Watching Antonioni’s 1966 Blow Up reminds me of a line uttered in Now You See Me: “The more you look, the less you see”. It sort of appropriate to the context of cinema. Afterall, aren’t fims are part illusions?
Thomas (David Hemmings) is a succesful fashion photographer in the swinging London. His days are filled with beautiful models draped in Mary Quant fashion designs, interacting with highbrow artist, inhaling drugs, sex and orgies, fame, against the dull thud of pop music. One day as he was strolling along the park to capture some candids for his next project, bring him to an accidental encounter with a mysterious woman. He just got caught her kissing with her lover on his film and demanded him to give her the negatives. Little did he know amongst the images he captured that day was a picture of a corpse. Had he just witnessed a murder? He obsessed, blowing up the negatives, enlarging small details to uncover the mystery of the plausible murder that he witnessed. Thomas earns his living from capturing various imagery through his lens. Allured others to beauty and captured emotions through his perspectives, his perception, the vision of his eyes. But be warned, this is more than what meets the eye. Antonioni’s Blow Up should not be taken at face value. It’s a visual trickery employed by the director himself, delivering another narratives beneath the surface. But maybe it really meant to criticize perception. In one of the scene Thomas was in the middle of a concert and he had his hand on a guitar neck from the artist that he held on to for dear life, struggling against the other patron who attempted to took it away from him. He ran away from them only to dispose it like a trash on the street, right in the very next scene. I found myself pleasantly confused by the dialogue and the actions yet drawn into the story anyway. There are moments where i found myself questioning if any or all the film actually a form of dreams or at least a surrealistic plane, instead of reality. When he met with Veruschka the model he was photographing the day before, thinking she should be in Paris (not London) that night, which was answered with a coy confirmation insisting that she is in Paris. Seriously, is this doped up answer courtesy of the effect of all the grass they’ve been smoking? Or was Antonioni trying to create a more profound sentiment of layered reality through perception? As we later learn, Thomas found himself fascinated by a game of tennis between two mimes (i’m not sure if they are mime or some kind of social work reference i’m not familiar with). He can see they scuffles, running on their feet as they went back and forth chasing their invisible ball. When one particular hit from their invisible racket sends the ball outside the field and the mime pleads for Thomas to fetch their ball. When he returned it, the sounds of the ball bounces on the asphalt become distinctly audible. Let’s not dwell on the ending, shall we, let’s not over think about the reality vs surrealism vs dream for a second and let’s address the real issue in the room. A corpse that was immortalized forever through his lenses and negatives. Thomas tried to rediscover the body to prove his own sanity. But if you are curious about finding a finite conclusion, you’d be disappointed. Antonioni is not interested in the details of the murder itself, as in a typical investigating detective/crime procedural story. Instead we experience the emotional roller coaster of the protagonist as he tried to make sense, relate and had his own reality altered by this series of unfortunate event. There’s a very wide range of interpretation one can bestow upon Blow Up as they dechiper the mysteries and visual clues. It sort of reminds me of Nolan’s Inception closing scene, when the camera zoomed in on the spinning top that started to wobble and loosing its inertia before the screen was cut to black. Quoting Nolan in the director’s comment regarding the issue, he explained that the scene is written that way, without any intention to sparks strong reactions, let alone invites multitudes of interpretations. Roger Ebert was praising Blow Up and comment the cultural significance of the film. He was not alone, the film had a legion of fan and some were obsessed to unravel the layered mystery of the story. Funnily enough, 3 days after i finished the draft of the review i stumble upon a late 90’s article on Roger Ebert site, Ebert received a letter from the ‘corpse’ of the film, explaining the movie is basically an unfinished product due to ill planning and lavish insignificant spending had forced them to close up and literally stopped filming, leaving a significant amount of the script unshot. So i’m guessing the editor and Antonioni must be a genius to construct a story from a jumbled sequences they already shot. Does that invalidate all theories and disections fan of the film are doing? Maybe not. Maybe in the end, Antonioni delivered a different film altogether. “They don’t mean anything when i do them, just a mess, Afterwards, i find something to hang on to […]. Then it sorts itself and adds up. It’s like finding a clue in a detective story. Don’t ask me about this one i don’t know yet.”
Those were the words from one of the character in the film, which somehow capture the gist of the film itself, at least from yours truly humble point of view. Blow Up not only capturing the spirits and culture of 60s zeitgeist. Watch it for the bits of mods couture, the notorious appearance of Jane Birkin’s fuzz in the down under, or just because the film significance influence as a mod masterpiece. The iconic image in the poster has been duplicated and become a pop culture reference. Competed and won the grand prix prize in 1967 Cannes Film Festival, Blow Up also gained recognition and nomination from various prestigious awards including Michelangelo Antonioni’s nomination as Best Director as well as a nomination for best original screenplay. I think it deserve more than 110 minute of your time.
BLOW UP (1966) GENRE Thriller, Drama DIRECTOR Michelangelo Antonioni | PRODUCER Carlo Ponti, Pierre Rouve | WRITER Edward Bond, Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra | MUSIC Herbie Hancock | CINEMATOGRAPHER Carlo Di Palma | EDITOR Frank Clarke | STUDIO MGM, Bridge Films | DISTRIBUTOR MGM | COUNTRY United States, United Kingdom, Italy | BUDGET $1.8 million | RUNNING TIME 110 minutes | RELEASE December 18, 1966 (US) STARRING David Hemmings, Venessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills, Veruschka von Lehndorff IMDb | Trailer