Blow Up (1966): Movie Review
Many years have passed since I first saw Blow Up. It’s an extremely intelligent masterpiece by the famed Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. But as the times have changed, it has lost its power over our souls and our psychological reference points. Thomas the anti-hero (David Hemmings) is a stunningly complicated human being. This fashion photographer is half boy and half man. When we meet him in the story, he is tired of his subjects - beautiful women that are models. He is repulsed and attracted to the models. Maybe it is this mental state that tires him and not the models themselves.
The first scene takes place in the spring time. A joyful, roving hippy mob are having a gay time riding a big jeep all over the streets of London. Who are they? Do they only represent something in our antagonist’s mind? What Thomas likes best is taking pictures anywhere and everywhere. In a following scene, he is coaxing a lovely model into provocative poses. They seduce each other; she poses and he takes the pictures. He is attentive to her, but speaks rough and tough with the other models that he shoots that day.
The next day, Thomas goes to the park with his camera. The park is a beautiful expanse of grassy slopes and glades, peaceful and serene. He climbs stairs to an overlook. There he sees a women and man talking and being playful with each other. It is an idyllic scene. Then he notices some unusual clues, and he snaps pictures. He grabs the attention of Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), the women he sees. Surprisingly, she tries to take his camera from him. There is something unsettling about this action, but it is not clear just what it is, either to Thomas or the audience.
Later, Jane shows up at his studio. The question arises as to how did she get there without even knowing his name? Are there greater forces at work? Is this a conspiracy, or is his paranoia a result of his free loving, narcotics induced lifestyle? They talk; and she still wants the roll of film with shots of her, but Thomas is not swayed, so leaves without it. The pictures he took in the park become his obsession. After a repetitive series of inspection he comes to the realization that the pictures are clues of a murder but he won’t tell the police. This is a mystery itself. Thomas looks too young to be a successful studio photographer with a big Rolls Royce. But, his age fits with the baby boomers that were out there in the audience in 1966. Is he an artistic genus or is he living a fantasy?
The dreams we see on the screen in the 21st century are usually nightmares. In Blow Up, the dreams have no fear or violence. The movie is somewhat dated, but evergreen in artistic style and light touch. This movie feels like a dream, maybe an LSD trip. The director, Antonioni, has a brilliant style of making this query visceral. What is real and what is imagined blend together - similar to that of a dream. The movie camera is used almost as if it were a gun at times and at other times as a lure. This is pure Antonioni.
At the end of the movie, we see the merry mob of car riding hippies near the park. Thomas watches them, but doesn’t take any pictures. In the last seen, he watches as they play tennis. Do the dreams stop and the here and now begins? They are both woven together so let’s leave it there. See it as an example of what good movies were in the 1960s, a period of social change empowered by the actions and voice of a new generation. But be warned that in this case, as many films of the time, the perspective of this earlier era is purely chauvinistic.