Blowup (1966) *****
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
For those of you that like drugs, fashion and mimes playing tennis along with your murder mystery, then here’s a film you might enjoy. Antonioni’s Blowup takes weirdness to the extreme, and yet, it takes it there patiently and quietly. The only thing I knew about Blowup before I watched it was the fact that it helped pave the way for the fashion revolution in the late sixties and early seventies. Antonioni died last year around the same time as Ingmar Bergman. The two were given equally substantial legacy articles in Entertainment Weekly. This surprised me a bit since I’ve always heard about Bergman films even before I saw any of them. Yet, I had never even heard of Antonioni.
Well, once I’m done writing this review, I’m going to find out more about him, because to say the least, he has a fascinating directing style. Blowup feels very similar to Citizen Kane. Every shot is stylized and avant-garde. I can only imagine the storyboarding and visual detail that would have been needed before actually filming any one scene. Some shots are aerial, while others are from the ground up. Some are extremely far away from the subject and many are extremely close. The difference between Citizen Kane and Blowup is that every directorial decision made by Orson Welles was meant to enrich and further the plot as well as add to the different moods contained within. Blowup is all mood, and that mood is sixties mod.
At no point in the movie did I have any clue what was coming next. At first, I thought it might be about a temperamental fashion photographer. Then, I thought it might be about blackmail involving a woman having an affair. Next, I figured that it might be about solving a murder. Yet Blowup includes all these things and at the same time is about none of them.
The last five minutes, similar to the first two minutes, absolutely had me shaking my head in confusion. Both involve mimes who at the beginning ask him for money (yep they talk) and then at the end silently ask the photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) to retrieve their imaginary tennis ball when it gets hit over the fence. Do either of these scenes make sense? If so, it’s not obvious.
After the ending, I was left puzzled, but then I think I settled on a solid interpretation, and a film like this really requires a bit of subjective interpretation. Perhaps the film is only a piece of a larger puzzle which simply unfolds outside of the boundaries of the movie. We never learn anything about anything, but the viewer’s time hasn’t been wasted. In a film focusing so heavily on photography, there’s a voyeuristic quality to Blowup. We spend time simply watching Thomas react to his environment and the situations that present themselves to him. Much of the movie is in silence as Thomas thinks or looks at stuff. In one sense, we are simply watching this particular man for this interesting period of time. Surprisingly, the movie never felt slow at all. I have no idea why, but I found it really engrossing. Is it acceptable to have a film with a plot that begins before the movie begins and ends after the movie ends? There’s no reason why not!
Antonioni and cinematographer Carlo Di Palma must be given credit for making every camera shot interesting and involving. David Hemmings must also be given credit for carrying an extremely intricate and complicated film on his shoulders. Finally, costume designer Jocelyn Rickards is deserving of possibly a lifetime achievement award if nothing else than for the dresses in this movie alone. This may be the only time I will ever mention a costume designer by name in a review. Hey, if I’m going to do it once, it should without question be for the costumes in Blowup