Friday, March 4, 2022

Film Club Featurette: Blow-Up (1966)

In 1964, famed Hollywood studio mogul Carlo Ponti commissioned the most famous and critically important director on the planet at the time, Michelangelo Antonioni, to produce a "second trilogy," after the intercontinental smash-success of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse. This new trilogy would be in English -- and beyond that one requirement, Antonioni would have near-total creative and editorial control. The third of these films we have shared previously, 1975's *The Passenger*, with Jack Nicholson; on Saturday we turn our attentions to the first of the trio, *Blow-Up*, the film that only Michelangelo Antonioni could possibly have created, and only at that particular moment, both in his personal timeline and in ours. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the most culturally significant pictures we have shared, head-to-head with the most entertaining, and a nose in front in terms of its value as an enduringly challenging summons to contextualize our own comfortably classist prejudices.

Part atmospheric tone poem to the urban art scene, part hard-charging suspense thriller, part withering essay on post-capitalistic intellectual decay, and part British psychedelic triptick, *Blow Up* faces-down all of these potentially muddling narrative agendas with the unfussy confidence and flick-of-the-wrist aplomb that only a genius auteur working at his highest level can compose. Nothing remotely like it had ever been tried before, and nothing since has come particularly close. In the pantheon of cinematic touchstones, few titles are as essential to the oeuvre as *Blow-Up*, and even fewer are anything like as fun to watch. 

It doesn't hurt that the two leads, David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, somehow manage between them to span the whole of a venn diagram filled from corner to corner with titanic acting prowess, quietly desperate post-colonial elan, instinctive empathy for the director's vision, and spoiled smart-kid sexy cool. And all without ever once seeming to know that there are cameras taking any of it down for later use. Meanwhile the camera movements and compositions are intentionally counter-programmed right along with the performances, deftly undermining our in-the-moment sensibilities with an unspoken message that none of what we're watching is anything remotely like the things that we can see. The colour palette, too, attacks our expectations with warmly saturated invitations to places we surely must not want to go, and coldly stand-offish white-bricked isolation in the one setting where we might expect to feel at home. The dialogue is continually syncopated to our better expectations, the conduct of the would-be sympathetic characters rarely gives us all that much on which to rest our sympathies, and the soundtrack collides with every smooth surface it can reach. The sum-total serves as a subversion not just of our comfortable aspect on the thing, but of our rarely pondered notions of what it means to be the audience at all. 

I hope every one will plan to join us, Saturday 5 March at 5:31pm, for this enthralling and unforgettable jewel of unhurried and unforced cinematic provocation. There really is nothing quite like it, anywhere in all of movie history.

Dave O'Gorman

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