Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings, Sarah Miles, John Castle
Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, based on a short story by Julio Cortazar
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 111
Date: 12/18/1966
IMDB

Blow-Up (1966)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Photo Finish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michelangelo Antonioni's first English-language film Blow-Up caused a huge fuss when it first opened in 1966, but not because of the gifted filmmaker's reputation -- he had already delivered his masterpiece L'Avventura (1960) -- or the film's extraordinary artistry.

Most viewers concentrated on the film's openly sexual attitude and the jaded way the characters relate to one another. Many others were piqued by the film's depiction of Swinging London, featuring music by Herbie Hancock and a performance by the Yardbirds (featuring Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page). Others pondered the film's strange ending in which our photographer hero (David Hemmings) joins in a tennis match played by mimes with no ball.

Today the most standout moment comes when Hemmings becomes fascinated by a photograph he took earlier in a park. He thinks he may have captured a murder on film. He enlarges certain sections of certain photos and hangs them all over his studio. Many reviewers single this scene out as the best photographed and best edited scene in the film, but the real key to it is that it's the only scene in which the photographer character comes alive.

Antonioni underlines this notion by interrupting the scene. Two young would-be models show up at his studio hoping for a shot at the big time. He seduces them, they make love for a while, rolling around dispassionately on the floor, before he loses interest in them and returns to the photos.

A closer look at the rest of the film echoes this ennui. The crowd at the Yardbirds concert barely even moves until Beck smashes a guitar, which causes a zero-to-60 riot.

Indeed, the ennui stretches into the very story itself. We never learn the secret behind the murder, or if there ever was a murder. Even the girl Hemmings meets at the park (Vanessa Redgrave) can't provide an answer. She nervously and intently wishes to get the photographs back from him, maybe in an effort to cover up the murder or an affair or both. But even she seems to lose interest and then -- quite literally -- disappears from the story. Even on the new DVD with its clear picture and freeze-frame capabilities, it's difficult to figure out how she vanishes into the crowd. She simply... vanishes.

As for the rest of the film, a capable commentary track by author Peter Brunette ("The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni") helps explain, or at least helps us to appreciate, the rest of this enigmatic, addictive film.

Warner Home Video provides us with a beautiful, full-color letterboxed transfer with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles as well as two theatrical trailers.

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