The movie came in with the new-wave pictures Easy Rider, Weekend, and Five Easy Pieces. It has not at all aged well, but seems to be worshiped by critics. A friend of mine described it as "Antonioni's best." Mind you, Blow Up comes from the same director as "L'aventurra" and "The Passenger."
What amazes me is how little the murder is in the film. The first hour is just establishing our protagonist. Perhaps it is better that they chose this, because then after he realizes his mind was probably playing tricks on him he becomes a silhouette, and then his character symbolically disappears from the screen at the end of the film. However, I would have liked it better had it been a straight thriller. Antonioni could indeed make one, so why didn't he?
The film contains little suspense. You do not have a scene like in "Blow Out" where the murderer is chasing our hero on foot. or like in "The Conversation" where blood rises from the toilet proving the evidence was simply flushed away. I do think these are better films for sure, however that's not taking away anything from the original.
Hemmings is magnificent. This was my second time of consciously seeing him on screen, after watching him in the Franklin J. Schaffner's sublime Islands in the Stream. His character is obviously empty, which is why when he goes obsessively mad he fades from existence. For the most part the film is populated by women, so a standout male performance is just what the film needed.
I have not seen anything like "Blow Up" in my life. Maybe that's why everybody loves it.
Let's begin. Okay it is old (1966) but it has a decent IMDB rating and is listed in the 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die book that I am trying to work through.
On release it was quite controversial for its nudity but it is very tame compared to modern films.
It basically follows a mid sixties fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who for some reason takes photos in a random park and may unwittingly have witnessed a murder. Something he does not realise until the old fashioned photo film is developed.
Hence the title of the movie. He enlarges or blow-up the grainy images to try and get a clearer view of the potential murder.
The film is like an Austin Powers parody of the swinging sixties era in inner city London.
The photographer treats his fashion models appallingly by today's politically correct standards.
The film was actually made by an Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni but feels very British.
Is Hemmings character falsely believing that he witnessed the murder? The film does not provide a satisfactory answer.
I like films to provide a clear answer the ending of this fails miserably.
The cinematography of the period provides the films first positive point.
The appearance of music legend Jeff Beck on a band provides the other.
The trivia of this film is quite disturbing.
We see the photographer Thomas driving around London in an open topped Rolls-Royce that used to belong to Jimmy Saville.
Studio MGM had to release this under another studio name to beat the strict censorship of the time. I can imagine Mary Whitehouse having kittens at some scenes.
The film is too arty for my liking.
The club scene is classic as it captures the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck playing lead guitar and Jimmy Page playing bass. The protagonist wins the valuable broken guitar neck in the club, but after running from the mob in pursuit, realizes it is simply a worthless hunk of broken wood.
Blow-Up is essentially a hip, British, murder-mystery aimed towards the art-house crowd. It may not stand up very well today but was very influential in its time.
Bosley Crowther, film critic of The New York Times, called it a "fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed". Crowther had reservations, describing the "usual Antonioni passages of seemingly endless wanderings" as "redundant and long"; nevertheless, he called Blowup a "stunning picture - beautifully built up with glowing images and color compositions that get us into the feelings of our man and into the characteristics of the mod world in which he dwells". Of the film's ending, Roger Ebert wrote in The Great Movies: "What remains is a hypnotic conjuring act, in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep of bored alienation and then drifts away again. This is the arc of the film. Not 'Swinging London.' Not existential mystery. Not the parallels between what Hemmings does with his photos and what Antonioni does with Hemmings. But simply the observations that we are happy when we are doing what we do well, and unhappy seeking pleasure elsewhere. I imagine Antonioni was happy when he was making this film."Ebert also published a letter by actor Ronan O'Casey which claimed that the film's mysterious nature is the product of an "unfinished" production, and that scenes which would have "depict[ed] the planning of the murder and its aftermath -- scenes with Vanessa, Sarah Miles and Jeremy Glover, Vanessa's new young lover who plots with her to murder me -- were never shot because the film went seriously over budget." "Blow Up" is a frenetic, insinuating, paranoid and "what if" film, but yet it´s slow paced and energetic at the same time. I love how Antonioni has used the "Swinging London" (clothes, fashion, music, environments, people) and particularly the fashion scene to its full extent and that adds so many layers to the film. The anti-hero Thomas, a self obsessed, cruel and with a larger than life persona is played perfectly by Hemmings. His facial expressions and movements carries the whole film and with a young Vanessa Redgrave as his counterpart we see movie magic on the screen. The storyline is based on the idea that everyone perceives reality in their own way and ultimately see only what they want to see. We can be blind to reality in our own little bubble and that feels even more current today than it did in 1966. The end shows that what seems to not exist in reality can actually exist in your mind. What is true and what is not true? It´s in the eye, ears and mind of the beholder. Michelangelo Antonioni offered little in the way of insight into his intentions with the film, and was always clear that meaning wasn't meant to be spelled out. "By developing with enlargers...things emerge that we probably don't see with the naked eye....The photographer in Blow-Up, who is not a philosopher, wants to see things closer up. But it so happens that, by enlarging too far, the object itself decomposes and disappears. Hence there's a moment in which we grasp reality, but then the moment passes. This was in part the meaning of Blow-Up." Vanessa Redgrave offered her take on the film in her autobiography. "Blow-Up was about the unity and difference of essence and phenomena, the conflict between what is, objectively, and what is seen, heard, or grasped by the individual." "Blow Up" is a testament to the 60´s "Swinging London" and a truly engaging movie experience. Trivia: Michelangelo Antonioni's first choice for the role of Jane was the Swedish actress Evabritt Strandberg, after spotting her in Bo Widerberg's film Kärlek 65 (1965). She went to London to meet Antonioni. He approved of her, but the three MGM bosses present at the meeting didn't like her "big nose". The role went to Vanessa Redgrave.
Though this generation may not do things exactly as they've been done before, they have no more success in attempting to make sense of the world around them than their predecessors, wandering around desperately attempting to right what they perceive to be a wrong in their insufficient experience in life. Similarly inconclusive, the film refuses to provide concrete answers for the narrative questions it raises, and rightfully so; whether or not he's borne witness to a murder isn't the point. He can continue to blow-up photographs searching for answers all he wants, but there will never be any there to satisfy his existential insufficiencies. Life isn't as conclusive as that.