Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

U.K.| 1967. Colour. 110 min.

Virtually all the films by Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni have been restored in recent years and are gradually being re-released. Soon we are to be treated to a long version of The Passenger, which has been out of circulation for many years. Meanwhile, here’s a chance to see a new 35mm print of Blow-Up, the first of three English-language films Antonioni made for MGM. It marked a series of changes for the director—of country, of language and of star. There are changes of style and structure too, but the events in Blow-Up dramatise the same theme one finds in Antonioni’s other films.
Thomas (David Hemmings) is a successful fashion photographer who lives in a mythical ‘Swinging London’ of the mid-’60s. He is a creature of work and pleasure but of no inner force or loyalty. Unable to involve himself in life, he watches it, incapable of taking decisive action. Uncertainty, insecurity and alienation have now reached such a pitch of intensity that the Antonioni protagonist has come to doubt even the validity of his own perceptions. Indeed, this is the central theme of the film. Thomas discovers that he may have unwittingly photographed a murder, and his efforts to discover the truth by manipulating the images he captured—a tour de force sequence that sums up the entire film—only leads to further uncertainty and unease.
Antonioni’s sense of ennui has often been criticised, but his capacity for irony and self-awareness is also very evident in Blow-Up’s characterisation of the photographer. Thomas seems consciously to embody all the faults commonly attributed to the director (coldness, lack of responsiveness to people, his view of individuals as photographic objects to be manipulated) but he is seen critically. As always with Antonioni, the film’s true meaning is to be found in its outstanding formal qualities: the use of colour, space and architecture, the sense of atmosphere and place.

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