for all those who participate in the work - except for the director, if he happens to be both author and director at once. To speak of directing as one of the phases in this work is to engage in a theoretical discussion which seems to me opposed to that unity of the whole to which every artist is committed during his work. Isn't it during the shooting that the final version of the scenario is arrived at? And, during the shooting, isn't everything automatically brought into question - from the theme to the dialogue itself, the real merit of which is never revealed until it is heard in the mouths of the actors?
Of course the moment always comes when, having collected one's ideas, certain images, an intuition of a certain kind of development - whether psychological or material - one must pass on to the actual realization. In the cinema, as in the other arts, this is the most delicate moment - the moment when the poet or writer makes his first mark on the page, the painter on his canvas, when the director arranges his characters in their setting, makes them speak and move, establishes, through the compositions of his various images, a reciprocal relationship between persons and things, between rhythm of the dialogue and that of the whole sequence, makes the movement of the camera fit in with the psychological situation. But the most crucial moment of all comes when the director gathers from all the people and from everything around him every possible suggestion, in order that his work may acquire a more spontaneous cast, may become more personal and, we might even say - in the broadest sense - more autobiographical. Each stage in the creation of a film is of equal importance. It is not true that it is possible to establish a clear distinction between them. They all enter into the final synthesis. Thus it may happen that, during the working-out of the theme, a particular kind of shot might be decided upon - a traveling shot, for example; during the shooting, a character or a situation might be changed; or during the dubbing, one or more speeches might even be altered. For me, from the moment when the first, still unformed, idea comes into my head until the projection of the rushes, the process of making a film constitutes a single piece of work. I mean that I cannot become interested in anything, day or night, which is not that film. Let no one imagine that this is a romantic pose - on the contrary. I become relatively more lucid, more attentive, and almost feel as if I were intelligent and more ready to understand. No one can fail to see that the shooting script has become less detailed than it was formerly, less detailed even than it was a few years ago. The technical directions have almost entirely disappeared, along with the right-hand column, the dialogue. In my own scripts, I have got to the point of leaving out the numbers by which we used to indicate each scene. (The script girl is the only person who uses them, because they facilitate her work.) And this, because it seems to me more logical to divide the scenes at the same time as you shoot them. Here we already have a way of improvising.
But there are others. I rarely feel the desire to reread a scene the day before the shooting. Sometimes I arrive at the place where the work is to be done and I do not even know what I am going to shoot. This is the system I prefer: to arrive at the moment when shooting is about to begin, absolutely unprepared, virgin. I often ask to be left alone on the spot for fifteen minutes or half an hour and I let me thoughts wander freely. I keep myself from doing anything but looking. I am helped by the things that surround me; things, perhaps even more than with people, though it is the latter that interests me more. In any case, I find that it is very useful to look over the location and to feel out the atmosphere while waiting for the actors. It may happen that the images before my eyes coincide with those I had in my mind, but this is not frequently the case. It more often happens that there is something insincere or artificial about the image one has thought of. Here again is another way of improvising. But this is not at all. It also sometimes happens that in trying out a scene I abruptly change my mid. Or that I change it gradually, as the camera crews sets up the lights and as I watch the actors move and speak under the arcs. In my opinion, it is only then that one can make a proper judgment of a scene and correct it.
I attribute enormous importance to the sound track, and I always try to take the greatest care with it. And when I say the sound track, I am talking about the natural sounds, the background noises rather than the music. For L'Avventura, I had an enormous number of sound effects recorded: every possible quality of the sea, more and less stormy, the breakers, the rumble of the waves in the grottoes. I had a hundred reels of tape filled with nothing but sound effects. Then I selected those that you hear on the film's sound track. For me, this is the true music, the music that can be adapted to images. Conventional music only rarely melts into the image; more often it does nothing but put the spectator to sleep, and it prevents him from appreciating what he is seeing. After long consideration, I am relatively opposed to "musical commentary," at least in its present form. I detect something old and rancid in it. The ideal solution would be to create a sound track out of noises and to call on an orchestra leader to conduct it. But then, wouldn't the only orchestra leader capable of doing that be the director himself?
The principle behind the cinema, like that behind all the arts, rests on a choice. It is, in Camus' words, "the revolt of the artist against the real." If one holds to this principle, what difference can it make by what means reality is revealed? Whether the author of a film seizes on the real in a novel, in a newspaper story or in his own imagination, what counts is the way he isolates it, stylizes it, makes it his own. The plot of Crime and Punishment, apart from the form given it by Dostoyevsky, is a perfectly ordinary plot. One could make a very beautiful or a very ugly film out of it. This is why I have nearly always written original stories for my films. Once it happened that I fell in love at first sight with a novella by Pavese. While working on it I realized that I liked it for quite different reasons from those which had made me think of it for the film. And the pages that had interested me most were those that lent themselves least to film adaptation. Then again, it is very difficult to get one's bearings in someone else's story that one has clearly in mind. So, in the long run, I find it much simpler to invent the story out of a whole cloth. A director is a man, therefore he has ideas; he is also an artist, therefore he has imagination. Whether they are good or bad, it seems to me that I have an abundance of stories to tell. And the things I see, the things that happen to me, continually renew the supply.