Sunday, 22 June 2008

"The Swinging Sixties": "Blow-Up" (1966) FS5

"Most think that perception works a lot like a flashlight in the dark, illuminating whatever it's aimed at. The truth, however, is that instead of revealing what's there, it creates it." - Lou Corleto

I've watched this film over and over and see more in it each time! The narrative takes its time and is slow compared to modern films -indeed the plot and narrative take second place to the film's ideas. But the film's themes and issues sets it apart from others. Here are some of the ideas explored in the film:

  1. What is meaning? (It needs a context and without that there is no meaning: the casual sex, Sarah Miles seems to be in a relationship without meaning, Hemmings drives around in a Rolls Royce and deals in property and then says that he wishes that he had the money to escape from "London" and its "bitches".)
  2. What is real? (reality must be socially constructed - unless reality is shared by more than one person it does not exist. David Hemmings leaves a doss house, says goodbye to a few acquintances and then furtively finds his Rolls Royce. He later finds a body in a park- or did he?)
  3. What is art? (According to Kant art should have no purpose and be "use-less", meaning without use. Hemmings buys a "propeller" from an antiques shop. When challenged why he bought it Hemmings articulates the German philosopher Kant's theory on art.)
  4. How should space be defined? (For instance, the positioning of the camera in several scenes and in particular as David Hemmings is framed against the grass from a high angle shot and then he disappears. The depth of field is maintained in several shots, particularly in the highly lit photographer's studio. This is deliberate and hardly ever seen in films of our time.
  5. The director, Michaelangelo Antonioni's deliberate intervention to make the audience aware of the auteur's presence (in several scenes, particularly the scenes in the park, Hemming's blown-up camera shots do not appear to be from the same angles as the ones the audience thinks it saw him take.)
  6. Frames and barriers (there are several scenes in which characters have barriers-like structures between them.)
  7. Identity (we never know the key characters' names or their lives)
  8. The script - Veruschka (as herself) when obviously in London but high on drugs, she responds to Hemmings's "Shouldn't you be in Paris" with "I am in Paris" (This was shocking and groundbreaking as no one had been shown stoned on film before.)
  9. There are Claude Levi Strausse's binary oppositions throughout.
  10. The film is painterly - you could pick almost any frame and it would make a fine painting or photograph.
  11. And so much more.

The film went on to influence a host of later films and TV programmes and scenes from it were eventually parodied in the Austin Powers movies.

Today, "Blow-up" also seems remarkable for its misogyny, not commented on at the time of its release. This was noticed more recently! The space seen in almost car-free views of London's roads shows how wealth and the car has made our cities far less habitable.

The film impressed Hitchcock. When he saw it he is reported to have said, "The Italians are years ahead". In Hitchcock's own "The Lady Vanishes" a young woman spends part of the film trying to convince other train passagers that an old woman has disappeared and cannot get anyone to buy into her reality, until she gets Michael Redgrave to believe her. This is somewhat ironic as Regrave's daughter, Vanessa played an important role in "Blow-Up"!

David Hemmings's character is called Thomas but this must be drawn from the script as he is never named in the film. If his name is Thomas that would appear apt as a Biblical reference.

For another, deeper analysis of this film read this excellent piece:

No one makes films like "Blow-Up" anymore. MGM must have indulged themselves to allow Antonioni to make three films for them.

Here is the extended trailer:

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