Blow-Up is a film that, as seen over 50 years later, can best be interpreted as an artifact of a specific time and place. I think Antonioni probably wouldn’t object – the plot of the film, if you can even call it that, feels quite secondary to the atmosphere, the mood, and feel of the film. Though nominally a film with a murder mystery, with sex and nudity and all sorts of salacious appeal, it feels like the real interest here is the style and fashion, the music and art.
Swinging London, as depicted in Blow-Up, is endlessly stylish. The period music is all diegetic, early funk from the great Herbie Hancock, the earliest fuzz guitar as played by the Page/Beck era Yardbirds, who even make a cameo appearance. All of this stuff is really really great!
The murder mystery that drives the plot of Blow-Up is similar to that of The Conversation (which was inspired by Blow-Up) – though we see a body, we never get any answers, and the main character here is not involved parties, merely an observer. As observed by Roger Ebert, the film’s focus is not the murder itself, but how the main character of the film is roused out of his creative slumber and drawn into a challenge by what he observes in his photos capturing the murder. And while I appreciate that interpretation of the film, I ultimately found the film to be uninteresting.
Further complicating matters are the problematic sexual politics of Blow-Up, and its main character. The main character, a photographer played by David Hemmings, is at best a creep; at worst, he’s a perpetrator of serial sexual assault. This is surely a product of its era to some extent, and I’m unqualified to measure that out, but this element of the film has aged quite poorly.
I wish I had more to say about this film; for my first foray into Antonioni, I found him to be a director with a great eye, and I’m certainly curious to see more. This film just didn’t do it for me, unfortunately.