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Blow-Up
1966 (2004) - MGM (Warner Bros.)

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Blow-Up

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/C+

Specs and Features

111 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper packaging, audio commentary by film historian Peter Brunette (author of The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni), isolated music track, theatrical trailers, film themed menu screens, scene access (26 chapters), languages: English and French DD 2.0 mono, subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out."

Almost hypnotic in their presentation, the films of Michelangelo Antonioni have always had a certain mystique in my eyes, but none more that this film (perhaps because it was the first that I saw). Blow-Up is the relatively simple story of a young photographer who one day (through a series of complicated events) finds a mystery unfolding in a series of photographs he took in a park. His curiosity piqued, he tries to piece a story together from his photographs, slowly coming to the realization that reality can be subjective, and difficult to share with others.

It has been many, many years since I last saw this film, so I was rather excited to finally get to revisit it. Blow-Up is a film that, although I enjoyed it when I was younger, I now realize went almost completely over my head (ahh, the clarity of hindsight that comes with adulthood). Watching the film again after nearly 15 years I realize that I recalled many of the scenes, but found myself watching a much different film than I remembered. The photographer, played by David Hemmings (Deep Red, Gladiator), is a sexist prick to a much greater degree than I had recollected; the woman in the park, played by Vanessa Redgrave (Howard's End, Mrs. Dalloway), has much less screen time; there is very little music; and the film is much more open-ended and dream-like, but no less enjoyable than it was all those years ago.

Blow-Up is a film of broad strokes, fluid and impressionistic rather than concrete and realistic. Characters are types rather than fully formed individuals, we learn very little about them and their intents (most characters are not even given names), yet still understand them as much as we need to. Pushed to the foreground is the idea that reality (like film) is subjective, influenced and defined by the individual, like pieces of a puzzle waiting for someone to come along to put them together and provide context and meaning. The photographer represents the 'seeing eye,' able to see without being seen (he is never seen in his own photographs - thus he provides meaning while not being bound to it himself, he is 'free') which gives him a kind of power that he uses to taunt his female subjects and lord over them as a kind of sexual conqueror, in exchange for potential fame as a model. As the film progresses, his sight and awareness is continually brought into question (he is followed and tracked down easily, suggesting that his 'power' is not his alone), and eventually eliminated with the theft of his photographs. Furthermore, as he blows up his photographs in order to pull out the details, they become grainier and increasingly more abstract; his vision becomes blurred. In the end, the photographer is never really able to show people the reality he believes that he sees; he becomes powerless and isolated.

Of course, no film about subjectivity could truly be effective if everything was spelled out clearly, and Blow-Up is no exception. The vagaries of the narrative and methodical pace may be off-putting to some, but the influence of the film should not be discounted. Films such as The Conversation, Blow Out, Memento, even the first Austin Powers (the scenes with Austin as a photographer) all owe a heavy debt to this film. Furthermore, the film broke through many taboos for British and American filmmaking in depicting drug use as pleasurable and (very brief) full frontal nudity, not to mention 'free love,' among others. It's real strength, however, is its staying power. This film managed to imbed itself in me to such a degree that, even without multiple viewings, I still found myself thinking about it in the many, many years between viewings, and that's no small task.

Warner Home Video has provided us with a disc that is far from perfect, yet still acceptable. I am assuming that the transfer was made from the restored print from the film's recent theatrical re-release and the anamorphic widescreen image is nice and clean, with a rich appearance that far surpasses the washed out transfer I remember from the VHS tape that I last saw. The mono sound is a bit on the rough side however, it is certainly clean but very tinny and has little dynamic range, making dialog a bit muffled at times. It's still perfectly acceptable and was most likely limited by the source, but one still can't help but think that it could be better represented. The weakest area on the disc would have to be the extras though. The primary supplement is a commentary track by Peter Brunette (author of The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni), which isn't a complete disaster, but will leave a great deal to be desired from anyone but newcomers to the film. Brunette handles himself well and rarely seems to be at a loss for things to say, but he doesn't really bring much new to the table. If all you know about this film is from this review, then give the commentary a whirl after you've finished the film, but if you're familiar with the film and/or Antonioni, it is by no means required listening. Also included is an isolated music track, which is pretty ridiculous since there is so little music in the film to begin with, and most of it is already 'isolated' in the film. This kind of feature can be great and it is becoming more rare these days so it's nice to see, but in this case it's pretty close to being unnecessary. Finally two theatrical trailers are included, which is always a nice addition.

Blow-Up may not be for everyone, but it is a major work from an important director (and his first film in English) that is finally taking its bow on DVD. If you're patient and like your entertainment a little more on the thought-provoking side, you will be infinitely rewarded by this film, which cast a long shadow over modern filmmaking. It would have been nice to have a little beefier disc, but it's hard to complain when a film this important finally comes around.

Rob Hale
robhale@thedigitalbits.com


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