Antonioni's 1966 Blow Up

Film of the Month: Blow­-Up:​ A Postmodern Film Noir

This year at VM Productions we bid our final farewell to the wonderfully spooky Halloween season and celebrate “#Noirvember” (a celebration of Film Noir, throughout November) with Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow­ Up (1966), a work that combines traditional Film noir cinematic elements with postmodern social commentary. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best British Cinematography, and Best English ­Language Foreign Film. Music by Herbie Hancock. Antonioni won the Grand Prix at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. Part psychological thriller and part art film, Blow­Up stars David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave and explores the boundaries between life, death, and voyeurism.

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Thomas (played by David Hemmings) lives a posh life as a “Swinging London” fashion photographer whose artistic antics serve as partial future character inspiration for Mike Meyer’s famed portrayal of Austin Powers. His days are filled with snapping sultry photos of (and often sleeping with) countless young, beautiful women or spending small fortunes on antique propellers and landscape paintings. The young photographer floats through life behind the detached haze of a lens, embodying the classic flâneur as he strolls through London capturing photos of city life. However, it seems that his gaze stretches too far once he photographs a couple in the park and encounters a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) who catalyzes his involvement in a murder. Thomas slinks through dark alleys and shadowed streets as he begins to suspect that he is being followed (à la true Film noir fashion). Despite these cinematic elements, the plot soon deviates from what is expected of a murder mystery.

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Vanessa Redgrave and David-Hemmings

It is at this point that Blow­Up breaks from the standard Film noir format. Rather than focus on the details of the “who, what, when, how, and why?” of the murder itself, the film’s suspense is drawn from Thomas’ reaction to his predicament and growing fixation on photographing the murdered corpse for his art/fashion book. He wanders aimlessly and agitated through town (growing sweatier and sweatier with each passing scene), driving his luxury car, absentmindedly attending a Yardbirds concert, and finally wandering into an artist friend’s classical “60s” cannabis-fueled soirée. Soon after, the film resolves with a rather ambiguous encounter between Thomas and a group of young mimes, leaving the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about the fate of the photographer.

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While Blow­Up’s plot as a whole may initially seem too ambiguous, it is teeming with poignant postmodern and existential metaphors. In the beginning, Thomas is obsessed with capturing images of life for the sake of creating art but does so on a superficial level. He photographs life but does not truly live it himself, save for the occasional fling or lavish purchase. Even when confronted with discovering a murder, he only concerns himself with the merely aesthetic benefits of the victim. His embodiment of the classic Male Gaze (wielding power over society via his photographic judgment) paradoxically causes him to fall short in life. However, rather than stretching too far when discovering the murder, his gaze finally extends far enough to ignite his journey toward self­discovery. It is not until the final scene involving the young mimes that the audience sees a visible change in Thomas’ demeanor. Watching them deeply engaged in the mere act of truly living and enjoying life moves Thomas and seems to shift his perspective on the human experience. In this way, Blow­Out effectively blends two very distinct film genres into one narrative and thus serves as an extremely effective film with its own unique perspective.

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Ava Lanto

My name is Ava Lanto, lover of all things related to film and the arts. I am a fresh graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture. Researching, analyzing, and writing about my favorite movies and works of art is one of my main passions (as is listening to podcasts about ghosts and the paranormal, but that's an entirely different story) and will hopefully lead me to a long-term career in the film/entertainment industry in the not so distant future.

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