Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
[originally posted 1Feb2002]
Antonioni’s film career, these days, is little more than a footnote in the textbooks of aspiring filmmakers and critics. Most of his movies have already been forgotten less than a half-century after they were made. One of the exceptions is Blow-Up, which was nominated for almost as many awards as O. J. Simpson. Watching it thirty-five years after its release, one wonders why.
Much of the film’s power probably had to do with its cultural context. Blow-Up, which is ostensibly about a photographer (a very young David Hemming, later to not achieve the great fame he should have for his role in Profondo Rosso, one of the finest films ever made) who may or may not have captured a murder on film without meaning to, was actually full of subtext about the meaning of photography in the modern world. When you realize the infamous Zapruder film was released at around the same time and viewable by those in the know, the questions get a lot more compelling. At least they did to those who theorized endlessly about a grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963. Removed from that context now, Antonioni’s crowning achievement looks a bit more like Thomas’ Harris novel The Silence of the Lambs. As the book, which is mediocre at best, was carried to stardom within the context of Jonathan Demme’s excellent film, Blow-Up took its cue from Zapruder. However, while Harris’ next novel showed the rest of the world that Harris was, in fact, not a writer up to par with Demme’s filmmaking, Antonioni’s followup (the gloriously vapid, now largely-forgotten Zabriskie Point, a film of interest only to hardcore Pink Floyd fans—and even most of THEM find it insufferable) had no effect on the filmmaker’s stature whatsoever. Even time seems to have left Antonioni relatively unscathed, and many still see Blow-Up as a classic. I will continue to wonder what they’re thinking. Both Hemming and co-star Vanessa Redgrave seem somewhat lost in their parts, various gratuitous nude scenes are thrown in for what seems to be shock value more than anything, the Yardbirds make a pointless cameo, and what is actually on the roll of film that everyone’s so concerned about never captures the viewer’s attention nearly as much as it captures the attentions of everyone else. Sometimes this technique works. Here, it doesn’t. * ½