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aka - Blow-Up
Italy/United Kingdom 1966
Directed by
Michelangelo Antonioni
111 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
3.5 stars

Blow Up

Synopsis: David Hemmings plays a groovy fashion photographer pursued by groupies and shooting a succession of vacuous beauties. He is putting together a photography book that will add meaning to his empty life. While taking shots on Hampstead Heath he photographs a couple frolicking in the park but disturbs them. He is chased by Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), who demands the film. Intrigued, Thomas refuses at first and takes a closer look at his negatives, blowing up the images he soon realises that he has inadvertently recorded a murder.

David Hemmings is the star of the show, a debonair, crafty Cockney whose cheeky dialogue and way with the ladies recalls an early Michael Caine. In fact his manner and hip talk (the film is redolent with in-words of the time such as “groovy”, “fab” and “smashing”) as he photographs a succession of stunning semi-clad models was spoofed by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers films. Hemmings went on to appear in many B-grade horror films including Anthony. I. Ginanne’s Thirst and Dario Argento’s Deep Red but he is probably better known to more mainstream viewers for his appearance in Gladiator. His good looks and magnetic blue eyes as he stares through the camera lens are a classic poster image of the 60s and helped create the iconic status of Blow Up (he also appeared in another cult favourite, Barbarella,1968) as the embodiment of the then new swinging pop culture.

The plot, as fascinating as it is, is secondary to Antonioni’s abstracted view of 60s London, which recalls Brian Clemens' hit TV series, The Avengers, and which was much criticized at the time as portraying a largely mythical Swinging London . The much-lauded soundtrack features The Yardbirds in a hilarious sequence where Hemmings gatecrashes a gig by the band, the audience motionless in a bored stupor until a trash guitar is thrown amongst them.

Probably the most accessible of Antonioni’s work, at least to an English speaking audience (it was the director's first English-language film)  but continuing some of the ideas in L'Avventura concerning the impossibility of objectivity. Blow Up was a huge success at the box office and also won the Palme D’Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. (It was also reinvented in 1981 by Brian De Palma as Blow Out with John Travolta as an exploitation movie soundman who records the sound of a murder whilst taping background noises).

Hemmings (who died in 2003 at the age of 62) will always be remembered for Blow Up. Modern viewers may wish for snappier pacing but for those willing to enter Antonioni's strange, hypnotic world there is much to enjoy and the enigmatic ending will confuse and bewilder.




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