On the Screen

Blow-Up holds up after 55 years

(U.S., 1966)
Michelangelo Antonioni

Review by 
Lois Siegel

Blow-Up, a 1966 thriller directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, was based on a short story by Julio Cortázar called “Las babas del Diablo.”

In the film, actor David Hemmings plays Thomas, a macho fashion photographer in the 1960s in London. The location is filled with empty streets, and the music is by American composer Herbie Hancock. Moving across Maryon Park in southeast London, camera in hand, Thomas shoots photos of some birds and pantomimists. He also photographs a woman, Vanessa Redgrave. When he returns to his studio, he blows up the photos he has taken and discovers a grainy image of a possible dead body. He questions what he really saw – what is real and what isn’t? Cortazar wrote, “The photographer always worked as a permutation of his personal way of seeing the world.”

The film also features German supermodel model and actress Veruschka; the fashion photography recalls the era of “swinging England.”

Director Antonioni explains that Blow-Up is about “a man’s relationship with reality.” Time called the film a “far-out, uptight and vibrantly exciting picture.” Ingmar Bergman called it a masterpiece. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for best director and best original screenplay in 1967 and for best British film at the British Academy Film Awards in 1968. It won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at Cannes in 1967 and was named best foreign film by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics in 1968.

Cortázar’s short story was originally published in End of the Game, and Other Stories (1967) – it could be called Blow-up and Other Stories! Cortazar lived in Paris for more than 30 years. I’ve read almost all his books and corresponded with him at one point. I also corresponded with David Hemmings, the lead actor in Blow-Up, a few years before he died. I’ve saved this note.

Dear Lois,

Antonioni approached me on the first day of principal photography to ask me if I liked the title “Blow Up.” Personally, I like “A girl and a photographer and a beautiful April Morning.” But who is one to argue?

It is true, Antonioni painted the park in Woolwich a complete green. Bark of trees, fences, grass. Leaves and various other odd spots. Took about two days while we waited. Laying Certain claim to the old adage that movie making is fundamentally “Hurry up and Wait.”

I have always said that the art of acting consists in at least 50% of the craft, learning the technique of waiting.

With very best regards,

David Hemmings.

I was a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The first foreign film I saw was Fellini’s 8½. Before that, I only saw Mickey Mouse. I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but I loved it. I walked around in a daze for two weeks after that.

Ohio University had film showings sponsored by Sphere, the student literary review. I soon became head of Sphere. Then I saw Blow-Up. I was hooked. I wanted to be a photographer.

Running time: 1h 51min
Available: Amazon (DVD), Criterion Collection on Blue-Ray and DVD, eBay

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