Lucie Horton takes a look at why Blow Up, the sixties thriller, is a classic worth watching.
The sixties was a time for fashion, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, and on all those accounts Blow Up delivers. But the swinging sixties is only the backdrop, not the focus, to Michelangelo Antonioni’s film that won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival in 1967. Antonioni’s attention sweeps over the sexy models, drug-infused parties, and playful rock n’ roll soundtrack, and pays closer attention to the theme of the impossibility of truth.
The film follows David Hemmings, who plays the role of the impatient, misogynistic, and excitable fashion photographer brilliantly. He rushes around London in his Rolls Royce, snapping alien-looking models, buying expensive antiques, having dinner with his agent, and most importantly, photographing a couple embracing in the park. One half of the couple, Vanessa Redgrave, frantically begs for the film but Hemmings flat-out refuses. In a gripping scene, Hemmings blows up the photographs and hangs them around his room, recreating the moment he, and the audience, saw earlier. As the photographs enlarge, their contents becomes more and more oblique, is that a man in the bushes? Is he holding a gun?
Audiences are forced to doubt the authenticity of the photographs, and so in turn, question the nature of reality itself. This is heightened by the surreal elements Antonioni employs; from the otherworldly costumes of the models, to the final scene, which sees Hemmings watch a mime troupe play a frantic game of imaginary tennis. The camera work throughout by Carlo di Palma is fantastic; each scene is cluttered with multiple layers, often focusing off the main action in the shot.
Many critics have called Blow Up a thriller, and although moments of tension are created, the plot resists building prolonged suspense for it to fit comfortably into this genre. Instead, the narrative is constantly interrupted by Hemmings becoming distracted by the busy world around him. At times, these interruptions are infuriating – but I think that’s the point.
Blow Up gives the audience only quick snapshots into the character’s worlds. We’re given a brief but touching window into the life of a lonely housewife, played by Sarah Miles, before the film moves on to reveal just a little about the adulterous character played effortlessly by Vanessa Redgrave. The mystery, of the characters and the plot, mean that after watching Blow Up the audience is left with a puzzle that cannot be solved, and this is precisely why it is still a cult classic.