Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 Cannes Marathon: Blow-Up

(Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival)

Based on the short story Las babas del Diablo (The Devil’s Drool) by Julio Cortazar, Blow-Up is the story of a photographer who believes that he has witnessed a murder from one of his photographs as he is unsure over what he saw. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and screenplay by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra with English dialogue by Edward Bond, the film is a look into the world of 1960s Swingin’ London as a fashion photographer deals with what he might’ve seen as well as the forces who are trying to stop him. Starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, and Sarah Miles. Blow-Up is an intriguing yet sensational film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

The film explores the life of a fashion photographer who learns that one of his photographs features a dead body as he tries to figure what happened as well as meet a woman who might’ve been involved. It’s a film that has a man who is this revered fashion photographer who is part of this world of Swingin’ London of the mid-1960s as he is at the center of this burgeoning culture as he has uncovered something that has him see something that he might’ve seen as he becomes targeted for his photograph. On the one hand, it’s an unconventional mystery that plays into the mind of a man who tries to uncover a mystery that isn’t supposed to be solved. On the other hand, it’s a film that has a man who is at the epicenter of British fashion as he comes to term with the role he plays and what else he could as a photographer.

The film’s screenplay follows a day in the life of this photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) who is driven by his art yet sleeping with models and all of that hasn’t really made him happy as he yearns for something more as his neighbor Patricia (Sarah Miles) is content with not dealing with certain expectations. Upon a stroll at Maryon Park where he watches a couple embracing, he takes photographs where the woman Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) wants the photographs. After a day of errands, Thomas looks into the photos he shot and realizes that Jane towards the body of her dead lover as he tries to figure out if there was a murder. While Thomas isn’t a likeable person, that is one of the aspects of the script that makes him interesting as he would often be cruel to his models or be very dismissive about antiques or art. At the same time, he yearns to be very important or do something important as his encounter with Jane would eventually have him facing some dark realities about what he had shot.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s direction is very stylized not just in his approach to the compositions he creates plays to the desire of artistry that Thomas wants. Particularly in the way he creates fashion shots as Antonioni aims for something that feels real but also lively into the world that is Swingin’ London. Yet, there is that sense of style in the way Antonioni creates the compositions as he knows where to put the actors into a frame while maintaining something that is very entrancing visually while maintaining a sense of ambiguity. Much of that ambiguity involves the mystery over what Thomas saw and some of the film’s second half where Thomas would continuously blow up the photos he took to see if he did see something. While the first half had something that was lively, its tone would change in the second half where it would be this suspenseful film but alone that is very existential.

Particularly in how Thomas views himself as he questions what he saw and what does it mean to him. The third act would be about this journey that Thomas takes where it’s not just him seeking some answers but also one that is very existential. Notably as he would question his own desires as an artist and as a photographer where despite all of his talents, it hasn’t really made him very happy. Overall, Antonioni creates a very dazzling and sensational film about a photographer who deals with the mystery that he might’ve encountered.

Cinematographer Carlo di Palma does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography that is filled with vibrant colors captured in great detail for its interior and exterior scenes as well as the use of lights for Thomas‘ studio. Editor Frank Clarke does brilliant work with its stylish approach to editing such as jump-cuts for some of the livelier moments to more methodical ones for its moment of suspense. Art director Assheton Gorton does fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of Thomas‘ studio as well as the club where the Yardbirds are playing.

Costume designer Jocelyn Rickards does fabulous work with the costumes in the many of the stylish fashion clothes that many of the models wear including the clothes that Jane wears. Sound editor Mike Le Mare does superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the parties as well as the intimacy in Thomas‘ studio. The film’s music soundtrack is diegetic as it’s played on location which largely consists of very lively and fun jazz pieces by Herbie Hancock who adds a lot of wit and cool to the music while the Yardbirds would make a notable appearance in the film as they play Train Kept-a-Rollin' as their performance would feature early appearances of guitar legends Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page as the music is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Irene Howard is incredible as it features some notable appearances from the model Veruschka as the model posing for photographs early in the film, the Yardbirds as the band playing at the club, Gillian Hills and Jane Birkin as two wannabe models whom Thomas would later sleep with, Julian and Claude Charin as a couple of mimes, Tsai Chin as Thomas’ secretary, Reg Wilkins as Thomas’ assistant, John Castle as Patricia’s painter husband Bill, and Peter Bowles as Thomas’ agent Ron. Sarah Miles is wonderful as Thomas’ neighbor/former lover Patricia who tries to understand Thomas while being the only person he really trusts. Vanessa Redgrave is excellent as Jane as this mysterious woman Thomas photographed as she wants the photos while being very cagey about her relationship with the man who would be killed. Finally, there’s David Hemmings in a phenomenal performance as Thomas as this photographer who has a lot of talent and is in demand yet feels emotionally-empty until he comes across some mysterious photos he took as it would lead him into a journey into the unknown.

Blow-Up is a magnificent film from Michelangelo Antonioni. Armed with a great cast and a fantastic soundtrack, it’s a film that is engaging in its suspense but also explores the world of art and inner-self. For those new to Antonioni, this is most accessible film where it has a lot of his visual trademarks and themes of loneliness but also infuse it with some style that is just fun to watch. In the end, Blow-Up is a spectacular film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

Michelangelo Antonioni Films: (Story of a Love Affair) - (I Vinti) - (The Lady Without Camelias) - Le Amiche - (Il Grido) - L'Avventura - La Notte - L'Eclisse - Red Desert - Zabriskie Point - (Chung Kuo, Cina) - The Passenger - (The Mystery of Oberwald) - Identification of a Woman - (Beyond the Clouds) - Eros-The Dangerous Thread of Things

© thevoid99 2014

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