Film / Blowup

"My God! Iíve just seen Michelangelo Antonioniís Blowup. These Italian directors are a century ahead of me in terms of technique. What have I been doing all this time?"

Blowup is a 1966 British-Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, his first English-language film. Inspired by the 1959 short story, Las babas del diablo, ("The devil's drool/drivel") by Julio Cortázar, and by Swinging London photographer David Bailey.

The plot follows Thomas (David Hemmings), a fashion photographer. One day following a shot he walks through a park taking pictures of people; one person tracks him back to his studio demanding the film which he gives them. He later discovers what seems to be mysterious figure in a negative and the film follows his experiences in searching for answers to these mysteries.

A box office and critical smash hit with really explicit sexual content for its time, this film was released in direct defiance to The Hays Code by MGM creating a subsidiary label to do it. As a result, the Code was all but done for after that and soon replaced by the present rating system. In short, this film did for its time for cinematic artistic freedom in the 1960s what Showgirls utterly failed to do in the 1990s.

Perhaps the archetypal "swinging '60s" movie, at least in Britain. This film inspired the swinging London look of the Austin Powers films, with the character of Thomas being an obvious inspiration for Austin's fashion photographer cover identity.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • The '60s: Specifically, the mid-decade Swinging London/Mod scene. The music, the clothes, the dancing, the apartment, everything.
  • Book Ends: The movie starts and ends with a carload of weird mimes tooling around in an old army surplus jeep, yelling at people.
  • The Cameo: The most obvious are The Yardbirds (with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), who play at a local club. In the same scene you can also spot Michael Palin between the crowd.
  • Camera Fiend: Thomas.
  • Cat Fight: The two girls that come to Thomas's apartment have a giggling Fanservice-y faux Cat Fight in which the one girl, who is already topless, renders the second girl topless. Then Thomas joins in and more clothing gets removed and three-way sex follows.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: At one point Thomas, who's looking for answers about the dead guy, goes to Jane's apartment and finds her in bed, a man humping away on top of her. The man doesn't notice him but Jane does, and she motions for him to leave. After lingering for a bit he does.
  • Cool Car
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Thomas' shooting session with Veruschka (pictured above) is highly reminiscent of sexual intercourse.
  • Enhance Button: Averted. He tries to enlarge (blowup) the picture, but it loses resolution with each try. The fact is lampshaded by Bill's girlfriend.
  • Foreshadowing: When discussing a book he is making with his photographs, Thomas says something along the lines of "It's violent, I want to end it with something peaceful". The last scenes of the movie are as peaceful as you can get.
  • Gainax Ending: The film starts to get downright weird at the end. Thomas comes back to his apartment to find all of the incriminating photos having disappeared, except for one blurry image of the body that fell behind some furniture. He spots Jane outside a club, only for her to literally disappear into thin air. Finally, the last scene has Thomas re-visiting the park to find that the corpse has disappeared as well. The carload of weird mimes shows up again, as they scamper into the park and onto a tennis court, where two of them mime playing tennis without a ball. Despite the lack of a ball we start hearing the sound of a ball being hit around on the court. Then we see Thomas walking away as the camera pulls back into a crane shot...only for Thomas to disappear into thin air as well, as The End comes onscreen.
  • Jerkass: Thomas.
  • Mockstery Tale: Thomas accidentally uncovers a murder. He attempts to investigate it, but he doesn't seem very enthusiastic in spite of actually finding the victim's body, his investigation ends in vain and the ending implies that he doesn't or shouldn't really care.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: An Unbuilt Trope version, as Thomas winds up obsessively blowing up and studying a detail from a single photograph.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: After using it to perform Percussive Maintenance on a misbehaving amp.
  • Scenery Censor: When Jane takes her top off and basically dares Thomas to photograph her, she's strategically hidden behind some stage feathers. When Thomas takes her by the arm and tells her to get dressed, his arms provide the scenery censorship.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The film certainly showed more nudity than any other mainstream film to run in the United States or Britain prior to that time, but the boundary pushing only went so far. After most of the clothes in the Three-Way Sex scene have been removed we cut to the aftermath, with the two girls again fully clothed and gently putting Thomas's shoes back on.
  • She's Got Legs: Jane, as played by a 29-year-old Vanessa Redgrave, certainly has them.
  • Sideboob: Veruschka in the early photography session has a dress that features this.
  • Spiritual Successor: Antonioni's next film Zabriskie Point dealt with America's counter-culture, featuring Pop-Star Composer Pink Floyd, ambiguous Gainax Ending, and a much darker tone.
  • Spooky Photographs: The Blow-Ups of the photograph keep making the original look blurrier and scarier and harder to understand.
  • Three-Way Sex: Between Thomas and the two girls who show up to his apartment uninvited.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-Universe, Bill's paintings.
    Bill: They don't mean anything when I do them - just a mess. Afterwards I find something to hang onto -like that- like- like... that leg. (points at a random line) And then it sorts itself out. It adds up. It's like finding a clue in a detective story.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first half of the movie is a rather episodic study of the life of a young fashion photographer in London—lots of scantily clad models, hipster friends, parties, a vague sense of ennui. Then halfway through Thomas notices what appears to be a murder in the background of his picture of Jane, and the film becomes something different, as he tries, somewhat halfheartedly, to solve the mystery.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The Enhance Button (or at least an analog version of it).
  • The Unreveal: Just what the hell was the deal with the dead guy in the park, hm? Did Jane conspire to commit murder, or not?
  • Vehicle Vanish: Done with people instead of a vehicle, and in a distinctly surreal manner. Thomas is driving downtown when he spots Jane across the street outside a nightclub. As he's parking the car, a group of people pass in front of Jane...and she disappears. She isn't there when the people pass, and she's never seen in the movie again.