“Blowup” [also known as Blow-Up] was a turning point in the great Michelangelo Antonioni’s career. After a string of critically acclaimed Italian classics, he was offered the opportunity to work with MGM on three English language films – “Blowup” being the first and the most successful, unfortunately for the wrong reasons, more of which in a moment. What marks this a turning point however is that after his return to Italian cinema after these, he will never be as prolific as he used to be before worldwide acclaim. His projects grew few and far between, even whilst his genius remained radiant as ever.
Adapted from a short story by Julio Cortázar, Antonioni developed the screenplay further to experiment with an array of philosophical themes. Prominent among which is the perception of reality. What is real, and when does it become ‘accepted’ as real. Is seeing believing, or isn’t that enough, even with photographic evidence. Does everyone have to create their own reality. Another concept is his trying to define ‘value’ – the fact that things taken out of context loose their value and purpose (a bit like the compilations in my posts – oops, sorry couldn’t resist that :-)) is demonstrated time and again. There’s also his pet themes like urban alienation explored through a different angle using characters that conform mechanically to fit in an environment.
All these themes are woven into events during a day in the life of Thomas, a mod and fashion photographer in London during the swinging sixties. We don’t know much about Thomas, he isn’t particularly likeable even, but he grows on us as we get to see things from his point of view. We can see Antonioni is critiquing his protagonist but at the same time is fascinated by him, along with the glitz and glamour of his world. His world is one of attractive women throwing themselves at his feet, of drugs, parties, and rock and roll, which we get to sample intermittently through the film. And it is the documentation of these facets of Thomas’ world that was the cause of much controversy – scenes like these, though tame by today’s standards were not shown in film until then.
The very thought of this film being produced by MGM is incredible to say the least – they don’t usually make this kind of stuff. And mainstream film or not, Antonioni nevertheless dishes out bitter-pill ideas, cunningly sugar-coating it with glamour and sex. The audience bought it too, and it apparently did well in both the US and UK. The film itself is exquisitely done. Antonioni narrates this like a stylish thriller, and gives his protagonist a purpose by allowing him to believe that he was an inadvertent witness to a murder. But the protagonist is merely part of the backdrop to what Antonioni tries to tell. It is a treat for any film-lover to watch, as there are some glorious Antonioni moments thrown in – you know you’re in one when there’s barely any sound let alone music, perhaps just the rustling of leaves in the breeze, or the occasional footsteps, with characters performing tasks that would normally seem too mundane to notice even – but absolutely riveting stuff in the hands of the master. And the well-rounded technical team involved in cinematography, set design, music, and editing, and the superb well-known cast aid Antonioni create this gem of a film by capturing a moment from the sixties like few others. Needless to say, this memorable film classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
I couldn’t help but share a famous moment from the film – the final scene that encapsulates what the film is all about. But spoiler it ain’t – you need to watch the rest of the film to make sense of it. The camera certainly is another spectator in this game.