Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Don't Let's Spoil Everything, We've Only Just Met.

Michaelangelo Antonioni has a Golden Lion (for Il Deserto Rosso) and a Golden Bear (for La Notte), but only one Palme d'Or (from five nominations) for Blow-Up, his first English-language film from 1966. It is also the only film to net him Oscar nominations - two of them, for the screenplay and direction.

The film was quite controversial in its time, especially in the States, where it is purported to be the first film to receive a release despite featuring full-frontal female nudity (I kept my eye out for this nudity, and the only place I could pick it possibly being was so damn brief and improbable that it doesn't surprise me it was not an issue...) Taking place in the drug-fuelled 60s, the film follows a photographer, Thomas (David Hemmings), who, whilst inspecting an antique shop he wants to buy because the gays are moving into the area and he feels he can make a fortune off them, happens up to a park where he takes some photos of a couple cavorting. The female member of this couple, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), confronts him, trying to get the photos off him, obviously paranoid about what they will reveal.

Jane follows Thomas back to his studio and again confronts him. Thomas is obviously quite successful - his studio is spacious, he has models coming in and out and girls begging to have their photographs taken - and he is not used to being spoken to like this. He hands her a different roll of film and she leaves. He then sets about developing the photos, and as he does he notices that there appears to be a man in the bushes with a gun. Later, with photos he took after the confrontation, he sees what he assumes to be a dead body, lying off in the distance.

Amidst a haze of parties and groupies, he grows more and more paranoid, especially when he returns to his studio to find the prints he had laid out destroyed and the original negatives gone - his whole place has been ransacked. He goes to the park and sees the dead body - he goes to his agent, who is at a party, and tries to bring him along to show him, but the agent is way too fucked to care, and Thomas stays at the party. The next morning, the body is gone - or was it ever there?

It's a hard film to peg down. What exactly is it about? It seems to me to be a riff on the times. Drugs were everywhere, celebrity was everywhere, parties were everywhere. Everyone who did anything and made any money off it was somebody, and that was Thomas. How many drugs had he consumed leading up to the episode of his life that takes place in the film? Who cares. Was there really a dead body? Who cares! What was Jane's motivation? Should it be seen that the burglary of Thomas' home means something untoward did go down in that park? Who cares. Maybe she was just with someone she didn't want to be photographed with. Really, really didn't want to be photographed with. And then maybe Thomas made it all up. But maybe he didn't. What's important is that Antonioni takes us inside this paranoia without resorting to tricks of psychology. He shows it as it is, luring us into a film that may not really mean anything, but by portraying what it portrays, means a hell of a lot.

It bears, I think, resemblance to films like Elephant, in that it doesn't try and explain. What it shows on screen is what it shows on screen. Yes, it tries to delve into what Thomas sees (or thinks he sees), but it never judges, it never tries to come up with reasons. It just is. And it is beautiful for it.

A compelling film, interesting, mesmerising, thought-provoking and intelligent, yet not so intelligent as to be self-indulgent. I'm dead certain it influenced a whole generation of filmmakers in some way, and I'm sure that, provided it is watched, will continue to influence those to come. Like so many of the major works of master filmmakers, the historicism of the film's placement within society is not important, because it is entirely irrelevant. What matters here is what happens between the lights going down and the lights going up, not on screen, but in the viewer. 5 stars.

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