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The Giallo Project #4: Blowup

DVD

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni; Starring: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles; Music: Herbie Hancock; US theatrical release date: December 18th, 1966

“Slowly, slowly… against the beat.” - The unnamed photographer of Blowup

“What’s the meaning of this?” you ask. “I thought this was the Giallo Project?” It’s a valid enough question, and I thought long and hard about whether or not to include Blowup in this rogue’s gallery, but eventually I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford to ignore it. You see, while I don’t believe it possible to describe this as a giallo in the truest sense (although both Blood and Black Lace and The Giallo Scrapbook 2 do so), I suspect that it had a profound impact on virtually every giallo beyond a certain point in history. It undoubtedly had a huge influence on Dario Argento, who adapted several of its themes into The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and indeed all of his 1970s gialli, and, in turn, the various directors who set out to imitate Argento’s work ended up adopting these same themes and stylistic traits second-hand - imitations of an imitation, as it were. Besides, I thought it only right that I do something to acknowledge Antonioni’s recent death.

Beyond the plot, which, if you break it down, is basically the same as virtually every Argento giallo - an artist living as an outsider in a contemporary urban space, flitting around unable to settle, witnesses (or believes he has witnessed) a crime taking place, the solution to which lies in a single image or memory that he can’t quite understand - it’s the very atmosphere that so closely mirrors everything from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh: a sort of decadence, a society of bourgeois excess, where people are obsessed with useless commodities and avant-garde art, and seem to have to real purpose in life. I wasn’t around to experience the 60s first-hand (far from it!), but I can easily see this as a defining statement of the atmosphere and mood of the period. In some respects, it makes the same point as Blood and Black Lace, and yet the bleak urban landscapes are a world away from the gothic opulence of Bava’s film.

Blowup

David Hemmings’ unnamed photographer is clearly the forerunner to Sam Dalmas and Marc Daly - and indeed, Argento even cast Hemmings as Marc in the seminal Deep Red, itself a clever inversion of Blowup which actually manages to outclass its predecessor. In many respects, though, he’s a far nastier piece of work than the two of them put together. Daly had some rather antiquated ideas about the place of women in society, while Dalmas seemed to treat his girlfriend as a commodity, but they pale in significance to the character in Blowup (referred to as “Thomas” in many sources but never actually named in the film itself - actually, names are almost completely absent, a reference, perhaps, to the characters’ lack of identity and failure to find a place for themselves in the world), who manhandles several models, forcibly “posing” them and berating them for being useless, not to mention toying with blackmailing a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) who objects to having her picture taken on the sly. That’s effectively Antonioni’s (and Argento’s) point, though: he is a vain, self-absorbed prick, continually searching for a perfect image that doesn’t exist, and searching for meaning where there is none. Of course, it’s therefore entirely appropriate that the central mystery is a single image whose very meaning continues to elude him (and the more he focuses on the image, the more he loses perspective).

In many regards, Blowup is about as anti-giallo as you can get - there are no on-screen murders, and the film is famous for its deliberate refusal to provide a solution to its central mystery - and yet in orders, you can see the roots of so many 70s gialli in it that it’s impossible to ignore it completely. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the giallo of the golden age is effectively a marriage between Bava’s early efforts and Blowup, filtered through Argento’s sensibility and adopted by a slew of imitators - a reinterpretation of the form in the context of the post-1968 cultural revolution. It’s a brilliant, baffling, mesmerising film in its own right, but when you consider the knock-on effect that it had on the giallo movement, its importance becomes all the more clear.

Next time, I’ll be dipping into the bizarre world of Giulio Questi’s baffling Death Laid an Egg.

 
Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 2:20 PM | Comments: 4
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project

 
Comments

1.

I never noticed he had no name in the film. :p

Keep up the good work...

Posted by: Marcus, August 22, 2007 6:34 PM

2.

Very interesting as usual, Michael

Posted by: MCP, August 22, 2007 10:40 PM

3.

Hey Michael,

Re-reading your comments on Blowup reminded me of an apparent censorship issue with the DVD release of this film.

You can read more at https://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCompare6/blowup-censored.htm

In a nutshell, for most releases the transfer is not in the correct aspect ratio. The image is cropped with the purpose of cutting off sight of Vanessa Redgrave's boobs in the scene at the studio. Also on some releases, reportedly Region 1 but possibly present of Region 2 as well, digital blurring is used to obscure sight of female pubic hair. This occurs in the infamous threesome sex scene.

The result is that whilst Antonioni's film is significant for being one of the first released in Britain to feature full frontal female nudity, the film as preserved on DVD, is simply not representative of what the director intended.

In addition, I've read that someone at Warner completely ruined the soundtrack on all the DVD releases by only using one speaker to make up the mix. I've only watched the film in its original mono mix and having not seen any other early version of the film, it is hard to say whether indeed several aspects of sound are lost. It is certainly quieter than the italian soundtrack included on the R2 disk I watched from what I recall.

Did you encounter any of these issues with the version you have?

Posted by: Count Fosco, October 22, 2007 5:31 PM

4.

I honestly don’t believe that the DVD of Blowup is censored. Vanessa Redgrave spends so much time trying to hide her breasts in that scene that I very much doubt that one particular shot was intended to display them in all their glory. Antonioni’s composition is simply too precise for me to believe that the film is presented in the wrong aspect ratio, and indeed, if you look at that VHS capture showing Redgrave’s boobs, the composition is completely wonky, showing far too much dead space at the top (and, I would guess, the bottom) of the frame.

That blurring censorship doesn’t occur on my R2 copy, or on the R1 release. I believe the one with the obscured pubic hair is a Brazilian release (first one to see the funny side of that wins a gold medal ;)).

You’re right about the soundtrack, though. Apparently, they took a stereo recording of the music and took only the right (or left, I forget which) channel when preparing the DVD audio. Very sloppy and I can’t believe it hasn’t been recalled.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 22, 2007 5:38 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

https://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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