on October 15, 1999
Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film adaptation of Julio Cortazar's "Blow-Up," perhaps Antonioni's best known work, represents a truly great adaptation of a short story, though the film on its own still stands as a great artistic acheivement. It is a remarkable example of an international work (an Italian director working with a British cast), a project which can easily go awry. David Hemings and Vanessa Redgrave both give excellent performances, but most important, it is a highly stylized somewhat avant-garde work, but in the end, the story has direct meaning and still makes perfectly clear sense- a true rarity. "Blow-Up's" value as a literary adaptation is only one virtue the film possesses, but this virtue includes several positive aspects. "Blow-Up" centers around a photographer named Robert, who, while walkng through the park one afternoon, photographs two lovers from a distance. The woman furiously demands that Robert hand over the negatives. Instead, he returns to hs studio to develop them. After studyng the photographs carefully, Robert discovers that the woman, working with a third firgure situated behind the hedge, is murdering the young man. As he studies the photos, Robert is watching an actual murder take place, but he is powerless to stop it, because it is only taking place in the photographs. Here, the line separating reality and imagination has become completely blurred. As events unfold, the photographer comes to realize that the entire sequence may have only taken place in his head. The recurring theme of both the short story and the film is that people ultimately construct their own reality. Cortazar helped establsh this theme from the beginning by writing his story alternately in first person and in third person, sometimes in singular, sometimes in plural, the implication being that the narrator himself isn't even certain whether or not any of this actually took place. In his film adaptation, Antonioni took what was represented as a few short scenes in the short story, and integrated his own material, bringing the film to a reasonable running time. The impressive part of this is that the integrated material, while completely fabricated by the filmmaker, still manages to make itself relevant by being in compliance with the story's main theme. The mime troupe is the most interesting of these additions. They appear in the beginning, their only apparent purpose to create havoc in the city. Though in the end, it is the mime troupe who make the film's theme most apparent. While playing a mock game of tennis, the mimes knock the "ball" out of the court. Robert goes to retrieve it for them. He bends over, picks up an imaginary ball, and throws it back on the court. The camera stays on Robert as he watches them play, and slowly, we begin to hear the sound of a tennis ball being bounced back and forth. Once again, Robert has immersed himself in the reality of his imagination, so to speak. Antonioni, an absolute master of sound control, pulls this effect off as no other director could have. The short story's theme of imagination and reality could so easily have been lost on film, since film is by its nature a third person limited storytelling medium. Antonioni's uses of sound, as in all of his movies, is truly astounding, and he uses this medium very effectively to enter Robert's personal reality. This is perhaps the greatest genius of the film adaptation.
More than any other film that comes to mind, "Blow Up" illustrates the adage distinguishing the novelist from the filmmaker: the former's concern is to make the significant visible whereas the latter's passion is to bring significance to the visible. Little does it matter that the film's protagonist fails in that quest. Antonioni manages to make the search itself so absorbing that the "whodunnit" motif of the narrative is incidental to the journey itself. "Pictures don't lie" is another old bromide being put to the test by this film's unique thematizing of the photographic process itself, and Antonioni's accomplishment is to preserve the spirit if not the letter of the statement. We leave the film believing in the power of the photographed image even if both its meaning and content remain inconclusive.
Watching the film in the theater was a spellbinding and unforgettable experience. Anyone who has seen the director's out-of-control if not disastrous "Zabriskie Point" and subsequently decided to pass up "Blow Up" should definitely reconsider. Just a couple of caveats: the film does, in fact, transfer quite poorly to a small video monitor, bringing excessive attention to dated features of the pop cultural landscape of the late '60's London scene. Moreover, because video cameras are now the everyman's commodity, while cropping, editing, and enlargening images are common practice in modern-day consumer culture, some of the undeniable excitement experienced by David Hemmings with each of his successive blow-ups is bound to seem much more mundane. And perhaps by now we fancy we know more about photography than either Antonioni or Hemmings, especially after the failure of even instant replay to be definitive about whether a touchdown was scored.
Nevertheless, if you have a large screen, some patience and a memory of the promise and challenges of an earlier technology, "Blow Up" still is capable of working at several important levels--as existential philosophy, as postmodern text, as compelling narrative (Hemmings is wonderful), and as a respite from many current overly loud, fractically edited blockbusters that, despite the sound and fury, signify nothing whatsoever.
on March 6, 2002
Ever since I first saw this movie in the late 60's, it seemed clear to me that the whole picture was not really about the veracity of the crime that the photographer supposedly shot, but rather about the unreality of the life of the mod world, and by extension of the pop world as a whole. The two different chromatic tones used by Antonioni to depict the real life, as represented by the flop house, and the illusory pop world, the main theme of the movie, are indicative of the contrasting realities portrayed in the film. Hunger, poverty, old age, diseases, and dead are painted in subdued mate tones. On the other hand, the harlequins, mimes, drugs parties, rock concerts and other happenings populated by those zombies that represent the pop culture, their unreality notwithstanding, are filmed with bright fluorescent colors. These specimens of what now is considered the "beautiful people", are empty of true emotions. And just by chance, to one of its members, the photographer, the opportunity to escape from that unreal world is offered in the form of the photographing of a murder, without meaning to. Confronted with the absolute truth, death, this superficial human being does not know how to behave. That surreal world to which he belongs has ingrained so deeply into his soul, that instead of behaving like a normal person would do by going to the police, he instead unconsciously invents as many circuitous, roundabouts ways as possible to avoid the confrontation of that most real of truths: death. So that is why, after realizing that the corpse has disappeared, he circumambulates aimlessly by the park. And when asked by the mime to return the illusory tennis ball (that is, to reinsert himself anew in the illusory mod or fashion world) he decides to comply, having lost for ever the opportunity to be a true human being. And that is why the unreal tennis ball starts to sound in the final seconds of the movie.
What makes this film a classical masterpiece, besides the formal and structural techniques employed by "el maestro" Antonioni, is his depiction of the banal, sophomoric reality of the mod and pop world. And all banality of that world depicted in the film is as true today as in the 60's (just take a look at the frantic and pathetic lives of all those soulless Hollywood stars).
To say that the film has not aged well just because the white jeans that Hemmings wears are today demodé, is like saying that Battleship Potemkin is an anachronism because the Odessa steps scene sequence has been surpassed by Brian De Palma in The Untouchables. Simply put, classics by definition can not be dated. By the way, Blow-Up is based in a short history by Julio Cortazar("Las babas del diablo"), and has nothing to do with the Zapruder film, whatsoever.
As to some resemblance to the Austin Power movies I can not attest one way or the other, because life is too short to spend two hours seeing such stupid, silly movies (or Titanic, or Gladiator, or Shakespeare In Love, or Pearl Harbor, for that matter).
The jazz score throughout the most appealing scenes and the ominous wind in the park are employed in a masterly way. If any film deserves to be edited in DVD, this is it.
Blow-Up, as the title suggests, is about the pictures. David Hemmings is the photographer putting together a book about the down-and-out in London. He decides to provide contrast for the end of his book by taking some shots in an idylic London park. He sees in the distance Vanessa Redgrave holding an older man in what appears to be an embrace. Hemmings begins photographing them and then is spotted by Redgrave who demands the negatives. Hemmings refuses.
Redgrave shows up later at Hemmings' studio. He gives her what he says are the negatives, but we find out moments later he has kept them and proceeds to develop his pictures.
The closer he looks at the blow-ups of his shots, the more intrigued he becomes with what he sees, which is a gun pointed at Redgraves' lover and then later a grainy shot of what may be a body. Hemmings goes back to the park, finds the body, and then returns home. Later his studio is vandalized and all his pictures are stolen.
This plot line appears thin for a two hour film and many Amazon.com reviewers are bored to death with what they think is a pretentious movie about people impossible to like and a story bereft of action and dialogue.
The Hemmings' character is impossible to like and that is just the point. Director Michelangelo Antonioni is more interested in what Hemmings' camera sees, and that is a world invisible to the naked eye. Hemmings' camera gives us frozen moments in time that are decisive moments in the lives of his characters. Only by looking closely with great patience can we unravel the mystery of life and death played out in a park on a sunny afternoon.
Blow-Up is a great mystery story and the mystery goes deeper than the murder in the park. Can we trust what we think we see? Clearly not. For those who would like to further their understanding of this question, I recommend Akira Kurosawa's great film Rashomon. Can we trust what the camera sees? Perhaps, but not from the long distance lense of Hemming's camera. He needed to go back to the park to confirm what he thought he saw.
Antonioni is a skillful director; he shows much and tells little, and he is careful to give us everything we need to make up our own mind. Our challenge to is see without prejudice, without projecting our own images and perceptions onto the blown-up pictures before our eyes. Highly recommended
on December 29, 2010
This film is undeniably a classic. I have loved it for a long time, having seen it on vhs back in highschool. I love to purchase films that merit repeated viewings, so purchasing this dvd was a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, the dvd has been somewhat disapointing in terms of image quality, especially compared to my dvd copy of Zabriskie Point, which is visually stunning. And if it is true, as another reviewer suggests, that certain key scenes have been cut, this is a major disappointment!
This classic film deserves a fully restored, high quality blu-ray and dvd release. Right away!
On another note, many reviewers suggest that the film has a "dated" feel. I actually think that Antonioni portrayed the then-current fashion and music trends in a oddly detached way that makes them seem trivial and shallow, to make a point. The film is definitely a time capsule, yet it never buys into the trappings of the era.
on September 20, 2007
Someone changed the title music, to begin with. If you leave the menu on your screen and listen, you will hear the original title music, a brief rock interlude followed by a wistful jazz piano. The strident, cacaphonous trumpet you hear under the titles is the wrong music.
If Blowup looks and feels different from the four Antonioni films that preceded it, one reason may be that Antonioni used an English editor, Frank Clarke (uncredited). The pace of the movie is far faster than what a viewer of L'Eclisse or La Notte would expect.
In many scenes there are sudden, apparently pointless cuts. These are inserted to give the movie a more nervous look than we expect from Antonioni. Perhaps, knowing he was making his first mystery, Antonioni planned this new style with his editor.
There are other mannerisms, not unique to this film, that are always interesting. The camera follows a receding car for some distance, then slows down and lets the car get further away.
A burst of music will suddenly be heard, and just as suddenly fade away. In the studio this seems to signify the photographer's preoccupation with the photos, causing him to forget the music.
-- Critics and the public are correct in viewing Antonioni as a dark pessimist about human nature. He sees us as sadly unequipped for the challenges of reality, relationships, moral judgment, etc. The theme of the movie is how easily the photographer is distracted from the serious business at hand, i.e. the apparent murder captured by his camera. He is no match for the reality before him, and drifts from one diversion to the next. The wonderful scene of the Yardbirds playing to a catatonic audience, and our hero coming away with the worthless trophy, sums up the director's view of him.
But the key scene of the movie is when the photographer, suspecting the murder, leaves his studio without his camera, finds the body in the park, can't photograph it, and returns to the studio to find that all the prints and negatives of the event have been stolen in his absence. One false step and everything is lost. The record of the reality, and perhaps the reality itself.
Antonioni invited the debate about whether anything at all happened -- the murder, the photographs, the scene in the park, etc. -- by having the imaginary tennis ball at the end of the film begin to make plocking noises, and by having the photographer disappear. Why Antonioni called this moment his "signature" is a mystery to me. Possibly to bring more people into the theaters.
The scene in the park is a classic of form and color and movement. Nothing like it has been done before or since. If you turn the volume up on your TV during this scene, you will realize that the trees and bushes, being blown by the wind, are definite conspirators in what is happening to the man and woman. Similarly, in the final scene, the sky has turned grey and the trees and bushes seem to mock the photographer who has returned to the scene of his greatest failure.
I had to watch the movie 50 times before I realized that the killer behind the fence is the grassy knoll assassin in Dallas. The movie was made three years after the Kennedy assassination.
The scenes in the studio, discovering the truth hidden in the photos, have been much imitated. They are wonderful, breathless, dramatic.
Today the question of reality seems far less pertinent than the shallowness of the photographer [who may also be the artist, according to some] and his inability to confront the real in an adult, responsible way. But it can be argued that if human perception is so skewed by selfish concerns and shallow desires, the human race never really perceives a real world at all. Only the next pleasure, the next gratification, the next need or project. The human world we see around us, colored by war, famine, violence, and the colossal indifference of man to his fellow man, may be a world built by creatures who do not have a reality. Only a stubborn need to be safe, to be blind. Possibly this is the sense of those last troubling images.
Incidentally, I saw the movie four or five times in the theater, and I saw no scenes that have been deleted, as the reviewer above claims. As far as I can remember, the movie is completely intact in this DVD.
on February 26, 2004
I used to check out the video of this from my local public library (not the kind of thing one finds on the shelf at Blockbuster), and found myself going back to it again and again, over time. I was drawn into its pace, its quiet, its wandering. Now, the DVD - not a perfect package, certainly, but well worth the price. Cheap-o case, slim "extras" - what the hell is with that "music-only" soundtrack, anyway? It really is just the visual of the film playing with the added music (what little there is), no dialog or other sounds, not even the Yardbirds stuff!
While the audio commentary is potentially off-putting (be prepared for obligatory academic fussing about male dominance, "male gaze" etc), the guy manages to stay focussed on what's on screen at the moment, and even comes through with a few worthwhile observations - particularly the film's motif of things losing their meaning when placed out of context (the one photo left behind after the burglary, the broken guitar fretboard taken from the club). While a regular viewer might observe the photographer being kind of snippy (and - gasp! - rude) toward his models, the critic complains of his "brutal" treatment of women; when Hemmings is taking pictures of Veruschka, and then stops when he feels he's done taking pictures, our audio professor sniffs at the photographer/male oppressor using and discarding the poor, sensitive, victimized model. Sheeesh! What was he supposed to do, cuddle her?
I suppose it is a relevant topic in the context of Antonioni's other work, but the guy takes too much delight in skewering the main character, who we are supposed to like, after all. (Pretty much the same thing happens with the critc's commentary on the Criterion DVD of "Straw Dogs").
Overall though, the commentary is not too intrusive, and the more relevant insights, and the power of the film itself, offset any rhetorical groaners one might hear. I'm not sure if I ever noticed the apparent glimpse of the Vanessa Redgrave character on the street at night, quickly vanishing in the crowd. The use of the director's camera-eye to separate itself from the main character's point of view is another element to the sense of mystery. About the only moment in the film that doesn't ring true for me is the catatonic audience at Ricky Tick's - one cannot listen to the Yardbirds (live, no less) in such a state.
on April 24, 2004
Read reviews of "Blow Up" and you'll find a huge diversity of opinion. It's a masterpiece... it's rubbish... it's tantalisingly complex... it's hedonistically superficial... what happens in the film is "real"... nothing that happens in the film is "real"... and so it goes. Watch the film and take your choice, but the fact that it still generates such reactions is a testament to its enduring impact. So what does it have?
Well, on the down side, a lot of the acting is weak, the musical soundtrack is too self-consciously "hip", and several of the scenes appear to have been inserted purely for effect - "we do nudity, drugs and rock & roll as well as making films". And on the plus side? David Hemmings acting is superb, the cinema-photography is brilliant, and the use of sound (and silence) to create atmosphere is stunningly effective. But beneath all that's superficially good & bad there's something much, much deeper. Firstly, a riddle that drives it and to which there's no answer - in simple terms, what's real and what's not? Antonioni poses this question throughout the film, from the heavily handed obvious (the play acting of the mime troupe), the subtle (the fact that Hemmings' character is never referred to by name), to the brilliantly tense darkroom scenes where his photos are "blown up" to levels that make interpretation of what he and we are "seeing" impossible. Secondly, and even more subtle, is this man's life simply play acting itself - has he become nothing by having everything - is he still "real"?
Deep stuff and a film that is, as a result, a fascinating enigma in its plot, its execution and people's reaction to it.
Blow-Up is one of my favorite films. Watching this as an HD VOD from Amazon was like spending nearly two hours with an old friend. The video Amazon has available is truly stunning.
This film amazes me every time I watch it. Antonioni built this film so carefully and perfectly. The question of reality is so perfectly challenged; the final scene with the mimes playing tennis is absolute perfection. In some ways the film is dated; it wears 1960s London on its sleeve. On the other hand, the questions it poses are as relevant today as they were when the film was released. The Herbie Hancock sound track and performance by the Yardbirds is amazing. David Hemmings is so grungy as the photographer. Seeing a young Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin is almost worth the price of admission.
I've seen this film in so many formats - 16mm print in a completely dark theater, the Criterion Laserdisc, the DVD, and now streaming in HD. This streaming edition is the closest to the 16mm print.
There appears to be some debate about this version of the film being badly edited and there should be a longer version of the film available. That may certainly be true - it is possible that the film was released in the late 60s with additional scenes. I seem to recall the 16mm print that I saw in the late 70s had more nudity. However, the DVD, VOD, and Laserdisc were all made from the same print or version. What I find odd, the Criterion Laserdisc is exactly the same run time as both of these later versions. Criterion tends to find the most pristine perfect unadulterated versions of films for transfer. If a longer print was available, I would think Criterion would have used that print.
To me, this is one of the best films ever made.
on January 27, 2005
It's the swinging sixties in London, and Thomas is a fashion photographer who has grown weary of his hedonistic existence and finds himself on a quest for something more. By chance he follows a couple in a park, taking pictures of them as they wander and display their affections. Of course, nothing is as it seems and soon that girl will arrive on his doorstep willing to do anything to get the negatives. Has his camera captured an illicit affair? Thomas intentionally gives her the wrong negatives and immediately developes the right ones. Curiosity? Once developed, he thinks he sees something in one of the photos and proceeds to blowup the questionable image. He studies the results, and the more he searches through the pixels the more he begins to see. A dead body? A crime? He asks the girlfriend of an artist who who works adjacent to his studio, "That's the body? It looks like one of Bill's paintings." Earlier in the film we actually see Bill's work and he explains that trying to make sense of the components of art is like "trying to find a clue in a detective story." Thomas has indeed become a detective, suddenly aware of an existence that lurks under the surface of things. An illusive existence . . . imaginary? Everything about this picture questions structure and the idea of reality. Begining with a great Jazz score (the most improvisational of music), we see Thomas indistinquishable from a mass of downtrodden homeless men only to turn the corner and step into a Rolls Royce convertable. Things are not what they seem. A troup of mimes cruises through London pretending to see and interact with things that are not real and when they make a reappearence at the end of the film, playing tennis with imaginary rackets, we can almost see the ball bouncing from one side of the court to the other. In the end one might ask if Thomas really did uncover a murder or was it only imagined? Perhaps this is a question we might just as well ask ourselves concerning our own realities, but once you start questioning things, the answers will inevitably lead to more questions. In this alone there is value. As Socrates said, if we can believe Plato's account, "The unexamined life is not worth living."