Blowup (1966) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The picture above pretty much says it all, but I'm going to summarize the plot anyway, just because it's fun. Unlike my usual bullshit summaries, I am not going to exaggerate any details, because I don't have to in order to make them funny, although I will omit some sub-plots and other minor elements.


  • In a gray, decaying industrial zone of London, a bunch of downtrodden factory workers lumbers out of their mill. They have obviously challenged life and lost.

  • Meanwhile, in the toney West End, a joyful group of gaily-dressed youth in white face (see above) motors through the heart of town in a jeep. They are "ragging", a technique used by young people at the time to collect for charities.

  • Back in the industrial area, one of the factory workers waits for his colleagues to disperse. When he's alone, he looks about furtively and walks over to where he has parked his Rolls Royce convertible. He drives home to his enormous and posh studio, where he proceeds to photograph a lifeless, deadpan model for some time.

  • Then the photographer heads out to an antique store in a different neighborhood, where he buys a gargantuan airplane propeller, and debates buying the entire shop. He thinks it's a good location for an antique store because he's seen "fags with poodles" in the neighborhood.

  • While he is waiting for something at the antique store, he wanders into a nearby park and photographs a couple talking. The woman spots him taking pictures, catches up with him, insists that he give her the film, and bites his hand when he refuses. He continues to refuse, because there are other pictures on the roll which do not concern the woman, but he says he will return her pictures to her later.

  • He drives off to have lunch with his friend/agent/editor. He orders a meal. He looks outside the restaurant and sees a man fiddling with the trunk of his Rolls. He goes outside, checks the trunk, finds nothing and drives home. (1) The agent is left in the restaurant with two meals and no explanation for the photographer's disappearance. (2) The mysterious trunk man is never shown again. (3) There is nothing wrong with the trunk, and it is never discussed again. This scene is either surreal or hilariously inept, because the mysterious man first comes to the window of the restaurant to see if the photographer is occupied. Then, when he sees the photographer looking right at him and coming after him, he heads straight to the trunk of the photographer's car and acts mysterious. Yeah that makes sense. I wonder what he would have done if the photographer had NOT noticed him.

  • When he drives home, he is visited by the woman he photographed in the park, even though the park incident happened in another neighborhood, and he never gave the woman his address. She asks for the film. She takes off her blouse. The antique store delivers the propeller. The photographer talks to the topless woman for a while, but she offers no explanation for her intense interest in the film. She is laughing theatrically with her head back and her teeth exposed, seeming to have a good time. Then, in the middle of a good guffaw, she stops laughing, gets up, puts on her blouse, grabs the film and leaves with no explanation for her change of mood.

  • We see that he gave her the wrong roll of film.

  • He develops the correct roll of film, and imagines that he has photographed something important, but he doesn't know what. He takes the developed photos and hangs them throughout his studio, noticing that they tell a story. He SAYS that he's photographed the clues to a murder, though we have no idea precisely why he believes that.

  • A couple of teenagers come over, and he allows them to try on the clothing that he has used for photographic shoots. He then tears off their clothes and rolls around naked with them on a purple sheet.

(SIDEBAR: Many pretentious people have written paragraphs to explain the presence of the two mysterious men who lurk behind the three-way "purple sheet" sexual romp in this movie. Antonioni explained, "There is no reason for it. They are two cameramen whom I did not notice and so forgot to cut.")

  • More convinced than ever that he's seen something important, the photographer returns to the mysterious park where he took the pictures, and finds the dead body of the man he photographed. For the only time in the course of the story, he does not have his camera. Darn the luck!

  • He looks around his studio and finds that the pictures are gone.

  • He attends a swingin' London nightclub, where he sees the Yardbirds play (Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck!). He stops into a place where people are smoking marijuana. His friend/editor/agent is there. He tries to persuade his friend to come and see the body he has found, but the man is stoned out of his tree, and refuses.

  • The photographer goes back to the park the next morning. The body is gone. Without the body and the pictures, he has no evidence to share with anyone.

(SIDEBAR: Over the years, much has been made of the fact that the grass clearly indicates that the body was never there to begin with. and there are no signs that it has been dragged away. That is accurate. A body lying there for many, many hours would leave a trace. and there would be some trace of it having been dragged from the spot. In fact, it would leave all sorts of traces, not just bent blades of grass, but I strongly doubt that Antonioni meant to convey that the body was never there. Perhaps, but I doubt it. He was simply not capable of thinking so logically. One cannot expect the photographer to reason that through, because the filmmaker who created his character could not reason that through. The problem with most people who question objective reality is that they do not realize how detailed and minute and precise objective reality is. If a good medical examiner examined the site, he'd be able to tell you if a body was there, how long the body was there, who the body belonged to, how much the man weighed, and maybe even which cologne he had been wearing. This is very similar to the weakness in the argument about the falling tree not making a sound if nobody is there to hear it. It makes the assumption that the record made by human ears is the only imprint left by a sound on the universe.)

  • Then the photographer goes to another part of the park. The gaily-dressed youths from the opening scenes have gathered around a tennis court. We now see that they are all trained mimes. (Hey, the whiteface was a dead giveaway.) Two of them mime a tennis game, while the others cheer (silently, of course). One of the "players" hits an imaginary ball out of the court. All of the mimes implore the photographer to fetch the ball. (Scene pictured above.) He does. He gets the imaginary ball and throws in back into the court. Then the camera pulls back, and he, too becomes as imaginary and invisible as the ball.

  • As he disappears, we see the magic words appear in his place: "The End".

(SIDEBAR: Once again, much has been made of the fact that after the photographer throws the imaginary ball back, we hear a REAL tennis game going on, with the sound of real rackets hitting real balls. If intentional, this implies that the mimes were never there, that the photographer was just strolling past a real tennis game while imagining his mimed game. That seems to be far too deep for Antonioni to have conceived, but I guess it is possible. More likely, the sound is supposed to be in his head as he buys into the false reality, or it is just another sloppy error, like the crew members in the background.)


All hail the naked emperor.

The famous Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni is a perfect litmus test for a person's intellectual honesty. Show people Zabriskie Point or Blow-Up and ask for their reactions. They will inevitably divide into two camps:

Camp 1 will use such words as bewildering, pretentious, irrational, opaque, incoherent ...

Camp 2 will use such words and expressions as alienation, disorientation, disaffection, angst, anomie, lack of communication, elliptical ...

They are both saying the same thing, but perceiving it in a different way: Antonioni's films make no sense at all. The people in Camp 1 want them to make sense. The people in Camp 2 believe that Antonioni was a genius at expressing man's disconnection with the modern world, and that he was re-inventing film with a new sense of narrative. The people in this second camp think that the first group are fools for wanting Antonioni to follow the traditional rules of language and narrative, and they come up with fascinating explanations for all the logical gaps in Antonioni's films, as if each non-sequitur were planned that way by his subtle genius.

Other people argue that since Antonioni wanted to picture the separation of modern man from his environment, the banality and boredom of modern capitalist life, and the inability of man to communicate, that he had to show people being illogical, uncommunicative, boring, and alienated.

The plain fact of the matter is that Antonioni simply made movies the same way he thought and spoke. His interviews demonstrate the same incoherence present in his films. His films are opaque because he is a confused thinker, not because he is a deep thinker portraying confusion. He seemed to have no concept of "one thing following another", or "one thing as a consequence of another". When asked a question he might offer some pseudo-intellectual jargon vaguely related to the question, or he might just spout some spacey irrelevant concepts - what we would call today "new-age babble". Some examples:


  • Vanessa Redgrave - nipples barely visible
  • Jane Birkin - all possible parts
  • Gillian Hills - breasts and pubes.
  • Anonymous model - breast in distance shot.

Interviewer: The implication of what you've been saying as far as Blow-up is concerned intrigues me. Aren't you suggesting that you meant to depict the young people in that film positively?

Antonioni: Yes, Blow-up is favorable to the youth of that particular moment and place. I don't know how I would feel if I were to start studying certain groups in Italy, for example, about whom I must admit only the vaguest knowledge.

Interviewer: But I find the film critical, and so do others. For example, recall the peace-march scene, where the young people walk by with placards reading "Go," "On, on" "Forward." That's parody, yet you say you intended it to be favorable.

Antonioni: When a scene is being shot, it is very difficult to know what one wants it to say, and even if one does know, there is always a difference between what one has in mind and the result on film. I never think ahead of the shot I'm going to make the following day because if I did, I'd only produce a bad imitation of the original image in my mind. So what you see on the screen doesn't represent my exact meaning, but only my possibilities of expression, with all the limitations implied in that phrase. Perhaps the scene reveals my incapacity to do better; perhaps I felt subconsciously ironic toward it. But it is on film; the rest is up to you.


Interviewer: I'm puzzled about some implications. Do you mean to imply that the old moral baggage must be thrown away? If so, is that possible? Can man conceive of a new morality?

Antonioni: Why go on using that word I loathe! We live in a society that compels us to go on using these concepts, and we no longer know what they mean. In the future - not soon, perhaps by the twenty-fifth century - these concepts will have lost their relevance. I can never understand how we have been able to follow these worn-out tracks, which have been laid down by panic in the face of nature. When man becomes reconciled to nature, when space becomes his true background, these words and concepts will have lost their meaning, and we will no longer have to use them.

You know what I would like to do: make a film with actors standing in empty space so that the spectator would have to imagine the background of the characters. Till now I have never shot a scene without taking account of what stands behind the actors because the relationship between people and their surroundings is of prime importance. I mean simply to say that I want my characters to suggest the background in themselves, even when it is not visible. I want them to be so powerfully realized that we cannot imagine them apart from their physical and social context even when we see them in empty space.


Antonioni was not just confusing. He was also confused.

Although Antonioni has an excellent visual imagination, he is as poor an editor as he is a logician. He simply doesn't notice technical problems that are evident to other people, like the crew members in the shot. As noted above, this can produce hilarious responses from pseudo-intellectual critics.

That is not the only such instance in Blow-Up. I noticed at least one more:

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • full-length commentary by a screen historian and Antonioni scholar

Heaven only knows what explanations have been offered for the mysterious men (the images change as he drives) in the visor mirror. Could it be a reflection of God looking down from heaven?

Pauline Kael, perhaps the greatest film critic of all time, could spot humbug when she saw it, and wrote the following about Blow-Up in her harsh evaluation:

"Antonioni's new mixture of suspense with vagueness and confusion seems to have a kind of numbing fascination that people associate with art and intellectuality, and they are responding to it as their film - and hence as a masterpiece."

Does the film have some meaning? Sure. The film makes a clumsy statement of some kind about the nature of reality, similar to the old riddle about the tree falling in a forest, which may or may not make a sound if nobody hears it. The film equates the invisible ball to the photographer's unverified corpse, a product of the perception of the viewer. Overall, this script belongs to the appallingly sad chapter in the history of thought that says, "If I really, really, really want to believe there is no objective reality, it will go away."

There is a very useful hyphenated English word for this: navel-gazing.

Despite the muddled narrative and sophomoric dime-store philosophy, there are some good reasons to watch this movie.

  • It is a brilliantly photographed portrayal of the fashions and fads of the mid 60s in London, fads which spread everywhere soon thereafter, because England was the trend-setter in the Beatles era. You should groove to the colors and the lingo and the clothes, baby, because it is fab. It's like watching a perfectly serious version of Austin Powers, made during Austin's actual life, without irony. In that regard, I found it fascinating, nostalgic, and sadly amusing.
  • It is a handy representation of a school of thought and a corresponding school of filmmaking that were beginning to symbolize the counter-cultural reaction against the mainstream Eisenhower world of the 50s. In other words, sure, Antonioni was a fuzzy thinker, but he is a perfect example to study if you want to know how the trendy fuzzy thinkers thought in that troubled time. His film was popular with bourgeois intellectuals, and watching it gives you great insight into the thought process of a bourgeoisie that was then in the early stages of turning against itself.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. If you are into arty, symbolic, surreal, films without a coherent narrative structure, in which it may turn out that everything was an illusion (or not), this is such a film, and it has been professionally (and pretentiously) made. This film was fairly popular in the late sixties, when we smoked altogether too much marijuana. I would have given it a C+, but I had to assign a half grade penalty because nobody in the film was wearing a beret, not even one of the nineteen mimes (yes, I counted 'em) in the cast!

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