Film Review: BLOW-UP (Italy/UK 1966) *****

blow-upA mod London photographer finds something very suspicious in the shots he has taken of a mysterious beauty in a desolate park.

>Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers: Michelangelo Antonioni (story), Julio Cortázar (short story “Las babas del diablo”) (as Julio Cortazar) »
Stars: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s first of three English Language films under contract with Carlo Ponti is arguably the best of the three and sets the standard for the 60’s and 79’s film look of fashionable London. It is also the film that shot David Hemmings and Oscar Winner Vanessa Redgrave to fame.

The plot was inspired by the short story, “Las babas del diablo” or “The Devil’s Drool”. The film follows the the life of a swinging extremely successful photographer, David Bailey (Hemmings). He is so successful that all the pretty birds in London are willing to sleep with him just to be photographed by him.

The story involves his random photographing of a lady, Jane in the park (Redgrave). He chases her around London and developes a love/hate relationship with her. Upon closer examination of the photograph, and blowing it up (hence the film’s title), he discovers an image of a corpse in the park. Wondering whether there was a murder, strange things start happening like missing things in his studio and strangers following him. But this murder mystery is not the aim of Antonioni’s film.

Antonioni’s films have not been murder or suspense films. He is no Master of Suspense, but his works have been equally praised for its insight on society, especially on youth, as in his two other English features, THE PASSENGER and ZABRIESKI POINT, which I had not seen since it was first released.

Another trait of Antonioni is his spontaneity in film. This can be observed in three of the film’s segments that basically make this movie. The first is David’s shooting in his studio of real life model, Veruschka von Lehndorff. Veruschka plays herself in a 5-minute long photo-shoot sequence.

The second and the film’s best scene also occurs at random. When David goes into town, he sees Jane and follows her into a club where The Yardbirds, featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar and Keith Relf on vocals, are seen performing the song “Stroll On.” This is an extended club scene where Antonioni captures perfectly both the spirit of the band and the crowd. A buzz in Beck’s amplifier angers him so much he smashes his guitar on stage, then throws its neck into the crowd. David grabs the neck and runs out of the club before anyone can snatch it from him. The roar of the crowd, the uncontrollability of the situation and the pure madness are all magnificently caught on camera.

The third segment forms the film’s sexiest part where David wrestles with two topless birds (Jill Kennington and Peggy Moffitt) in his studio. This constituted explicit sexual content of contemporary standards by a major Hollywood studio that was in direct defiance of the Production Code at the time.
BLOW-UP won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, the festival’s highest honour. It is the film’s 50th Anniversary and has a Special Screening on August the 16th Thursday at 9 pm at the Bell Lightbox. A must-see for cinephiles.


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