My thoughts on Blow-Up

In 1966, Londoners had to contend with rowdy, uncontrollable gangs of mimes. At least that’s the impression you get from watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film, Blow-Up.

blow-up mimes.jpg

My wife and I had planned to see the new digital restoration of Blow-Up Saturday night at the Pacific Film Archive, but I threw my back out. Sitting in a movie theater for a couple of hours didn’t seem like a good idea. But sitting in our recliner couch at home seemed fine, so we streamed Blow-Up from Vudu.

Obviously, I can’t tell you about the new restoration, but I can tell you about Blow-Up.

This was Antonioni’s biggest commercial hit for a reason, and the reasons had nothing to do with it being a good movie. It was set in “swinging London,” where everyone wanted to be back then. A bigger draw: It contained short flashes of female nudity—something that was pretty much unheard of in a Hollywood movie at the time (it was an MGM production).

David Hemmings stars as a photographer who seems alienated from everything and everyone. You never really get to know him or have any reason to.

blow-up.jpg

There’s an interesting plot that takes up a very small part of the screen time. Hemmings’ photographer takes photos in a park, and a woman seems obsessed with getting a hold of the negatives. That perks the photographer’s curiosity, and as he examines the photos, he begins to suspect that he has evidence of a murder. Oddly, he apparently never thinks to call the police.

The best scene in the movie finds our protagonist at a rock concert. The band onstage is The Yardbirds, smashing up their instruments as if they were The Who. It’s a funny satire on rock and rock fans. The film could have used more humor.

By the end of the movie, Hemmings’ character appears to be ready to join the mimes.

blow-up yardbirds.jpg

If nothing else, Blow-Up is a fascinating glimpse of a moment when London was the cultural center of the world, and it was all about youth, sex, and music. I give this movie a B-.

You can catch Blow-Up today at the Castro on a double bill with a vastly superior movie, Rear Window. Blow-Up plays at 2:10 and 9:10. Rear Window plays at 7:00 (note the three-hour intermission after the first Blow-Up screening).

Both films will screen in 35mm. That’s good news for Rear Window, since the DCP transfer is lousy. But 35mm seems like an odd choice for Blow-Up, with its new restoration. I’m curious about where the print comes from and if it’s any good. If you get to the Castro today, please add a comment below about the print quality.

Blow-Up will screen two more times at the Pacific Film Archive: Friday, November 24, at 7:30, and Friday, December 1, at 7:00. It will be projected digitally off a DCP.

2 thoughts on “My thoughts on Blow-Up

  1. You forget to mention the threesome with the nymphets (who, I’m sure, were over 18), something of a scandal, at the time, but it sure sold tickets.
    The thing that stayed with me the most, though, was Hemmings’ character’s (did he even have a name?) studied alienation- a kind of dead, uncaring lack of connection with whatever was happening. He did not call the police about the photo because he was past caring if someone had been murdered, or by whom, unless it was going to be a threat to him, personally. An awful lot of young people, seeing the film, thought that that was what it was, to be cool. Okay, there’s drugs and sex and music and all that, but, who cares? It’s just a bore.
    Thinking back, I think it was the tail end of the existential, Beatnik phase of the gathering youth revolution, swept aside by the Dionysian tide, coming a few years later. That came with its own problems, but it was a lot more fun.

  2. I recall seeing Blow-Up for the first time on CBS late-night movies, past 11:00pm and cut here and there, but suggestive as all get-out anyway. That late-night movie series also displayed “The Night Porter”, I’m sure that got even more editing. I’m a fan of Blow-Up, but I’m a fan of Antonioni anyway, and find Blow-Up to be one of the director’s more successful films. A lot of what the movie is about is alienation, but that was Antonioni’s idee fixe from the get go, this vision of alienation being more accessible than some of the director’s other films. Blow-Up is close in conception and realization to “Red Desert”, though there is more unintended alienation due to the language disconnect between the director and the actors. The next film, Zabriskie Point, was a much messier and more incoherent film, with amateurs playing the leads [badly] and documentary materials intercut with the staged scenes [incoherently].

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