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What was to be Michelanglo Antonioni's first English-language film, "Blow-Up" from 1966 became a huge critical and commercial success upon release as the 1960s counterculture movement ate the movie's existential messages and trendy surface gloss up with a spatula. Star photographer David Hemmings is everything a fashion conscious London adores: handsome, well-dressed, successful, a chick magnet. One day he chances to go to the park with his camera where he sees a woman meeting an older man; he photographs them; she demands the photos from him; he refuses, but invites her to come to his studio. Later she does show up, but the anxious woman ends up leaving with the wrong roll of film. As he later develops the photos, he makes the startling discovery that something is wrong: in one blurry photo that he blows up several times over, he finds he may have captured somebody shooting the old man in the park dead. Antonioni's favourite subjects of alienation and existentialism become a key factor of "Blow-Up" as he contrasts the photographer's style-over-substance life by having it experience a jolt upon coming face to face with what seems to be something truly inescapably real as a murder.
Yet, throughout the film our perceptions are challenged as we are given proof of the deed at one point, only to have that proof be taken away the next moment. Even the photographs themselves, when enlarged so much, start to become a pixelated mess that begin to lose all cohesion and thus impossible to be taken as confirmation of reality. The final scene of the film where the photographer watches a group of mimes play tennis with an imaginary tennis ball, only for them to drag him into their illusion to the point he starts to hear the tennis ball being hit off screen before the man too simply dissolves into nothing sums up the whole movie's questioning aesthetic. In a nutshell, it tells of one man's disconnect from the world he is a part of, and how even that one chance moment of him going through an experience of more substance proves to be just as illusive and hard to grasp as that existence he already is barely connected to. Ultimately, this fascinating movie leaves more questions that it provides answers as our own understanding of the events is left up to interpretation in a haunting mystery of what is real and what is not, while challenging the materialistic style-over-substance mantra 1960s Britain so heedlessly and hedonistically lived by. (c) berlioz 2014
RELEASED: 1966, Cert.PG
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 106 mins
DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
PRODUCER: Carlo Ponti & Pierre Rouve
SCREENPLAY: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra & Edward Bond
MUSIC: Herbie Hancock (main score), contribution from The Yardbirds
David Hemmings as Thomas
Vanessa Redgrave as Jane
Also starred Sarah Miles, Peter Bowles & Jane Birkin
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Thomas is a trendy successful fashion photographer in London during the swinging '60s. Bored with what he perceives as the troupe of airhead females who grace his studios on a daily basis, Thomas spreads his wings during his spare time, taking character shots of ordinary London life. Whilst walking through a park one day, he spots a man and woman who are obviously romantically involved with one another, and from a distance, takes a few photos of them.
In between being pestered by the woman (Jane), one half of the couple he photographed in the park, Thomas develops the film and notices something strange on one of the photos, so he enlarges it to get a better look - the enlargement reveals the blurred face of a man in the bushes, brandishing a gun. On blowing up the remaining photos in the sequence, it becomes apparent that a murder has taken place in the park. Meanwhile, Jane continues to pay Thomas visits, demanding that he hand the film over to her.
That's the scene for this rather strange but interesting film, and to find out more, you must watch it for yourself.
Despite the overriding storyline, Blow Up isn't really a murder/mystery as such, due to the main crux of the film intending to convey mood and atmosphere above all else. The murder aspect is important from the point of view that it gives Thomas something to focus on at a time when he is finding his day to day working life somewhat of a bind, and thus I feel should be considered catalytic rather than as the film's overriding plot.
Thomas is a young, good-looking, trendy type who drives an equally trendy sports car and lives in a semi avant-garde mews house, part of which has been converted into his photographic studio. He lives life largely on impulse, thriving on spontaneity, and although he can be impatient and arrogant, it's obvious that he has an artistically offbeat awareness and sense of the world around him. There is a definite arrogance about Thomas which is cool and clipped, occasionally bordering on complete indifference, and in my opinion, Hemmings played the role of Thomas with a finely crafted, totally natural ease.
Much of the acting from the sub-characters I found to be fairly weak, although Vanessa Redgrave delivered a fairly reasonable performance as the flustered Jane. Some may feel her acting is wooden and lacking character, but I believe this was done intentionally to remain in keeping with the slightly not surreal exactly, but deliberate pseudo avant-garde mood which runs throughout the film.
I feel that Blow Up is best enjoyed if taken exactly for what it is - a series of free-flowing incidents which are melded together on celluloid, purely for effect more than anything else. However, although there is this fragmented feel to the whole proceedings, it isn't a difficult film to follow or understand, providing the viewer takes it for what it is and doesn't expect a conventional storyline that has a definite beginning, middle and end.
There is some lovely camera work in Blow Up, plus careful direction in the sense that we see Thomas' moderately luxurious, laissez-faire lifestyle contrasting sharply with the working class area of London where he lives, and we are treated to quite a few glimpses of Woolwich streets - full of little two-up-two-down, back-to-back terraced houses, as they stood before the bulldozers ploughed much of the area down and replaced it with concrete and glass tower block dwellings. I love the scenes where Thomas takes his camera into the park (possibly Maryon Park, as that is in the Woolwich area) and there is something very - at least for me - important about how those scenes were filmed. Whilst Thomas is walking along the grass in the park and snapping the mysterious couple who appear to be having a clandestine relationship, I find that as I watch, my consciousness becomes steeped in the sounds of nature, such as the birds singing and the wind rushing through the trees. These sounds I believe are slightly accentuated in order to create a particular mood inside of the viewer's mind - a mood that I can't quite find a set of words to describe.
Herbie Hancock's musical score which accompanies Blow Up is simply superb and is the perfect auditory backdrop, blending in well with the slightly avant-garde tinge this film has, helping to create an overall atmosphere typical of London in the mid-1960s.
I wouldn't for one minute try to pretend that Blow Up is a deep or even a thought-provoking film, but it is a classic set of mini circumstances stylishly strung together in order to not prove any kind of point, but to create a genuine glimpse into the arty-farty fringe world that was prevalent in certain quarters at the time. It is true that as far as the loose plot - which I feel shouldn't be concentrated on as the essence of the film - is concerned, Blow Up may seem a slow starter, simmering on the back burner before anything substantial takes place, but if you take the film simply for what it is and allow your mind to ramble along, flitting around from circumstance to circumstance, then it could be a very enjoyable experience for you - as it is for me each time I watch it.
At the time of writing, Blow Up can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.88 to £11.51
Used: from £3.22 to £50.00 !!!
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
The original story was written by Julio Cortázar and it was called Las babas del diabloand then Michelangelo Antonioni came along and adapted it and later directed what we know as BLOW UP.
The film is about a talented photographer called Thomas (David Hemmings), who becomes bored of taking glamorous photos of models. He resorts to photographing, in a documentary style, the seamy and sordid side of life in slums and flophouses. Innocently, he takes candid photographs in a deserted park of a lover's rendezvous between a young woman called Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) and a middle-aged man. Jane after she realises that he has photos of her and the man, pursues Thomas to ask for the illicit photos. He imagines that he has witnessed a scene of sexual intrigue - never thinking that he may have accidentally obtained photographic evidence of a murder. Or has he?
Even the combination of Thomas, his camera, Antonionis camera, and our own acuity give us only a partial picture on what has happened. So still dont know the truth.
The film is a contemporary piece set in the mid 60s . You can tell which decade it is by the cars and the clothing worn by the photographer and other characters in the film. The buildings and streets show that it is set in London. Ideology of this film gives the impression that in the 60s society was shallow like the photographer but they all became bored with it and wanted more from life than partying and smoking pot.
The film involves illusions, appearances, and reality, and the sequences of the people on the rag or mimes, as many will see them blur the line between fantasy and the reality.
Interaction between the characters mainly is through body language and gestures, as a lot of the film doesn't have much dialogue.
The commentary extra helped me out a lot with my assignment but I wouldn't want to really watch it properly with Peter Brunette yapping on and on about things. The trailer isn't really of much interest and the Herbie Hancock track is nice.
Overall, the extra's are a bit sad on the DVD but as it is a film for the 60's I'm not surprised about it.
I watched this film because it had to do a lot with semiotics and the line between fantasy and reality, which I was studying on my course. I had to watch it a couple of times to get some of the symbolisms. The acting in the film is quite weak and at times, Vanessa Redgrave leaves you with the impression that she's just overacting the part. The plot is heavy going though and it's not a film where you can just sit back and relax and let it wash over you.
Special Feature Information:
° Commentary - 1. Peter Brunette - Author
° Isolated music track by Herbie Hancock
Available Audio Tracks: Mono
Main Language: English
David Hemmings .... Thomas
Vanessa Redgrave .... Jane
Sarah Miles .... Patricia
John Castle .... Bill
Jane Birkin .... The Blonde
Gillian Hills .... The Brunette
Peter Bowles .... Ron
Veruschka von Lehndorff .... Verushka (as Verushka)
Julian Chagrin .... Mime
Claude Chagrin .... Mime
Most people reading this review will be familiar with the largely misconceived idea of Cool Britannia that was around in the 90s and many will be familiar with the depiction of Swinging London in the Austin Powers spoof spy films, well Michelangelo Antognionis cult classic Blow Up probably is the best example of what those two concepts grew out of.
Blow Up is in essence a mystery thriller but more importantly it documented on film the image of London and sixties hedonism and it is this rather than the dramatic content that ultimately it is best remembered for.
Thomas is a top photographer, very hip, very cool. He lives in a trendy London location, drives around in a classic sport car and generally spends his spare time partying with the in crowd. One afternoon while taking some speculative photos in a local park he photographs a couple apparently having a lovers tryst. On returning to his studio and developing the photos he discovers that inadvertendly he has been witness to a murder.
CAST, PERFOMANCES AND OPINION
Vanessa Redgrave .... Jane
Sarah Miles .... Patricia
David Hemmings .... Thomas
John Castle .... Bill
Jane Birkin .... The Blonde
Gillian Hills .... The Brunette
Peter Bowles .... Ron
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, written by Julio Cortázar (short story Las babas del diablo)
Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra.
Original Music by Herbie Hancock, The Yardbirds (song "Stroll On") and John Sebastian (song "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?").
David Hemmings who at the time along with Terence Stamp and Michael Caine was part of a new brand of young English actors that seemed to symbolise the feel of the liberated sixties, plays the central role Thomas, who in reality is a thinly disguised caricature of top Sixties photographer and cultural icon David Bailey. The strong resemblance between Hemmings and Bailey right down to the haircuts and clothes is no accident. Thomas is not a very sympathetic character; he uses people women especially and manipulates situations to suit his own ends. He is supposed to be nonchalant detached and amoral but comes across as rather cold and unfeeling. Antonioni previously known as an arthouse director on the fringes of the neorealist cinema of the 40s and 50s is through the character of Thomas commenting on the superficiality of the times. Thomas is in the vanguard of the liberated revolution he produced the images that foster peoples desires and the look of the film with its loud brash imagery mirrors this but the point that is being made is that liberal values and attitudes are fine as long as you are empowered enough to make use of them. The contrast between the superficiality of the manufactured hip world and the reality that Thomas as captured in the black and white photograph in which he uncovers the crime is obvious and contrived. Using the same medium he uses to create the plastic consumerism of his trade Thomas has captured something, which is undeniably truthful, someones death.
Vanessa Redgrave plays the mystery woman in the photograph that pursues Thomas for the film, at first he thinks that she wants the film because of some sexual indiscretion it has recorded and he decided to use this to exact power over her.
The film is rightly remembered for some quite risqué scenes for the time. There is an erotic photo shoot with the two young wannabe models (one played by another 60s icon to be Jane Birkin), which then leads to a threesome on the studio floor... and the first sight of pubic hair in a mainstream film (don't blink or you'll miss it)! In another scene Thomas looks on his sexually frustrated friend Patricia making love to her husband, she aroused by Thomas presence her husband unaware of it.
The film is episodic in its structure and the plot is no more than a series of snap-shots (pun intended) that illustrate the people and attitude of the times. This works well as Antonioni managed to infuse the film with a pacey quality, as a viewer its almost as if you are not meant to concentrate too much on the central mystery but rather to flit from one episode to another again in the same way as Thomas seem to be distracted as he tries to delve deeper in to what his photos have captured.
The soundtrack is also worth mentioning, music was intrinsically linked to the rise of youth culture in the 60s and any film that tries to bring a flavour of the times to the screen has to use music to enhance the images on screen. Antonioni had Herbie Hancock the legendary jazz fusion pianist (although he plays the electric organ on this) to create an atmospheric soundtrack, which was perfect in that it fused the avant garde sound of modern 60s jazz with the newer pop sensibilities of the period. To this end also included in the film is a live performance in a nightclub scene by The Yardbirds and a song by John Sebastian on the soundtrack, two other leading lights of the 60s music scene.
Blow up was certainly Antonionis most commercial and probably his best film, he went on to make Zabriskie Point (1970), which is also rightly, considered a classic of the period. The storyline is slight not really a mystery if anything more of a psychological drama but in the end the importance of the murder plot is superficial the really important aspect of the film is the visual style and sound Antonioni employs. Style over substance? YES but thats the point Antonioni was making. For anyone seriously into films or with even a passing interest in the 60s culture this is essential viewing. It is also a great record of 60s London. The film went on to win the Palm dOr at Cannes.
I suppose for many fans of the period it might not be comfortable viewing and for a film that is so often held up as an example of 60s cool it is quite disparaging of the period and funnily enough as it was made in 1966 before the summer of love and hippy explosion a few year later it seems to predate and almost prophesise the re-evaluation of 60s permissiveness and liberation that became more accepted in the 70s. Finally if the plot seems familiar to you but youre sure you havent sent he film maybe youre thinking of Blow Out a poor remake in the 80s starring John Travolta as a sound engineer who captures a murder on tape one to avoid!
Blow Up is available on DVD from Play.com for £7.99 delivered.
Thanks for reading and rating this review.
© Mauri 2005
Take a peek into the steamy world of London's fashion industry and its sexiest models... A strange illusive mystery which centres around a series of photographs that once developed feature a murder. Then the film and the body disappear... What next? Featuring a brief appearance by The Yardbirds.