Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or and an inspiration to numerous filmmakers, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup is the story of Thomas (the excellent David Hemmings), a disenchanted fashion photographer in ’60s London who discovers he’s captured a murder on camera. Using this deceptively simple premise, Antonioni created a film that has the protagonist question his socio-politcal mores and, at the same time, challenge the way we watch movies. Yes, Blowup contains a murder, but the central theme is the importance of preserving important images.
When we first meet him, Thomas spends his days on a tight schedule of model shoots, and his visiting flop houses to take pictures that will provide a contrast to his book on fashion photography. Thomas views most women as little more than objects to manipulated for his images, and vessels for his personal pleasure. Driven by the pursuit of the image, Thomas is indifferent to the protests regarding the Vietnam War, “it’s not my fault there’s no peace,” he says. For him, having money equals freedom; simple as that. In the act of taking photos, Thomas moves with a graceful fluidity, but his models are always still (read: political inaction).
In need of some photos for his book, Thomas wanders into a park. In the distance, he sees a couple who appear to be having a flirtatious moment. Intrigued, Thomas begins clicking away. Soon, he is spotted by the young woman (Vanessa Redgrave, referred to as ‘Jane’ in the script) who readily accosts him, and demands the role of film. When he flatly denies her request, Jane becomes very agitated. Later, Jane tracks down Thomas at his studio. She takes off her shirt, intending to seduce him, and get the roll of films. Thomas sends her home with the wrong roll.
It’s only when Thomas begins to examine the photos, that he realizes what may have really been going on between Jane, and her mystery man (Ronan O’Casey). There’s another person in the bushes. There’s a gun. Brilliantly edited by Frank Clarke, Antonioni cuts back and forth between the photos and the photographer. In a sequence lasting just over ten minutes, Thomas moves with a sense of purpose as he creates larger blowups of his images, producing arrangements that show the apparent murder. Thomas’ constant movement serves as a way to recreate the crime. As Thomas connects with each of the photographs, so does the viewer. Played out in near silence (save for a few very low-level sound effects), the sequence is not only the pivotal turning point in Blowup, but also Antonioni’s love letter to the moving image (read: film).
In the end, the murder is only important to Blowup on that it serves as a bridge to the desired message; the everyday minutiae bore Thomas. The mystery of those blowups reignites his passion for his art, thus restoring a sense of meaning to his life.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s restored 4K / 1080p transfer is a thing of beauty. Forget the washed out look of previous home video releases, Criterion has delivered the vivid colors–particularly the reds, and blues–as Antonioni had intended. Darker colors, look very good as well, and whites are free of glare. Blacks are appropriately inky. Importantly, for a movie such as this, faxes appear realistic throughout, and movement is impressive. There’s also an appropriate level of grain throughout the transfer, aiding in the film’s realistic appearance.
Equally as impressive is the linear PCM 1.0 channel audio track. Clean an natural, fidelity is very good. The scene near the end featuring The Yardbirds playing at a club, sounds impressive for a monologue soundtrack. Importantly, sounds during the pivotal scene in the park (constantly whistling trees, leaves) come through nicely. The score, credited to Herbert (aka Herbie) Hancock, also sounds very good. Dialogue is clean, clear, and concise throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Antonioni’s Hypnotic Vision: Two new featurettes produced by Criterion in 2016.
- Modernism (HD, 16:06) Art Historian David Alan Mellor discusses the groundbreaking nature of Blowup, including its visual style, and the socio-economic cultural scene in London during the 1960’s.
- Photography (HD, 29:49) Historian Philippe Garner and Walter Moser, head of the photographic collection at the Albertina museum in Vienna, discuss the use of still images and fashion photography in Blowup, the behavior of David Hemmings’ character and the superficiality of his profession, etc.
- Michelangelo Antonioni (HD, 5:31) An excerpt from the documentary Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema, (2001) which contains archival footage from interviews with the Italian director and producer Carlo Ponti. The entire documentary is available on the Criterion release of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse.
- Blow Up of Blow Up (HD, 53:54) This 2016 documentary directed by Valentina Agostinis that examines the aesthetic and visual style of Blowup, Michelangelo Antonioni’s work habits, the climate of ‘swinging’ London and the impact it had on the director, and some of the key locations seen in the film. Included are new interviews with photographer David Montgomery, writer Barry Miles, Simon Napier-Bell (ex-manager of The Yardbirds), art historian David Alan Mellor, director and scriptwriter Clare Peploe, photography expert Philippe Garner, and writer and literary critic Andrew Sinclair, etc.
- Vanessa Redgrave (HD, 44:44) Filmed in 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Blowup, Redgrave recalls being cast in the film, the working style of Michelangelo Antonioni, the importance of body language in his work, her experiences working with other noted Italian directors of the time, etc.
- David Hemmings: Presented here are two archival interviews with the actor.
- 1968 (HD, 5:23) Conducted during the filming of When I Larf, Hemmings reflects on the uniqueness of ‘swinging’ London, why some people compare him to James Dean, and the character he plays in Blowup.
- 1977 (HD, 20: 18) The actor recalls working for Antonioni, his experiences with the director after the film was completed, etc.
- Jane Birkin (HD, 8:53) In this archival interview conducted in 1989, the actress recalls how she was cast to play “The Blonde” in the film, her interactions with Antonioni, and the important role that fashion, and style play in the movie.
- Teaser (HD, 1:01) The original teaser for Blowup.
- Trailer (HD, 2:14) The original Trailer for Blowup.
- Booklet: An illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar David Forgacs, an updated 1966 account of the filming by Stig Björkman, the questionnaires the director distributed to photographers and painters while developing the film, and the 1959 Julio Cortázar short story on which the film is loosely based.
Movie title: Blowup (1966)
Director(s): Michelangelo Antonioni
Actor(s): Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles , David Hemmings , John Castle , Jane Birkin , Peter Bowles