Film Reviews

Blow-Up Michelangelo Antonioni

Rating - 10/10

Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was an art house icon long before he began his English language debut, Blow-Up (1966). A former film journalist and documentary filmmaker, Antonioni had already created a distinct series of films in his native Italy dealing with subjects such as middle-class ennui, social alienation and dehumanization. By the time Blow-Up reached American shores in late 1966, Antonioni was being celebrated as one of the most influential auteurs of his generation.

A popular critical and commercial success, Blow-Up was almost immediately entangled in notoriety for its brazen depictions of casual sex, open marriage, flagrant drug use and explicit nudity. Certainly, the moralistic scandal surrounding the film enticed audiences, who made the film the highest grossing art-house film of its era. But it can also be argued that Antonioni had been fortunate to have had his film circulated during a significant midpoint in American socio-cultural history. 

Released in-between the closing stages of the British Invasion and the popularization of the American counter-culture movement, Blow-Up was made available to an audience highly receptive to its charms. Set in Swinging London, Blow-Up starred David Hemmings as Thomas: a materialistic photographer whose affluent lifestyle was purportedly based upon the activities and mannerisms of famed British photographer David Bailey.
 
Bored, indulgent and impetuous, Thomas is perennially discontented with his life. One afternoon, following a visit to a disorderly antique shop, he decides to take a stroll in an eerily vacant park. There, he sees an adult couple wandering in the distance and decides to take a few random snapshots for the final pages of his latest book. Soon, Thomas is pursued by Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), the female half of the couple, who begs for him to return the photographs.
 
Upon doling out to Jane an empty roll of film, Thomas decides to investigate the photographs he took in the park in order to possibly discover why Jane wants them returned to her with such urgency. What Thomas unearths from the film's negatives is at the core of Antonioni’s existentialist inquiries into ideas of reality, image, attention and focus.
 
The perplexing riddle Thomas attempts to connect in his array of photographs acts as the film’s MacGuffin. The actual properties contained within the camera film are never concretely rationalized or afforded a logical conclusion. Yet, through Thomas’ search, Antonioni coolly manages to unlock a subversive and unorthodox reading of Swinging London: rejecting its fashionable, colorful imagery for something darker and less florid.
 
The Swinging London Antonioni found and recorded was one cluttered with shallowness, materialism and egotistical creatures. The vibrancy of the period transmitted in the films of Richard Lester is absent in Antonioni’s work. Antonioni’s London is soulless and decaying. The city’s older segments, surviving remnants of the Second World War, now reside alongside cold geometrical skyscrapers and office towers. In the narrow streets Thomas propels his sleek Rolls Royce convertible through, an aesthetic clash between Edwardian and Modern architecture is visible.
 
Unbeknownst to its residents, this frosty, newly constructed postwar London has unwittingly spawned Thomas and his kind: a fleet of unenthused and jaded people as spiritless and inexpressive as the rectangular buildings dotting the cityscape. Many of the young people Thomas meets throughout the film are like him: impulsive, acquisitive and bored.
 
There is the antique shop owner (Susan Broderick) who yearns to travel to Nepal or Morocco, because she is tired of being surrounding by the past. When Thomas informs her that Nepal is equally full of antiques, she appears nonplussed by his response; as though she barely understands the rationale behind her original decision. Escapist tendencies are also arrived at in the film through casual sex and open drug use, most notably in a line delivered by the Paris-bound model Verushka who insists “I am in Paris” at an affluent drug-filled party held in a fashionable London home.
 
Nihilistic and avaricious, Thomas rapaciously yearns to expand both his bank account and his personal collection of possessions. Thomas equates wealth with freedom and fails to understand those who do not share his appetites. Additionally, Thomas’ judgments are sporadic and hasty. He wants to purchase an antique shop, yet the geometrical interiors and self-conscious décor of his home studio appear to belie an interest in historic relics. He buys an airplane propeller, but has neither any use for it as an aesthetic object, nor seems interested in the item once it arrives at his front door. He eagerly tries to procure an unfinished painting from Bill (John Castle) a nearby abstract painter, only to be rebuffed. Upon leaving Bill’s cottage, he promptly loses all interest in the painting, which in its complexion curiously later mimics the increasingly pointillist images within Thomas' magnified photographs. 
 
In congruence with the film’s other youthful characters, Thomas also lacks genuine purpose in his life. Throughout Blow-Up, he is constantly in motion: moving from one situation to the next, unable to focus on a single event. This aspect of Antonioni’s film is similar to his earlier work L’Avventura, in which a group of Italian socialites try to find a missing member of their party, only to lose interest in her disappearance. The photographs Thomas takes in the park provide him with his only genuine interaction with reality. But this too is fleeting. By the film’s finale Thomas is no longer concerned with the photographs, just as his miniscule attention span no longer remembers his momentary desires for Bill’s painting, the antique shop or the broken guitar neck he recovers from a Yardbirds concert.
 
Blow-Up is also notable for its interpretation of reality and illusion. Thomas is unquestionably a central figure in this matter, since his perception of reality is mostly filtered through the lenses of his camera.  His photographs depict a staged reality, whether it is via models posing in modish attire or elderly men at the dosshouse. The actual reality Thomas encounters after analyzing the blown-up photographs is neither logical nor rational. Ultimately, Thomas sees what he wants to believe he has observed in the pictures taken at the park; in the same way the mimes at the end of Blow-Up believe they are witnesses to a tennis ball being tossed in the air.
 
When Blow-Up was released in late December 1966, the film quickly became the personification of mod cool. Whereas in 1966, Hemmings’ Thomas was hip and fab, his protagonist now appears decidedly more cold, violent, distracted and superficial. A misogynistic streak is also more clearly attributable in his aggressive attitudes toward women, who he views as objects and sexual playthings. Hemmings also accorded Thomas with a lust for money and possessions more akin to Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko than the Flower Power children who would come to later define our collective consciousness of the Sixties.
 
Aside from Edward Bond’s overwhelmingly dated jargon, Blow-Up still retains a mysterious aura. Unquestionably, the film’s lasting mystique and power is mostly due to Antonioni’s intricate direction. It is Antonioni’s auteurist voice which shapes and guides Blow-Up more so than the film’s performances, Carlo di Palma’s cinematography, Herbie Hancock’s jazzy soundtrack or Frank Clarke’s editing. In doing so, Antonioni created a film, which today appears to be more a subversive and critical interpretation of Swinging London’s spiritual and moral decay than a celebration of its transient status as the Sixties' capital of cool. An influence on later films such as Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) and Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981), Antonioni's Blow-Up still remains one of the Sixties most perplexing creations.

Comments for Blow-Up review

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what a great classic for students to plagiarize. my final student film was called "solid white albacore" and was a fictionalized post-apocalyptic story about the sexual neuroses of t-shirt fish illustrator guy harvey. in this story, he is a bisexual, perverted wreck whose problems have started to leak into both his professional life (he paints aquatic creatures with incongruous human sexual features or in obviously phallic tableaux) and his erotic life (his affair with the girlfriend of his neighbor that he's also erotically obsessed with involves a lot of the titular tuna). all of these details let you know why its a STUDENT film (actually digital video). anyway, we stole so much from "blow-up" in the main character and the settings and pacing a friend of ours who saw the antonioni masterpiece after seeing our short exclaimed to us later "oh, you bastards". anybody else ripped off "blow-up" in an attempt at creativity?

what a great classic for

what a great classic for students to plagiarize. my final student film was called "solid white albacore" and was a fictionalized post-apocalyptic story about the sexual neuroses of t-shirt fish illustrator guy harvey. in this story, he is a bisexual, perverted wreck whose problems have started to leak into both his professional life (he paints aquatic creatures with incongruous human sexual features or in obviously phallic tableaux) and his erotic life (his affair with the girlfriend of his neighbor that he's also erotically obsessed with involves a lot of the titular tuna). all of these details let you know why its a STUDENT film (actually digital video). anyway, we stole so much from "blow-up" in the main character and the settings and pacing a friend of ours who saw the antonioni masterpiece after seeing our short exclaimed to us later "oh, you bastards". anybody else ripped off "blow-up" in an attempt at creativity?
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Two Points

The film's actual title- in credits- is Blowup- no hyphen.

Second, you repeat one of the worst examples of critical cribbing, that I nailed when I reviewed this a year or two ago: http://www.cosmoetica.com/b441-des374.htm

The two leads have NO NAMES. Not once are their names uttered in the film. This claim is from a press kit, possibly, but not anywhere in the film. Where did you get the claim, other than from other reviews?

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Title

>> The film's actual title- in credits- is Blowup- no hyphen.

Weren't both titles used in different territories? I know a lot of the classic posters etc. I've seen feature the hyphenated version. Looking around the web it seems Blow Up (space, no hyphen) was also used in some settings. Seems strange to have such a subtle variation, really.

Can't comment of the naming issue. Could it be that the character's names are listed in the screenplay but don't feature in the actual dialogue? I'm curious...

David

There is a diff between Blowup and Blow-up. The former is a single word which refers to a photographic enlargement. The latter is a hyphenation that usually refers to things that go BOOM!

That's why the name within the film is what it is.
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Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
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Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

Blow-Up Definition

Blow-Up with a hypen also refers to an enlargement, in addition to an explosion or an outburst of temper. At least according to Merriam-Webster and Collins dictionaries I checked.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blow-up

I just remember the VHS I

I just remember the VHS I checked out from the Tallahassee public library said very boldly on the cover and the spine art: BLOW-UP. Different spellings in different territories, is it really relevant? Does anybody confuse it with a different Blowup? Maybe a few dim stragglers thought this was going to refer to DePalma's homage Blow-Out (sp?) starring John Travolta.

Blowup

That's marketing, George. Look at the spelling in the film itself.

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

Spelling In The Film

I hate to continue this dialogue over semantics, but if you are going to claim that spelling in the credits is the sole factor for how the film's title is supposed to be spelled, then the title for your review of Satyricon would be incorrect, as the film's opening credits clearly state the title as being Fellini Satyricon. Film titles sometimes have many acceptable manifestations, which is why Blow-Up, Blowup or Blow-up are as equal satisfactory and admissible as Fellini's 1968 film being called Fellini Satyricon, Fellini: Satyricon, Fellini-Satyricon or simply Satyricon. After all it's the same film.

Two Italians

I agree, the proper legal title is Fellini Satyricon- the lone mitigating factor, perhaps, is that Satyricon was Fellini's title, and his producers changed and released it as FS because of a film released a year or so earlier with just Satyricon.

I prefer the artist's vision over the PR flacks, so gave my nod to Fellini, but legally the title is Fellini Satyricon. However, legally and artistically, the title is Blowup, not Blow-up.

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
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www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
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Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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Definitions

Yes, defs tend to blur over time, but that was the reason MA gave in an interview I read in a magazine some years back. But, the title in the film, itself, is unhyphenated; therefore that's the will of the artist, PR flacks aside.

It's one thing, as in the Bicycle Thief, when a film is marketed across languages, to change a title- and in that case, the singular title is much better than the original plural. But, in the same language, I'll go with the artist over the PR machine.

--
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www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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Blow-Up | No Ripcord - Independent Music & Film Magazine

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Title and Names

Actually, the film's release title varied on the location in which the film was circulated. In Italy and the United States for example, the film was released as Blow-Up, whereas in Britain it was released as Blowup. Other countries released the film as Blow Up or Blow-up. This why the film's title appears in so many various forms in critical articles and monographs. For example Antonioni scholar Peter Brunette and historian Bert Cardullo use the title "Blow-Up" in their respective retrospectives/interview collections, whereas British criticism has tended to mark the title as Blowup or Blow-up.

As for the character names, they are the names listed for those characters in the film's original screenplay: a copy of which I procured from a local university library. Interestingly, all subsequent published editions of that screenplay, whether in Britain or the United States, bore the hyphenated title Blow-Up or Blow-up (depending on the region). I do agree they are not mentioned in the film, which connects to Hemmings' line "What's the use in a name?" You do bring up a good point though re: absence of names.

Names

In the actual film- the celluloid, though, it's Blowup. The advertisement is superfluous.

As for the names, this is a case, as in Last Year In Marienbad, where extra-diegetic material is incorporated and repeated ad nauseam. In that film, the three leads are claimed to all have initials for names. But, nowhere is this stated, seen, nor even implied. And it's for a reason they are nameless.

A screenplay is just a template. There are many instances of divergences. I have several Woody Allen screenplays, and a few others, and almost all of them have anywhere from a 1-10% divergence from the onscreen stuff.

The point is, that it is the film being reviewed, not the screenplay, and the fact that the characters are nameless is a very important element, as mentioned in Gary's quote. What a screenplay says, if missing, is as unimportant to a film as a deleted scene.

I just rewatched Blade Runner- my old VHS original version and the new Final Cut DVD version, and the Final Cut fucks up the original story fiercely, with all that Deckard is a Replicant nonsense. In neither version is that supported, and the original pretty much refutes it. This is one of the major problems with indulging directors to screw with their works after the fact. In that case, however, you have to deal with it because Ridley Scott is an egotist.

Fortunately, since Antonioni's film does not name his characters, a viewer should not be misled. Whether or not he had an ego to match Scott's is another question.

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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I'm going to avoid the enlightening semantic argument taking place above and just comment that I recently rewatched (re-watched?) this film a couple of months ago and had a much greater appreciation for it than I did as a teenager. The commentary track was a nice aide in piecing things together. Sometimes his lax pacing detracts from his films but I think it works here, and in most of L'Aventurra and L'Eclisse.

Lax

If you think Antonioni's lax, watch Angelopoulos.

--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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"The film's actual title- in

"The film's actual title- in credits- is Blowup- no hyphen.

Second, you repeat one of the worst examples of critical cribbing, that I nailed when I reviewed this a year or two ago"

1. The terms Blowup or Blow-Up are both acceptable seeing as both were used in different regions.

2. Even imdb refers to the characters as Thomas and Jane. They were either credited as this or referred to as this in the script. Either way, it makes referring to the characters a whole lot easier.

Nailed my ass. Get off your high horse and stop acting so self-satisfied.

Yawn

'1. The terms Blowup or Blow-Up are both acceptable seeing as both were used in different regions.'

-No they are not, as explained above. No one but the director gets to decide what the film is called, and Antonioni ruled on that, as in most things.

'2. Even imdb refers to the characters as Thomas and Jane. They were either credited as this or referred to as this in the script. Either way, it makes referring to the characters a whole lot easier.'

-IMDB is a site that collects info from mostly published sources, so they would naturally repeat the same errors other critics make. The characters are unnamed in the film and credits. That's 0 for 2.

'Nailed my ass. Get off your high horse and stop acting so self-satisfied.'

-Follow your own advice, since you have no horse to even get high on.
--
The Dan Schneider Interviews: The Most Widely
Read Interview Series in Internet History
www.Cosmoetica.com
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
www.Cosmoetica.com/Cinemension.htm
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension

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