Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Cinematography by Carlo Di Palma
Music by Herbie Hancock
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni & Tonino Guerra
Inspired by the short story Las babas del diablo by Julio Cortazar
Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles & Veruschka von Lehndorff
1966/111 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Mono
1.85:1/English/French/US/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Warner Brothers DVD
Part mainstream studio production, part arthouse fare, and at least in the minds of some, something of a giallo- BLOW-UP is no doubt a visual time capsule of Swinging London in the 1960s, and an intriguing, if inconclusive mystery.
I might as well jump in head first and tackle the issue of censorship. One need not look long online before running into claims that this disc is cut to pieces or even in the Japanese tradition, optically fogged. The problem seems to stem from some Region 4 discs where optical fogging was implemented to disguise what might be the first instance of female pubic hair in mainstream cinema. I am happy to report that the U.S. release does not contain the fogging; however there is yet another scene in question. When Vanessa Redgrave's character is in David Hemmings' apartment for the first time she ends up spending a bit of time topless. In an older pan and scan VHS version of the film (and according to people who saw the film in theatres in 1966), in the shot where Redgrave is facing the camera straight on her breasts are fully visible. I've seen screen captures of the VHS and can personally attest to this fact. On the DVD, however, the scene features a tighter shot showing only her upper chest, with no actual nudity. Because the package plainly states that this disk contains a matted widescreen presentation of the film, my first thought was that Redgrave's breasts appear on the negative, but when the image was matted to preserve Antonioni's framing, the breasts were cut off. I thus, wondered if the issue was akin to the recent fiasco involving the fullscreen and widescreen releases of the T3 DVD. However, I've seen additional screen shots comparing the pan and scan VHS to the Warner DVD, and if anything, the DVD has slightly more vertical picture information. My opinion is that this brief glimpse of Vanessa Redgrave's rack has been censored, for reasons beyond comprehension considering that other breasts and bush are on display elsewhere in the film. Finally, it seems that the original MGM logo has been truncated from its propper place in the opening credits. With that out of the way, allow me to continue my review.
The central character of BLOW-UP's narrative is a photographer portrayed by David Hemmings. As Peter Brunette (author of The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni, and the source of the disk's commentary) notes, this character is never named, so he will henceforth be dubbed "the photographer" (I should mention that both the DVD package and various places online dub him Thomas; perhaps I need to watch the film yet again!). Our photographer is quickly presented as a suave, well off young man, very successful in his trade. He practically has beautiful young ladies banging his door down for the chance to be the subject of his next photo shoot. After expiring his interest in women and fashion for the day, Hemmings' character takes a ride in his convertible to chill out. He eventually ends up in a park that catches his eye. He retrieves his camera and begins taking shots of the lush green grass and tall majestic trees. When he spies a couple running through the park, he decides to photograph them. He captures them running, interacting playfully and then embracing before they disappear behind the dense foilage. The woman (Vanessa Redgrave) soon reappears and notices Hemmings taking pictures of her. She immediately approaches him and demands the pictures be given to her. The photographer states that there are other shots on the reel that he needs and says that he'll give her the photos in question after he's developed the photos he needs. Later on, when she arrives at Hemmings apartment unexpectedly, he gives her a random role of negatives, and she gives him blue balls.
With this bothersome intruder out of the way, Hemmings is left to explore the photographs which the woman seems to find so important. He developes them in a dark room in his home, hangs them up and begins to study the pictures. It isn't long before he realizes that he just may have photographed a murder. Studying the details closely, the photographer decides to enlarge the images to accertain exactly what it is that he sees. He procedes to blow up the images to larger and larger scale locating, eventually, a hidden assailant, and finally a corpse. The rest of the film primarily concerns our photographer coming to terms with what he's discovered and seeking validation from another witness... which he ultimately does not find.
Carlo di Palma's photography under Antonioni's direction is reason enough to see this film. Add to that winning combination (Blow-Up marked the third collaberation between the two men) sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll -compliments of the Yardbirds, in a rare performance with both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on stage- and head-scratching visuals and you have a winning piece of cinematic history. The opening and final scenes of the film feature a group of marauding mimes; some people find them annoying, others search for the meaning in their presence-- be it anarchy, a visual place holder for the people of Swinging London, or a symbol of antiauthoritive sentiment-- but I for one wont attempt to answer it here. I will say that I didn't find them mentionably annoying, but I did enjoy the visual conundrum of their existance. It felt, simply very Italian to have so much rich visual imagery packed into one film- why fuss over meaning, when appearance alone is significant? The film seems to critique the role of men in society as the domineering sex, it questions the role and obligation of the artist, but finally it simply entertains. There is not a whole lot of story in the film's 111 minutes, but it never felt overlong or dragged out; there is always something of interest (if only visually) around the corner. I suppose today's ADD, Mtv, quick-cut addicted youths may find the film difficult to sit still through- as I don't recall a single explosion or wire aided fight sequence, but I think this film should be requisite viewing for any film buff, and especially to the Euro-crazed sleaze junkies that frequent our forums, as it is beneficial to remind oneself that Italy can make a great film without any of the thick red stuff actually flowing.
Aside from the aforementioned censorship, the DVD's picture quality is commendable, especially for a 1966 Italian/Brittish coproduction. The colors punch (blue is especially well used in this film), the blacks are dark, and even the very bright scenes in the photography studio during photo shoots have well saturated colors. Little to no scratches, dirt or digital artifacts mar the image. One might view this film and think that the overall transfer is just a tad washed out, but I tend to think it has more to do with the constantly cloudy streets of London than any fault of the transfer itself. The mono audio track sounded great on my home system, with very little difference between the English and French tracks- the dialogue was audible and clear while music and sound effects were distinctive. Perhaps the small amount of score music present was slightly low in the mix, but that is a very small gripe. Also included are English, French, and Spanish subtitles. This is only a step above a bare bones release with the only suplemental material being two U.S. trailers (the teaser and the full theatrical trailer) and a commentary track by the aforementioned Peter Brunette -again author of The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni, and a university professor of English and film studies. The commentary track is only informative, really, on the issues of meaning and symbolism, as Brunette offers no stories from the production itself. The commentary is certainly a bit dry at times with the regular use of words such as "obviously" (if it's obvious why comment on it) and "presumably" (if it's presumptious why go on record with it), and frequent spells of silence. I did manage to listen to the entire track if only prodded on by Peter's subtle enthusiasm (he referrs to one scene as being one of the "most famous in cinematic history") and informative discussion of the various opinions of the film's deeper meanings. The disc is packaged in the unpopular, but typical for Warner Brothers, cardboard snap case. If one is capable of overlooking the apparent existence of censorship, this is a solid release in terms of the film and the quality of its presentation.
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Review by The Black Gloved Killer. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©