Blowup: Sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and fashion photography

In an ironic twist to its message, Blowup has been nearly forgotten in time. Wining the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, this 1966 counterculture film reached critical acclaim and box office success, and was even nominated for a couple of Oscars. Yet, today, since we are so far removed from the mod scene in ‘60s Britain, this film could easily be seen as pretentious, instead of symbolic. Tragically, that destroys the entire message: the importance of film and celluloid preservation. Admittedly, I had to watch this twice before I was lumped into the latter opinion.  

     You know what also helped? The soundtrack was entirely composed by Herbie Hancock.

     Directed by the legendary  Michelangelo Antonioni, and starring David Hemmings as our anti-hero photographer, we are invited to witness events told by a narrator, who may or may not be a reliable witness. Thomas, a young and thriving fashion photographer, spends his days photographing and mentally brutalizing models and cruising the roads in his Rolls Royce convertible looking for exploitable groupies. By night, he rests his empty soul at hostels and flophouses, ready to do it all again on the morrow. Showing up late for fashion shoots, and then leaving the models and crew in the lurch, without a care in the world, the stage is set for a man who actually resents the world that he occupies and thrives in. 

     After leaving the studio, two aspiring models try to grab his attention, but Thomas drives away. By ennui, he takes a walk in a nearby park and spots a couple. Thomas uses this opportunity to snap some shots, which infuriates the woman. She demands his film. Refusing, Thomas even photographs her as she runs off. Afterwards, back at his studio, the woman from the park shows up, asking again for the film. We are privy to the oddest seduction ever witnessed, which culminates in Thomas giving the woman the wrong film roll. After she leaves, he blows up the photos.

     Is that a man in the bushes holding a gun, lurking behind the couple? Did he just photograph a murder in the making? The shots cutting back and forth between the photographer and his photography does a fantastic job of illustrating subjective perspective. The two girls from earlier show up at the studio, and the three have an impromptu romp, and then fall asleep. Thomas’ utter contempt for women is evident. Upon awakening, Thomas realizes there may be evidence at the park, and throws out the ladies. He then goes to the park, finding the body of the man from earlier. Thomas is startled by a snapping twig, and runs off.

     He returns to his studio to find it ransacked. Nearly all the evidence has been taken. Driving back into town, Thomas sees the woman heading in a club where The Yardbirds are playing a set, where Thomas notices all the emotionless zombies with their poppycock veneer and their codswallop culture. Thomas sees right through it all now. The woman seems to have disappeared into thin air. The next morning, it seems the body in the park has done the same. Thomas comes upon two mimes playing tennis, and he can hear the ball, and interacts with them. He then wanders away through the park, disappearing just like the film, just like the woman, and just like the corpse. 

     How much of what happened in the past 24 hours was real? Was there ever a murder, or just the imagination of another unhappy soul in this superficial time and place? 

 

Tim Bynum is a Jones County native who lives in Laurel with his wife, Lauren. An avid film fan since 1985, keep up with him at thefilmsnob.reviews and on Instagram and Facebook: @the_filmsnob.

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