Oscar-nominated helmer a 'pillar' of Italian cinema

 'Blowup' director praised by industry

Director Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the founders of modern Italian cinema and an Oscar nominee for 1966's "Blowup," died this past week at his home here. He was 94 (HR 8/1).

Director Marco Bellocchio called Antonioni "a pillar" of Italian cinema, and Rome mayor and film buff Walter Veltroni said that "with Antonioni dies not only one of the greatest directors but also a master of modernity."

In 1995, Jack Nicholson, who starred in Antonioni's "The Passenger," presented him with an honorary Oscar.

Antonioni was not prolific, producing just two dozen features in a career that spanned more than six decades, but his influence on Italian cinema is enormous.

Rather than identifying society's flaws by focusing on outcasts and the working class as the neorealists did, Antonioni instead focused on the country's elite in films known for their spare plots, limited dialogue and long takes.

Antonioni's breakthrough came in 1960 with "L'Avventura" (The Adventure). Though the film was booed when it screened at the Festival de Cannes, it went on to win the Jury Prize.

"Blowup," the director's first English-language film, earned him Oscar nominations for best director and best original screenplay, and its frank sexuality proved something of a sensation.

In poor health since a 1985 stroke left him unable to speak, Antonioni continued working, directing a segment of the 2004 film "Eros," which also featured segments from Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar Wai.