Blow-Up (1966)


Italy/UK; Michelangelo Antonioni


Parental Guidance - Sexuality; Nudity; Brief Drug Content



The Italian director’s first English-language feature follows a playboy free-lance photographer (David Hemmings), whose life in the Swinging London is driven by casual sex, fashion and drug abuse. When he discovers something frightfully suspicious in the shots of a couple he has taken in a park, he embarks on a frantic quest to put the puzzle together and unveil the truth. The visit of a mysterious beauty desperately begging him to hand the photographs kindle the interest and enthusiasm of his deadened soul, but the shocking truth he unearths threatens to throw his monotonous life into disarray. However, in his chaotic crusade for truth, peppered with impulsive sex, that blasé mod icon seems to come to life again. 

At first sight, Blow-Up might come across as one of those immensely iconic, modish, trail-blazing achievement that, ultimately, end up resembling more a fashion album than a cinematic endeavor. However rousing, it is neither the boldness of the celebrated and much-debated sex scenes, nor the presence of a supermodel and legendary rock band (The Yardbirds) in the credits that will give this movie its meaning and ultimately its beauty. As the plot meanders aimlessly, and the hip settings seem to interest Antonioni’s eye more than his characters, Blow-Up might just end up appearing as a fundamentally empty film, a stylish and leering ballet that can’t fill the vacuum at its heart. But this is precisely why Blow-Up is not a film for everyone, as it is so much more than that.


At its core, Blow-Up is a film about alienation. In a town and a place where everyone is supposed to have the fun of their lives, David Hemming’s nameless character life is plagued by a weariness he cannot himself fathom. Antonioni’s attitude towards these mod demigods - a blend of fascination, pity and aversion - is ambivalent: awakened to the vacuity of a lifestyle he was familiar with, but also irresistibly drawn by its glitz, its lack of rule and discipline, its acceptance of man’s inevitable foibles and failures. Blow-Up is the work of a man who has grasped the substance of an era better than anyone else. And if, compared to other movies claiming to encapsulate in two hours the excesses of an entire decade (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the acid-drenched ‘70s, Spring Breakers for the voracious, impulsive, “party till you drop” 2000s), Blow-Up is less of an adrenaline shot, it has enough lucidity to see beyond the fleeting sensory ecstasy of immediate gratification. 

Blow-Up could have been just a stylish ride into the heart of Swinging London, with an aborted thriller hook and a gently risqué, lustful twist. But in Antonioni’s hands, it is the maestro's most striking and perplexing statement of purpose on this hectic, hedonistic and devil-may-care era and the “beautiful people” who lived it.


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