Blow-Up Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni (1966)


Symbol: Illusion
Major Theme: The Power of Secrets

This bizarre film follows an intense fashion photographer by the name of Thomas played by David Hamings, who has an air for promiscuity and drugs. Thomas finds himself in a sobering situation after a walk through the park where he is caught taking pictures of a young woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), and her older gentleman suitor.

Rife with 1960’s London pop culture, the film is not entirely lost on the American audience. Though Director Antonioni does a marvelous job breaking the conventions of what we’ve come to expect in the typical Hollywood film, those looking for a challenge will find that Blow-up is quite an interactive film. The “rough-edged reworking of Hollywood formulas (Bordwell & Thompson 397)” was almost certainly made famous by director Jean-Luc Godard.

Several ambiguous framing techniques are used throughout Blow-up, a canted shot placing two men walking their dog next to an antique shop, causes the audience to focus (in a discreet way) as to their purpose, only later do we hear Thomas discussing with his agent the rising population of, “gueers and poodles in the area.” Medium shots are placed outside the realm of what is known as the ‘American shot’ or in the French term, plan américain. This was noticeable whenever a character was placed in a medium shot but rather than showing waist up, it showed them from the waist down. Often times, there was use of several beams that intersected Thomas’ apartment, that would obscure certain angles and could leave the viewer wondering why such an awkward setting was chosen for filming. There is one scene where Jane passes under the wood beam then proceeds to knock on it, drawing even more attention to its rather distracting placement. Large feathers used for photoshoot props also act as a barrier between viewer and characters.

Another peculiar framing decision becomes obvious during a scene involving two model hopefuls who return a second time to request a photoshoot by Thomas. While the two women giddily rifle through a clothing rack, the scene cuts and it becomes very noticeable that a hand held camera is being used. The decision to change cameras lends an eerie perspective, as though someone has placed themselves extremely close behind the unsuspecting women and is filming them. As Bordewell and Thompson suggest, the handheld camera movement functions to create subjective point of view (196). The shot becomes more rigid and the viewer is left to decide for themselves, which shots are important to the overall narrative.

When the two girls finish their impromptu photo shot, they are placed in another intriguing shot; blowup images of what may be a homicide Thomas photographed during his walk in the park, are hung throughout the room. The photos are framed so that the camera has been placed behind the print with one girl directly behind it, exposed only waist down, and the other has settled on the floor and is seen by the audience only through the space in between two of the enlarged exposures. This peculiar medium shot is used again with Thomas after the girls leave. He stares at the photos trying to decipher whether he has captured evidence of a homicide. As he stands in front of the photo, the camera remains behind it, and he becomes a mere shadow through the hanging print. With most classical Hollywood cinema, Bordwell and Thomson note that there must be a strong degree of closure at the end (95). Did Thomas capture a murder with his camera that day in the park? What happened to Jane? Antonioni does not give into the typical conventions of American film, choosing instead to leave his audience guessing.

Cited: Bordwell, David & Kristin Thompson. Film Art. University of Wisconsin: 2008. Print.