Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966)
As part of the British Film Festival in Adelaide, this 1960’s classic returned to the big screen on 6 November 2017. It is the film encapsulation of ‘swinging London’ – Preening celebrity photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) swings from high art to low fashion to taking random snaps of lovers in Maryon Park. But the girl (a typical vacant, open-mouthed Vanessa Redgrave) protests, too much methinks; regretfully, Thomas has too much sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll on his giddy mind to notice.
After parrying the girl’s entreaties to return the film, he develops the roll and notices some incongruities. And when he blows up the series of photos, it begins to look as though he has stumbled upon a capital crime.
There’s not much more we should tell you about the plot, other than that it unravels in fascinating, unhurried vignettes, typical of Antonioni in his wandering mood. The ambiguity is just right; the clues and signposts are never overdone, and the feel of the thing is uncannily authentic.
The pace is perfect, as are the various (beautifully filmed) scenes of London, including the nightlife and the demi monde, none of which seem tame even 50 years later – one can see why there was much censorship fuss when Blow-Up was originally released.
Central to the interest of the picture is Hemmings as the dissolute, bored, strangely passive creature, who caroms about town as whim, desire and fear take him. His classic lounge lizard face and snippy, offhand air fit the character exactly. Pauline Kael, who famously chose to dislike the film, described him as “with his Billy Budd hair-do, he’s like a Pre-Raphaelite Paul McCartney.” But we can set silly and twisted old Pauline aside just for once.
Sarah Miles simpers as usual, but to advantage here. Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills are amusing as needy wannabes lusting after Thomas. Peter Bowles is aptly suave and smug as Thomas’ agent. Curious occurrences, that often annoy in ‘art’ films, here enrich the fabric – Thomas leaves a doss house and hops into his Rolls Royce convertable – Thomas dickers with an antique-shop nazi – he skips out of a shoot and wanders the kind of park where people get raped – he flees a nightclub with the broken neck of a guitar – slightly stoned, he watches some hipsters play imaginary tennis.
The overall effect is hypnotic. Antonioni made heaps of trash in his career, but with this one, he gave us a genuine work of art.