A remote and barren blister of land on the American desert.
As isolated as the face of the moon.
Where a boy and a girl meet….and touch….and blow their minds!”
Heavy….isn’t it? Those were the powerful words which advertised “Zabriskie Point,” famed film maker Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinematic critique of America. Released in 1970 under a mushroom cloud of protest, controversy and fascination, “Zabriskie Point” was the story of a college drop out named Mark who walks into a student protest, allegedly shoots a cop, steals an airplane and flies out to the desert where he meets an anthropology student/temp secretary named Daria. Mark and Daria go to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, run around the desert having pointless dialogue, fuck, and then Mark decides to return the plane with disastrous results, and Daria blows stuff up with her mind to Pink Floyd music. That’s it. MGM was hoping that “Zabriskie Point” would be a box office smash and an instant counter culture masterpiece. They were wrong. “Zabriskie Point” was a bomb. Critics hated it. Audiences hated it. Even the film’s stars hated it. But despite all of this, the film produced one hell of a cool soundtrack which was way more interesting, and in the long run, culturally relevant than the movie that spawned it.
A Cannes film festival big shot, and sweetheart of European art cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni was considered a legend in his own time with films such as “Le Amiche,” “L’advventura” and “L’eclisse.” In 1966 Antonioni went to England and submerged himself in Mod culture, creating the film “Blowup” which became a virtual time causal of swinging London fashion, art and music. So, with “Blowup” still fresh in his mind, Antonioni decided it was time to conquer America , and he flew to the US to emerge himself into American culture. What did he find when he got here? Billboards, protests, an angry youth culture, a generation gap and rock n’ roll. Now, I can write forever about the history of this film, which is much more interesting than the film itself (it’d make a great movie), but I’ve written that before so instead I’d just like to write a few notes about the original soundtrack album.
Antonioni was highly aware about the importance that music was making on America during the 1960’s, so he sought out some of the most interesting bands he could get access to to create the soundscape for his dystopian vision of modern American culture. Heading to Los Angeles, he met in person with The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, The Youngbloods and, most importantly, Pink Floyd, who did the memorable opening and closing theme for the film. It seems that Antonioni missed the memo that Pink Floyd was actually a British band, but perhaps that was beyond the point. The trailer for the film, and the track most associated with it, became Pink Floyd’s epic “Come In Number 51, Your Time is Up.” I love Pink Floyd, and I can honestly say that this song is my defacto favorite thing they ever produced. Its fantastic.
But the entire album is strong. Just like America itself, it’s a mish mash of sounds, ranging from rootsy, almost Nashville sounding tracks by the Grateful Dead, to psychedelic tracks by Kaleidoscope. They even fit in Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz’ to represent the establishment.
One band who sadly didn’t make the soundtrack, but were supposed to be on it, were The Doors. Antonioni met with the band and commissioned them to write a song for the film. But despite paying them, he never followed up with them nor came back for the track. The song was “L’America” which ended up on their “LA Woman” LP. A great number written with lyrics by Jim Morrison, it would have fit perfectly into the feel of the “Zabriskie Point” soundtrack.
One of the most alluring aspects of the soundtrack album is, without a doubt, the good looking couple on the album cover. Even record collectors who never saw the movie will instantly recognize them from this photo. They were the film’s stars Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette, who were two unknowns who hadn’t acted before, who Antonioni figured were the representation of American youth. Daria was beautiful and lost and came from the San Francisco flower children movement, while Mark was angry and explosive and lived in the streets of Boston. Well, the pair hooked up during the filming of the movie and went back to Boston, where Mark was a part of a cult led by folk musician Mel Lyman, who they turned over all the money they made from “Zabriskie Point” too. Daria quickly escaped the cult, and went back to San Francisco where she took up holistic therapy through interpretive dance (her company, The Tampala Institute, is still in operation) and was briefly married to Dennis Hopper. Mark, on the other hand, was part of some poorly executed fake bank robbery which was staged to protest Watergate and went to prison, where he died in a mysterious gym accident (he was choked by a barbell). Foul play was expected but never proven.
“Zabriskie Point” was one of MGM’s biggest financial flops, and Antonioni, embittered by the experience, never worked in America again. But the soundtrack is very cool. You can watch the movie if you want to (you’ve been warned) but you should definitely check out the album – especially if you dig Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. It’s some really interesting stuff. It might blow….your….mind.
For a more comprehensive look at the history of “Zabriskie Point” and the lives of Daria Halrpin and Mark Frachette, read “Return to Zabriskie Point: The Mark Frachette and Daria Halprin Story” at samtweedle.com.