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Blow-Up (1966)

August 22nd, 2007 · 2 Comments

After exploring the art of remakes, I’m embarking on a quest for some bona fide art cinema. Here’s the last of five articles on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007). I wrote this while sipping coffee product I can neither spell nor pronounce.

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By Joe Valdez

In swinging London of the 1960s, a photographer (David Hemmings) returns to his studio after taking photos of the destitute for a book. He encounters a band of merrymaking mimes running amok in the city. The self-absorbed, unnamed Photographer then devotes his afternoon to fashion shoots, barking orders to the models he’s kept waiting at his studio.

Fed up with models that won’t smile, he wanders over to his neighbor’s flat, where a woman (Sarah Miles) seems more interested in him than her painter boyfriend. The Photographer goes to an antique shop and purchases a propeller. He then finds himself in a park. He follows a couple, but after taking candid pictures of them together, the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) demands the film. The Photographer refuses.

When he returns to the studio, the woman is waiting for him. They cavort a bit, and The Photographer gets rid of her by giving her a fake roll of film. He develops the real roll, and after blowing up the negatives, finds what appears to be a gunman in the bushes. The Photographer ventures to the park and finds a dead body, but when he returns to the studio, discovers his photographic evidence has disappeared.

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After garnering international acclaim with several groundbreaking Italian language films, including L’Avventura and L’Eclisse, filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni reached a deal with producer Carlo Ponti to direct three English language pictures. They would be distributed by MGM, but Antonioni would retain creative control. He wrote Blow-Up with Tonino Guerra. Edward Bond provided English dialogue.

The film featured two provocative scenes: kinky tussling between the Photographer and two teenage models, and a brief sex scene between his neighbors that he watches. Tame by today’s standards, they went further sexually than any film released by a major Hollywood studio had gone. The Production Code Administration ruled that those scenes had to be removed. Antonioni refused, citing his contractual right to final cut.

MGM backed their director. The scenes stayed in with negligible alterations. Blow-Up was ultimately released by “Premier Films,” a subsidiary of the studio’s, without a code seal. The ratings controversy generated free publicity for the film and led to $7 million in grosses in the U.S., excellent box office for an art film at the time. It was just as successful in Italy, where a government ban on the film was overturned.

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As I hit play, Blow-Up did anything but blow me away. The film’s narrative is lighter than air and drifts for at least the first hour. Characters don’t even seem to have names, while the sight of mimes at the beginning and end of the film did not fill me with joy. I kept thinking of how ingenious Brian DePalma had been echoing the story in Blow Out, with John Travolta playing a sound engineer who captures a murder on audio.

Watching this a second time, I liked it more. A great deal more. Antonioni fills the film with a thoughtful – at times haunting – stillness that appealed to me. Despite stretches where there is little or no dialogue, he held my attention. The sequence where the Photographer exposes and studies the blow-ups, piecing together the murder, is fascinating. The film is non-conventional, yet it remains infinitely mysterious.

Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings – playing parts intended for Eva-Britt Strandberg and Terence Stamp – are terrific in this. Herbie Hancock composed one of the best swinging jazz scores of the day, and the picture captures the vibe of London at the time without crossing into parody. Nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, many consider this the most accessible film of Antonioni’s career.

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“There is always the temptation to think that you must have missed something if you find one of the Great Movies to be tedious, but I have enough faith in my judgment to recognize a stinker,” says Michael W. Phillips at goatdog’s movies. He gives it 2.5 goats out of 5.

Mike Pinsky at DVD Verdict writes, “Those looking for simple entertainment might only want to approach the film as a portrait of London in the swinging ’60s, but for those who like a puzzle, Blow-Up will keep you busy for a long time.”

“Stroll On”, The Yardbirds. View the club scene, as mods freak out over Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Murder mystery · Paranoia

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph R. Valdez // Aug 23, 2007 at 8:10 am

    When something is suggested in one of these reviews, reader, if you take it for granted, and ignore it, it will be at your own tremendous loss!

    Case in point, click on “VIEW THE CLUB SCENE…” found in this review, and you will be treated to a directory of videos that are as great a selection of music that you will find anywhere, period. Not given to hyperbole, among the performers you will find, Jeff Beck, BB King, Steve Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton,U2,Albert Collins, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, and many, many others. Stop me,I must be in heaven. Gotta get back to these sounds. Must have done something right in life to be blessed with a son like the reviewer!

  • 2 Piper // Aug 30, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    “I don’t even have 2 minutes to have my appendix taken out.” Might be one of the worst lines ever.

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