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Blow Up


I certainly knew that Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film BLOW-UP was a sixties game changer, often referenced as a turning point for cinema and one of the best films of all time. The only baggage I brought to my first viewing was the knowledge that it was Brian dePalma’s inspiration for one of his best films “Blow Out”.

David Hemmings (Camelot) stars as London fashion photographer Thomas. Surrounded by beautiful women that he treats as throw away props, he’s shallow, demanding and closed off.

The first 30 minutes has a documentary feel, trailing Thomas as he pops in and out of his convertible Rolls Royce, snapping public pics between photo shoots, buying props, and strolling through London. Antonioni is in no hurry to create a story or any real structure, It’s all day-in-the-life stuff.

When Thomas decides to shoot some pics in a park, he captures the stunning young Jane (Vanessa Redgrave at her alluring best) and an older man. He’s too far away to hear them, but his zoom captures them. Are they arguing? Are they in love? Are they having an affair?

He shoots many photos, which Jane immediately objects too.

Why?

When Thomas goes to develop them, he realizes that he’s captured something uncomfortable on the film. He keeps blowing up the images.

Is that a body?

Is that a gun?

Thomas returns to the park to see if it is a body.

What follows is either clever and mysterious or boring & inconclusive, depends on your personal take.

While most films examine personal relationships, Antonioni said the exploration within is between Thomas and reality. Reality or any construct of it, is fleeting in BLOW-UP.

Roger Ebert famously held days-long sessions analyzing the film frame by frame. For him, every second was filled with groundbreaking style and technique. I don’t share his passion for the film, but I can appreciate the effortless, non-conforming flow that must have jarred audiences that were used to traditional story telling. The sex and full-frontal nudity broke new ground for a mainstream film, as did the casual drug use (not to mention the mimes) LOL.

Redgrave and Hemmings are both excellent, flawless really. They own every inch of the screen anytime they’re on it. Sarah Miles also has presence as a neighbor in Thomas’ orbit.

Like dePalma’s “Blow Out”, the central character gets pulled so deep into the photos that the real world seems to shatter around him. I found dePalma’s spin on the concept much more enjoyable and involving than this admitted classic.

Every time Thomas pulled out his camera and started shooting the models in bizarre outfits, I could only hear Austin Powers shouting, “work with me baby, oh behave! Groovy baby!”

Damn you, Mike Meyers.

I can appreciate the style of BLOW-UP, even if its innovation has diminished over the past 50 years. There are moments of amazing camerawork, acting and dread within Thomas’s lens. Redgrave and Hemmings alone earn a B.

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