For most people, the 1966 film Blow-Up will be a waste of time.
One of the toughest films I’ve ever seen, it engages the viewer in a surrealist vision of the world and meanders through a loose plot about a photographer who happens to take pictures of a murder scene in a park.
There are no beats, the story doesn’t conform to any sort of expectations, and much of the movie is watching main character Thomas go about a life of sex, drugs, and obsession with his camerawork.
You might call this film “slice-of-life” but that neglects the dreamlike qualities. And to categorize it as “dreamlike” entirely neglects the very realistic themes.
David Hemmings’ Thomas begins the movie as a sleazy photographer who owns his own studio and takes advantage of the women around him not only for pictures but also for sexual favors.
He treats everyone with a kind of self-centered disinterest, drives around in an expensive Rolls Royce, and has an air of superiority that only possession can provide.
After happening across a man and woman in the park and taking photographs of them, the woman approaches him wanting all the film. He declines to do so and eventually gets her to run off, whereupon he takes more pictures of her retreating form.
Later when he develops the photos, he realizes that the man she was with had been shot while he was distracted by the woman’s accosting and he has photographic evidence of who murdered him.
Much of the film is dedicated to Thomas trying to solve the case. But life is chaotic and truth and order in the chaos of life are a hard thing to possess, especially when you have two willing women sleeping with you and go to parties where marijuana is being passed around.
What I’m building to here is the theme of possession and how pretty much everything is worthless.
At one point Thomas has managed to grab a portion of a guitar thrown into the crowd at a concert and he’s chased out of the building as fans of the band fight for the item.
As soon as he gets outside, the people give up and he tosses it aside. A passerby picks it up, realizes it’s just a piece of a guitar, and throws it away as well.
Thomas can possess anything through the movie, regardless of how meaningless it is, except for the truth behind the murder he photographed.
Never does the viewer learn what happened in the park because life is chaotic and, ultimately, we can never possess all the answers for everything we see. Sometimes we are bit players in much larger stories we won’t read the concluding chapters of.
Because of that we put more value into the items and people directly in front of us, regardless of how worthless emotions and possessions are.
There are a dozen little moments that add to the idea of people finding value in what is ultimately worthless (answers to everything is the main item the film wants us to give up).
That sentiment and theming may turn away viewers purely because what is the point of watching something pointless? But the dreaminess and contemplation the film forces on the viewer makes for what I think is extremely compelling film.
It also helps that there’s a killer soundtrack by Herbie Hancock, a special appearance by The Yardbirds, and a distinctly sixties feel about everything. The wardrobes, sets, and music are a perfect time capsule that makes it so even if you can’t enjoy the film’s thematic focus you can certainly enjoy the aesthetic.
Michelangelo Antonioni is also exceptional in the director’s chair, providing gorgeous shots of the London setting with an eye for color contrasts. It’s a beautiful, lush film from the photography standpoint.
Blow-Up is not a film for everyone, nor a Friday night popcorn flick. It’s a reflection on materialism, self-obsession, and the chaotic nature of life that straddles the line between reality and a drug-addled dream.
Blow-Up ranks as one of the best art films I’ve seen from the time before the experimental film boom of the 1970’s.
Films like Blow-Up don’t come out a lot. Especially in this day and age where a handful of movie studios own the theaters and movie fans have been conditioned to enjoy a certain type of movie (film as a popular medium is throw-away entertainment and only the rare movie every few months attempts to use it as an expressive, artistic medium), it’s hard to discuss a movie like this without being seen as pretentious.
The commercialization of film and most art forms in general has made the collective tolerance for something requiring contemplation to find the meaning and understand the artist dwindle.
It’s sad that film fans aren’t willing to challenge themselves through movies that allow the type of discussion offered above.
Because for me, these are the films that stick with me long after the credits roll and the ones I readily remember over, say, the last Star Wars film.
Not to say Star Wars films are bad; I just wish we had more movies with something interesting to say.