“Blowup” or “Blow-up”, the 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni is one of those films you almost don’t need to see: it’s all around us, in the films it influenced, in the fashions, the adverts, the music videos, and the cultural architecture. The first of Antonioni’s three films in the English language, it aims to capture, in vivid detail, a brief, iconic moment in time: London, 1966.
The story was adapted from Julio Cortazar’s short story: “Las babas del diablo” or “The Devil’s Drool” (1959). The protagonist is a London fashion photographer (named Thomas in the script) who by chance takes some photographs of an unknown couple in a park. When he blows up the photographs later, he becomes convinced that he photographed the murder of the man in the couple. The plot concerns his ultimate failed attempts to determine what actually happened in the park.
The film is minimalist in terms of communication through language. In fact one of its points is to demonstrate the non-communication of language. The characters simply can’t make contact with each other through language. Speech did not drive the communication. The major scenes between the Photographer and Patricia, the woman and Ron are scenes of the failure of communication.
Though the dialogue is minimal, it is heavy with symbolic statement.
- The blow-ups.
The blow-ups reveal the truth of what happened that the Photographer did not see with his eyes. The key blow-up symbol is the one that is so abstracted that one can’t even tell it’s an image of a body. The Blow-up evolves into the symbol of the inability to communicate.
- The protest sign, the propeller and the guitar. These are things that the Photographer gets involved with, but are simply distractions. They don’t mean anything in particular in themselves, but fit into the pattern of distraction that includes the sex with the two girls, the pot party and the mime’s tennis game. They all fit into a pattern of distraction that characterizes his life.
One of the most famous scenes from early in the film is the photo shoot with the real-world model Verushka, which is portrayed as an act of sexual seduction. Thomas evidently enjoys working with Verushka (in contrast to his other models in the following scene), but he doesn’t get personally involved. He makes her wait for over an hour with no apology; he’s indifferent to her concerns about missing her flight; and when he has the shots he wants, he turns away from her with indifference. The scene with Verushka demonstrates that Thomas is a master of desire, or at least is regarded as such by himself and his associates; he can manipulate the desire of the model and his audience without any personal investment. Verushka, in contrast, is evidently really caught up in the excitement.
There’s no evidence that Thomas feels any real passion for his job as fashion photographer, much less the abstract fashion photographs he produces; on the contrary, he despises the fact that he’s forced to slave himself to a purely commercial craft. The photo shoot scenes are almost like an assembly line, and the models are dressed and made-up like impersonal masks or objects.
Later in the film, he encounters a couple in the park by chance & decides to take some pictures. During the taking of the photographs, the viewer has no idea that a murder is taking place. The woman in the couple’s reaction was almost desperate, her explanation giving the viewer the impression she was trying to cover up for her adultery as she claims later.
The scene in which he blows up the photographs entices him in a way that we have not seen before. He is consumed by a real desire to know what actually happened in the park. At least one of the blown-up shots seems to show a blurred photo of a man with a gun hidden in the bushes.
Thomas has clear ambitions to do serious art, but he can’t make enough money to survive on projects such as the photo-art book on London he’s planning. Thomas is searching for a deeper level of meaning in his life. The murder in the park that he photographs creates a new possibility of meaning to both him & us as the audience. He’s finally getting at something that’s “real” and meaningful: human violence. But unlike a conventional murder mystery, it’s not clear whether a murder has taken place at all.
The film explores the isolation and the inability to communicate that characterizes the lives of the characters. The Photographer’s had an overwhelming experience–he’s been a detective and discovered a murder and seen the body. But he discovers that he is unable to communicate the experience to anyone else. He’s left with the knowledge of the murder, with no one else to share it with. The blow-ups reveal the truth of the murder to him, but the final blow-up reveals, through its inability to communicate its content, his isolation.
At the ending of the film, Thomas goes back to the park in search of the body only to find it missing & thus destroys any evidence of the murder ever occurring. As he wanders his way home, he encounters students dressed as mimes that opened the film. Thomas watches the imaginary game with amusement until they pretend to hit the ball over the fence in his direction, gesturing for him to throw the ball back.
This is the moment for Thomas, will he play their game? Which seems so empty, especially in the aftermath of the murder? He reluctantly accepts & miming picking up the ball & throws it back. After he returns the ball, the camera stays with him in a medium close-up & we hear the actual sound of a tennis ball being hit back & forth. The film cuts to a long shot & Thomas mysteriously fades out, leaving an empty field & the end credits. In effect, Thomas is forced by the events of the film to acknowledge that the meaning he is searching for is like the ball, a fiction.
Antonioni’s Blow Up And The Chiasmus Of Memory | Artbrain
In-text: (Artbrain.org 1960)
Bibliography: Artbrain.org. 1960. Antonioni’s Blow Up And The Chiasmus Of Memory | Artbrain. [online] Available at: http://www.artbrain.org/antonionis-blow-up-and-the-chiasmus-of-memory/ [23 Jun 2013].
Classic Film Club: ‘Blowup’ – Features – Film
In-text: (Time Out 1966)
Bibliography: Time Out. 1966. Classic Film Club: ‘Blowup’ – Features – Film. [online] Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/classic-film-club-blowup-1 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
blow-up: film analysis
In-text: (Home.roadrunner.com n.d.)
Bibliography: Home.roadrunner.com. n.d.. blow-up: film analysis. [online] Available at: http://home.roadrunner.com/~jhartzog/blowupfilmanalysis.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].