Italian art director Michelangelo Antonioni's first English-language film was treated in the trailers as a cause celebre, and indeed it's rather surprising a major Hollywood studio chose to finance the project, given the director's prior work; while beloved by critics and cineastes, their length, coldness and sometimes idiosyncratic nature weren't exactly accessible to mainstream audiences weaned on standard studio fare.
Peter Brunette's commentary track is less theoretical than expected – not a bad thing, since essays on What The Director Meant tend to abound with Antonioni's work – and Brunette's critical observations should make it clear to listeners why “Blow Up” is such an important film; both for the director, and a Hollywood studio.
Brunette, himself a film professor, also explains key scenes that were deemed highly controversial during the film's release (the pot smoking, alcohol, nudity, and sexual freedom were major draws for the youth market). The film's still an excellent capsule of Sixties abstract design, but Brunette's early dismissal of Julio Cortázar's novel, used as the script's springboard, results in a missed opportunity to further the director's changes and inspired digressions as examples of what sets Antonioni apart from both Hollywood and European colleagues.
Having photographed the director's prior film and first colour work, “The Red Desert,” Carlo Di Palma's compositions and colours are still very modern; the gentrification of London's grubby industrial and middle class locales are captured during stages of razing, erecting, and sanitizing; and the navy blue glass panes used during a fashion shoot sum up not only the photographer's own taste for clean objects stripped to their essentials (which also include his models), but Antonioni's own unadorned visual and aural tastes.
Herbie Hancock's superb jazz score, along with songs by The Yardbirds, plays as source music, and are effectively balanced with a sound design that's sparse but far above mere functionality. Like the laserdisc, Hancock's music is isolated in a separate stereo track, with some music not present on the best-selling soundtrack album.
Offering early feature roles for actresses Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Birkin and Sarah Miles, “Blow-Up” also catapulted angular David Hemmings into brooding leading man roles before starting a lengthy career as a director, producer, and later co-founder of Hemdale Films. Before his death in 2003, Hemmings also appeared in the BBC documentary “Fame, Fashion and Photography: The Real Blow Up,” and commented on auditioning for and working with Antonioni.
Antonioni's next studio-financed pictures – “Zabriskie Point” (1970) and “The Passenger” (1975) – didn't fare as well, but remain cult favorites, deserving similarly respectful DVD releases.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan