Return to Zabriskie Point: The Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin Story

Michelangelo Antonioni’s controversial film “Zabriskie Point.” (1970) Accused to be anti-American and revolutionary, the biggest controversy would prove if Zabriskie Point was an unappreciated masterpeice or a peice of junk

Zabriskie Point.

A remote and barren blister of land on the American desert.

As isolated as the face of the moon.

Zabriskie Point.

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 look at 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 a plane 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.  I’m serious.  You don’t believe me and think that there is more to this movie then find a copy and watch it yourself. 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 films stars were quick to condemn it.  Now there was no denying that Zabriskie Point was beautifully filmed and crafted.  I mean, this is Antonioni we’re talking about and it is a visually stunning film.  However, the script, written by Antonioni along with a team of successful writers, was nothing but a pretentious and pointless mess without any plot or direction.  Watching Zabriskie Point is really a marathon of numbness with dialogue that goes no where, characters who pop in and out of scenes and a bigger message which may not be clear to anyone but Antonioni himself…and he took that bigger message to the grave with him.  Anybody claiming that Zabriskie Point is a masterpiece is probably a pretentious phony.  They are the type who stocks their bookshelves full of avant-garde literature, yet has never actually read any of it, in order to impress people who come over and may just happen to look at the shelf.  Yet, everyone who ever saw Zabriskie Point would never forget it, and love it or hate it, the film would stay in the hearts and minds of movie fans forever.

For a fleeting moment Zabriskie Point’s unknown stars, Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin became America’s first couple of the counter couple movement

Yet Zabriskie Point would not have been made possible without the “talents” of the two young unknown actors that Antonioni cast in the leads of his film – Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin in the roles of…well….Mark and Daria.  Where they lacked in talent they made up in good looks and for a millisecond America was fascinated with the pair, especially when they found out that magic did happen in the barren land called Zabriskie Point.  You see, although Mark and Daria had never met before the film, in the desert the two fell in love, and soon became America’s first counter culture couple.  Mark and Daria quickly found themselves featured on the cover of magazines such as Look and Rolling Stone and being featured in round table discussions and interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show.  However critics questioned why a master film maker like Antonioni would cast two unknown kids with no acting experience in a film like Zabriskie Point?  I mean, MGM was dishing out seven million dollars to make this film!  It was a big risk.  Yet what Antonioni saw that perhaps nobody else did was unlike many of the counter culture figures and celebrities that cried for revolution and peace during the late 1960s, Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin were the real deal.  Sure, they may not have been the most talented, and nearly forty years later they may not have become icons of the counter culture movement, but Frechette and Halprin walked the walk and talked the talk.  No other couple ever embodied the true spirit of the counter culture movement more than Mark and Daria.  Not John and Yoko. Not Tom Laughlin and Deloris Taylor.  Not even Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden.  They all had their merits and their messages were carried farther and better remembered.  Yet Mark and Daria were brought from the front lines of the counter culture movement to represent the counter culture movement.  But, like most of the real revolutionists of the time, their names have faded into the obscurer parts of the pop culture journey.

Lets fly that painted airplane and return to Zabriskie Point

That is why I invite you to come along and steal an air plane as we take a flight once again to that big orgy at Zabriskie Point and rediscover the story of Mark and Daria; their humble beginnings, their short time at the top, their revolutionary love affair and two different endings – one which ended in tragedy and another who stayed true to the spirit of the sixties and dedicated a life to spirituality and healing.  Come back to Zabriskie Point.  How we get there depends on where we’re at:

CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS:

 RETURN TO ZABRISKIE POINT: 

THE MARK FRECHETTE AND DARIA HALPRIN STORY

Critically acclaimed director Michelangelo Antonioni had previous successes in Europe with “L’avventura” (1960) and Blowup (1966)

Before we can begin to rediscover the story of Mark and Daria, we have to begin with the man who brought them together, Italian art house director Michelangelo Antonioni.  Without him the world would have never have known Mark and Daria, and they would have never have known each other.  Already famous in Europe for films such as Le Amiche, L’advventura and L’eclisse, Antonioni signed a deal at the end of the 1960’s with MGM studios to make three English speaking films to be released for American audiences.  The first of these films was the British crime thriller Blowup, which took a look at England’s Canterbury fashion subculture and made stars out of David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgraves.  Despite mixed reviews, Blowup was a huge success for Antonioni, and he finally made his mark on English speaking audiences.  Thus, for his second feature Antonioni set his sights on America to try to discover the true nature of the US of A.  Obviously he concluded that the US was made up of auto mobiles, billboards, radicals, police violence and discontented youth, because the result was Zabriskie Point.   Preferring to use unknown actors instead of name stars in the thoughts that he could shape and mold their performance to his needs, Antonioni decided to ignore casting calls and auditions and instead he sent his casting directors out upon the streets of America to find the modern all American girl and boy.  Acting talent was not a prerequisite.  All that was required was that the pair be beautiful, unashamed and revolutionary.

Antonioni discovered Daria Halprin in the doctumentary “Revolution” (1968) and was quoted as saying he was attracted to Daria’s “bratty, free, earth-child quality”

Antonioni discovered Daria Halprin himself while watching Jack O’Connell’s 1968 documentary Revolution about the San Francisco hippie movement in and around Haight-Ashbury, which featured a naked Daria reciting terrible hippie poetry.  Daria’s long dark hair and hard eyes appealed to Antonioni and he sought out the beautiful hippie girl.  In an interview with Look Magazine Antonioni stated that he was drawn to Daria’s “bratty, free, earth-child quality” and that he “made no attempt to change her.”  Born and raised in the San Francisco area, Daria Halprin was the daughter of prominent landscape architect Lawrence “Pops” Halprin and postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin.  Daria was attending Berkley when the call came from Antonioni’s people for Zabriskie Point, which left her with a choice to make.  Either she settle with a degree in anthropology, or follow the dream of potential stardom.  Being a true free spirit, Daria dropped out of school and headed to LA.  It would be there that life would temporarily change for Daria, and that change came in the form of Mark Frechette.  If Daria represented the airy and free spirited movement of Haight-Ashbury, Frechette in many ways represented just the opposite.

Of Mark Frechette Antonioni said “He has the elegance of an aristocrat, though from a poor family. There is something mystical about him.”

The search for Antonioni’s all American boy was far more difficult.  Ads went out in major city newspapers looking for someone that had “angular features … Politically Aware” but nobody suitable auditioned. Antonioni’s casting directors found Mark Frechette on the streets of Boston.  The story goes that Frechette was first spotted by Antonioni’s people at a bus stop screaming “motherfucker” at a woman (although some reports say it was a man) in a third story apartment and flinging a flower pot at her.  The casting directors sent the simple message to Antonioni:  “He’s twenty and he hates.”  This was exactly what Antonioni was looking for.  In Look Magazine Antonioni described Mark Frechette as having “”the elegance of an aristocrat, though from a poor family. There is something mystical about him.”  Born in Fairfield, Connecticut, high school drop out Frechette was basically a penniless drifter when he relocated from New York City to Boston where he was discovered.  In order to support a wife and child, both of whom little is known about, Frechette would take up the odd carpentry job, but spent most of his time begging for money on the streets.  Arrested a number of times due to his violent temper and drugs, it was during his time as an angry and discontented youth on the streets of Beantown that Frechette discovered the underground publication The Avatar which was published by members of the Mel Lyman cult.   His fascination with the writings of Mel Lyman would go on to change the course of his entire life.

Frechette was a follower of Boston based musician/cult leader Mel Lyman

Folk musician Mel Lyman, was a Boston based cult leader who taught his own warped and claustrophobic LSD filled views encouraging Americans to return to the roots that folk music was born from and to reject modern America, and throughout the end of the 1960’s and early 1970’s ran a commune with approximately one hundred members in the Fort Hill area of Roxbury.  At the best of times Mel Lyman claimed to be the “living embodiment of the truth” and “the greatest man in the world.”  At the worst of times he claimed to be “Jesus Christ” and an alien life form sent to Earth in human guise.  Said to be both merciful and cruel, kind and tyrannical, Mel Lyman’s commune appealed to members of the disenchanted anti-establishment of the 1960s, and through the publication The Avator, his group attracted its followers.  It is believed that Mark Frechette first approached Lyman in 1967 but was completely ignored.  However, upon reproaching Lyman after he was cast in Zabriskie Point, Frechette was brought into the commune with open arms.  Mel Lyman was a true opportunist, and believed that Mark Frechette could be the celebrity spokesperson for his message.  Mark’s initial time with Lyman would be short, as he had a movie to make in California, but he promised he would return.  So, in 1968, Mark Frechette, whose wife had taken their child and left him by this point, headed for sunny California to become a counter culture super star….and into the arms of Daria Halprin.

When Mark and Daria first met in Hollywood in the MGM offices, it could be said that it was love at first sight.  In a 1970 Pluto Magazine interview, Mark and Daria described their first impressions of each other.  Mark stated:

Romance quickly developed between Mark and Daria during the filming of “Zabriskie Point”

“The first time I met her, she walks into the MGM office, gorgeous, tan, real long hair, shoulder pads – she must have had shoulder pads…I’d never seen shoulders on a chick like that, she sits down on a chair and rolls her eyes at me…looks over at me and says, ‘I feel like I should rush into your arms and kiss you, but I’m really knocked out from the flight down.’”

However, Daria’s first recollections of Mark were a little less flattering:

“He’s sitting there in his big arm chair, looking like a zombie, not saying a word to anyone, real white and pasty, and he’s got these huge Benjamin Franklin glasses on. You know what he looks like when he hasn’t had a hair cut? He had about five pounds of hair all combed over to one side, looks like he’s going to collapse on the floor from all that weight … it kinda drags him over to one side like the leaning tower of Pisa. And remember the only reason (Mark) got that role was ’cause (he was) the only guy around who had shoulders as big as mine!”

Daria Halprin blows stuff up with her mind while listening to Pink Floyd in the powerful, yet abstract, conclusion to “Zabriskie Point”

Yet history would prove that this mismatched pair would grow close as filming began on Zabriskie Point.  But, making the film would not be an easy task.  Even before filming began the public were out to damn Zabriskie Point.  When word came out that Antonioni’s screenplay was highly anti-American the FBI began to trail and investigate the cast and crew of the film.  Upon showing up to film a real life protest in Oakland, California for stock footage, the sheriff accused Antonioni of provoking the protestors in order to get the footage he required, while the group of militant anti-establishment protestors involved stated that they felt that they were being “sold out”  When word got out that there was to be a flag burning scene, a mob of right-wing protestors besieged filming locations.  The irony is no scene of this nature was in the film.

An orgy scene in the desert threated to have the film shut down due to the Mann Act

Most notably, however, was the Sacramento California’s US Attorney Office’s failed attempt to shut filming of Zabriskie Point down.  Investigating the film for its anti-Americanism, the district attorney’s office attempted to use the Mann Act to cease the film from being made.  The Mann Act was a law created in 1910 prohibiting the export of women across the state line “for immoral conduct, prostitution or debauchery.”  Proposing that the orgy scene at Zabriskie Point could be held under these laws, the DA’s office had to back down when it learnt that Zabriskie Point was actually fifteen miles west of the California-Nevada state line, and that Antonioni wasn’t breaking any laws.  As the public tension around this film rose, MGM hoped that public outcry, scandal and protest would lead to a curious public embracing the film.  However, what was perhaps more true is that these protests were in reality omens of doom for the film.

Antonioni directs Mark and Daria. While Daria and Antonioni would have a good relationship, his relationship with Mark Frechette would prove to be complicated

Even the relationship between Antonioni and his stars were often difficult, although Mark and Daria would have very different perceptions of working with the fabled director.  Antonioni was famous for not getting along with his actors and for having little use for them and even stating that he hated them.  In a famous quote Antonioni said “Actors are like cows. You have to lead them through a fence.”  However despite his usual disdain for actors, Antonioni seemed to take a great liking for Daria and took her under his wing.  In the disastrous interview with Dick Cavett, one of the only clear statements that Daria made when asked about Antonioni was that she often felt very close to him.

“Zabriskie Point” became both a critical and box office flop, with even star Mark Frechette telling the media not to see it. However, was it really all that bad?

Yet for Mark Frechette it was a different story.  The two had a very stormy relationship with arguments and bitter discussion surrounding the film as well as their opposing views and ideologies.  Mark Frechette tried to turn Antonioni on to Mel Lyman’s message, and was even reported to be leaving copies of The Avator around the set.  However, Antonioni could not be swayed to Frechette’s frame of mind, and kept true to his own vision of America as an outsider looking in, which to Mark was tainted and unrealistic.  After Zabriskie Point was finished, when expected to promote the film, Mark continuously criticized the film and Antonioni’s vision of America, at one point being quoted as saying “(Zabriskie Point is) A big lie and totally alien.” Yet, it could be wondered if Antonioni wasn’t just a little bit envious of the budding relationship between his new protégé Daria, and the angry and rebellious Mark, especially when he was succeeding in seducing her with Mel Lyman’s ideas, and eventually getting Daria to agree to return with him to Boston to live in Mel Lyman’s commune, in which they returned and handed their entire earnings from the film over to the charismatic and bizarre cult leader.  Perhaps his music and message was unheard in Zabriskie Point, but the film just made Mel Lyman $60 thousand richer.  Lyman would be the only one who made any money off of the film, and he wasn’t even in it.

Mark and Daria make the cover of Rolling Stone

After two years in production Zabriskie Point was released in February 1970 to a sea of controversy and to scathing and terrible reviews.  Time Magazine called the film “Incredibly simple-minded and obvious.  The scenario might have been written by a first year student in film school.”  Film critic Rex Reed wrote “Hilariously awful…it is uninspired and phony” and of Mark and Daria said “two of the worst performances of the decade” (ironically, Rex Reed would be a guest during Mark and Daria’s Dick Cavett interview, where both barely acknowledged him).  Meanwhile The New Yorker called Zabriskie Point a “pathetic mess” and The New York Times called it “One of the worst films of 1970.”  Yet we all know that just because critics don’t like a movie doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s awful, right? Doesn’t mean the audience won’t embrace it. Well, after Zabriskie Point ran its course, including second run engagements, the film only made $892 thousand back from the seven million it took to make it, being one of the biggest money losing films in film history up to that point.  Antonioni called the film to “his first flop,” and never returned to America to make a movie again.

Daria Halprin seemed to be a very unhappy woman in post-Zabriskie Point interviews, where she once was quoted as saying "When I read that the Women's Lib. believe me to be the most liberated women ever to be filmed, it makes me sick!”

Daria Halprin seemed to be a very unhappy woman in post-Zabriskie Point interviews, where she once was quoted as saying “When I read that the Women’s Lib. believe me to be the most liberated women ever to be filmed, it makes me sick!”

Yet despite the fact that America was not having a love affair with the film, for a very short while Mark and Daria became the face of the counter culture.  The idea of a beautiful and revolutionary couple living together in a commune seemed to fascinate a certain pocket of America and for a very brief time America was fascinated with the pair.  However, it is uncertain how beautiful their love actually was. Evidence shows that Mark Frechette could be quite cruel and controlling of Daria.  It is known that the Mel Lyman’s cult was very male dominant and even, at times, misogynistic.  There is no solid evidence proving that Mark tried to control Daria nor abused her, but there is much evidence that he tried to mute her voice and crush her spirits.  In their tense interview with Dick Cavett, Mark ruled the roost, answering (or in his coy way, not answering) Cavett’s questions, and interrupting Daria any time she made an attempt to speak, and when she finally found a chance to speak, between the constantly cut off my Cavett, Mark and guest Mel Brooks (who Daria shows on screen disdain towards) she psychically was forced to shake Frechette and tell him to be quite, only to say in the confusion that she forgot what she had to say.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, when Daria made a reference that she and Mark might get married and start a family, Mark Frechette coldly rejected her. By 1970 their relationship was over.

Later, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times,  when they were asked if they were to get married Daria answered “one of these days, right Mark?” to have Mark quickly and coldly reply “Wrong.”  When Daria tried to recover by suggesting they’d get married so that they could have children Mark replied “In France they call them natural children, not bastards.”  This type of repression for a former San Francisco flower child must have been both difficult and demoralizing.  In a wishy-washy unrevealing interview with Pluto Magazine near the end of Daria’s time in Boston, her frustrations with commune living poked its head out when she said “it’s so hard for me to recognize that person I was in Zabriskie Point.   And when I read that the Women’s Lib. believe me to be the most liberated women ever to be filmed, it makes me sick!”  By the end of 1970 Daria had had enough of Mel Lyman’s commune and made her way back to San Francisco while Mark went to Italy to make an anti-war film called Many Wars Ago.  Upon returning to the US Frechette followed Daria to San Francisco, but by the end of 1971 Mark was back in Boston, while Daria had found comfort in the arms of another counter culture icon – award winning actor Dennis Hopper.

Thus, as America’s interest with Zabriskie Point faded, so had the romance between Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.  Yet their individual stories were hardly over.

In 1973 Mark Frechette was put in prison for attempting to rob a bank with a gun without bullets, in an abstract and misguided protest against Richard Nixon

Mark Frechette went on to make a third film in Yugoslavia called Man Against in 1972, and returned again to Mel Lyman’s commune.  However, in an abstract and foolish protest against Watergate in 1973 Mark and two other members of the cult staged a bank robbery which went wrong.  Frechette’s best friend, Christopher “Hercules” Thein, was gunned down by police and died on the way to hospital during the robbery.  Yet, upon confiscation of the robber’s guns, it was revealed that there were no bullets in the chamber.  Upon being arrested and asked why he had tried to commit such a bizarre and major criminal act Frechette stated:

“I am afflicted by a political conscience.  We did it as a revolutionary act of political protest.  We had been watching the Watergate hearings on television and we saw John Dean tell the truth and we saw Mitchell and Stans lie about it.  We saw the apathy and we felt an intense rage.  They did not know the truth and did not want to know the truth.  We know the truth and wanted to show it to them.  Because banks are federally insured, robbing that bank was a way of robbing Richard Nixon without hurting anybody…There was no way to stop what was going to happen.  We just reached the point where all that the three of us really wanted to do was hold up a bank.  And besides…standing there with a gun, cleaning out a teller’s cage – that’s about as fuckin’ honest as you can get, man.”

In 1975 Mark Frechette was found dead in the prison gym, choked by a barbell. He was 28

Perhaps, as the flower power of the sixties turned towards the lies, deceit and greed of the seventies, and without Daria Halprin there to keep him grounded, Frechette’s train of thought was finally warped.  As a result of the attempted bank robbery, Mark Frechette received a six to fifteen year sentence for his crime.  He would only serve two years of his sentence but never know freedom again.  On September 27th, 1975 a fellow inmate found Mark’s dead body in the prison weight room where a 150 set of barbells had fallen on him and he had been chocked to death by the bar that fell on his throat.  An inquest was held to investigate Mark’s death, with the official conclusion being that his death was accidental and that the barbells had slipped while Mark was bench pressing.  Yet, questions occurred around his death as the result that no marks from the bar were left on his neck.  Still, foul play was ruled out as Mark Frechette proved to be very popular with inmates.  But, it was said that due to increase depression, Mark had stopped eating and had lost a lot of weight and muscle, which possibly resulted in his accident.  Thus ended the life of a cultural icon that we barely got to know.

Daria Halprin was married to Dennis Hopper between 1974 and 1976

But what of Daria Halprin?  Did she find happiness after Zabriskie Point?  Daria made one more film, The Jerusalem File, in 1972, and married Dennis Hopper the same year.  In 1974 the couple had their only child, Ruthanna, but by 1976 Daria and Dennis had split up as well.  Daria remarried later in life, and had another child.

Today Daria Halprin helps run San Fransisco’s Tampala Institute

Daria eventually returned to San Francisco to teach and study dancing alongside her mother Anna Halprin, and together they revolutionized the art of dance as a healing process in the 1970’s.  When Anna was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1972 she began to use dance as a form of movement therapy.  Through this endeavor, she and Daria together formed the Tampala Institute, which is a San Francesco based non-profit organization dedicated to teaching dance  as a therapeutic art form and through a combination of psychology and drama, use dance as a way to cure emotional, mental and physical ailments.  Daria is currently the director of the Tampala Institute as well as a registered movement therapist and expressive arts therapist where she maintains a private practice in Marin County, California.  She is also the author of the book The Expressive Body in Life, Art and Therapy.   For more information on Daria’s work and the Tampala Institute you can visit their web-site.  Obviously Daria’s future artistic endeavors were more revolutionary then joining a cult, robbing a bank and dieing in prison.  Instead Daria took the free love and peace and creativity aspects of her days at Haight-Ashbury and has used it to better the lives of people.

Despite fading into obscurity, Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette remain to be cult film icons

Today Mark and Daria are best known as the nameless couple on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Zabriskie Point Sessions CD cover.  The film was recently released on DVD, but every now and then finds its ways to art house screening and film festivals so that a whole new generation can watch it in a combination of confusion and amusement and scratch their heads and ask “what the hell was that all about?”  Yet, despite the fact that the world has seemed to forget the lives and love of Mark and Daria, they still remain the greatest counter culture couple that we never really knew.  Their love was as fleeting as their time at the top, and although their film didn’t make it in the Hollywood hall of fame, their story is far more interesting then many Hollywood movies.  Love and sex, madness and manipulation, revolution and aggression, tragedy and redemption.  Mark and Daria’s story had it all, and if the world wants to forget about Zabriskie Point, hopefully it will never completely forget Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.

 REDISOCVER DARIA HALPRIN, MARK FRECHETTE AND ZABRISKIE POINT VIA YOUTUBE

Zabriskie Point may not be available on DVD in many countries, but there are a number of interesting video clips featuring Mark and Daria courtesy of our friends at YouTube.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Zabriskie Point Trailer – Possibly one of my favorite movie trailers, it makes Zabriskie Point look a lot better then it actually is…but then that’s what a successful trailer should do.  Featuring the music of Pink Floyd and a montage of Antionioni’s best scenes, the trailer is really an overview of what your going to get….without the suck.

 

Daria Halprin Blows Stuff Up With Her Mind – The classic finale to Zabriskie Point featuring Daria Halprin blowing up stuff with her mind to Pink Floyd music.  Un-American?  You be the judge.  Strange?  You betcha.  Pure Antonioni?  For sure.

 

Counter Culture Love - Just when Mark and Daria thought they were the only ones in the desert, suddenly Zabriskie Point is full of discontented youth making it in the desert.  The scene that the state of California tried to use the Mann Act in order to shut filming of Zabriskie Point down.

Mark and Daria on the Dick Cavett Show -  Poor Dick Cavett.  Mark refuses to cooperate and answer Dick’s questions and publicly bashes the film.  Daria is cold, cut off, and tries to blow guest Mel Brooks up with her mind after being constantly harassed by him.  Notice how they completely ignore guest Rex Reed who, weeks earlier, wrote that the pair gave “two of the worst performances of the decade.”  When Mark finally does speak to Reed he is trying to find an excuse to bust his chops and Daria glares at him.  A heavy cloud of doom sits over this interview, and everybody involved is uncomfortable.  Even the audience is nervous.  This clip has to be seen to be believed.

  1. Alex’s avatar

    Thank you so much for this amazing article!

  2. Lo’s avatar

    Yes, this is a very great, well written article!

    Thank you very much!

  3. Srenna’s avatar

    Ah, I love this article.

  4. Janet Diamond’s avatar

    I new Mark very well. He and I, my daughter Christine, his wife Betsy and son Tristan formed a family of sorts — at least the kind of family possible during the amazing ’60s. Mark and I were lovers with Betsy’s okay. Betsy and I were friends and we cared for each others children.

    Betsy did not exactly leave Mark, nor did I. Neither of us would accept Mel as “god” or submit to his despotic and bipolar regime. So we were kicked out. Mark, infatuated by Mel, stayed. Betsy and I got a house one block from Mel’s compound so we could still be around Mark. When Mark left to make Zabriskie Point, we remained in Boston. Mark called Betsy to tell her about Daria and Betsy said,”Janet, he’s cheating on us!” Then we both laughed at the notion of cheating which was so ’50s.
    When Mark robbed the bank, it was not for the high minded reasons he gave. He did it under Mel’s command because all the money he and Daria gave to Mel had been spent and Mel wanted more money. Mark said all that other stuff to keep the heat away from Mel.
    I hate Mel, but Betsy was too sweet and generous to hate anyone. Marks death may have been ruled accidental but it was not. Mark wrote of jealousy in the prison. He had just finished a play that was going to be produced off Broadway. He was due to get out in weeks. The decision to call his death an accident was made almost immediately without any investigation. Marks stage play was, as usual, Anti-government (not Anti-American). Everyone we knew was anti-government: The Vietnam War had been going on almost as long as we could remember. Every knew guys who had died their or who were crazy or addicted by that experience. We felt the older generation had deliberately ruined ours for values we despised. Mark was not an anomaly, he was part of a generation of disenfranchised kids who felt their only recourse was mass action, and we knew we were being spied on by the FBI.

    So, yah, he was revolutionary, but we all were. Pictures of burning children can do that to you. It’s hard to understand today, but loving someone did not preclude loving someone else.

    Daria left for the same reason Betsy and I did, Mel demanded that any woman in his compound must submit to sex with him which was supposed to be a high honor. Many did, we didn’t. We believed in free love, not forced sex.

  5. Sandra’s avatar

    Janet, thank you for your personal insight – it was great to read after having read the article…(I just came upon it all after looking up the wives of Dennis Hopper!) I was just graduating high school in ’76, and this was all a bit before my “awareness” of what was really going on in the world at the time, so it’s very interesting to me now! Just curious, whatever became of Betsy and Tristan? Did you ever try to get an investigation going, since you had letters from Mark about what was happening in prison? My first thought when I was reading the article was, “It was no accident!” I’m glad you ladies had the guts to get away from Mel!!

  6. jeff’s avatar

    I remember seeing ZP at a drive in Los Angeles as a 20 yrs old art student and all I liked was the music and the blast off.
    Last week I came across the DVD and it made a tremendous impact on me. The contrast between the unknown Daria/Mark and the establishment actors was stunning- I felt like that in 1970 – ZP is a unique and terrific work of minimalist Art.
    A legacy from a great film director. Thank-you Antonioni.

  7. James in Mexico’s avatar

    I am very curious to know who did the flying of the Cessna 210 Mark “stole”. It wasn’t him, I’m sure. And who was the lovely Indian girl who played the housekeeper. She spoke not a word but she got thru to me, big time! Talk about chemistry. I will never forget her. Anyone out there with this kind of historical detail? The film? I loved it! Especially Franklin Milton’s astonishing sound engineering. He was the best!

  8. Dan’s avatar

    Thank you Janet for the insight. I’ve been reading bits and pieces about this movie as well as some Boston Globe pieces about Mark and Mel. The story of ZB and Mark was one I had heard about all my life as Mark was my dads cousin. My mother tells me he was “brilliant and beautiful”, if not a little angry.
    I recall the copies of LOOK and Rolling Stone with Mark on the cover, sitting on my grandparents end table. I remember very well the phone call that came telling us of Marks death, it bothered my Dad deeply. Even then, we knew the “accident” wasn’t.
    It is pretty wild to see photos of Mark, he looks like my uncles, my bother and myself when photographed at similar ages.

  9. James in Mexico’s avatar

    Franklin Milton of MGM was robbed of an Oscar for sound in ZP in 1970. Milton was a recording genius, and his work on the explosion at the end of ZP was almost certainly one of the best recordings in motion picture history. There was a great deal of masterful trade craft in that film. If Antonioni had only used good actors, and “Patton” had come out a year earlier or later, Milton might have gotten his just deserts, and his third Academy Award for sound recording. I have a copy of the director’s cut and I’ve watched it about once a year, every year since 1970. And I see something new and professional and deeply moving in it every time.

  10. Len Liechti’s avatar

    Thank you for the ultimate ZP website. I’ve been entranced by the movie ever since accidentally catching it on a late night TV showing back in the eighties. I consider Antonioni one of the greatest movie directors ever, along with Leone and Kubrick; the greatest gift a director can bestow is astonishing cinematic imagery, and these guys had it in spades, unlike today’s unpalatable mix of over-the-top CGI and claustrophobic half-dark sets. At the risk of sounding slightly unnecessary, I think Daria Halprin was one of the most sexily attractive female characters on film ever, along with Jenny Agutter in Logan’s Run – the same combination of vulnerability and assertiveness. The other stars of the show for me are the 1952 Buick, the Cessna 210 and the inimitable Mojave Desert scenery, plus the strange and wonderful soundtrack choices – I love the way Antonioni rejected all the obvious stuff for the perverse collection that finally made the cut. The film is almost impossible to find on DVD but I finally scored a rather poorly 4:3 framed German release. Still waiting for the definitive widescreen version.

  11. Stephen C. Bird’s avatar

    I happen to think that “Zabriskie Point” IS an underrated, misinterpreted and misunderstood masterpiece. So I guess that makes me, according to Sam Tweedle’s perspective, a pretentious asshole. Except that I’ve actually read all the avant-garde books I keep in my apartment (I don’t have hundreds of them, or even dozens, but at least I’ve read them). As for Sam Tweedle, “The Pop Culture Addict” — For a guy who waxes so negatively about “Zabriskie Point”, he sure has spent a lot of time researching that film. For which I am grateful. Thanks Sam — It was great learning more about Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.

    PS–If anyone’s interested, please read my “pretentiously asshole-ish review” of “Zabriskie Point” on Amazon.com:

    http://www.amazon.com/Zabriskie-Point-Mark-Frechette/product-reviews/B001TK80CA/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_helpful?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

    Steve Bird, “Pretentious Asshole” & “Narcissistic Self-Promoter”

    Stephen C. Bird, author of “Hideous Exuberance: A Satire”

    http://www.amazon.com/Hideous-Exuberance-Stephen-C-Bird/dp/1598992430/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306056265&sr=1-1

  12. Sam Tweedle’s avatar

    Hey Steve,

    I didn’t say I didn’t like the film – but man, it is not a good movie. However, the reason I spent so much time researching the film is because it IS a fascinating story. It might suprise you that a framed poster of Zabriskie Point hangs in my office.

    You are a very well articulated individual…but don’t make fun of my name. That is a douchy thing to do.

    Peace –

    Sam Tweedle

  13. Stephen C. Bird’s avatar

    Dear Sam,

    I understand why people think “Zabriskie Point” is a bad movie. Maybe I love it for being both a bad movie, as well as a good movie. I am the kind of person who can be visually hypnotized by a film, where I don’t even need dialogue or so-called “strong performances by professional actors”–If / when the director is incredibly visual. -IE- among American directors, I think David Lynch has this quality as well (-IE- “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was also panned at its release, and has many flaws; yet in its own way, I think it is also a masterpiece).

    Also, while watching “Zabriskie Point”, it was reminding me of “Planet of the Apes” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, due to the often bleak / barren locales. As a visual artist myself, and given that many filmmakers tend to be visual artists, I relate to them in that context. Unfortunately, I think that Americans, more than Europeans, had / have a problem with this “Zabriskie Point” and / or Antonioni’s work; given that Europeans are more tolerant of the avant-garde, minimal dialogue (silence), and “amateur actors”, in general. And because American culture, then and now, tends to be anti-intellectual; as I see it, that climate is only getting worse (-IE- “the coarsening of the culture”).

    I’m sorry about making fun of your name, but I was upset at that moment by the fact that I might be a pretentious asshole for calling “Zabriskie Point” a masterpiece. But then again–So what if I am? Everyone is a contradictory hypocrite, including myself.

    All the Best,

    Steve Bird

  14. Antinous’s avatar

    I just rented ZP and quite liked it. But we’ve had forty years of experimental cinema and a decade of reality TV with non-actors to make this kind of film palatable. I can’t imagine it in 1970 competing with Love Story and the AristoCats at the drive-in. Now it just seems like a live action Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

    When I looked it up on IMDb and saw the Boston connection, my interest was piqued because I also lived in a commune on Fort Hill in the 1970s. We were the Fort Hill Faggots for Freedom and had five large houses on Centre Street and Centre Place, with about 25 residents at any given moment and a hundred or so over the years.

    I remember some of the older members of the group, c. 1976, talking about the Avatar collective. I think that we may have actually lived in some of the houses that used to be part of it. If any Avatar people read this, you might remember the 1950s refrigerator with the psychedelic naked woman painted on it. I’m quite positive that, given our demographic, none of us painted it. There was something about Fort Hill that attracted communes back in those days. Maybe it was the fact that you could buy a house with a ballroom for $5K.

  15. Robert’s avatar

    Here we are well over a year since Sam’s review and I find myself compelled to say something ….

    I was a college student when I saw the film in a theater when it first came out. Many in the theater exited prior to the film’s conclusion. I recall being clueless and even somewhat embarassed by the film’s theme and subsequent directorial interpretations as I was fairly involved in that era with the general reassessments and realignments of the mainstream culture at the time. Yet taken as a whole the film has stayed with me all these years, and even now I feel I could write a protracted praise/critique narrative about it all.

    Perhaps that’s what the director was shooting for.

    Rather than get into lengthy detail I believe this film suffered from time constraints to meet standard theater requirements and would have settled much better in a four or five hour TV format which was largely unknown at that time. As-is the film tended to have numerous subplots and segments without clear connectivity or even creditability. In a nutshell, it required far more character development and clarification.

    Secondly, I’m still bewildered as to how a ‘good’ team of writers could have issued such poorly derived dialogue although such articulation by two inexperienced actors may have something to do with it. I noticed several of the well-trained character actors in the film managed to deliver their suffering dialogue with clarity and aplomb.

    But today in my silverback years I tend to view the film quite favorably, using my imagination to fill in the missing gaps and clues, piecing the poetic components together to reveal self-interpreted directorial intent. Even the rough, sketchy dialogue may more accurately reflect reality; I recall as a young man when meeting attractive women I often felt like I was speaking in tongues, babbling nonsense, with a resultant disjointed bordering on incomprehensable conversation.

    Perhaps the director didn’t care to make a classic entertainment film, instead inserting hodge-podge, compressed realism reflecting an otherwise actual hodge-podge era of confusion and anxiety. Ergo while I can endlessly critique certain components of this film, I find much intrigue, perhaps viable or imagined, sufficient to recognize it as a controversial time capsule without collective interpretative agreements, worthy of endless evaluation and revelation yet never providing universal conclusion for all.

    So yes … I can agree with most of the mainstream criticisms and applause on the surface yet still find this film hanging with me after all these years ….

  16. Richard Martin’s avatar

    I did enjoy the movie because it was so unusual and I was a big fan of Blow-Up.

    True, not much happens, but the stealing of the plane, the desert orgy, the explosion at the end – all combined with Pink Floyd make it a memorable movie, if not a particularly good one.

  17. Tony Jordan’s avatar

    I knew Mark before he was famous. It might or might not surprise people to know that Mark was an acolyte of my friends Richard Whittington and Jeff Coffee who had a cult of pseudo Zoroastrianism that was located at various times in Columbia, SC, Cambridge, MA and Alexandria, VA. Richard was a painter who Mark wanted to do the paint job on the plane in Zabriskie point. Sadly Richard and Jeff were both killed in a motorcycle accident in Vermont where Richard was attending Goddard College.

    I went with Richard’s dad and brother to retrieve the bike which had been undamaged in the fatal accident. Richard was interred next to his mother on long Island. It was at the ferry at Bridgeport, CT when I last saw Mark who had come to pay his respects.

  18. Shemp’s avatar

    A fascinating article! I recall looking at the soundtrack album in record stores as a lad, wondering…well, just wondering. I was too late for the ’60s “movement(s)” but I think it was and remains an exciting time.

    Frechette seemed to represent the dark side of the hippie trip –macho, somewhat misogynist (or at least not looking at women as “equals”), violent, and irresponsible, while Daria represented some of the positive aspects. (Notice she’s still alive and doing something with a positive goal.)

  19. Shemp’s avatar

    A fascinating article! I recall looking at the soundtrack album in record stores as a lad, wondering…well, just wondering. I was too late for the ’60s “movement(s)” but I think it was and remains an exciting time.

    Frechette seemed to represent the dark side of the hippie trip –macho, somewhat misogynist (or at least not looking at women as “equals”), violent, and irresponsible, while Daria represented some of the positive aspects. (Notice she’s still alive and doing something with a positive goal.)

  20. Pete’s avatar

    Thank you for this excellent article. This is a fascinating aspect of U.S. film history.

  21. Stephen Connolly’s avatar

    Hi Sam – thanks for a fascinating article – I think it’s a very interesting film because of the controversy it generated.

    Can I just ask – you say – “Upon showing up to film a real life protest in Oakland, California for stock footage, the sheriff accuses Antonioni of provoking the protestors in order to get the footage he required, while the group of militant anti-establishment protestors involved stated that they felt that they were being “sold out”

    Is there a reference or source for this? Would be very grateful for a link or guide to who talks about this event.

    thanks!
    steve

  22. Lee’s avatar

    Sam,
    Thanks so much for a great article on a movie which both puzzled and fascinated me, yet which ironically, I never saw. All I knew about it was from the Look magazine article someone brought into where I worked in April of ’70 and left on a table in the lunchroom. The movie had been here but was long gone by then as I remember. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know about it at the time and was also both poor and had no one to go to movies with. From the look article I thought Mark and Daria were simply the coolest people ever and was so envious of them. I was about 25 at the time, against the war and pretty much against the establishment like most young people of that era.

    Maybe it’s just as well I never saw the movie and the poor acting, etc. I was left with my impressions of the two stars undamaged by the reality of the film. I am not sure I was aware of Mark’s sad end at the time but learned of it later and also doubted the death was accidental since it occurred in prison and am grateful to those who have posted here who knew Mark or were related to him who have said the same thing. If it had been a street gym, I could have believed it was an accident, but not with a prison gym, or the fact the ruling of accidental was arrived at so quickly with no proof. It was like they just wanted to be rid of this guy and someone in the prison who resented Mark just did them the favor.

    Anyway, you did a fine job of researching the story and it was great to recall an era from so long ago at the beginning of my work career. And thanks to those who knew Mark and Daria and added further information about those times and the story. .

  23. Tašo Andjelkovski’s avatar

    Hi, this film for me is mystery-paiting, your time is eternity. Sorry, me english is very bad. Mark is tragic person. Daria nice girl, and good women. Antonioni is genius and “Zabriskie Point” is big metaphor. Fanciful.
    I am 63 old man in Prague. And like T.Jefferson. Whitman. Poe. Emily Dickinson. Stephen and Hart Crane. Poe. Hawtorne. Melville. Hemingway. Henry Miller. F.S.Fitzgerald. Malcolm Lowry (“Under vulcano”!!!). Corso. “Howl”, only this. Gary Snyder – for me is Nobel prize… Kerouac. Sylvia Plath. Styron. Thomas Woolfe. James Jones “From here to Eternity”.”Marc Rothko!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pollock!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Morherwille. “Citizen Kane”. Y otros. Y muchos otros. Y una seňora…

    Buenas noches,

    Tašo Andjelkovski

  24. Gautham’s avatar

    I saw the movie in the only local theatre in Madras, India, where it was screened and where it ran all of a week, I suspect mainly because of the orgy scenes, even though they were heavily censored. I was then a college student, vicariously participating in American culture (pop, counter, mainstream… all varieties), as teenagers here continue to do. Though I did not remember much of it, the message I took away from it was anti-materialism, anti-consumerism, that sort of thing. Ever since, if I listen to that kind of music, or read that kind of book, I recollect the movie. When I sometimes fancifully put together a list of ’5 top movies I have watched’, ZP is sure to be on it.

    Gautham

  25. Claire Amos’s avatar

    I went to Daria’s mother’s San Francisco’s Dancer’s Workshop right after I graduated from the dance department at UCLA. When she met me she said she was disappointed because she thought I was going to be black and she had a quota to keep. (I’m white but have a last name that is sometimes associated with people with African-American heritage). I couldn’t believe it as she was being serious. I was really looking forward to this workshop but was totally disappointed. Most of the men with black heritage were dancing naked and all the other participants were encouraged (but not required to dance) naked. Participants had to sign something about photos being taken during the workshop. It was neither an art inspiring or healing experience for me. But, it was quite expensive for me to attend and I suspect it supported the Halprins in seen and unseen ways. So, this gives a little more insight into Daria Halprin’s background…

  26. Rob Sidon’s avatar

    This was an interesting read. I am not sure how Zabriskie Point escaped me for all these decades, but I finally watched it today. This essay was valuable to help put it into perspective–particularly about the actors. I liked the movie. Too bad it wasn’t great like other Visconti masterpieces..

  27. craigbhill’s avatar

    What grates the most in the clip of his show is not Mel Brooks or Rex Reed or the quiet, slow remembrances of the two young people, but Dick Cavett, babbling over Daria after she started to finally speak and cutting her off again with a negative joke at her expense. Too bad at that point she didn’t imagine his head exploding, The Dick Cavett Show would have produced something of merit. His obnoxious, smartass, supercilious ego-speading over the proceedings sickens. Which is why i was never a fan, back in the day. Can’t imagine how he ever made enough money to stay alive through the intervening talentless years, but i hope he remains alive until at least he can feel my disgust for him.

  28. JS’s avatar

    I remember the movie well. The home Daria blows up was a full size model of this home that is still in Carefree across from the Boulders resort.
    http://www.luxurydeserthideaways.com/boulderreign.html

  29. Smith’s avatar

    There seems to be a willful misreading of this film. Saying that Daria blows up the house “in her mind” is just one interpretation. The clues are there throughout the film to show that she could have planted a bomb to blow up the house. The end of the film works well precisely because it can be interpreted in more than one way.

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