Thursday, June 28, 2012

#682. Blow-Up (1966)

Directed By: Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

Tag line: "Sometimes, reality is the strangest fantasy of all"

Trivia: This was Antonioni's first English language film

Blow-Up introduces us to a photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) who is convinced that, while snapping pictures in the park one afternoon, he inadvertently captured a murder on film. Aside from noticing a blur in one of the developed photos that looks a bit like a dead body, the woman who was in the park at the time (Vanessa Redgrave) tracks Thomas down, and is quite desperate to buy the pictures from him. Obviously, she’s trying to hide something. Or is she?

This is but one of the avenues traveled by director Michelangelo Antonioni in Blow-Up, a movie as conscious of style as it is story. Along with its tale of a possible murder, Blow-Up takes us deep into the London mod scene of the 1960s, where fashion photographers were apparently as popular as rock stars. Thomas revels in his lifestyle, taking pictures of gorgeous models and enjoying the vast wealth doing so has brought him. And yet he remains curiously unfulfilled. Never content with what he has, Thomas is always on the lookout for more. On a whim, he purchases an old bi-plane propeller at a small antique store. He needs the propeller because it’s beautiful, and the fact it's too big to even fit in his car is of little concern. After all, it just might be very important to him someday. Maybe.

Soon enough, we realize both aspects of Blow-Up, the supposed killing and Thomas' boredom, are joined at the hip. Did Thomas' camera actually capture a murder in progress? Whether it did or not really isn’t the point. Unhappy with his life, Thomas wants to see more in his photos, certainly something besides a romantic tryst in the neighborhood park. He wants it to be true because getting a killer on film would be pretty special, and might even make him special as well. At long last, his work would mean more than what the latest fashions are. He would have finally made a difference.

With Blow-Up, director Antonioni has constructed a movie that simultaneously glorifies and condemns the lifestyle of its main character. We witness the power and prestige that went hand-in-hand with being a '60s fashion photographer, just as we see the longing and search for purpose that might have resulted from engaging in such a profession. Thomas' life is as empty as a spent cartridge of film, and what bothers him most is he knows it. If helping to catch a murderer can change all that...well, why not?


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I saw this again recently and (as with Mulholland Drive) I still have my interpretation, but I don't insist on it.

I think everything that happens to him after he watches the tennis in the park is a fantasy -- a fantasy of doing something important, as you say, not just fashion shoots -- and that's why at the end, he's watching the mime tennis players but hearing the thock of the tennis ball. That's him coming back to reality, hearing the real tennis. For example, right before he went to the park, he tried to buy the propellor, but the irascible store-owner wouldn't sell it to him (IIRC), but after the park the store is now run by a pleasant and attractive girl, who is willing to give him what he wants.

Anyway, just my theory. I don't insist on it. :-)

Dave B. said...

Anthony: That's a very interesting take on the movie. I always looked at the scene towards the end, with the mimes playing tennis, as an indication the lead was able to "manufacture" his own reality (a la, hearing the THWACK of the imaginary ball), but will watch it again (at some point!) keeping what you've posted in mind.

Thanks for sharing it, and for stopping by!

Jeff Hammer said...

Wow Dave, I saw this last night. Must be over my head, I was bored out of my mind. Thought it was terrible.

Dave B. said...

Jeff: What made you decide to check this one out? Seriously, from the synopsis alone, I wouldn't have thought this was one that would've interested you in the first place (and that's not meant to be a slight... I know a lot of people who are bored by this movie, and feel the exact same way you do).

Personally, I love the period it's set in (the swinging '60s in London), and I like the way Antonnioni has you questioning what's going on. But it IS a tough sell, and not one I recommend to many people.

Jeff Hammer said...

It is one of the entries in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Actually I thought from the synopsis it sounded really interesting. It reminded me of Rear Window, but that didn't pan out. Guess I just always took everything at face value... as weird as that made some stuff. Maybe another watch is in order.

Dave B. said...

Jeff: Ah! OK. That makes sense. I know a few people who are working through that list of 1,001 movies, and thus far, NOBODY has liked all of them! LOL.

I can see from the synopsis where you might have thought it was like REAR WINDOW (a photographer convinced he's seen a murder and nobody believes him). Maybe after a while, you'll decide to check it out again. Odds are your opinion of it won't change, but you never know!

Thanks for the comment, and for stopping by!