With ”Blow-up” I definitely feel I have opened a new year. In fact, it feels as I have skipped an entire decade. The look and feel of “Blow-up” is of modernity and of a contemporary London (for 1966).
If I had not been watching the trilogy by Michelangelo Antonioni I would probably have been lost in this movie, but knowing those three I am well prepared and “Blow-up” is in many ways a natural continuation with some of the same themes.
On the face of it nothing much is happening, or too much if you change viewpoint. Thomas (David Hemmings) is a successful photographer. In his fashionable studio he photographs fashion models that look very expensive. He is arrogant toward the girls, drive a fancy, open car and drink conspicuous amounts of alcohol. Beside his professional work he is also an art photographer who goes to odd places to get the right photo. On such an outing he takes pictures of a couple making out in a park. The girl (Vanessa Redgrave) is upset about it and follows him home to get the pictures. Thomas swaps films so she gets the wrong one and he develops the pictures. In these he finds a murderer and a corpse and when he later goes the park he indeed finds a stiff exactly where he expected it. Now Thomas seems to get confused and do not know exactly what to do. He ends up at a concert and a dope party and when he returns to the park the corpse is gone.
So, is this a crime story? Not at all. I am convinced this is another story about the emptiness of life or the life as lived by the characters. Thomas does whatever he feels like. He is impulsive and follows these impulses in every way possible. If he feels like buying an old propeller, he does that. Girls he takes or leaves with no consequence. Two girls who show up to get their picture taken is a good example of that. Thomas treats them with scorn and simply uses them for his own enjoyment.
Then he comes face to face with something bigger. Life and death, a murderer and what to do about it. It makes him confused and insignificant. All the freedom he has becomes a prison. Suddenly he sees bars on the windows, crowds are claustrophobic and the dope party with its apathy becomes a symbol of the useless life he lives. The girl from the park becomes a symbol of a sort, though I have not entirely figured out what. The end, on the other hand, with the mimes playing invisible tennis and himself alone on a giant lawn only to disappear seems clear enough. All the things in life we pretend are important are of no importance at all and Thomas, with no personal relations, could just as well not exist at all.
It is a bit depressive as usual with Antonioni, but it is staggeringly beautifully done. The photography with its picture quality alone is simply amazing. Then we have the portrait of fashionable London, the young and hip London in 1966 which is iconic. The photographic rape in the opening sequence where Thomas is practically sitting on the model is a very strong scene and set the pace for the move and the music, oh Lord, the music. Most of it is Herbie Hancock and if you do not know who that is then come here and get slapped. As a cherry on top of that soundtrack we get a concert with The Yardbirds, which means Jimmy Page.
A lot has been made of the amount of skin visible in this movie, but it is used very much in line with the story and is actually more discreet than it would seem. At least I was never troubled by it. I think the photographic rape we start out with is a lot more disturbing.
“Blow-up” is the full package. A deep story, beautiful pictures, wonderful music and a time capsule of London 1966. It is a gorgeous movie and I am so glad I saw it. It is one of those movies I well definitely take out again sometime and try to dig a bit deeper or simply enjoy it for the piece of art it is.