Writer in Residence · 12/18/2013

Antonioni

No need to go obscure here. The films of Antonioni are what get me going and have inspired my own work for years. When I think about his films, namely L’Eclisse and La Notte, I have memories of sitting alone in the darkness, reduced to tears in the soft glow grey of a TV screen.

Antonioni’s brilliant lines of piercing dialogue between men and women—tattered relationships filled with flying barbs—are legendary and a blueprint for the relationships that populate the pages of my books. But what about the silences? Antonioni was able to create characters out of looks, silences, and a handful of words. His characters could be full of life and anguish in equal measure. Just think about the long, withering looks Jeanne Moreau casts over to Marcello Mastroianni in La Notte. In the film, Monica Vitti’s youth and vitality are coveted by Mastroianni, the life of his own marriage long dormant. A single night, a seemingly banal party is the setting for a nuanced, final exhalation of a marriage. What grips me most, though, is not the arguments or strife, but the dawn walk Moreau and Mastroianni take through a wide, open field, physically close, but as far apart as two humans can possibly be. Antonioni uses space here magnificently with the large swatch of land they’re marooned on. Moreau’s Lidia has been given less, and taken less, and now, in middle age, has nothing to show for it. The realization is sharpened when Mastrioianni’s Giovanni doesn’t even remember that the love letter she reads to him was written by him. So, alone and sobbing, I knew Antonioni was not afraid to talk about unvarnished life. He gave me courage to try it myself. Why pretend love doesn’t fade or that we aren’t desperate and lost and full of longing? It isn’t all doom, though, because we tried. We tried. We have to try. Antonioni is the king of final scenes, understated and devastating. And I learned that, as artists, we have to leave the reader or viewer with something to haunt them. I come away from his films unable to sleep or eat. I feel like I’ve been in a wreck. I want to make readers feel the same way. Unwell, unmoored. He laid the groundwork for me.

It’s not all about character here. Place and space play a large role, too. I wanted to compose intricate landscapes in my books, make the space work. After all, place is a character and I always start there. Just like Antonioni’s camera, I want a reader’s eye to prowl through the space of the world I have created. In How to Get Into the Twin Palms, Los Angeles is a throbbing city, the long avenues my character Anya drives through must feel alive. I wanted to show a Los Angeles no one had ever seen before or have readers look at it in a different way. Much like Antonioni’s Rome in L’Eclisse. I think about how each frame in_ L’Eclisse_ fit so much of a story in the grey-slab buildings and jagged skylines. The place evokes a feeling. I wanted to learn that trick and find a way to make it work on a page. Look at how someone like Antonioni used space—nearness and distance—wide shots and gasping industrial scenes. It all evoked mood, a world, hope and despair.

The fog in Red Desert is a living, breathing thing. Nature is a character, a force. He uses it all. He made me start thinking about how characters interact with nature and land. I considered how I could show alienation through land, space, and objects. This consideration translated into asking myself how yearly fires and Santa Ana winds could infect the mind of someone who was constantly surrounded by them. In Twin Palms, Anya’s descent is linked to the descent of the land. I wanted to play with the idea that Los Angeles is a city that doesn’t want to exist. The land was trying to break free of the city with earthquakes, fires, and mudslides. This all gives Anya an idea she can’t turn back from. Natural disasters show up in my next book, INVADERS, too. It’s an interesting trick to link nature and space with the mind and to look at the ways one can mirror the other. Psychically damaged women who don’t give you an easy look inside, and instead, force the reader or viewer to piece together the story using the space that surrounds them, are a pleasure to write and to watch. I have to thank Antonioni for this lesson.

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Karolina Waclawiak lived in Los Angeles for ten years, and while there, received her BFA in Screenwriting from USC. She moved to New York in 2008 to pursue an MFA in Fiction at Columbia and completed her first novel, How To Get Into The Twin Palms. She is currently the deputy editor of The Believer and is working on a second novel and several screenplays, including one in development.

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posted by Nicholas Rombes