Blow-Up: Antonioni’s 1966 Masterpiece–Critical and Commercial Reception

Commercial Reception

The film was distributed in the US by MGM shell company, Premier Pictures.

Writing about Antonioni in Time magazine in 2007, the late film critic Richard Corliss noted that the film grossed “$20 million (over $120 million today) on a $1.8 million budget and helped liberate Hollywood from its puritanical prurience”

According to Variety, the movie earned $5,900,000 in North American rentals in 1967.

Critical reception

Blow-Up, Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece, was the first winner of the Best Picture Award by the newly founded National Society of Film Critic (NSFC).

The legendary film critic Andrew Sarris, then writing for the Village Voice, was the first to proclaim that the movie was “a mod masterpiece.”

In Playboy magazine, film critic Arthur Knight wrote that Blowup would be “as important and germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City, and Hiroshima, Mon Amourperhaps even more so”

Time magazine called the film a “far-out, uptight and vibrantly exciting picture” that represented a “screeching change of creative direction” for Antonioni; the magazine predicted it would “undoubtedly be by far the most popular movie Antonioni has ever made.”

Even Bosley Crowther, the conservative film critic of the N.Y. Times, called it a “fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed.”  Crowther had reservations, describing the “usual Antonioni passages of seemingly endless wanderings” as “redundant and long”; nevertheless, he called Blowup a “stunning picture – beautifully built up with glowing images and color compositions that get us into the feelings of our man and into the characteristics of the mod world in which he dwells”.

The famed Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, who generally disliked Antonioni, acknowledged its significance: “He’s done two masterpieces, you don’t have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I’ve seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that’s mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau.”  (Interview published in December 2009.

The film was ranked No. 144 in the Sight & Sound magazine greatest films poll.

Viewers Reception

Antonioni deliberately encouraged feelings of detachment and dislocation from viewers by undermining dramatic assumptions and expectations, built up in many years of watching conventional narratives out of mainstream Hollywood.  You never new where the story (or characters) are going, least of all how the mystery would be resolved–if at all–at the very end.