After revisiting Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up for the first time in many years, I had the revelation that, somewhere down the line, movies became pretty fucking stupid. Now, this isn't a swipe at their entertainment value, because, certainly, there have been dozens of films more entertaining than Antonioni's meditation on the complex ways in which we percieve information, but when was the last time you've seen a film that's really left it up to you to decide what it was all about? Films have become tidy, ninety-minute diversions that wrap themselves up by the conclusion, sending home viewers with little more to say than what the filmmaker told them. However, there was a time when films were, much like abstract art or poetry, left open to interpertation. This sort of film fostered hours of debate, post-film discussions over pots of coffee and cigarettes, and countless essays by cineaste's and film students dissecting every frame in search of it's deeper hidden meaning.
When's the last time any of us have done that? I can only think of one film, Donnie Darko, that didn't wrap itself up in a tidy bow by the time the credits rolled, and led to hours of dissection on the part of myself and anyone within earshot who'd also seen the film. Other than that, the occasional Kubrick film (most notably, the underrated Eyes Wide Shut), and the below-the-radar arthouse/experimental flick have popped up in recent years, but nothing mainstream has offered any such challenge.
While Blow Up certainly isn't mainstream by today's standards, in it's time, it was something of a minor hit, as well as a tremendous critical favourite. It's also one of the most influential films ever, with elements of the film being borrowed by everyone from Brian DePalma (Blow Out) to the television series C.S.I.. The story of a megalomaniacal photographer (Hemmings) whose impromptu shoot in a London park leads to, what he percieves as, a murder caught on film, Blow Up poses the question; "How real can something be unless we share it with others?"
The film makes many suggestions of this throughtout, with constant allusions to mimes, the fashion industry of which Hemmings' photographer is a part of, and the murder itself, discovered completely by accident when the film is blown up. The suggestion is that for something we see to be real, it has to be interpersonally exchanged, preferably amongst large groups. It doesn't matter that Hemmings has not only captured the corpse on film, but has also seen it in the flesh during a later trip to the scene of the crime. For him, it's real, but it can only truly be real if others share in the sight of it. This message is compounded by the fact that Hemmings refuses to simply take people to the body to see for themselves; he needs to photograph it, thus archiving this forever, and also allowing him to share his vision with the widest audience he possibly can. For him, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
The film ends in such a way as to suggest that Hemmings' character has learned that everything we see is subjective, and can only be real if we share it with others who are willing to see what we see. It's a profound statement that I imagine polarised audiences of the day as it does now, for I've talked to people who've seen the film and they either hate it ("It made no sense!") or embrace it as an opportunity to share what THEY saw in an attempt to make it "real". This is the hallmark of great art in any medium, and Blow Up is simply one of the finest examples of this.
Warner Brothers presents Blow Up in a relatively skimpy set, featuring a witty and informative commentary track by Antonioni biographer Peter Brunette (one of the better tracks by a "historian" that I've come across), as well as a teaser and theatrical trailer, and a music only audio track. It's a decent amount of extras, but somehow I think this film deserves more. Perhaps an Antonioni retrospective, or interviews with the surviving cast members?
Fans of cinema simply must own this film, and, now that it's finally available on DVD (for a very reasonable price, I might add) there's no excuse not to make this remarkable film a part of your collection.