Not rated, but it really should be. Not only should it be rated, but it should be rated R because there's some pretty intense nudity in here. Oh, and that nudity is completely sexual. This isn't innocent nudity. It's super icky nudity. There's a kind of casting couch session that is meant to be sexy. It's really uncomfortable. So while this movie may not be rated, it should be rated R.
DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
Is it okay to say that I like Antonioni, but I don't always get Antonioni? This might have to do with self-esteem more than anything else, but I always leave an Antonioni movie pretty satisfied. If I try verbalizing what I took away from the movie, I'm never really happy with what I said. There's always something on the horizon that I'm missing. Sometimes, this concept is fundamental to the very appreciation of the film. Maybe I'm just defining what it means to be challenged by a film. That's not the worst thing to say, especially when it comes to an Antonioni film. Antonioni is supposed to challenge me. I tend to revisit Antonioni movies. I don't know if it is out of love for the original piece. But when I try waxing poetic about Antonioni's movies, I always feel stymied. I've seen Blow-Up before. When I saw it the first time, I loved it. Absolutely adored it. But it is also a wildly intimidating movie. Part of me admits to loving the idea behind the movie. I wasn't wise enough to say what I loved about it, but I wanted to explore that in this viewing. Perhaps this viewing brought up more questions than answers. (You have to give me points for being engaged and thinking critically at this point.)
When trying to explain the plot of Blow-Up to my students today, I knew that my synopsis wasn't doing the film justice. Saying that the movie is about a fashion photographer who finds a dead body in the background of one of his photos gives the movie a coolness very different from the coolness than the movie actually provides. The movie, if nothing else, is very cool. I think that's what drew me to it the first time. It's the same thing that got me excited to watch the BBS movies. I love this era in film for the mod attitude that they just ooze. But this movie has a plot almost in spite of itself. Rather, this is one of those movies that just lives in the characters and the settings. David Hemmings's Thomas is the movie, in a sense. He is interacting with a world that I'm not familiar with nor will I ever be familiar with. Antonioni had to be dealing with fame. While not a fashion photographer (as far as I know; my knowledge is limited), he dealt with artistic fame in his own right. I'd like to think that Antonioni wasn't Thomas. Thomas is a biting critique about what artistic fame can do to a person. Thomas is not going to change too much. This isn't quite the morality tale for Thomas. His breakdown as a character at the end is almost secondary to the events that have taken place over the course of the film. Rather, the setting is constantly manipulative of him. It's 1966. I mean, the Yardbirds are credited in the opening credits. This is mod. This is hip. He lives in a world of free sex and drugs and personal indulgence. But I don't think that the narrative is really accusing him of that. Instead, we get a world of performance artists who force Thomas to confront his demons in a cerebral way: through the world of mime tennis. I have to say, the end is the part that really confuses me. SPOILER: Thomas goes to find the body in the park once more and finds nothing. Instead, a troupe of mimes, acting as motif for the film, puts on a performance art spectacle for Thomas. Involving him in their game of tennis changes his aloofness throughout the film.
I mean, here's my shameless attempt to bring meaning to something that is probably far deeper than what I can theorize. The tennis ball isn't really there. He interacts with it, despite its lack of cohesion and invests in the game. Thomas is the kind of character who intentionally separates from actually real people. He sees himself as beyond them. He avoids the tangible at every moment. The girls who want a career are seen as less than human. They become sex toys for him. Every model involved in his photography is treated as an object of scorn. He only interacts with Jane because she is part of the mystery he is solving. He uses her sexually as well, but with a specialness because she is something that he is investing in, just like the tennis ball. Every time that Antonioni shows the photo, I know that I'm supposed to be seeing a dead body, but I just don't see it. I think that's on me. But the disappearance of something that is bigger than Thomas exposes the emptiness of the whole act. Thomas, keeping in mind that his life is bigger than mine will ever be, realizes how utterly small he is in the grand scheme of things. The ball isn't real. This event wasn't real. What he is creating is simply liminal. I may not be right about the interpretation of the end, but I feel like I may have enough here to at least write a critical response paper on the topic. Thomas and the mimes is what ties the movie together. He makes very few baby steps towards character change throughout the movie. Rather, he makes this giant leap in character when it comes to the mimes at the end. The mimes are teased throughout. They aren't exactly random at the end. At worst, they can be seen as convenient for Thomas's understanding of the events of the story. What is even more bizarre that his obsession isn't even all that intense. Thomas sees the image of the dead body and doesn't lose his mind. He doesn't confront Jane about his suspicions in the photo. He continues being the same selfish Thomas, only pausing to look closer at the photo on the wall. Antonioni is smarter than me. Lots of people are. I have to believe having the character shift at the end of the film instead of incrementally is a choice, but I'm not quite sure what that choice is saying.
A lot of this movie made me feel a little uncomfortable. I don't know if I felt it was uncomfortable the first time I watched it. I always found the poster creepily erotic, despite the fact that everyone is dressed on the poster. I was wondering if I was crazy and adding an element of discomfort onto a film that really didn't merit discomfort. Then the scene happened with with the desperate girls. Man alive, I don't know what to think about that scene. Part of me reads it as Antonioni ensuring that Thomas isn't a likable character. He treats them as objects and I don't really like that the screams of protest turns into giddy laughter. This makes me think that this scene is meant to arouse and make Thomas seem like a lucky guy. I can't stop putting a 21st century filter over this whole scene because this moment is wildly uncomfortable by today's standards. Thomas's behavior is revolting in any era. But the shift that the girls make in the tension of the scene is what really breaks down the moment. When the first girl is accosted, she is genuinely terrified. She tries to break free, mirroring a rape victim trying to break away from her attacker. But within a minute, that turns into laughter and she becomes an attacker as well, involving her girlfriend. The girls leave the scene without their goal accomplished and used for the entire sequence. As a Catholic, I kind of want to throw the Sexual Revolution in the hippies' faces right now. But I think we're all on the same team now. This scene is pretty gross and I don't like it. It makes the poster all the grosser. The thing is that the poster is so iconic and I think I'd love to have the style of it in my house. But I now associate the poster with that sequence and I'm okay to say that I don't need that poster making me question my morality on a daily basis.
It's weird to say that I was more distracted with the viewing today than I was years ago. It felt very disjointed to me. Antonioni movies aren't exactly known for their break neck pace, but I found myself looking at my clock more than I should have. There's actually very little that happens in this movie. I would never recommend changes to this, but a second watching of this movie did put me in step. It felt like a first viewing because it had been a while since I watched it the first time, but I knew the basic beats of what was going to happen. Keeping this in mind, I did enjoy it overall. The aesthetic of the film is great. The '66 vibe is super groovy and I continue to enjoy movies set during this time. I just don't know if I'm any closer to understanding the piece as a whole.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.