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Zabriskie Point was the first feature film to be shot in the U.S. by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. It was announced as an upcoming picture on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production slate in the 4 Oct 1967 Var, which noted Antonioni had originally planned to shoot in New York City but had recently changed the setting to Death Valley, CA. The project followed the Italian filmmaker’s 1966 commercial success, Blow-Up (see entry), also made for MGM at a budget of $1.2 million. The 8 Oct 1967 NYT cited Blow-Up’s cumulative box-office gross of $6.5 million, to date, as the reason that MGM was “unconcerned” about the budget for Zabriskie Point, which had not yet been disclosed.
       Antonioni spent roughly one year traveling across the U.S. in preparation for the film, described in the 8 Oct 1967 NYT as a “dramatic commentary on the American scene.” An item in the 15 Dec 1968 NYT stated that a newspaper article Antonioni had read in Phoenix, AZ, had inspired the story. The article reportedly concerned a hippie who had taken a small airplane, painted it with flowers, and love and peace symbols, and flown it. Using the story as a starting point, Antonioni met with political activists, including the Black Panthers, and continued his travels. He eventually met executive producer Harrison Starr, who had been working on a similar script, and the two made an agreement to make the film with producer Carlo Ponti and MGM. Soon after, playwright Sam Shepard was consigned to work on Antonioni’s screenplay, but his draft was found to be “out ... More Less

Zabriskie Point was the first feature film to be shot in the U.S. by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. It was announced as an upcoming picture on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production slate in the 4 Oct 1967 Var, which noted Antonioni had originally planned to shoot in New York City but had recently changed the setting to Death Valley, CA. The project followed the Italian filmmaker’s 1966 commercial success, Blow-Up (see entry), also made for MGM at a budget of $1.2 million. The 8 Oct 1967 NYT cited Blow-Up’s cumulative box-office gross of $6.5 million, to date, as the reason that MGM was “unconcerned” about the budget for Zabriskie Point, which had not yet been disclosed.
       Antonioni spent roughly one year traveling across the U.S. in preparation for the film, described in the 8 Oct 1967 NYT as a “dramatic commentary on the American scene.” An item in the 15 Dec 1968 NYT stated that a newspaper article Antonioni had read in Phoenix, AZ, had inspired the story. The article reportedly concerned a hippie who had taken a small airplane, painted it with flowers, and love and peace symbols, and flown it. Using the story as a starting point, Antonioni met with political activists, including the Black Panthers, and continued his travels. He eventually met executive producer Harrison Starr, who had been working on a similar script, and the two made an agreement to make the film with producer Carlo Ponti and MGM. Soon after, playwright Sam Shepard was consigned to work on Antonioni’s screenplay, but his draft was found to be “out of touch with the milieu of the militant left.” Political activist Fred Gardner was brought on as a co-writer, to polish the dialogue and make minor scene changes. The title, Zabriskie Point, refers to an eroded area in Death Valley named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, an early executive of the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The 15 Dec 1968 NYT stated that when Antonioni first discovered Zabriskie Point, he said, “I want to see 20,000 hippies out there making love, as far as you can see.”
       Location scouting was underway as of late Apr 1968, according to the 1 May 1968 Var. Sites were chosen in Death Valley and outside Phoenix, AZ, and plans were also in place to shoot in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland, CA. Filming was expected to be done entirely on location, while post-production was slated to take place on the MGM studio lot in Culver City, CA. Auditions were set to begin the first week of May 1968. Antonioni wanted to cast “unknowns of limited professional experience.” In an interview published in the 11 May 1969 LAT, Daria Halprin claimed to have unexpectedly received a call from filmmakers while she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Antonioni had seen a film made by the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop (founded by Halprin’s mother, Anna Halprin) in which the young woman briefly appeared. Although Halprin had no aspirations to act, she agreed to come to Los Angeles after her final exams were finished. Halprin screen tested with actor Robert F. Lyons, according to the 14 Jun 1968 DV, and later with Mark Frechette, a carpenter who had been discovered at a bus stop in Cambridge, MA. Frechette recalled in the 11 May 1969 LAT that he had been yelling at a stranger when “someone from MGM was going by.” The man asked him his age and brought him to a parked car to meet production assistant Sally Dennison. Before Frechette was officially cast, an estimated 1,400 young men were interviewed for the role. The film marked both Frechette and Halprin’s motion picture acting debuts.
       Principal photography began on 9 Sep 1968, according to a production chart in the 4 Oct 1968 DV. The first scene was shot in a liquor store on Prairie Avenue in Hawthorne, CA, the 26 Jan 1969 LAT reported. Filming moved to Death Valley as of early Nov 1968. There, headquarters were established at Furnace Creek Lodge. In the 6 Nov 1968 NYT, Harrison Starr commented on Antonioni’s “Italian” approach to filmmaking, stating, “There are no camera directions in the script. It’s hardly more than a dialogue treatment…He fights very hard to remain totally uncompromised by the mechanics of filmmaking.” Antonioni was still contemplating the ending, and whether or not to have a plot at all, halfway through the shoot, as stated in the 11 May 1969 LAT.
       The filming of a desert “love-in” was scheduled to take place in Death Valley in mid-Nov 1968. Some 400 teenagers were set to be bused in from Salt Lake City, UT, and the members of the Open Theatre of Joe Chaikin were also cast in the scene. Months later, the 28 May 1969 LAT reported that “an undisclosed number of persons connected” with the film had been subpoenaed as part of a Justice Department investigation of possible violations of the Mann Act, “a federal statute prohibiting the transport of persons across state lines for immoral purposes.” The violations in question pertained to the desert orgy scene, as indicated in the 23 Jun 1969 LAT. While under oath, Sally Dennison attested to the fact that a number of college students had been hired in Nevada, then taken to Death Valley for shooting. However, she said that of the estimated 200 who were in the scene, all of them were clothed and many of them were covered in sand. Charges were dropped after a California Grand Jury screened the picture. In a 22 Feb 1970 NYT article, Antonioni was quoted as saying that the investigation had not effected him as he had been out of the country at the time, but he had been offended to hear one young woman’s claims that he had asked her to perform oral sex onscreen. Antonioni also expressed outrage at a false newspaper report that had been written by an Oakland sheriff, alleging that he had provoked a college strike for filming purposes.
       Although the 6 Nov 1968 NYT stated that Antonioni had brought in five tons of “dry color,” which he had previously used to paint buildings, trees, and grass in Blow-Up, he had changed his mind about painting anything in Death Valley since the park rangers would probably disapprove and he was satisfied with the natural colors of the landscape, anyway. For the scene in which a lavish desert home explodes, a house was rented for interior and exterior shooting. A replica of that house was then built nearby, and used for the explosion sequence, captured by seventeen cameras. Antonioni recalled that the owner of the original home was able to view the destruction of the dummy home from his terrace.
       Weeks into the shoot, Beverly Walker was brought on as unit publicist, after the firing of Lars McSorley and at least one other publicist with whom Antonioni had clashed. The 6 Nov 1968 Var noted that very few, if any, reporters had been allowed on set. The same day, NYT published an article that revealed for the first time the identity of Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette, and reported on the film from Death Valley.
       Assistant director Robert J. Rubin was injured near Olancha, CA, on 11 Nov 1968, during the filming of a scene in which a small airplane was supposed to “buzz” a car. The 20 Nov 1968 Var reported that the “nose wheel of the plane crashed into the windshield” and Rubin, who was sitting inside the car with Halprin, was struck head-on. Rubin was treated at Southern Inyo Hospital, then flown to Los Angeles for eye surgery, although it was determined there that his eye would not need to be removed as doctors had first thought. On 3 Dec 1968, DV announced that Rubin had resumed his duties on set in Arizona, where production had moved to the city of Scottsdale, according to the 4 Dec 1968 DV.
       Sometime in late winter or spring 1969, shooting took place in Berkeley, CA, where Halprin had returned to her studies since she was no longer needed for filming. Locations there included the Berkeley Free Church, as noted in the 11 May 1969 LAT. Principal photography concluded, possibly in Berkeley, on 23 Apr 1969.
       The final cost of the picture was cited as $7 million in the 20 May 1970 Var. An initial budget of $3 million had previously been announced in the 6 Nov 1968 NYT, while the 2 Dec 1969 LAT had later reported production costs of $6 million.
       The film was originally scheduled to open in Dec 1968, but the 26 Nov 1969 Var reported that Antonioni needed more time to edit, and the release would take place in Feb 1969 at the earliest. According to the 2 Dec 1969 LAT, Antonioni was originally made to “cut everything daring” so that MGM could avoid an “X” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The result was said to be a bland, insipid picture with a running time of barely over one hour, and MGM decided to write off the project. However, when James T. Aubrey replaced Kirk Kerkorian as the president of MGM, he instructed Antonioni to re-edit the film as he had originally conceived it. Scenes that had been cut, including violent rioting sequences and the desert love-in, were reinstated, and Aubrey claimed he was pleased with the final result, stating, “It’s an X movie, X in content, language and everything, but it may be the most exciting film about the contemporary scene that’s ever been made.” Zabriskie Point was ultimately rated “R” by the MPAA, prompting an 11 Feb 1970 Var piece titled “‘Zabriskie’s’ R Poses Questions.” MGM executives were reportedly baffled that the explicit language, frontal nudity, and a fellatio scene did not earn the film an X. It was speculated that, after the release of Midnight Cowboy (1969, see entry) and some other artistic films that had been rated X, the MPAA was instituting an unofficial policy of “leniency when it comes to films with legit artistic pretensions.”
       According to an item in the 29 Jan 1970 LAT, the original ending showed an airplane “trailing a sky-written obscenity.” The content of the scene was said to closely resemble the ending of The Grasshopper (1970, see entry), also soon to be released. The 21 Jan 1970 Var indicated that the skywriting in Zabriskie Point involved an “obscenity about what America can do with itself.”
       In a 16 Dec 1969 DV item, John Fahey was said to be on his way to Rome, Italy, to compose the score, although he did not receive a composer credit onscreen. The film’s soundtrack, released by MGM, included a song by Fahey, in addition to numerous other popular songs selected by Antonioni, by such artists as The Rolling Stones, the Youngbloods, Patti Page, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Kaleidoscope, Music Electronic Viva, and Roscoe Holcomb, the 4 Feb 1970 Var stated.
       Zabriskie Point opened at New York City’s Coronet Theater on 9 Feb 1970. Immediately after leaving the New York City premiere and flying to London, England, Antonioni was arrested for marijuana possession and forced to spend a night in a small jail cell, according to the 11 Feb 1970 LAT. Antonioni claimed to have purchased the marijuana in Los Angeles solely out of pity for the hungry man who had sold it to him, and stated that he had no plans to use it.
       The 22 Feb 1970 NYT described critical reaction to the film as “not so much negative as just plain catastrophic – a blistering blend of shock, disillusionment and old-fashioned outraged patriotism.” However, while the picture met with backlash in the U.S., it was later praised by Italian critics, and won one of three Grollo D’oro, or Golden Trophy, prizes at a ceremony held in Rome, as announced in the 29 Jul 1970 Var. The Golden Trophy went to Antonioni, who was lauded as “an artist who has advanced with rare constancy his poetic comment and vision of the world.” Commercially, the film was a disappointment. A 12 May 1971 Var box-office chart listed its cumulative gross as $1,072,518, to that time. In the 22 Apr 1970 LAT, MGM chief Aubrey named Zabriskie Point as one of four films that had contributed to the studio’s operating loss of $1.59 million for the first half of the 1970 fiscal year. Aubrey blamed costly budgets that had been approved by his predecessors and contended that, moving forward, MGM would no longer make films that cost more than $2 million. Also as a result of the film’s failure, MGM severed the three-picture deal it had made with Antonioni and Carlo Ponti, of which Zabriskie Point had been the first, as stated in the 9 Feb 1971 DV.
       On 1 Apr 1970, Var reported that prints would be altered to include Roy Orbison’s recent single, “So Young,” set to play over the final credits. The song was said to be based on the theme of Zabriskie Point.
       After the shoot, Mark Frechette left his pregnant wife and child to be with co-star Daria Halprin, as noted in the 10 Apr 1970 LAT. Frechette and Halprin briefly lived together in the Fort Hill Commune led by Mel Lyman in Boston, MA. Halprin left Frechette and later married Dennis Hopper in 1972. The following year, Frechette was caught robbing a bank and sentenced to imprisonment at Norfolk State Prison, where he died in Sep 1975, crushed by a 160-pound weightlifting bar that was determined to have fallen on his throat accidentally, according to the 30 Sep 1975 LAT.
       Norman Grabowski was listed as a cast member in the 9 Oct 1968 DV. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
14 Jun 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1968
p. 10.
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1968
p. 7.
Daily Variety
3 Dec 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
28 May 1969
p. 1, 76.
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
20 Jan 1970
p. 17.
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1970
p. 3, 21.
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1971
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jan 1969
Section N, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
11 May 1969
Section M, p. 22, 24, 27-28.
Los Angeles Times
28 May 1969
Section D, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jun 1969
Section C, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1969
Section G, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jan 1970
Section D, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
11 Feb 1970
Section D, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
15 Feb 1970
Section Q, p. 1, 14-15, 20.
Los Angeles Times
18 Mar 1970
Section F, p. 1, 13.
Los Angeles Times
10 Apr 1970
Section G, p. 1, 8.
Los Angeles Times
22 Apr 1970
Section D, p. 7, 16.
Los Angeles Times
30 Sep 1975
Section F, p. 10.
New York Times
8 Oct 1967
p. 19.
New York Times
6 Nov 1968
p. 33.
New York Times
15 Dec 1968
Section D, p. 23.
New York Times
9 Feb 1970
p. 48.
New York Times
10 Feb 1970
p. 47.
New York Times
15 Feb 1970
p. 1, 21.
New York Times
22 Feb 1970
Section D, p. 15, 17.
New York Times
22 Feb 1970
p. 1, 16.
Variety
4 Oct 1967
p. 4.
Variety
15 Nov 1967
p. 4.
Variety
1 May 1968
p. 1, 78.
Variety
6 Nov 1968
p. 13.
Variety
13 Nov 1968
p. 25.
Variety
20 Nov 1968
p. 4.
Variety
26 Nov 1969
p. 4.
Variety
21 Jan 1970
p. 5.
Variety
4 Feb 1970
p. 52.
Variety
11 Feb 1970
p. 6.
Variety
11 Feb 1970
p. 29.
Variety
11 Mar 1970
p. 31.
Variety
1 Apr 1970
p. 75.
Variety
8 Apr 1970
p. 13.
Variety
6 May 1970
p. 11.
Variety
20 May 1970
p. 4, 24.
Variety
29 Jul 1970
p. 17.
Variety
12 May 1971
p. 182.
Vogue
1 Aug 1968
p. 100.
Vogue
15 Mar 1970
p. 96, 131, 134.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Carlo Ponti Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Collab on ed
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
COSTUMES
Cost des
SOUND
Rec supv
Electronic eff
Sd mix
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Prod asst
Asst to the dir
Mus adv
SOURCES
SONGS
"Brother Mary" and "Dark Star," words and music by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia
"Mickey's Tune," words and music by David Lindley
"Love Scene," words and music by Jerry Garcia
+
SONGS
"Brother Mary" and "Dark Star," words and music by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia
"Mickey's Tune," words and music by David Lindley
"Love Scene," words and music by Jerry Garcia
"You've Got the Silver," words and music by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
"Sugar Babe," words and music by Jesse Colin Young
"Dance of Death," words and music by John Fahey
"Tennessee Waltz," words and music by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart
"I Wish I Were a Single Girl Again," composer undetermined.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 February 1970
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 9 February 1970 at the Coronet Theater
Los Angeles opening: 18 March 1970 at the Crest Theatre
Production Date:
9 September 1968--23 April 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
18 March 1970
Copyright Number:
LP38062
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
21911
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Mark, a student at a Los Angeles, California, university, attends a meeting of radicals but leaves when he decides that they plan to take no action against political repression. He buys a revolver and goes to the campus where police are attempting to oust students from an occupied building, but he misses the chance to shoot a policeman when another bullet strikes the man first. Fleeing from the scene, Mark steals a small airplane from a private airport and flies east. From his plane, he sees a young woman, Daria, driving across the desert toward Phoenix, Arizona. Mark flies over her car until she becomes amused by his attention and stops to wait for him to land. Leaving the plane behind, the two drive in her car until they reach Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, where Daria smokes marijuana, and they make love in the sand dunes. Later, at a roadside comfort station, Daria is questioned by a highway patrolman. Unnoticed, Mark draws his gun, but Daria stands in front of the policeman. After the policeman leaves, Mark realizes that he must leave Daria and return to Los Angeles. He finds the plane and flies back to the airport, where he is killed by the waiting police. Daria drives on toward Phoenix and hears the news of Mark's death on the car radio. She reaches the plush office of her employer, Lee Allen, who is negotiating to build a modern community in the desert. Suddenly repulsed by crass materialism, Daria departs, fantasizing about the destruction of the building and all it ... +


Mark, a student at a Los Angeles, California, university, attends a meeting of radicals but leaves when he decides that they plan to take no action against political repression. He buys a revolver and goes to the campus where police are attempting to oust students from an occupied building, but he misses the chance to shoot a policeman when another bullet strikes the man first. Fleeing from the scene, Mark steals a small airplane from a private airport and flies east. From his plane, he sees a young woman, Daria, driving across the desert toward Phoenix, Arizona. Mark flies over her car until she becomes amused by his attention and stops to wait for him to land. Leaving the plane behind, the two drive in her car until they reach Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, where Daria smokes marijuana, and they make love in the sand dunes. Later, at a roadside comfort station, Daria is questioned by a highway patrolman. Unnoticed, Mark draws his gun, but Daria stands in front of the policeman. After the policeman leaves, Mark realizes that he must leave Daria and return to Los Angeles. He finds the plane and flies back to the airport, where he is killed by the waiting police. Daria drives on toward Phoenix and hears the news of Mark's death on the car radio. She reaches the plush office of her employer, Lee Allen, who is negotiating to build a modern community in the desert. Suddenly repulsed by crass materialism, Daria departs, fantasizing about the destruction of the building and all it represents. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.