David Thomson is the author of The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies—and What They Have Done to Us; Have You Seen . . . ? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films; and The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Peter Bowles,
For his first English-language film, Michelangelo Antonioni set a metaphysical mystery in the world of fashion, at a time when the director’s metaphysics had itself become a fad; the movie and its meaning were the talk of the swingingest parties of 1966. Photographer David Hemmings snaps pictures of Vanessa Redgrave and an older man apparently trysting in a London park; later, analyzing the images, scrutinizing the grain, he believes he sees evidence of murder, but finds that the harder you look, the less you know. The same interpretive limits apply to watching Blow-Up: Is this portrayal of youth culture—with its pot parties and Yardbirds shows, its rehearsed rebellion and limitless cool—affectionate or perhaps parodic, or is it a lament over the inscrutable emptiness of hip? Is it really about philosophical depths, or fascinating surfaces? Like its closing game of mime-tennis, the film may be daring us to focus on something that doesn’t exist. Keep your eye on the ball.