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Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966) begins what I will call my Boredom Trilogy, not because I think any of the following films are boring, but because they are all quiet, artful, slow-moving films that deal with boredom or stillness in some way. And yes, because I think many WILL find them boring. I'm a whole other animal, however. (Note that I didn't watch them in sequence on purpose, I was just pulling stuff off the shelf alphabetically!) So Blow-Up is a repertoire film that I'd hear about in film class long ago, but had never seen. It wasn't what I was expecting. David Hemmings stars as a Swinging 60s photographer who (I must say, eventually) takes candid shots of Vanessa Redgrave in a park. She desperately wants the photos, and he discovers, by blowing them up, clues to a murder. While that's the plot, most of the film feels essentially plotless, with many tableaux evoking still photography, and scenes that cause the film critic on the commentary track throw up his hands in defeat. They work for me though. The film is in many ways about the reliability of images. Things are consistently taken out of context to see if they still have meaning (the blown-up detail, the piece of guitar, the propeller) and the film is itself an image (albeit a moving one) that proves unreliable. Things are not well explained and by its dearth of dialog, the characters don't give up their secrets. It's the point of mimes at the end who share an unreal perception (an invisible ball) the Hemmings character eventually adopts. And at the heart of this unreliable image is the youth culture of the Swinging 60s, shown in the film to be superficial though sought after. Why does the Hemmings character go into an antiques store, and why does the shopkeeper tell him nothing's for sale? It's part of the character's quest to find meaning in his life, something the pure image of his culture has not given him (and he's not the only character looking to get out of that London). He looks for meaning in the old, but the past is also denied him, just as evidence of the murder also disappears. It's the kind of movie that is mystifying while you watch, but the reveals itself afterwards, and I could literally do a sequence-by-sequence or even frame-by-frame analysis of it.
Statements by Michelangelo Antonioni on Blow-Up
"In 'Blow-Up,' a lot of energy was wasted by people trying to decide if there was a murder, or wasn't a murder, when in fact the film was not about a murder but about a photographer. Those pictures he took were simply one of the things that happened to him, but anything could have happened to him: He was a person living in that world, possessing that personality."
"In my other films, I have tried to probe the relationship between one person and another--most often, their love relationship, the fragility of their feelings, and so on. But in this film, none of these themes matters. Here, the relationship is between an individual and reality--those things that are around him. There are no love stories in this film, even though we see relations between men and women. The experience of the protagonist is not a sentimental nor an amorous one but rather, one regarding his relationship with the world, with the things he finds in front of him. He is a photographer. One day, he photographs two people in a park, an element of reality that appears real. And it is. But reality has a quality of freedom about it that is hard to explain. This film, perhaps, is like Zen; the moment you explain it, you betray it. I mean, a film you can explain in words, is not a real film."
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In 20 official lists
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This movie ranks #29 in Time Out’s The 100 Best Thrillers
This movie ranks #34 in Cannes Film Festival - Palme d'Or
This movie ranks #48 in Time Out's The 100 Best British Films
This movie ranks #50 in FilmTV's The Best Italian Films
This movie ranks #60 in BFI's Top 100 British Films
This movie ranks #63 in Roger Ebert's Great Movies
This movie ranks #72 in Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art
This movie ranks #75 in iCheckMovies's 1960s Top 100
This movie ranks #78 in Leonard Maltin's 100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century
This movie ranks #98 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #102 in Jennifer Eiss's 500 Essential Cult Movies
This movie ranks #110 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #111 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #124 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #183 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Narrative Films
This movie ranks #214 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #249 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown
This movie ranks #441 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #671 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?
This movie ranks #1028 in The Criterion Collection