Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Big Picture: Blowup

A classic and iconic film from Michelangelo Antonioni, about photography, murder, and life itself. I believe that this film is very good and gets its elusive point across ultimately. But it is not one of the greatest films of all-time, not by a long shot. David Hemmings plays Thomas, a photographer who is a veteran snapper. He takes strange shots: some of factory workers in their sad life, some of women in weird, garish costumes, and a few snaps of a couple (Vanessa Redgrave and an uncredited Ronan O'Casey). The ones of the park duo upset Jane (Redgrave) who doesn't want him to keep them. He eventually tricks her out of them. And he discovers that Jane's beau was murdered.

So while this is happening, two women (credited as The Blonde and The Brunette, Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills respectively) keep wanting them to help them by taking pictures or something. He gets mad at them. And, while this is happening, he is assembling a book of pictures of the factory workers and of the couple with this guy named Ron (Peter Bowles). In the last 30 minutes, it seems like it is building up to a climax, but no. Thomas goes to a strange Yardbirds concert where Keith Reif is lip-synching to himself, and there is no Eric Clapton to be seen. I guess the "highlight" of the scene is when the bassist (I'm not a hardcore fan of the Yardbirds) smashes his bass and Thomas keeps the neck and then throws it out while walking on the street. The scene has no relevance to the movie. Maybe Antonioni felt obliged to add some random pop culture into the movie. I don't know, but it really doesn't help the movie's cause.

Then, Thomas goes to Ron's party where people are rolling joints and just chilling. He then realizes that he must take a picture of the body. He didn't take the chance the night before when he saw the body. But when he goes, the body is gone, and he is just standing around watching mimes play air tennis. Not very fulfilling.So the lesson here is you don't mix art and 60's pop culture together. I mean, the movie was good up until the last 30 minutes. I won't talk about the acting, because it is not important. The movie is beautiful and is extremely artistic and symbolic, but the greatness is broken by the "needs" of the times. It's the same thing I always grimace about when I go to pop cinema: directors try to be hip and impressive, instead of just creating something halfway artistic, and wind up coming out embarrassing. I didn't find Blowup embarrassing, but I wonder what would have happened if Antonioni had not tried to be more hip than the movie needed to be. B+


Anonymous said...

Interesting take. I really like your site. What is interesting here is that, in my opinion Blowup on some level is about perception. And Antonioni uses Mod London as a backdrop, but I don't think he necessarily gets bogged down in the hipness of it. In terms of perception, the Yardbirds scene, the tumult in the crowd only begins when there is the piece of the guitar being fought over, then Thomas brings it outside of the concert crowd where it was priceless and the kids on the corner can't be bothered with it. (sort of a 'one man's guitar head is another man's... type thing). Also Mimes play in the game of perception and it is all about seeing what is not there, which is alluded to again when Thomas's abstract painter neighbor talks about seeing things in his paintings, and later his girlfriend and Thomas are looking at a blown up photo and she remarks that it looks like one of her boyfriends paintings. And again, the last scene, with the mimes, the camera goes on Thomas looking at them playing 'fake' tennis, and ultimately, Antonioni puts in the sound of an actual tennis ball being hit back and forth (listen carefully), calling into question levels of perception and real things that aren't there and vice versa.

Nick Duval said...

Yeah, I wrote this review a year ago, and my eye for aesthetics has changed since then. It's probably a better movie for me now then then.

--- Nick