Top 250 Tuesday: #144 – Blow-Up (1966)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #144 on the list, Michaelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-Up. For a longer introduction and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

blowupThere comes a point in watching this movie where you realize that it’s really all about David Hemming’s eyes. Those beautiful blue orbs that become more and more the focus of shots that involve Hemmings are characters in themselves, not just because of their look, but because of the things that they see. And the things they don’t see.

Of course, this is somewhat inevitable, perhaps, in a movie that concerns a fashion photographer, since it is his eyes that frame the world around him, but interestingly, and perhaps unexpectedly, we never actually get the first-person or even camera-lens perspective that one might expect from a film of this nature. Instead Antonioni actually keeps us almost always distanced in various ways from his protagonist, showing us more his reactions to the things that he is seeing rather than what he is actually seeing,

This is a film that really is all about the visual, both in terms of its style and its storytelling. From the opening and closing shots involving mimes (yes, mimes!) to the scenes involving Hemmings and the subjects of his photoshoots, to the increasingly larger titular blowups which he uses to try to piece together the mystery of just exactly what he has caught in his pictures, to even seemingly throw-away scenes such as the one featuring the Yardbirds which actually focuses more on the audience viewing the group than on their music, everything revolves around seeing the world in different ways and observing much more than interacting.

blowup2Interestingly it is that separation, the difference between observation and actual involvement that separates Antonioni’s film from other similarly-themed films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (which I wrote about here). In that film, Gene Hackman finds himself drawn more and more inevitably into the events surrounding him, while in Blow-up Hemmings never really becomes more than an observer, no matter how much he may wish otherwise.

It’s also that level of separation, I think, that keeps the viewer from becoming completely engaged with the film. That’s not to say the film isn’t intriguing or involving, it is, but ultimately, it seems as though much like his protagonist, Antonioni wants the viewer to come away wondering, much like his protagonist, just exactly what we have just witnessed.

There are, of course, many other layers of observation to the film that Antonioni structures in very carefully. There is the obvious commentary on the then-current “mod scene” in London. There is the question of responsibility as Hemmng’s photographer must figure out how to deal with what he thinks he knows. There are questions about the reliability of our senses in interpreting just what it is we are seeing and even of eye- (or camera lens-) witnesses to a probable crime. There are even questions about how much, in observing something, we actually affect the things going on around us.

In the end, though, no matter how frustrating one may find this film, no matter how ambiguous one may find both the plot and the film’s resolution, no matter how much one may admire the skill which Antonioni obviously brings to the movie, one thing can definitely be said: This is a film where the eyes say it all.

So what are your thoughts on Blow-Up? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.


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