Six years after the seminal L’Avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni caused another international feeding frenzy with his Palm d’Or winner Blowup, the story of a disillusioned fashion photographer, Thomas (the great David Hemmings), in ’60s mod London who discovers he’s captured a murder on camera. Antonioni creates a film that questions the politics of its protagonist and, at the same time, challenges the way we watch movies. In many ways, this is the best film ever made about movies, because Antonioni recognizes the fragile nature of celluloid and the need to preserve great images. Which is why the film is to profoundly moving—by film’s end, Antonioni sadly suggests that one day Blowup won’t exist (or mean anything to anyone) if it doesn’t continue to be seen, or if its meaning isn’t blown-up. Thomas is a man who loves women more than he loves money and he is more than happy to disassociate himself from the Vietnam War. “It’s not my fault there’s no peace,” says the photographer, who associates money with freedom and whose images and acquisitions (he buys a wooden plane propeller from an antique store) suggest stalled movement (read: political inaction). The models in the film are no different than the audience at the Yardbirds concert (yes, that’s Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on stage)—inactive subjects that don’t understand why they’re being photographed or listening to music. Because Thomas is enticed by images that stand still, Antonioni encourages him to move throughout the film. When he accidentally photographs a crime scene at a disturbingly serene park, he’s encouraged to activate a coded narrative via blowups of his photographs. (The chilling interaction of still photographs may be one of the greatest sequences in the history of cinema.) Though Thomas respects movement (he’s repulsed by Vanessa Redgrave’s graceless dancing and he moves around his apartment effortlessly), he certainly doesn’t understand it. As such, his struggle to activate images becomes a fascinating call to arms and an even more interesting evocation of a universal need for self-discovery. Thomas happily engages with a group of mimes throughout the film, but he doesn’t understand them as much as he is enticed by their surface spectacle. Only by film’s end does he understand that an image that isn’t there doesn’t really exist and Blowup daringly suggests that an image without politics isn’t an image at all.
Blowup has never looked this ravishing. Released in 1966, the film doesn't look a year over 1975. Except for some minor edge enhancement and a small hair trapped on screen for a few seconds near Vanessa Redgrave's crotch (for those who care, that's about 57:23 minutes in), this is a virtually spotless transfer. Sound was every bit as important to Antonioni as his images, but Blowup's eerie sound design is inconsistently evoked here. The good: the wind in the park, the splish-splash sound of film being developed, the mime's tennis game, and the wooden propeller hitting the concrete pavement. The bad: since dialogue wasn't recorded very well, you may have to pump up the volume.
Because the film's score and songs are every bit as classic as Antonioni's images, Warner Home Video has generously provided a music-only track. Equally generous is Indiewire's Peter Brunette, who shares his thoughts on a scene-specific audio commentary. Though he says he's hesitant to explain the meaning of the film's "merry makers," it's easy to tell which critical interpretations he favors. Blowup is one of the most discussed works in film history and Brunette covers all bases. Most enlightening is Brunette's analysis of the way Antonioni foregrounds himself into the film via his framing, which he suggests is in constant conflict with that of Hemmings's character. For Antonioni fans, this is a must-listen. Also included here is the film's teaser and theatrical trailer. (Warner Home Video will release Blowup in conjunction with Luchino Visconti's masterpieces The Damned and Death in Venice.)
Great sound. Excellent image. Crucial commentary. A must-have.