Leading Italian director, Michelangelo Antonioni, attempted to capture London during the swinging sixties in his first British film, Blow-Up.
The central character, a young, rich, petulant photographer played by David Hemmings, was himself very much a symbol of the period, and is established at the start, having slept in a dosshouse so that he can gain photo-reportage material for a book, driving away in a Rolls Royce. While photographing in a London park he sees a man and a woman embracing. The woman runs over to stop him taking pictures but he returns to his studio.
The woman appears, demanding the negatives, and he gives her a substitute roll. On developing his picture he is startled to find what appears to be a man with a gun in the bushes and, in a later shot, a body. Rushing back to the park in the middle of the night he finds the body, but on his return to the studio all his pictures have disappeared. When he returns to the park in the morning the body, too, has gone.
It all might never have happened. And to emphasise the thinness of the gulf between illusion and reality the photographer, leaving the park, takes part with some students in an imaginary tennis match, without a ball or racquet, yet with the sounds of a game being heard on the soundtrack. It is a study of the fallibility of modern communication, the obscuring of truth by modern iconography. The world beyond the trendy fashion photographer’s ambience ceases to have permanence or meaning.
As an attempt at a thriller style, the film was less successful than it might have been, lacking the precise cutting of a Hitchcock or the unambiguous symbolism of a Lang. But Antonioni attempted merely to work within the genre, finding it a convenient means of establishing his point.
David Hemmings succeeded in a long and difficult role, as the photographer, but for Vanessa Redgrave the task of providing a semblance of plausibility for the actions of the woman proved beyond her capabilities. Blow-Up, while an interesting work and a fine debut in an alien tongue, is by no means the most successful of Antonioni’s works.
You can pick up the DVD of Blow-Up for under a fiver.