Late Night ‘Blow-Up’
It’s 3am and I’ve just finished watching Blow-Up (1966).
I definitely would have had a different reaction to this film now – and have had – than when I was 18-years old.
I definitely would have had a different reaction to this film now because I’d only seen 100 foreign language films then and now I’ve seen 700 maybe 800.
I definitely would have had a different reaction to this film than when I was 18-years old because in quick succession I have just recently seen Avventura, Notte, Eclisse, Zabriskie and Passenger.
Now to factor in the preconceptions and the admitted bias against Antonioni, Blow-Up reveals itself in a new light. A better light. A light which can be compared against three films made (almost directly) before it and two films made (almost directly) after it.
As well as against other great films from Europe and England (and America).
For example, Citizen Kane, at age 18, with the depth of field and the contrast in the photography, as well as the way the film revealed itself to the viewer like novels reveal themselves to the reader, made it as different to everything I’d ever seen: as different as watching a silent film like Intolerance or Greed.
When I was twelve-years old how much did I know of the difference between Intolerance (1916) and Cleopatra (1963)?
One lacked spark, music and colour and the other had it.
I was predisposed to like one and not the other. It was too much – for me – to see the silent films and the foreign films and the silent foreign films as well as Citizen Kane and Dirty Harry and Coogan’s Bluff and discover the clean from the dirty, the good from the bad (or even the ugly).
We had core hours where we watched the (so-called) important films and then there were additional sessions which we could attend to watch 16mm projections of other films. I attended many, but not all, the other films.
I would love to see the curriculum of what was on offer and what I attended.
Oh, how I would love to design a course that brought students to different, difficult, films, in a different, less haphazard way than my father did and in a more constructive way than the university film course did.
What I really liked about the course run by Peter Aborsky is that alongside Tout van bien and Blow-Up, we saw films that were part of the official diet of Australians circa 1960-1980, starring Clint Eastwood, a misogynistic – predatory, embarrassing, anti-establishment, oaf. [I’ve since come to see the inner man. I wonder if Gran Tarino was his depiction of the change in himself from one kind of person to another kind of person. I think it was.]
The two war films (Flag and Postcards) from different perspectives shows that change in Eastwood as does Million Dollar Baby where he acknowledges the power of women and Mystic River where he acknowledges the power of our upbringing to form our core behaviour and our understanding of how we relate to the world and how the world relates to us.
I’ve only seen Mystic River once. It was a devastating indictment of those with power who use it to dominate others. In a Hollywood Power System, it could be seen as a tacit acknowledgment that some have power and others don’t. Some, not Eastwood, abuse it. Several of his latter films explore the power that strong people have over weak people and what needs to happen for that to change, no matter whether you’re male or female.
Done! Finished the film and a couple of hours of writing and thinking and thinking and writing.
Kids will be up in five minutes. Christmas lunch (on Christmas Eve) guests arrive in seven hours. If I can avoid the children I can still get five to six hours sleep.
I’m happy to have seen these pivotal six Antonioni films in this order. Without Zabriskie (1970) and The Passenger (made later), I don’t think I could have seen, now, what Blow-Up attempted and achieved.
I haven’t seen Red Desert (1964), so I don’t know how it impacts my experience of the films either side. L’Eclisse (1963) ends in an usual manner, narratively. Zabriskie (1970), too. Then The Passenger (1975), with a closing shot that is beautiful on one level and such a technical achievement of what a camera can and can’t see and achieve – in focus – on another.
I do believe that technical feats make some films extraordinary. And that other feats, from one’s imagination – imagined and executed – make a film extraordinary.
But those achievements can’t simply be beautiful or extraordinary for their own end. They must be part of the intrinsic design of the film.
Lawrence of Arabia is extraordinary for more than its cinematographical design. So is Life of Pi. There are hundreds of films which meet the standard of ground-breaking visual design and execution and aren’t great in the other departments. Blade Runner would be one that has a split opinion.
Zabriskie has a meaningful repetition of a beautiful piece of architecture exploding into smithereens. It’s majestic. It’s terribly beautiful. It’s seen over and over. The Passenger does it in a less majestic visual manner. A person’s life is blown to smithereens, within the human body, undetectable outwardly. Inwardly the person’s ability to keep on existing is equally, devastatingly, shown, without an appreciable difference to the external unit, building or body.
With L’Eclisse, it was done by showing life going on without the body – as Vittoria vanishes from the story. With Blow-Up, it is done by showing the things that a photographer knows are real – that he sees with his eyes or his camera’s eye – even when they are not completely provable without a sharper camera. Once his images are stolen, the body gone, he has no more proof of what he knows, as if it only happened in his imagination.
Then there are the intersecting lines: horizontal, diagonal and vertical. They all lead to dead ends because eventually the frame of the celluloid limits them to never finishing or bouncing back down or across and trapped like a train going between heaven and hell – vertically and horizontal. A movie, for instance, is limited to its first frame and it’s last. It can be rewound (or spooled back and forth on its reel in the old days) of fast-forwarded or even paused; but it can’t extend beyond the beginning or the end of the film; and that for Antonioni is how he treats his characters for the most part.
Then, in Antonioni films, there are the paths, passages, hallways and roads – often angled or crooked rather than straight – that are always leading somewhere, with the tantalising feeling the viewer that they’re going somewhere – because what that person sees is intensely important to Antonioni’s construction of the six films I’ve seen – because the camera moves to reveal there is more and more of that particular path, potentially going on endlessly.
Each of these films have important sequences of a main character wandering or exploring, which, as they walk, reveals more of the environment surrounding his characters. This is what I have grown to love in Antonioni films.
I’ve seen people write reviews or blogs about Antonioni films with headlines or comments like, “Looks beautiful, but boring as hell.” That’s one way of experiencing Antonioni, or similar sequences – where the journey is the important experience, not the story – like the long visual journey by Dave Bowman to Jupiter. One person’s boring is another person’s amazing.
Another observation in Blow-Up about lines up, down and across, is how they overwhelm the garments that the character’s wear (Hemmings and Redgrave), when she tracks him down to his studio. They feature lines and boxes – in their checkered clothing – limited by the extremities of the garments – not by the camera’s movement, or the director’s imagination.
Look at the images of all the characters, and how constrained the boxes and rectangles of the clothes, limit the character’s ability to understand what is going on with those around them and within themselves. Squares are locked off, self-contained, things. By things, I mean items, boxes, picture frames, films and prison cells. Unless there is a door or window whatever is inside the square is trapped.
Like the extraordinary opening of L’Eclisse (1962) where the two characters are trapped in a box with no words left to say to each other. Eventually a window is revealed when the blinds are drawn. Then when a door appears it allows them to move out of the space that has them trapped. Another door allows Riccardo to separate himself from Vittoria. She finds him in the bathroom, shaving, with the door closed. Two doors can be seen in the living room separated by a wall which extends a third of the way into the room. Finally, a last door is shown. It is the door out of the bigger box that traps them in the smaller box (the rooms). Vittoria escapes outside and leaves Riccardo.
In Blow-Up the checkered shirts that Hemmings and Redgrave wear. It covers them. There are thousands of squares which define who they are in that moment with each other, maybe who they are in essence.
That’s a pattern that is more developed here but was already apparent in L’Avventura (1960).
Apologies for typos and bad grammar. I’m only human and I can’t read everything I write as many times as I’d like before pressing PUBLISH and publishing it!
11 Nights on the Road
Christmas (Eve) lunch is over, David, Catherine, Sue, Ward and Colleen have eaten their fill and left or are leaving simultaneously. We’ll be doing likewise – for Canberra – in a few minutes. Four nights in Canberra, all-day drive To Bass, Victoria, two nights there, then Northcote, Melbourne for three nights, then somewhere else for a night or two.
I do not know when I’ll have internet next: fast enough to update my website. Or when I’ll have a chance to watch this week’s movies, per the schedule.
The Antonioni Mosaic
Blow-Up (1966) is burning a hole in my brain. Al can do the driving to start and I’ll do the thinking and go to that little place where I live currently and dissociate for a while. I know a little bit of time – sometimes minutes and sometimes hours over the next few days – in this place, having my Antonioni-time, will make sense of what Antonioni is doing when he is directing a film, and I will factor Blow-Up (1966) into the 1960-1975 equation. Zabriskie, Passenger and Blow-Up will match up with Avventura, Notte and Eclisse. I have the instinct that I’m missing an important piece of arithmetic – or of the puzzle – that will give me an understanding or realization of something currently eluding me which will tie the two periods together, so that Blow-Up and The Passenger are as good or as bad as Zabriskie Point.