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Film / Blowup

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"My God! I’ve just seen Michelangelo Antonioni’s 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. It is 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.

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

A film with distinctly explicit sexual content for its time, Blowup was not only a critical and commercial smash hit, even winning the 1967 Palme d'Or, but achieved all of its success after being released in direct defiance of 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 MPAA rating system. In short, when it comes to cinematic artistic freedom, this film did for the 1960s what Showgirls utterly failed to do for the 1990s with its flubbed potential for NC-17 films to gain wide-release success.

Blowup is perhaps the archetypal "swinging '60s" movie, at least in Britain, with its direct influence present in numerous films that have come out since. It 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, and it was also an immediate influence for The Conversation, where a painfully methodic sound engineer tries to discover the second sense in the titular conversation he eavesdropped. Blow Out was also modeled after the film, as is likely evident from its title.

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.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • After a phone call from a woman Thomas tells Janes that the woman is his wife then denies that she is his wife but admits that they have kids. He immediately says that they do not have kids but adds that she is easy to get on with. Then he recognizes that she is not, that's why they do not live together.
    • When Thomas meets Veruschka at a party, he is suprised because she told him earlier that she had to go to Paris, so he reproaches her for lying to him. She answers that she IS in Paris.
  • The Cameo: The Yardbirds (with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) play at a local club.
  • Camera Fiend: Thomas.
  • Carload of Cool Kids: In the beginning and in the end, a large group of young mimes are inside an old army surplus jeep.
  • Casting Couch: Two girls seduce Thomas and have sex with because they want him to photograph them. It does not work: after having sex with them he tells them to go away.
  • 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.
  • Convenient Photograph: A trendy London photographer in the Swinging Sixties is taking pictures of a model in a park. Developing them, he becomes obsessed with what might be a crime, un-noticed at the time, taking place in the background.
  • Cool Car: Thomas's convertible Rolls-Royce.
  • Defying the Censors: MGM outright defied The Hays Code and released this film despite the censors' attempts to stop it, to great critical and box office success. As such, this film was considered the final blow against the code's credibility and the MPAA ratings system followed a few years later.
  • Doppelgänger: Sitting in a cafe with his friend Thomas sees a young man who closely resembles him from the back. He exits and sees the man once more from the front and he still looks like the protagonist. He doesn't follow the doppelgänger who gets in the car down the street then the camera cuts off.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Hates Mimes: Decisively averted. Mimes are mysterious but ultimately benevolent.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: It spans over less than 24 hours.
  • 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.
  • Femme Fatale: Jane is a highly attractive woman who is involved in a murder case. She charms Thomas to try to get the evidence destroyed.
  • 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.
  • Gaydar: Thomas unequivocally identifies a pair of young men with poodles as gay.
  • Giallo: The film obviously has perceptible thriller subtext and its general spirit is close to that of giallo. Up to discussion.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Jane takes off her blouse and subsequently always uses a hand to cover her breast when she is shown frontally. When the angle doesn't allow the viewer to see her breasts she doesn't. Her breasts are never seen thanks to a combined use of this trope and Scenery Censor.
  • Hotter and Sexier: As compared to both the previous films of Antonioni and the cinema of the early 60's in general.
  • Inspired by…: A short story by Julio Cortázar.
  • Jerkass: Thomas.
  • King Incognito: Thomas spends the night in an asylum for the homeless, disguised as the one of them.
  • May–December Romance: Jane and her park date. Lampshaded by 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.
  • Never Found the Body: Zigzagged. First Thomas returns to the park and finds the body in the spot where it was seen in his photo. The corpse is clearly there. Thomas leaves. When he returns, it’s no longer there.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Thomas is based on photographers David Bailey, John Cowan and Terence Donovan.
  • Only One Name: For everyone in the movie.
  • Paparazzi: Thomas acts as such in the crucial scene where he secretly takes shots in the park then photographs Jane.
  • Ransacked Room: In the end, Thomas goes back to his studio, which has been ransacked to steal the photographs of the murder scene. Only one is left: the photograph of the body.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: An Unbuilt Trope version, as Thomas winds up obsessively blowing up and studying a detail from a single photograph.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Just what the hell was the deal with the dead guy in the park, hm? Did Jane conspire to commit murder, or not?
  • 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.
  • Sideboob: Veruschka in the early photography session has a dress that features this.
  • Spooky Photographs: The blow-ups of the photograph keep making the original look blurrier and scarier and harder to understand. Downplayed because there is nothing supernatural.
  • Three-Way Sex: Between Thomas and the two girls who show up to his apartment uninvited.
  • Toplessness from the Back: At one point Vanessa Redgrave is shown like this.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Waving Signs Around: A tiny anti-military rally where participants carry antiwar signs crosses the street when Thomas stops at the traffic lights. Inexplicably, one girl puts her sign in his car, and he accepts it.