Blow-Up (1966): Notes on Antonioni’s Masterpiece

Notes on a Masterpiece:

Research in progress, April 2, 2022

A veritable treatise on the emptiness of modern life.

Antonioni makes commentary on the adage that the camera never lies; the sterility of images that have no meaning behind them;

Sex as a transactional favor: Jane agrees to sleep with the hero in order to get the tape back

Nominally, it’s a tale about a morally indifferent photographer, who tries to resolve a murder that no one else believes had happened.

Doing your own thing is the ethical norm

Murder:

Murder is less easily detected or solved.  The murder does not even arouse our curiosity, let alone  passion or feelings.

The murder he witnessed is subjective; there’s no objective reality.

Setting:

Antonioni lends form and meaning to his tale by contrasting two major settings: The open clearing in the park and the enclosed spaces of the studio.

It is set in London of the mid-1960s, a city of aesthetic madness, with most of its denizens obsessed with drugs and sex.

London as the world’s capital of fluid, ever-changing social values and radical lifestyles.

He offers his own vision of mad and “mod” London.

It’s an existential wasteland, a modern city in which everyone is stoned on drugs or sex

No one is capable of very deep or sincere feelings

Strategy:

Tale is full of ironies that have defined playwright Pirandello’s work

Antonioni’s urge to shake up the audience’s grip/hold on reality, a clever shock tactic

Themes:

The problem of distinguishing certainty from illusion, reality from artificial imaging.

One of the film’s major themes is the fragility of appearance, and the question of whether rational understanding is possible under certain circumstances–or even possible at all?

Throughout the film, patterns of judgment are teased out, cheated, and doubled back upon.

The magnification of the photos just make them bigger, not clearer.  It doesn’t lead towards greater clarity of vision, or toward final understating, but to greater and deeper ambiguity, both visual and thematic

The camera work and editing serve less to further the plot than to loosen it at all joints.

There are frequent and abrupt shifts in color and mood, cuts against the grain of movement, uncommon perspectives, sudden cadences of sound, flashes of unexpected movement, promises of danger, long and dreary deflations (Michael Pressler).

The same group of youngsters from the beginning of the film appear at the end playing tennis without a ball.  Hemmings, in the end, enters into their game by fetching the non-existent ball.  He seems to accept the game in which the place of the object is empty, just as the social game would go on without a body.  For a while, there was the illusion that the object could be detected by a blow-up, that this blow-up seize or capture it, but all one could see were the vanishing contours of an elusive  object which, the next morning, was no longer there. (p. 40).

Reception:

The movies was refused the seal of approval, and there were objections from the Catholic League of Decency.  The film was finally released by a subsidiary of MGM, thus letting the parent company escape censorship.

However, the film’s notoriety had only contributed to its commercial appeal and persistent revisiting among scholars and critics.