Film review by Jason Day of Blow-up, the classic, seminal swinging sixties thriller about a photographer who accidentally photographs a murder. Starring David Hemming and Vanessa Redgrave.
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After developing shots he took in a park of a beautiful and mysterious woman (Redgrave) and another man, mod photographer Hemmings realises he may have captured his murder on camera. But as he magnifies the image more and more, the image becomes increasingly blurred. Redgrave chases him for the photos, desperate to retrieve them.
Italian art-house favourite Antonioni certainly had a perfect sense of style, timing and setting. As if his run of well-known 60’s hits (L’Avventura, L’eclise, La notte and Red Desert) were not already confirmation, he correctly plopped his camera and clapperboard slap-bang in the middle of swinging sixties London for this modern, modish, mod drama/thriller that is perhaps the perfect time-capsule movie of a very unique point in British history, fashion , art and music.
The plot, narratively, is perhaps the biggest load of guff, designed more to tell an interesting take on the nature of visuals and human perception than a storyline. It is a captivating cinematic conundrum that shows us how the deeper and closer we look into something, the less meaning it has. Antonioni’s arresting and existential journey makes his point succinctly with the wordless tennis match at the end between Hemmings and a group of mime artists.
The best bits of the film show us either the photographer’s talent (a trek across town to hunt for an antique propellor to hang in his studio), frivolous hedonism (a young Birkin and Hills strip off and frolic with Hemmings, destroying a crepe paper back-drop and a whole fashion line for the most sartorial menage a trois) or just to rest on the action of the day (Hemmings watches ‘The Yardbirds’ play a gig).
Miles, who is third billed as the girlfriend of Hemmings’ mate, but unaccountably vanishes from the film after the first half, later recounted in her memoirs that she asked Antonioni who her character was, what was her motivation and what she was supposed to be doing. Normal, actor-ish questions you would think. His decidedly off-kilter, almost hippyish response that she should more or less go with the flow and play her how she felt fitted best with the script stuck in the RADA trained actresses craw and she walked abruptly out on the production.
More for her – if she stuck with Antonioni, he could have given her a bigger and far more rewarding part in his biggest international hit.
Cherub-faced Hemmings thankfully did stay and scores strongly as the amoral hero (imagine Austin Powers with better teeth and no purple power suits) in what would be his most fondly remembered part. He’s the charmless arsehole to a hilt, who uses people as quickly as a roll of film, disposing of them just as quickly.
Classical actress Redgrave is a surprise addition, a thoroughly independent woman caught in Hemmings’ lens and not liking it, pacing up and down his swanky pad like a nervy, caged tiger until her resolve is finally broken.
Cast & credits
Director: Michaelangelo Antonioni. MGM. (15)
Producer: Carlo Ponti.
Writers: Michaelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra.
Camera: Carlo Di Palma.
Music: Herbie Hancock.
Sets: Asheton Gorton.
David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Peter Bowles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills, Veruschka von Lehndorff.