“Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out.”
Michelangelo Antonioni – Wikipedia says he’s one of Italy’s most acclaimed directors who “redefined the concept of narrative cinema.” I hold the opinion of Wikipedia editors higher than any other, so I figured it was time to check out one of Antonioni’s films. The 1001 List features his entire “trilogy on modernity and its discontents,” but that sounded pretty boring, so I watched this one instead. Blowup is one of Antonioni’s seminal works and is a milestone film of the counterculture era. Its release was also one of the final factors in the decision to eliminate the dreaded Hollywood Production Codes, so I was on board from the start.
The film follows a day in the life of Thomas, a vain scumbag who photographs models and is really proud of himself for it. There’s always that theory, though, that you can have a camera follow around any character and they’ll become sympathetic, so I guess being the protagonist gives his character a nudge towards likability. When Thomas believes he has photographed a murder taking place, he shifts gears slightly from his lavish pretension and tries to uncover what really happened at the park that morning. There are also some scenes with naked models and fine art, so I guess you could say the movie is for pretty cultured folks like myself.
There’s a lot going on in this movie, but it really hits it home in a number of ways. My favorite scene is the sort of montage towards the middle when Thomas attempts to piece together the potential for the murder, blowing images up to scale and attempting to connect the dots. It’s a really great section done without any dialogue, and Blowup really excels with its subtlety. All the speaking in the film feels necessary to advance plot or build character, and Antonioni puts the focus on visuals, which ties along with a theme in the film. There’s this superficiality to everything Thomas does, and the murder changes up his routine. He’s not taking photos for spectacle or glory, but his photo actually means something. The scene where he goes into the art shop looking to add to his collection is also really smart, as his home is filled with artistic junk as it is. These thematic bits are given a great exploration through the visuals, and Antonioni is clearly a skilled storyteller.
Roger Ebert put Blowup on his Greatest Films list. I read his review, and the man has really high praise for this movie. I don’t know if I’d go that far personally. It’s a fine movie that explores a lot of great material. The ending might bother some people, but I thought it was fitting to the goal of the movie, and I expected something strange to come about at the end anyway. I just think the movie was a bit jumbled for me. You have a lot of elements or recurring characters that don’t feel completely necessary. The story also jumps around in its subject matter quite a bit, and Thomas gets a shaky characterization as the plot unravels. I think all these choices were intentional, and I certainly see the strong artistic vision behind Blowup, but some of it was just a turn off for me personally. I never got into the tone of the whole thing, and I got the sense that it was trying too hard to be a certain type of visionary film without ever actually achieving this greatness. It’s a movie that panders heavily to an indie crowd and doesn’t seem to care about doing so.
I didn’t have very strong opinions on this one by the end. While Blowup is a movie in part about pretension, I think it ultimately suffers from too much pretension of its own. It’s a film I enjoyed but didn’t get much major inspiration out of, aside from a few cool cinematic techniques. Perhaps I’ll have a better understanding of Antonioni’s work in the future and this movie will mean more to me, but for now I’ll have to settle for it being just a good film, not great. The storytelling is well done, and the characters and script are pretty unique in terms of anything else I’ve seen, but it doesn’t transcend any barriers for me, so it is what it is.
Films Left to Watch: 955