Movie Notes: Blow Up
= 4 stars
Starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Bored fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) photographs a mysterious woman (Vanessa Redgrave) in a lover’s tryst.
- Hemmings is fascinating as a wide-eyed, energetic photographer. Despite being a womanizing ass, his love for photography is palpable.
- A symbolic undercurrent of the sixties. David dislikes the antique stores, yet ignores the brimming chaos around him in the form of protesters and mimes (anarchists). The youth are disrespectful, confused, and useless, most notably during the Yardbirds concert (featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page) and a pot party. Huge social change is approaching whether these characters are aware of it or not.
- Many moments that are daffy just for the sake of being so, such as David buying a wooden propeller and putting a match in a model. There’s a good chance some scenes were improvised. Then there’s that final tennis playing match – more later.
- Hardly any dialogue and few explanations – certainly a challenge for those used to more mainstream fare.
On first viewing many years ago, I found Blow Up boring. This time out, I considered everything as symbolic of something else, and the movie flew by. Does the corpse represent lost love? Innocence? A mourning of England past?
I’ve watched many daffy sixties movies, and Blow-Up at least reaches beyond and transcends its decade. It’s aware of sixties’ chaos, youth rebellion, and searching for meaning in the new – but has the guts to point out that the ultimate point may be hollow and ultimately meaningless.
As a photographer, Thomas places much faith in the camera. While examining some photographs, he finds evidence of a murder, which he later confirms by finding the corpse in the park. Jane’s (Redgrave) request for the photographs suggests a dire importance. After he refuses, the photographs are stolen and the corpse vanishes.
Just as the murder remains outside of Thomas’ experience, the murder isn’t shown onscreen. Since we weren’t specifically shown, we can only assume – as Thomas does – that it did happen.
After the Yardbirds concernt, Thomas picks up the neck of a broken guitar. The crowd clamors for the artifact, as it has meaning since the band touched it. Outside the club, a passerby with no knowledge of the concert examines the broken guitar neck and tosses it aside as garbage.
At movie’s end, Thomas reluctantly participates in an imaginary tennis match, at its periphery. He throws a ball that doesn’t exist. But the behavior of the mimes, and that of the camera – following the non-existent ball as it rolls through the grass – lends evidence that the ball is real.
Through these games of shifting reality, meaning, and truth, I began to question the purpose of Thomas’ entire life. He creates highly staged, glamour photos of models wearing the latest fashions, presenting illusions which ultimately have little meaning.
Here’s what I think Antonioni is getting at: If you lose all evidence of a truth, would you still believe? That is the murder. And on the contrary, if you have evidence of a clear falsehood, would you still believe? That is the tennis match.
David chooses the latter when he tosses the ball into the crowd of mimes. It makes sense, as his whole life has been spent manufacturing illusions for mass consumption. So he disappears.
Rotten Tomatoes: Blow-Up 85%