Nick-Davis.com: 100 Favorite Films
(UK, 1966; dir. Michelangelo Antonioni; scr. Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra; cin. Carlo Di Palma; with David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills)
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A tempting but terrible habit for film critics is to pronounce with presumed authority on things we know nothing about,
except via the movies we watch. Whether Blow-Up, then, offers an apt
characterization of the swinging London '60s, either in literal or purposefully exaggerated terms, or whether the
"swinging London '60s" are anything but a cultural mirage, cultivated at the time and cited and spoofed ever since...none
of this is for me to say, though Blow-Up sure makes it all feel true. The concerts, the floating parties, the
licentious verve of the fashion photo-shoots, the sexual exhibitionism and its surrounding cocoon of scopophiliac looking.
Whether or not this strain of youth culture ever existed, it exists quite convincingly and entertainingly within the terms
of the movie. The construction of this atmosphere is the connective tissue that binds the movie together, even as so many
of its scenes feel loose, offhand, breathing easily.
Whether or not Antonioni's protagonist unwittingly takes a snapshot of a dead body in a public park is only one of the
questions at the nucleus of the film. Another is what it would mean if this body, this stranger's body, this body that
doesn't look sufficiently like a body and doesn't have the habit of staying put, really did turn out to be a body. What
would change? What would it mean? But there is yet a further question, equally central, and it virtually neutralizes all
the others: what if these narrative riddles and cryptic implications are shadows of some greater enigma, some secret life
of objects that keeps emerging, deliciously but somehow troublingly, in all of Antonioni's shots and scenes? Unlike, say,
L'Avventura or L'Éclisse, Blow-Up is not about spaces but about forms and hard surfaces: the
photographic equipment, the images themselves, the parti-colored fashion ensembles over which Carlo Di Palma's camera pans
and glides so silkily, the rustling backdrop paper in the photo studio, the mottled floor on which Sarah Miles and her
husband make love, the plane propeller purchased from the antique store, the Yardbirds' hilariously absconded guitar.
Even the objects that go missing from the framethe body, the tennis ballcontinue to define their surrounding
spaces rather than the other way around, except perhaps in the final shot, where the photographer himself evaporates into
the grass. The seductive aesthetics of the movie, Antonioni's way of photographing everything so that all of it looks
fascinating as well as concealing, mark a direct prelude to movies like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive,
which prompt a constant stream of questions quite apart from the putative concerns of the plot. And yet the movie also
feels remarkably self-contained, an exceptional case within Antonioni's own filmography, and within the mid-'60s "swinger"
cinema that I have otherwise found so enervating (Lester, Schlesinger). As in the movie's entrancing, impeccably shot and
edited sequence tracing the photographic enlargements, the images in Blow-Up itself keep suggesting larger scales,
darker ramifications, and its sublimity of beauty and terror is of course the greater for leaving these questions