A wonderful way to twitch his first English language venture and Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’ is as maddening to watch as it is fascinating about its remarkable times of swinging 60s of London. The tense and provocative film about perception and voyeurism in a stringy blend of murder mystery, a very sight of stylish look at the world of fashion, is been an exciting theme ever made which still is a yardstick for many of the movie makers in the World to recognize Antonioni’s style of making movies
‘Blowup’ is a 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni about a fashion photographer, played by David Hemmings, who believes he may have witnessed a murder and unwittingly taken photographs of the killing. It was Antonioni’s first entirely English-language film. The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Tsai Chin and Gillian Hills as well as sixties model Veruschka. The screenplay was written by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with English dialogue by British playwright Edward Bond. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti, who had contracted Antonioni to make three English-language films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the others were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger).
The plot was inspired by Julio Cortázar’s short story, “Las babas del diablo” with its diegetic music by Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.
Watching ‘Blowup’ was a real great thrill even after forty eight years after its release. Antonio’s depiction of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, swaying city in its charm, a sight of the world of fashion, provocative murder mystery that examines the existential nature of reality interpreted through photography. The well set mid 60s London, a locale fairly unfamiliar to the director, although distinguished at the time for its trends including the Beatles, stick-thin fashion model Twiggy, and the styles at Carnaby Street. Anything less is a treat & more is a milestone in liberal brashness. Oh yes this movie quickly turn out to be one of the most important films of 20th century, and it was Michelangelo Antonioni’s first international box-office success. The defiance and expressions of sexuality went as far to be the first British film to display full-frontal nudity
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards with no wins in the category of Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, and Edward Bond). However this won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967. Whether you regard this movie as a pompous film-making or serious cinematic art- I would leave it to the audience far from their reactions…Film critic Andrew Sarris said the movie was “a mod masterpiece”. In Playboy magazine, film critic Arthur Knight wrote that Blowup would be “as important and germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so”. Time magazine called the film a “far-out, uptight and vibrantly exciting picture” that represented a “screeching change of creative direction” for Antonioni; the magazine predicted it would “undoubtedly be by far the most popular movie Antonioni has ever made”
The flick opens in the era of Swinging London; subsequent to the scene shown are the group of happy street mime carousers in any open Jeep careening through the streets. The white faced and masked groups of pranksters get drunk and run through the streets swamping automobiles and their drivers with their charity box, while a group of destitute men leave Camberwell Reception Centre, a hostel for the homeless. Then you have a high-fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings), dressed like a tramp, leaves with the group to walk a block or two to his parked Rolls Royce convertible, carrying his expensive camera in a brown paper bag. A step further his face looks tired and casual to his lucrative career of glamour photography, so on the side in a complete about-face, he routes to photographing with his Nikon F (supposed to be the world’s first 35mm SLR camera) in a genuine documentary style, the seamy and sordid side of life in London – including its bums, poverty-stricken individuals, and the aged in refuges, flophouses and slums.
As he leaves the studio, two teenage girls who are aspiring models (Birkin and Hills) ask to speak with him, but the photographer drives off to look at an antiques shop. Wandering into Maryon Park, he takes photos of two lovers. The woman (Vanessa Redgrave) is furious at being photographed. The photographer then meets his agent for lunch, and notices a man following him and looking into his car. Back at his studio, Redgrave arrives asking for the film, but he deliberately hands her a different roll. She in turn writes down a false telephone number to give to him. His many enlargements of the black and white film are grainy but seem to show a body in the grass and a killer lurking in the trees with a gun. He is disturbed by a knock on the door, but it is the two girls again, with whom he has a romp in his studio and falls asleep. Awakening, he finds they hope he will photograph them but he tells them to leave, saying, “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!”
As evening falls, the photographer goes back to the park and finds a body, but he has not brought his camera and is scared off by a twig breaking, as if being stepped on. The photographer returns to his studio to find that all the negatives and prints are gone except for one very grainy blowup showing the body. After driving into town, he sees Redgrave and follows her into a club where The Yardbirds, featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar, are seen playing. At a drug-drenched party in a house on the Thames near central London, he finds both Veruschka – who had told him that she was going to Paris, and when confronted, she says she is in Paris – and his agent (Peter Bowles), whom he wants to bring to the park as a witness. However, the photographer cannot put across what he has photographed. Waking up in the house at sunrise, he goes back to the park alone, but the body is gone.
Confused and perplexed, he watches a mimed tennis match, is drawn into it, picks up the imaginary ball and throws it back to the two players. While he watches the mime, the sound of the ball being played is heard. As the photographer watches this mimed match alone on the lawn, his image fades away, leaving only the grass as the film ends.
You have a primeval appeal in this movie and the tone layered with the engrossing visuals is something unique, which only Angelo can flair those glow, which adds quiet a power in the radiant camerawork of Carlo Di Palma. The assertion of his technic and its accuracy are also something to be talked about. London in the sixties, though marvelously captured, is used by the film merely as a backdrop for more universal themes. Though there is no other film quite like it. Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ can be traced its roots to this film.
In 1966, when nudity in English language films wasn’t commonplace, there was a real charge to Redgrave taking off her blouse and lounging around the studio in a skirt and neck scarf with her arms crossed over her breasts, not to mention the notorious and actually rather tactful sequence in which Hemmings grapples on the floor with a pair of gawky, clueless groupies (Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills). It’s eroticism charged with quirk, neurosis and gloom, but the film isn’t so naive as to assume its audience doesn’t find the hero’s life enviable, if not admirable
As you see the end credits of ‘Blowup’ roll, there’s often a lot of head-scratching of notwithstanding a full paced thriller or a portrait of swinging isolation of our lives. Many wonder what it’s all about, even dated today. My discussion of this film is often focused on what it’s not about, as that’s an easier way for the solution rather than question to answer. Is it the about the culture of London in 60s, or is that about the protagonists’ blithe insolence and his mode of disrupting pictures, or it’s about the murder. So many ways of getting mislead by the expectations with our familiarity of conventional plots.
‘Blowup’ defies expectations, including those it seems to create itself, and demands to be taken on its own terms. For many I wouldn’t recommend any answers, and if there were, I am sure they would not be too interesting. It’s like what Douglas Adams said about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. The answer is 42, meaningless information out of context — but if you knew the question, ah, then you’d have something. I mean we need to figure questions!! This is also about how skewed one’s perception of reality can be, and, since perception is the only way we can gather information about reality, we ultimately can’t distinguish it.
‘Blowup’ represents us with only one perception, and the story, what there is of a story, is his engagement in his craft, which, by nature, is to capture and preserve a view of reality. But is an image captured on film any less a skewed perception of reality than our own vision of it in the moment? At least part of the film’s agenda seems to be to explore that very thing.in short- ‘Blowup’ is not meant to mediate an absolute answer, but a muse for a possible solution
- Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
- Produced by Carlo Ponti & Pierre Rouve
- Written by Edward Bond (English dialogue)
- Screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni & Tonino Guerra
- Story by Michelangelo Antonioni
- Based on “Las babas del diablo” by Julio Cortázar
- Starring:David Hemmings; Vanessa Redgrave & Sarah Miles
- Music by Herbie Hancock
- Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
- Editing by Frank Clarke
- Studio: MGM; Bridge Films
- Distributed by MGM Premier Productions
- Release dates:18 December 1966 (USA) & 29 August 1967 (UK)
- Running time: 110 minutes
- Country: Italy; United Kingdom & United States
- Language: English