With Michelangelo Antonioni’s death last week, I started thinking again about something that’s been puzzling me off and on for years: is the first half of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (Eclipse) an intentional hommage to Marcel L’Herbier‘s 1928 silent masterpiece L’Argent? The best argument against the idea is that nobody’s ever really argued for it—not to my knowledge, at any rate. But consider the circumstantial clues:
Gods of finance. Stock-exchange business figures prominently in both films, as mounting impressionist frenzy in L’Argent, as controlled, clinical dissection in L’Eclisse. Since life on the trading floor has never been a popular motif in films, its doppelganger appearance in these two, not to mention an equivalent intensity of focus, seems more than coincidental.
Third world exotica. Black colonial Africa’s the locus of European mystery in L’Eclisse, with Monica Vitti and friends cavorting in impromptu tribal mascara and whatnot; in L’Argent it’s the jungles of South America, where the capitalist pilot hero whacks his way through virgin foliage in search of petroleum bonanzas. Wherever Europe isn’t, there be promises of salvation … all of which comes with a laser-eyed deconstructive edge.
Flight patterns. L’Eclisse has its landing strip in Verona, L’Argent the aerodrome in the jungle. What seems daringly avant in 1928 becomes considerably less so by ’61, so the question arises of why Antonioni inserts this aviation diversion in the first place? Not that any linear explanation’s needed—it’s Antonioni after all—but the notion of hommage makes the whole thing seem less arbitrary.
Which is all fine speculation, but where’s the smoking gun of personal connection? Unfortunately, there isn’t one, aside from my vague memory of having read years ago that Antonioni worked as an “assistant” on L’Herbier’s 1942 occupation fantasy La Nuit Fantastique, a phantom reference I haven’t been able to track down since. What we do know, though, is that Antonioni was working on Les Visiteurs du Soir with Marcel Carné in Paris at approximately the same time that Nuit Fantastique was in production there. So supposing some kind of creative affiliation doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Not to mention that at least one L’Herbier enthusiast finds anticipations of L’Avventura in the tracking shots of Nuit …
But hommage or not, what difference does it actually make? L’Eclisse would probably still rank among my all-time top-ten films whichever way you slice it. Which—maybe more surprisingly—goes for L’Herbier’s L’Argent as well!