Film Notes

Film Notes #11: Blow Up (1966)

Michaelangelo Antonioni’s classic exploration of the dark side of Swinging Sixties London is Number 11 in my Film Notes series

Michaelangelo Antonioni’s classic exploration of the dark side of Swinging Sixties London is Number 11 in my Film Notes series.

For those not familiar with this series of posts, it involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst Iโ€™m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It canโ€™t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as curate interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Blow-Up (1966) which I watched on DVD on Sunday 1st April.

  • Great opening titles set against the green grass, which will be important later on.
  • The strange performance troupe are charging around The Economist building. Was that deliberate social commentary?
  • Antonioni’s second colour film after RED DESERT (1964) and the first to have a leading man.
  • Verushka can’t really act, but maybe that’s the point.
  • How was the cliche of the 1960s London photographer ever done before this film?
  • Cuts in the photo shoot are like photo rather than film edits.
  • Clever for Antonioni to use a photography studio as a location, as he can play around with the idea of photographer as director. The park (location), studio (soundstage), models (actresses), propellor (props) and darkroom (lab) can all be seen as analogues for the filmmaking process. After all what is cinema but photography at 24 frames per second?
  • As you might expect from Antonioni, the compositions are absolutely tremendous: interesting, playful and formally brilliant.
  • 1960s fashions are a mixture of the cool and grotesque.
  • There’s something dark and unknowable about Hemmings – although dark and strange things happen to him, he remains an ambiguous, unlikeable character.
  • The way he leaves the models waiting in the studio is the sign of an inconsiderate ass. But that’s also why he’s an interesting protagonist.
  • The way he talks to the models shows that he has significant social status within this world
  • Blue house on Woolwich Road shows his eye for interesting buildings.
  • This is definitely one of the great London movies – Antonioni brings an outsiders eye to Swinging London.
  • Why does he go into the antiques shop? Just browsing? Conversation with the Irish guy is very Pinteresque.
  • The famous scene in the park begins around 23m
  • I bet Nikon were glad one of their cameras got featured in one of the most analysed scenes in movie history!
  • Note how calm the editing is as the scene unfolds
  • The sound of the wind is key, although subtle it’s always there. Wonder what equipment they mixed it on.
  • Vanessa Redgrave and her lover are deliberately kept at a distance so see them as though we were looking through Hemmings’ viewfinder.
  • Redgrave: “This is a public place!” (Irony that she expects privacy in a public place)
  • All this outdoor dialogue between Redgrave and Hemmings is post-synced
  • We find out that the action takes place on a Saturday morning, as the girl selling him the propellor says “that’ll teach you to fall in love with things on Saturday morning!”
  • What the hell does he want with a propellor anyway?
  • Love the shots of him driving around London. It is bleaker and more interesting than people might remember.
  • Hemmings: “Already there are queers and poodles in the area”
  • Peter Bowles as his agent is good value. I’m curious as to what publications he is selling those photos to.
  • One thing about watching films of this era is the post-synced sound design. Makes you appreciate the rich mixes of the post-5.1 era.
  • When Hemmings says he’s fed up with London and those “bloody bitches” we suspect he’s disillusioned with the shallow lifestyle he’s leading.
  • His portfolio is clearly that of a social voyeur.
  • Note the clever, elliptical cutting of the stranger at the restaurant window – most directors would have clearly showed his face
  • Is there is a significance in the “Go Away!” sign that he seems happy for the protestor to put in his backseat
  • Redgrave looks great when flustered.
  • How does her character know he is home?
  • Obligatory 60s jazz on the soundtrack.
  • Hemmings plays louche disinterest very well well. Not as easy as it seems.
  • Hemmings: “Sorry love. The bird I’m with won’t talk to you” (People forget how common ‘bird’ was as a slang phrase until the 1990s.
  • Hemmings seems more intrigued by the cryptic game Redgrave is playing than the sex she seems to be offering him
  • Good use of pauses and silence
  • Hair stuck in the film visible at 54.55 as Redgrave leaves – this film needs a frame by frame restoration on Blu-ray
  • Hemmings developing his photos is actually a great procedural scene.
  • It not only gives the movie its title but is perhaps how audiences today and in the future will get to see how photographic film was developed in the pre-digital era
  • We see (and don’t see) what Heemings sees.
  • Even though I’ve seen this film many times, the examination of a still image in a motion picture is a striking idea.
  • Sound design is used to recreate the atmosphere of the park as we relive the scene through the photos
  • The implication seems to be that Redgrave and an accomplice had her lover in the park bumped off.
  • Although it seems tame by today’s standards the scene with the frolicking girls would have provided invaluable publicity and buzz
  • Colours on the girls dresses appear to have been carefully chosen
  • Ansel Adams once had a line: “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words”. That’s also a pretty accurate description of this film.
  • The scene where Hemmings goes back to the park at night reminds me of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
  • Sarah Miles looks curiously pained when she observes Hemmings watching her have sex – it just occurred to me what an interesting scene that really is just typing that last sentence out.
  • It seems Hemmings uses Kodak film (always the best!)
  • Hemmings: “I saw a man killed this morning”
  • This would make an interesting double bill with either THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) or BLOW OUT (1981). All films play on the notion of sound and vision being unreliable.
  • Sarah Miles has incredible hair in this scene.
  • This is one of those films that you never get bored of watching – perhaps because it is about the act of observation itself.
  • What other 1960s film features The Yardbirds?
  • Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck in an Antonioni movie! This scene was overflowing with talent.
  • Note the recurrence of the colour purple.
  • Love how the party shows the lazy decadence of 60s London. Someone’s been murdered and they don’t give a toss!
  • Closing sequence is one of my all time faves. I’ll leave you to debate in the comments below.