Red Desert

Antonioni's first colour film is a visual treat. Industrial structures are composed into symphonies towering above Monica Vitti – the protagonist and stand-in for the alienation created by modernity. The film opens on out-of-focus shots of what looks like an energy plant, queasy drones on the soundtrack. The mood is unnatural, inauthentic. Our machines have separated us from the real world. A female voice slowly fades in amongst the electronics – the angelic battling it out with the mechanical. At the end of the film, Monica Vitti tells a bedtime story to her son about a young girl living a carefree life on an island. One day a ship appears and she swims towards it, but it floats away. The girl then starts to hear a beautiful female voice among the rocks, but she cannot find the singer. The parable feels like a microcosm of the film's world, in which people are both attracted to and repulsed by factories and globalisation, and are constantly disappointed in their search for the divine.

Antonioni apparently didn't have precisely this intention, wanting to convey the "poetry" of the industrial landscape. In that he succeeds brilliantly – the images are sumptuous. But the familiar themes of the breakdown of communication between people and the damage caused by "ways of life that are by now out-of-date", remain. The dialogue is characteristically elliptical and frustrating – barely rising out of nonsense some of the time. But that is to the film's purpose, and so forgivable. Monica Vitti herself has to do more work here than in The Adventure and The Night (the other two Antonioni films I've seen), and she acquits herself as well as someone can doing the crazy stuff Antonioni wants. Even the obviously overdubbed dialogue works to establish a sense of unreality to the proceedings (although this is a typical feature of Italian movies of the period).

Vitti's impact in The Night is greater, and that film's shape and coherence is more admirable than the meandering here. But the images Antonioni has crafted in Red Desert is something new and thrilling in cinema, and the film deserves to be seen for that reason alone.


Gone Girl

I went into the film with the twist slightly ruined for me by an FT feature about the gender issues it has stirred up. Fincher's latest effort (and in fact, most of his work) probably doesn't deserve the amount of analysis applied to it, since neither Amy nor Nick's characters can sustain a prolonged investigation into what makes them tick. But let's give it a go:

"Amazing Amy" has (due to her unique childhood) picked up the ability to identify and manipulate the various socially-prescribed roles foisted onto women. She is a femme fatale in the vein of Sin City's Ava – only in Gone Girl she is allowed to get away with it.

Why does she stay with Nick? Self-interest certainly plays a part, but there's also her delight in watching Nick learn his own role of adorable doofus. She has converted him to be her playmate in their sterile sham of a marriage – she can now manipulate him forever, his insides twisting pleasingly as he performs her every wish. Why write stories as wish-fulfillment (like Amy's mother did) when you can write reality itself?

The film ends on a slightly different note – generalising Amy and Nick's relationship into a comment on the institution of marriage as a whole. It does so by underlining the impossibility of ever really knowing what your partner is thinking, and how much of what you observe of them is role-play and bad faith. Fincher twists every sinew trying to extract as much horror from Rosamund Pike's final blank expression as he can. Whether it works depends on how much belief you can suspend in the film's ramshackle plot, which has Amy reacting to as much as shaping events, and which gives very weak motives for Nick staying with her and playing along.


Fashion Beast

Although marketed as a "lost masterpiece", Fashion Beast feels like a minor work in Alan Moore's career – a comic book adaptation of a film script he wrote for Malcolm McLaren in the 1980s. In comparison to the near-contemporary Watchmen, this is relatively slight. Moore admits in the introduction that the world of fashion is largely foreign to him, and his attempts to analyze it have the feel of an outsider looking in. Moore's lecture is summarised thus: the manipulation of our image is an assertion of power over others – an impulse encoded by evolution and that has helped us survive. But for the shadowy Tarot-reading fashion designer Celestine, these images hold out the possibility of transcending our natures, and he fantasizes about a world where humanity is erased and only clothes remain. There are shades both of Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan in this rant.

Moore prefers to side with the people. The young Jonni is in line to inherit Celestine's throne and finds inspiration in the immanent – sex and the streets. But even then, Moore adds a jarring note – Doll quips that the working class Jonni worships are sexist, racist and homophobic, and she cannot be blamed for trying to run away from her origins. That exchange encapsulates Moore at is best: exploring how the messiness of life undercuts grand visions. He is on shakier ground in contrasting Jonni's base inspirations to the conflict powering Celestine's creativity – an overbearing mother who taught him to despise his own appearance and sublimate sexual desire. Compared to the subtleties of Rorschach or the Comedian, this is relatively blunt characterisation.

The book is lovingly put together by Antony Johnson and Facundo Percio, who keep quite a bit of the cinematic camera zooms that Moore used in Watchmen, as well as a few visual/verbal segues that bridge his scene transitions. The characters in particular are extraordinarily well-rendered. McLaren apparently demanded the couple be a girl who looks like a boy and a boy who looks like a girl – and it's astonishing how well this is pulled off on the page. Likewise the two Madams that guard Celestine have these wonderfully pinched wrinkled faces, and seem to float in their ornate baroque costumes. Although the story's origins as a screenplay are not entirely erased, Johnson and Percio both deserve a good deal of credit for how well it works as a comic.