In swinging 1960s London, Thomas (David Hemmings), a fashion photographer who is bored with the lack of purpose in his life, takes candid snaps of a young woman necking with an older man in a secluded park. Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) is startled by the intrusion and follows Thomas to his studio intent on retrieving the undeveloped film. After Thomas succeeds in a surly seduction, Jane leaves the studio with a roll of film ...but not the one she was so anxious to get her hands on. Intrigued by the mystery of what might be recorded on the film, Thomas switches rolls but when he examines the prints he discovers more than he bargained for. Blow-up after blow-up convinces him that his camera may have captured a murder.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
I apologise at once if your curiosity has been piqued by the synopsis above for this is a film by Maestro Antonioni whose interest is all to do with his jaded protagonist and little to do with the plot. This most elusive of film-makers tantalises us with a twist on what might appear to be a murder mystery, but his focus is not on who did what to whom; is concerned not about any resolution or coherence, but on our perceptions of what is illusion; what is reality and what is the world coming to with its artificial stimulants!
In the beginning, Thomas is belligerent, even brutal, towards the po-faced clothes-pegs who line-up like automatons to be prodded, pressed and preened into submission by the boyish but bullying cameraman. He arrives late after a night out shooting drunks and derelicts in a downtown flophouse but has no time for apologies and less time for the dolly-birds who fail to perform on cue. "I'm fed up with these bitches," he screeches and goes roaring across the city in his open-topped Rolls, first angling to buy an antique shop in an area where be notices "the poofters and poodles" have moved in and then trying to monster the antique dealer into selling an objet for less than she wants.
The scene is symptomatic of the lens-man's malaise. He is bored with what earns him a handsome living and is prepared to leap at any diversion, like publishing a catalogue of off-beat images; buying an old aircraft propeller that he has no use for or pursuing the dark discovery hidden within those pictures in the park.
Blow-up has seriously dated in terms of its fashion and style, but it was a surprising commercial success, fanned as much by flashes of flesh and the semblance of a plot which challenged viewers to unravel cryptic meanings. A whole book of speculations about it was published and Brian De Palma payed homage to it when he made Blow-Out in 1981.
But everything about the film is arty-farty, with its sparse dialogue and flaky characters...zombies mesmerised by rock music at a dance club, a pantomime tennis match and delirious guests at a weed-fuelled party. It's from one of these that Thomas awakes in a strange bed and questions the truth of that incident in the park...the hysterical woman with the older man and a sinister rustling in the trees.
It all adds to the hypnotic effect of a film that is both dream-like and hallucinatory, which is why when Thomas is asked, "shouldn't you call the police?" there isn't the logic of an answer.
With an air of arrogance, a scuttling impatience, and a look of sleepy-eyed insouciance a lithe David Hemmings, who was 25 at the time (and only recently deceased), seems suitably cast but Thomas isn't a character that anyone can warm to. Atonioni perhaps leaves too much of the film to rest on his slim shoulders after taking over from Terence Stamp only two weeks before the start. Vanessa Redgrave is required only to show neurosis in her two scenes and Sarah Miles has even less to do as an unhappy fringe-dweller. Antonioni uses a troupe of mime performers as a sort of framing device to open and close the show. Thomas' indifference to them finally gives way to interest and his changed attitude suggests that at least some of his self-obsession has vanished...into thin air, it seems. Antonioni, however, fails to make much of a case for this transformation and for many viewers all the connecting elements will still only hang like loose strands.
This reminds me: it was probably the first time that a glimpse of pubic hair was seen at the local Bijou, which maybe why these days the film and its pretensions are so easily blown away.
Published: June 3, 2004
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BLOW-UP: DVD (M15+)
CAST: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles
DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
SCRIPT: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Edward Bond (based on a story by Julio Cortazar
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen. Spoken languages English, French, Italian
SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by author Peter Brunette; Music only track; trailer.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: June 2, 2004