Blow Up is where I’ll start this journey. It’s hard to know where to start on this film but I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days, percolating perhaps. Last night I had visions of linking this film with The Conversation but I decided to keep it separate, primarily because it’s a better movie. The Conversation warrants its own post but not the first one.
Details, details. Blow Up was released in 1966, eight years before The Conversation, if you’re keeping track. Directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni, it starred David Hemmings as a fashion photographer working in London at the start of the mini-skirt, Carnaby Street era…think Mary Quant and multi-colored tights. Antonioni was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars but didn’t win. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, however.
You’ll have to see it to get the gist of the plot, but you’ll have to see it a few times to get any of the same feelings that I have about this film. Why do I like it? I like the mood, primarily. The evening in the park, the suspense while the negatives are developing, and, I guess, the wind. As you’ll discover in this journey through my fave films, sound is very important. In this movie, the wind and the silence of the evenings in the park are almost like characters in the movie while Hemmings searches for clues to the mystery he’s uncovered in his photographs. Lastly, there is the sound of the ball in the tennis game the mimes are playing at the end of the film. Or is there any sound? You’ll have to watch and listen to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Of course, since this is a European film, don’t expect a clean, Hollywood ending.
Instead of doing a plot synopsis, which you can get anywhere online, I’d rather make a note of some things you can look for while you watch. I suppose the movie is all about whether there is ever anything anywhere except dots and sounds anywhere in our lives. Do things actually happen in life or do we just think they happen? What proof is there? The artist friend only sees what he has painted months after he paints it. Hemmings saw what happened in the park but didn’t see it until he developed the negatives and blew up the images. He actually tells Sarah Miles what he’s seen but then says, “I don’t know. I didn’t see”. Even though he is a photographer, he isn’t really any different from the artist, Miles’ husband or lover. The only difference being that Hemmings uses dots of silver instead of dots of paint.
The wind is incredible, really. You’ll feel the separation of environments as Hemmings walks into the park. The street noise disappears and the wind noise takes over. As he watches the couple in the park, the only other sound is some laughter and the very loud click of his camera as he photographs them. The sound of the camera adds to the suspense. Will they hear it? Will the sound carry over to the couple above the sound of the wind?
Hemmings is aware of the wind, of the sounds, just as much as we are. He hears the radio in the narrow street then blows the car horn as if to see if anyone is really there, listening or not.
I’d love to have been the scriptwriter for this movie. There is so little dialog, it would have been a dream! Much of the story is told by facial expressions, sounds and movement. Look for the crowd scene in the rock concert near the end of the film. Once the guitar part is tossed into the audience, there is a reverse volcanic implosion as the crowd is sucked into the vortex surrounding the guitar neck. That must have been planned, rehearsed and practiced many times. The flow of people is incredible.
Check out the framing, too. One shot, as Hemmings is coming into the antique shop is beautifully framed. Carlo di Palma has won awards for his cinematography and it’s easy to see why.
What’s the deal with the sign near the park. I can’t figure out the significance of it. We see it as Hemmings enters the park at night then again the next morning. I’m not sure if it says something in Italian or maybe it’s from a product that was important at that time. If you know, let me know, please.
Hemmings himself is perfectly cast as the photographer. I’ve never considered him to be a strong personality but in Blow-up I think he is perfect. You should make note of a few scenes where he is shot almost as one of the models he photographs. He’s not typically handsome, rather more ‘pretty’ than drippingly masculine, but this works in the movie because those times were full of changing attitudes towards sex. Also, note that Vanessa Redgrave is somewhat masculine. I’m not sure about this whole sexual identity theme but, to me, it’s there. It seems skinny was very ‘in’ back in the 1966, too.
Check out the last bit where you get to see Jimmy Page and the Yardbirds. Page hasn’t changed a whole lot since then, still very recognizable decades later.
Sarah Miles, to me never a great actress, has a small part in Blow-up, one that I would have left out completely. I think we see enough of the artist at the start of the film without the part where Hemmings plays voyeur later on. Perhaps she was a large enough star back then to bring in some viewers, although the film could certainly stand on its own without her.
Those are my thoughts for now. Maybe I will add to this later on. Remember that these are my opinions. If you have your own, that’s cool. Let me know what you think but, please, be polite. If you disagree vehemently, get your own site! It’s easy and simple. If I can do it, you can too.
Thanks for reading.