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.
- Michelangelo Antonioni
- Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra
- David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills, Peter Bowles, Veruschka von Lehndorff
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