Plot: What’s it about?
Thomas (David Hemmings) is a photographer by trade, a gifted worker to boot, with a knack for getting the great shots. His camera has snapped images of all kinds, from violence to serene skies to beautiful women. As these photos turn out to be perfect, with excellent subjects and flawless composition, Thomas finds himself in demand. Even so, he is withdrawn from what he shoots and has no real connection with his subjects. In the darker times, he felt no sorrow for what he shot and in the lighter days, the joy didn’t spread to his heart. His personal life seems to be on the same track, as he is involved with numerous women, but hasn’t made a real connection. He throws caution to the wind and lives for the moment, though he remains detached. That soon changes however, once he meets a mysterious woman and takes an unusual photograph. He sees the woman and her beau in the park, so he snaps off a few shots. The woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) chases him down to try to reclaim the photos. But when he enlarges the park photos, Thomas discovers he might have captured more than he planned. The photos reveal some dark images, as if Thomas might have taken pictures of a murder in progress. But do the photos hold such important content, or is Thomas lost in a sea of paranoia and chaos?
If you want by the book suspense, simple characters, and a rational plot, then Blow-Up is not the film you seek. Michelangelo Antonioni directs a movie that relies on visuals, mood, and unusual touches, so typical is not the word to use in this case. There is dialogue and a plot of course, but the focus isn’t on those elements, instead Antonioni chooses to work with style and chaos to craft a unique, memorable picture. The visuals are vital in Blow-Up, as the image is everything within the world inside the film. This leads to some amazing moments, such as the excellent use of still photos, but the unusual approach can leave some viewers cold. After all, some audiences prefer to have a normal narrative to follow. But you won’t find any such devices here, as Antonioni has forced us to lean on the images to draw our perceptions. The film has fallen out of the spotlight, save for some buzz about Vanessa Redgrave’s breasts, which is a real shame. This is a well crafted, unique movie that deserves a return to the pantheon of elite motion pictures. I know it is one of those “love it or hate it” kind of flicks, but it is a true revelation to experience. I am thrilled to own a lush new treatment, not to mention some choice supplements. So if you’re interested, Blow-Up is an unusual and highly recommended release.
Video: How does it look?
Warner’s DVD of the film looked good, but when things get in Criterion’s hands – it’s a whole new ball game. Blow-Up has been given a new 4K restoration that sports a noticeable improvement over the previously-released DVD. The print is in superb condition, though some minor flaws do surface at times. The main benefit, to me, seems to be the film has less of a grainy look to it. Things seem more evened out and consistent. Detail has been improved as well and I found colors to be bright and not faded much, while contrast is smooth and gives us no reason to complain. This new transfer takes a couple decades off the visuals and another tip of the hat to Criterion’s work.
Audio: How does it sound?
As I’ve said in countless other reviews, there’s not a whole lot you can do with a mono track. It’s one channel and therefore will always be limited. But I will say that this new mono mix is fairly impressive. I hardly heard anything that dated the film. It’s a strong, powerful track that (of course) lacks direction, but has no real faults either. The music is as full as mono allows, while sound effects are clean and well-placed. I had no trouble with the dialogue either, as vocals seemed sharp and crisp. Don’t let the mono aspect fool you – this is a good-sounding mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Vanessa Redgrave – This new 45 minute interview with actress Vanessa Redgrave might be reason alone to purchase the disc. In it she tells about the film, her role and some of the more technical aspects of the movie. It was shot in June, 2016 and is a worthwhile supplement to this disc.
- David Hemmings – Two excerpts are featured with the actor.
- 1968 – He laughs off the comparison to James Dean and dishes on London.
- 1977 – Hemmings discusses his role in the film, some of the impact of that role on his career and his first visit to Hollywood.
- Jane Birkin – From a 1989 interview, the actress discusses her part in the film.
- Antonioni’s Hypnotic Vision – Two new features were produced by Criterion in 2016 for this disc.
- Modernism – David Alan Mellor, an art historian, discusses the visual style of the film.
- Photography – I found this one a bit more compelling as I’m an amateur photographer myself. In this we look at Hemmings’ character, the lifestyle of a photographer and the reflections of that character in society.
- Blow Up of Blow Up – A very all-encompassing hour long documentary takes a look at the film as a whole. The physical look and feel of the film are explored as well as some of the key shooting locations. We also get a look at London, some of the themes explored in the film and so forth. It’s a great look at the film.
- Michelangelo Antonioni – We get a 6 minute segment from a longer documentary (the entire documentary can be found on Criterion’s L’Eclisse) that focuses on the director, his visual style and the like.
- Illustrated Booklet – Film scholar David Forgacs contributes to the illustrated leaflet found in the set.
The Bottom Line
This movie isn’t for everyone. It’s very polarizing, but I feel that it was also very ahead of its time. How often is our privacy invaded today with everyone recording what they’re doing? Criterion has improved on an already fairly good DVD put out by Warner some time ago. Recommended.