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A cautionary thriller about cameras and cameramen.

  • Jun 14, 2012
**** out of ****

The very concept of capturing a single image taken from life and putting it on paper is frightening. A camera is a voyeuristic tool in the sense that it almost controls - or compels - the operator to act as its guide; to position it, and to press the silver button at the top when the framing is pitch-perfect. There are theories that say a soul can be captured on film, and this is perhaps even scarier than the idea first posed. Indeed, once a photograph is taken; he or she who has taken it has that photograph forever, unless the only copy is taken from them. Yet photographers are glorified as celebrities, professionals; or rather, professionals who deal with celebrities. I don't suppose many of them are as borderline obsessed with their work as Thomas (David Hemmings) - the hero of "Blow Out" -, a fashion photographer who yells at the models whenever a simple mistake is made. He has no patience for those who cannot keep up with his spirit, and for those who can, their prize to claim is his momentary affection. An early scene depicts a beautiful model as she poses in scandalous positions, with Thomas eventually climbing atop her; the two forming one of the film's most prolific images, something of a sexual position, but with Thomas documenting the entire thing with a tiny handheld machine, although the outcome to all this seems to be the same as any orgasm.

The story is, more or less, put on the back-burner in the service of mood and tension; but the narrative essentially seeks to chronicle a day in the life of Thomas. He does a few photo shoots - some more successful and seamless than others -, visits an antique shop, gets paid visits by aspiring models hoping to work with him in his studio (which is located, conveniently, in his own home), and walks about London with his camera in hand at all times. On this day, he goes to Maryon Park, where he sees a man in a woman, and assumes them to be lovers. However, as he follows them; he takes notice of their strange behavior. Intrigues as ever, he decides to take some photos of their quarreling and kissing, although it doesn't take long for the lady (Vanessa Redgrave) to realize this, and she insists that the photos be deleted for good. But why? Thomas does not know, at first. But once he retires to his studio den, he develops today's finds and something in one of the photographs catches his eye. He blows it up and discovers what might be a hidden image; what looks to be a hand on the trigger of a visible gun. His first thought is that he served as a sort of distraction, and therefore saved not one but two lives that day.

After a visit from the same woman who he saw in the park, it becomes obvious that something must be up. Perhaps the woman knew she was being stalked and was to be killed in Maryon Park. Perhaps the man who was with her knew it too. Perhaps...I give up. There are so many possibilities. One cannot simply come up with a single logical explanation for the events that unfold with great precision in the film's story; although what matters is the pace at which they do. "Blow-Up" gives the viewer enough time to think, but contains so much provocative information and stunning images that watching it twice might help the conscience to absorb it better. The narrative comes to a certain point where Thomas returns to the park and stumbles upon what else other than a dead body. Could it be that of a victim, or of the man with the gun hidden so cleverly among the trees? Unanswerable questions swarm Thomas's mind. He cannot seem to prove his wild claims. And this is where the final scene comes in: which seems to be saying that maybe it's enough to believe you have seen something, since most things exist in our minds anyways. It never becomes clear if this was cold blooded murder or not. The woman could have been cheating on her husband, making him the gunman (possibly) and the man she was with the one with whom she was having an affair. The film doesn't make a whole lot of these things clear, but I'm starting to think maybe that's what makes it so great.

I believe this is one of those classic thrillers that also works as a character study of considerable depth. The Thomas character is best identified as an alienated soul who might have a bit of a misogynist streak in him. He lives in the Swinging London era, is based on a real-life photographer named David Bailey, engages in casual sex with women throughout his day, and seems to have very few friends outside of his profession. The discovery of the gun in the photographs he has taken acts as a sort of awakening for him; a reason, once again, to serve a purpose. But Thomas finds that when he isn't taking photographs of these things and is instead trying to crack the case, he isn't as happy as he should be. So there's the indication that maybe he should stick to what he's good at. Italian writer/director Michelangelo Antonioni writes him as vulnerable yet surprisingly capable of handling himself, for the most part. Madness is a powerful force, and no mortal can truly overcome it. Obsession, I would assume, is even stronger.

Most films at this level of sheer fascination are accompanied not only by engrossing narratives and characters but also by intoxicating style. Antonioni has a very precise and innovative way of directing each scene. There are locations that seem almost surreal, and then others which feel completely normal. These aspects would be meaningless if there were a single misplaced or imperfect camera angle, but such a thing is not found here. Antonioni knows what he's doing. His evocation of "Swinging London" is distinctive and unique, with a truly groovy score by Herbie Hancock to perfect this particular notion. This is a film of extreme, obsessive craftsmanship. It caused much controversy at the time of its original release for the sex and nudity contained in the film (which is significantly tame by today's standards), and the influence and impact still proves effective today. If anything will provoke the audience, it will be Thomas's harsh treatment of his model clients; as well as his descent into the dark, dark corners of his conscience. And then there are the infamous connections between the film and the Kennedy assassination. These connections will continue to be made forevermore, because we cannot forget history; and when you merge two historical aspects of our culture - a film and a film - well, you get something truly difficult to shake.

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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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