Volumes of ink have also been spilled over the years on critical
analyses of Michelangelo Antonioni's enigmatic art chiller Blow-Up,
most of them equally valid and interesting. For AC readers, Blow-Up could
perhaps be most usefully read as a meditation on the limitations
of photography - and by extension, individual perception.
Set during the dizzy peak of Swinging London in the mid-1960s,
the film follows a day in the life of a much-in-demand fashion
photographer (played with matchless swagger by the late David
Hemmings), who nonetheless seems somewhat bored with his privileged
life. He escapes a tedious fashion shoot at his studio and ends
up strolling through a park, where he comes upon a young woman
(Vanessa Redgrave) strolling hand-in-hand with an older suitor.
Surreptitiously, he shoots a series of photos of them before
being spotted by the woman, who is distraught at being spied
Later on, as he makes prints from the negatives, he is struck
by their oddly threatening ambience. Enlarging (or "blowing
up") the small details of the images to get a closer look,
the photographer is shocked to discover a figure hiding behind
a fence, pointing a handgun at the couple. In one of his final
images, taken after the young woman confronted him, the corpse
of the older suitor appears to be lying in the deep distance.
Has a murder taken place?
Blow-Up then takes an unexpected turn into the realm
of the metaphysical. The photographer tells friends what he's
discovered, but the news is greeted with neither horror nor even
alarm. He sees the young woman from his photos in front of a
rock 'n' roll club, only to find that she has mysteriously disappeared
when he sets off in pursuit. When he revisits the park with his
camera the next day, the man's corpse also has vanished without
a trace. The tale closes on a highly symbolic note as the photographer,
now unable to certifiably state what is reality, watches a troupe
of mimes "playing" tennis. In the picture's most existential
moment, the mimes invite him to participate; with a note of sadness,
he plays along with the illusion. The film's final shot renders
the photographer as a tiny, insignificant figure seen from high
above, before Antonioni literally dissolves him into the greenery.
Blow-Up could be taken as a statement on the folly of
using images - or, in a larger sense, our own subjective minds
- to establish a clear-cut "truth." However, even viewers
who don't buy into the film's weighty philosophical subtext can
marvel at Blow-Up for its uniquely mysterious atmosphere,
due in no small part to Antonioni's second visual partnership
with cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, ASC, AIC. (The duo had previously
collaborated on Red Desert). The filmmakers'
stark, precise compositions have been well rendered with this
clean, crisp DVD transfer from Warner Home Video. The judicious
splashes of color placed throughout the film (like the red-painted
buildings seen in the background as the photographer motors through
gray London in his convertible) are lively and true, while grain
and age artifacts are kept to a respectable minimum.
In addition to a pair of groovy '60s trailers and the option
to watch Blow-Up with a music-only track (a curious feature,
since Herbie Hancock's stylish jazz score was used minimally
throughout the film), the only supplement is an audio commentary
by Antonioni scholar Peter Brunette. Few films in history have
been more puzzled over than Blow-Up, but Brunette delivers
a relaxed, erudite and unpretentious analysis. In particular,
he notes the parallels between Antonioni the filmmaker and Blow-Up's
confused anti-hero. "The photographer is trying to form
a narrative by putting together shots, just like Antonioni, or
like [we all do] with our lives," Brunette comments. "[All
of us] are trying to put a story together. The film is asking,
'To what extent can reality ever make sense?'"
By the same token, Brunette is struck by the ambivalent attitude
Antonioni seems to have not only toward the photographer, but
ruthlessly hip societies like Swinging London. "Antonioni
is attracted to the glitter in this world, but he also realizes
how pathetically artificial and anti-human it is," Brunette
notes. Indeed, Blow-Up could also be read as a still-timely
rebuke of societies too narcissistic and trivial-minded to stop
and reflect when the darker realities of violence and death suddenly
intrude on the party.
Brunette also cannily spots several scenes in the film in which
Antonioni seems to be commenting on his own aesthetic. Perhaps
the most illuminating example is a scene in which the photographer's
artist friend Bill talks about how he creates his abstract paintings. "They
don't mean anything when I do them, [they're] just a mess," the
artist muses. "Afterwards, I find something [in them] to
hang onto ... it's like finding a clue in a detective story."
- Chris Pizzello