Blowup (1966)

Recently I enjoyed viewing Blowup for a second time this year. After an initial experience last winter, I knew that the 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni would be something special to me for a long time. Now, I understand why.

The plot, such as it is, involves a young London photographer, Thomas, played by David Hemmings. Thomas’ world is populated with the fashionable, the beautiful and sexy, the avant-garde young British who epitomized Swinging London of the 1960’s. Thomas enjoys great freedom, upscale living, the overweening attentions of young women, and the unapologetic solitude of his art. Openly contemptuous toward others, he moves with that stolid determination which the  self-absorbed carry as their right.

Antonioni unhurriedly allows the viewer to slide along with Thomas in some of his pursuits, to a morning photo shoot of high-fashion models, on a drive through London streets, into an antique shop for a bit of browsing, onto a large paper palette for casual sex. Thomas is a man who exists on his own plane, it would seem, one from which an intersection with anything not of his choosing appears unlikely. Therefore it’s a bit surprising, and wonderfully effective, when Thomas takes a slow walk into London’s Maryon Park and into that spot’s green world of summer-full leaves, spongy grass, and languidly unfolding intrigue. To say more would spoil the central pleasures of Blowup. This is a film to watch carefully, in a quiet room where, say, the tinkling ice of the evening’s margarita pitcher has been a pleasant precursor for the intimacy and discovery of this film.

It’s safe to say that nothing will lurch from without to make you jump during Blowup. There may be a few minutes, especially early on, when many viewers will wonder just where things are heading. Certainly that was the case for this viewer. But the beauty and surprise to be found in Blowup has everything to do with the purity of the beauty and surprise to be found in the sights, sounds, and feel of the medium. The final scene should not fail to lurch at you from within, when the grand finale of a charity rag intersects with such force in Thomas’ life that to watch the last minutes of Blowup is to experience  a sense of just how much a superbly crafted and emotionally replete film can express, all without a word.

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