With Blow-up, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni created one of the most fascinating and psychedelic art films, which tells the story of a desensitized and nihilistic London photographer who may have or not have witnessed a murder. Antonioni uses the formulaic materials for a traditional suspense thriller, without the climatic payoff. When Blow-up was released in 1966 it was one of the highest-grossing art films to date, emerging as one of the many major films of the young independent film generation alongside such films like Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Faces, Weekend, Five Easy Pieces, The Battle of Algiers and Easy Rider. Antonioni creates a colorful, vapid and completely heartless world of fashion photography, swinging groupies, and ennui rock audiences and dope parties, with a narcissistic and reprehensible main protagonist with a Beatles haircut and a Rolls Royce convertible, who seems to have a deep-rooted contempt and cynical hatred for the female sex. We follow the photographer as he spends his days in tightly scheduled photo shoots with a lifeless, self-absorbed model (played by the real-life model Veruschka) and later photographs a vapid flock of other unsmiling, stationary women in stylized poses before rectangular backdrop screens. Innocently and voyeuristically the photographer wanders into a deserted park and originally interprets a lover's rendezvous between a woman and a middle-aged man. When the woman notices him she desperately wants the film back, but the photographer refuses and the woman tracks him back to his studio trying to seduce the photographer to steal the film. The photographer ultimately sends the woman away purposely with the wrong roll. Then he blows up his photos, some of the pictures to poster size and pins the magnified photos around his studio living room. In the film's brilliantly edited centerpiece of extreme analyze and subtle sexual intrigue we watch the photographer make a shocking discovery that he may have photographed a murder. Was the woman an accomplice or unknowing? The photographer returns to the park, and comes across a dead corpse lying on the ground. When returning to his studio all of his photos have been stolen, and so when returning to the scene of the crime to confirm his suspicions, the body is now no longer there.
The film opens in the era of Swinging London, following a group of happy anarchy street mime revelers in any open Jeep careening through the streets. The white-faced and masked group of pranksters carouse and run through the streets engulfing cars and their drivers (collecting and panhandling for charity), while a group of down-and-out men leave Camberwell Reception Centre, a hostel (or flophouse) for the homeless.
A desensitized-to-life, nihilistic, high-fashion photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings), originally thought to be with the group of the homeless, walks a block or two to his parked Rolls Royce convertible, carrying his expensive camera in a brown paper bag. He has become bored and uncommitted to his lucrative career of glamour photography, so on the side in a complete about-face, he resorts to photographing (with his Nikon F, the world's first 35mm SLR camera), in verite documentary style, the seamy and sordid side of life in London, including its bums, poverty-stricken individuals, and the aged in flophouses and slums.
After spending the night at a doss house where he has taken pictures for a book of art photos, Thomas dives through London, late for a high-fashion, glamorous photo shoot with a lifeless, self-absorbed model (Veruschka) at his fashion studio. Being late (which in turn makes Thomas late for a shoot with other models later that morning) Veruschka says, "I've been ready for nearly an hour. I'm catching a plane for Paris so I can't..." A cold and uncaring Thomas has Veruschka drop the subject and they being their photo shoot.
During the erotic, frenzied picture-taking performance, Thomas energetically snaps fashion photos over Verouschka's skinny, writhing, supine body while pointing his phallic camera at her. Thomas is totally in command of the situation with his camera in action. He straddles Verouschka and crawls over her, bringing her to the point of orgasmic release and satisfaction. "Give it to me now, come on. That's good...Now, now, yes, yes, yes!"
Thomas also photographs a vapid flock of other unsmiling, stationary "birds" in stylized poses before rectangular backdrop screens. Thomas cruelly insults his models yelling, "Wake up! Thank your lucky stars your working for me, ain't you." Seeming bored and slightly contemptuous, he cuts short the photo-shoot, instructing the vacant looking girls to "close your eyes."
His apartment roommate is an unhappily married woman named Patricia (Sarah Miles). Her husband Bill is an abstract painter as he shows and describes to Thomas several of his paintings saying, "I must be 5 or 6 years old. They don't mean anything when I do them. Just a mess. Afterwards, I find something to hang on to, like that...quite like that leg. Then it sorts itself out and adds up. It's like finding a clue in a detective story." Thomas asked if he could have one of his paintings but Bill gestures Thomas that he cannot. Thomas takes a seat and has a beer while Patricia rubs Thomas's head. "Don't stop, it's lovely," he says but she stops as she obviously feels something for Thomas.
The jaded and indifferent Thomas is living a mid-60s life of excess (riches, fame, and women). When arriving at his studio the next morning a few young groupie models asks Thomas for a couple of minutes but he coldly brushes them off bored and uninterested saying, "A couple of minutes? I haven't even got a couple of minutes to have my appendix out." While patiently waiting to receive his prints, Thomas smoothly does a few tricks with a coin between his fingers awkwardly in silence as he stares at the young models who would willingly throw themselves at his feet.
After receiving the prints Thomas hops into his Rolls Royce convertible and heads to an antique shop while passing two male lovers walking their poodle. While entering the antique shop an elderly worker rudely asks what Thomas is looking for and Thomas tells him pictures of landscapes. The elderly man says they don't have any and when Thomas asks when the owner will be arriving back, the elderly man simply ignores him.
Thomas arrives at a deserted and serene park. (Mayron Park located in the SE London suburb of Charlton.) Innocently and voyeuristically, Thomas takes candid photos of what he interprets as a lover's tryst-rendezvous between a black kerchief-wearing woman (Vanessa Redgrave) and a middle-aged, gray-haired man, well-dressed in a light-gray suit. As Thomas playfully jumps from park step to step following the couple the Woman notices him and pursues him. The elusive Woman demands the negatives, claiming he has invaded their privacy saying, "What are you doing? Give me those pictures. You can't photograph people like that". Thomas refuses saying, "Who says I can't? I'm only doing my job. Some people are bull-fighters, some people are politicians. I'm a photographer." The Woman argues saying, "This is a public place. Everyone has the right to be left in peace." Thomas says, "It's not my fault if there's no peace. You know, most girls would pay me to photograph them." The Woman says she will pay him but Thomas tells her, "I overcharge. They're other things I want on the reel." The Woman says she wants the photographs now and when struggling to take the camera away she bites Thomas' hand. His suspicions are aroused and he says to her, "What's the rush? We've only just met." The Woman states: "We haven't met. You've never seen me." She runs off and it appears that her male companion has disappeared from the park. Thomas takes more photos of The Woman standing next to a tree and bush far in the distance (on close inspection, there is a body lying there, although most viewers won't notice it on first viewing).
Thomas returns to the antique shop, and the owner has returned. Thomas tells the owner that his agent saw her about the shop. She says she probably asked for too much money, and says to tell his manager to come back. Thomas asks why she is selling, and she tells him she'd like to try something different and is fed up with antiques and wants to leave to Nepal. Thomas tells her that Nepal is full of antiques and before leaving Thomas buys a huge wooden airplane propeller, entirely for useless reasons as it is inert, stalled and inactive.
Thomas then meets his agent Ron for lunch at a coffee shop and shares his photos of homeless men taken the night before as three or four of the photos are to be included in a documentary photo-book Thomas and Ron are producing together. Thomas proposes that the last photo be entirely different in tone. Thomas tells him, "I've got something fab for the end...In a park. Already took them this morning, I'm getting them later on today. It's very peaceful, very still. The rest of the book will be pretty violent, so it's best to end it like that." Ron responds favorably: "Yes, that's best, rings truer." While looking at the waitress Thomas says he's leaving to London later in the week saying, "I'm fed up with those bloody bitches. I wish I had tons of money. Then I'd be free."
Thomas looks out the coffee shop window and notices a man following him and looking into his car. Thomas follows the man outside but misses him and decides to leave. While driving Thomas encounters a parade of anti-war protestors marching in the street, and he gladly takes a protestor's sign that she stuffs in his convertible, but it blows out onto the street while driving back to his home.
At his studio/home after Thomas parks, the mysterious Girl rushes up to him outside a phone-booth, again desperately and persisting on having the photographs from the undeveloped roll of film. Thomas asks her how she managed to find him and invites her up in his studio. "What's so important about my bloody pictures?" he asks her but she says that is her business. Thomas tells her that he needs to keep the shots from the park. Impatient and jittery, the Girl claims her private life is disastrous, and the exposure of the photos would be damaging, although Thomas counters her comments by saying "So what? Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out". Thomas suggests that she would be an excellent fashion model, for the way she stands and sits. While playing music for her, the phone rings and Thomas jumps to the call. He gives the phone to the Woman suggesting it is his wife and the Woman says, "Why should I want to talk to her?" After Thomas hangs up he says to her, "She isn't my wife really. We just have some kids. No. No kids. Not even kids. Sometimes, though, it feels as if we had kids. She isn't beautiful, she's easy to live with. No she isn't. That's why I don't live with her. But even with beautiful girls, you look at them, and that's that. That's why they always end up by...And I'm stuck with them all day long."
Thomas instructs the neurotic and frazzled Woman who is gracelessly dancing to the music to "Listen and keep still." When asking for water the Woman attempts to steal Thomas's camera and the film but he intercepts her from running off. "I'm not a fool love." She immediately disrobes thinking he wants sex, becoming topless to bargain with Thomas for the film (she coyly crosses her arms over her naked breasts), but Thomas coolly declines: "Get dressed. I'll cut out the negatives you want." To get her to leave, Thomas provides her with a false, different roll of undeveloped film, but then she remains and enjoys his company as Thomas offers her to smoke some grass. The two are about to make love until they are interrupted when a delivery of the propeller from the antique shop arrives asking Thomas to give him a hand. After being placed in his home the Woman asks Thomas what the propeller is for and he says, "Nothing. It's beautiful." The Woman says, "If I had a big room like this, I'd hang it for the ceiling like a fan." In is unclear if the two make love, but the Woman provides Thomas with a contact phone number and quickly leaves.
Thomas then processes the roll of film taken during his park visit. He enlarges ('blows-up') some of the pictures to poster size, and pins the magnified photos around his studio's living room during a process of extreme analysis and self-discovery. Thomas tries to phone the Woman but realizes the number she gave him is a false number. A few of the pictures are enlarged even further and with the juxtaposition of the photos, Thomas imagines something even greater in which he can make out a man and a hand holding a gun in the shadows of some bushes behind a fence. The gun man appears to have caught the eye of the panicky Woman (is she complicit or unknowing?). At first believing these pictures were simply a sexual rendezvous Thomas comes to discover that he might have foiled a potential murder attempt. Thomas later phones Ron with his findings, speculating: "Something fantastic has happened. Those photos in the park. Somebody was trying to kill somebody else. I saved his life."
Thomas' quest for the truth in the photos is side-tracked and interrupted by the two wanna-be, naïve teenage models who pestered him earlier at his studio. While trying on outfits, the skinny blonde is aggressively stripped of her clothes by Thomas, and then she wrestles her giggly dark-haired friend to also strip her, claiming: "She's got a better figure than me." Everything evolves into a very sexual, ménage à trois orgy with all of them rolling around on a large extended roll of purplish-blue backdrop paper.
After the three rest from rolling around Thomas' eyes are drawn back to the blow-ups. He suddenly notices something and quickly sends the girls away with no time for photographs, telling them they will shoot the next day. Thomas makes more prints, imagining a more riveting possibility in the photos that he may have accidentally recorded and obtained visual, criminal evidence of a murder. He uses a magnifying glass to look at more photo detail, revealing what could be a dead body lying prone on the ground in the far distance next to a tree and some bushes. He enlarges the photo and studies the grainy blow-up before deciding on his next step.
Thomas returns to the park that night, passing by a white neon sign (FOA), a symbolic foreshadowing in the shape of a gun. His speculations are confirmed when Thomas discovers the man's corpse next to some bushes at the far-end of the park, which is real proof of a murder that Thomas has accidentally recorded as a witness. Unfortunately, he doesn't have his camera (Thomas is at his weakest without it) to photograph the body of the gray-haired man who was embracing the Girl. Thomas is then scared off by a twig breaking, as if being stepped on and quickly leaves.
When he returns home, he voyeuristically watches his unhappily married friend Patricia underneath her husband Bill as he makes love to her. She wordlessly entreats Thomas in their flat to stay in view nearby so she can achieve orgasm, as his presence arouses her passion.
The next morning back in Thomas's studio, all the blown-up pictures and negatives are discovered to be stolen, except for the extremely grainy blown-up picture of the body on the ground. It is so fuzzy, abstract and indistinct that it proves nothing. When Patricia stops by, he asks her if she ever thought about leaving Bill, and she says that she thinks not. Thomas then tells her that he saw a man shot and killed that morning in the park. When Patricia asks about how it happened, Thomas answers: "I don't know. I didn't see." Patricia comments that the only picture Thomas has of the body "looks like one of Bill's paintings." Patricia seems like she is asking Thomas for help with her own personal happiness, but that story seems to take a back seat to the murder mystery which is mainly lingering on the conscious of Thomas throughout the story.
While he is driving to meet up with Ron, Thomas spots the Woman standing outside a concert, and then she turns and takes a few steps and simply disappears into thin air. Thomas chases what he things is the Woman ultimately ending up in an indoors Yardbirds concert, where the audience seems to be spaced out zombies, who look extremely bored and completely burned out. The group suddenly smashes their guitars and amplifiers, stirring the passive crowd into a frenzy. The crowd scrambles to grab on to a piece of a guitar which is extremely important to them in the context of the environment. Thomas is caught up in the destructive mob, but is the one who is able to snatch a broken neck of a guitar. When alone back on the street that object out of its context doesn't have any meaning and so Thomas discards it onto the street. (Another person immedietly picks it up, but realizing its worthlessness quickly throws in back down.)
Delayed again in his quest for truth, Thomas locates Ron at a fashionable cocktail party in an apartment on the Thomas near central London, where some of the young people are rolling joints and smoking dope in a backroom. His friend Ron is completely stoned and disoriented, and partying with Veruschka (who had told Thomas at the earlier photo shoot that she would be in Paris that evening). When Thomas asks Verouschka why she isn't in Paris she takes a toke of her marijuana joint and says, "I am in Paris!" When Ron offers a drag to Thomas he immediately gives it to Verouschka. "Someone's been killed. Listen, those pictures I took in the park. I want you to see the corpse. We got to get a shot of it."
But a disoriented Ron is uninterested and disbelieving: "I'm not a photographer," he says and then asks Thomas: "What did you see in that park?" Thomas capitulates and answers that he also doesn't comprehend or cannot explain what he saw: "Nothing." Thomas remains at the party until the next morning, where he awakens at sunrise and decides to revisit the park.
When arriving, Thomas sees that the corpse has disappeared as it is confirmed that he did see "nothing". Thomas's assumptions about a murder are now completely lacking proof and discredited. He surrenders his conviction that there was a murder.
In the film's finale, Thomas wanders further through the expansive park. He is distracted when he encounters the same group of pantomiming student mimes in white-face, (The mimes both open and close the film as a framing device) playing an invisible game of tennis with non-existent rackets and balls as some of the mimes act as a participatory audience. Thomas's attention is directed toward the lengthy charade, and he also suspends his belief in concrete reality to join in and share their mock tennis match. He becomes directly involved when he tosses an invisible 'lost' tennis ball back to the two players when it is imagined that the ball is hit out of the court. On the soundtrack, one can now hear the illusion in Thomas' accepting mind, with the sound of an actual tennis game. The film ends with an aerial view of Thomas standing at a distance in the middle of a grassy field in the park near the tennis court, with his camera in his hand. As the camera rises above him for the shot (framed like one of Thomas' own blow-ups), he fades from view just before the words THE END zoom forward leaving only a path of grass which was the background in the beginning credits of the film.
Michelangelo Antonioni is a very unique Italian director and his most famous works are his three films L' Avventura in 1960, La Notte in 1961 and L' Eclipse in 1962 which are considered a trilogy because of its similar themes concerning the alienation of man in the modern world. One of the recurring themes in Antonioni's films are characters who suffer from ennui and whose lives are empty and purposeless aside from the gratification of pleasure or the pursuit of material wealth. His first color film Red Desert also dealt with similar themes and some even consider it the fourth film in the series in which stars Monica Vitti, who was his lover during that period. The Passenger in 1975 was an American film starring Jack Nicholson which tells the story about a man leading a different man's life and explored the themes of isolation and identity. And yet it was Antonioni's British masterpiece Blow-up in 1966 which not only remained one of Antonioni's most famous films, but also one of his most accessible.
When Blow-up was released in 1966 it was one of the highest-grossing art films to date, and was picked as the best film of 1967 by the National Society of Critics, with Oscar nominations for screenplay and direction. The film emerged as one of the many major films of the young independent film generation which included such films like Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Faces, Weekend, Five Easy Pieces, The Battle of Algiers and Easy Rider. Blow-up is a combination of a studio film and an art-film, as it has big stars, is in English, and has extremely high production values. The character of Thomas is played by the actor David Hemmings, who became a 1960s icon after his performance of a young photographer with a Beatles haircut, and a Rolls Royce convertible, who seems to have a deep-rooted contempt and cynical hatred for the female sex. His vapid and coldly narcissistic personality seems to bring back the characteristics of the soulless and unhappy character's in Antonioni's earlier European films, most famously with his modernity trilogy, as Blow-up interestingly enough was the first Antonioni film to star a male lead.
Many famous musical performers are in the film, the Sundry people and few others who became famous later. The most widely noted cameo was by The Yardbirds, who perform "Stroll On" in the last third. Antonioni first asked Eric Burdon to play that scene but he turned it down. As Keith Relf sings, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck play to either side, along with Chris Dreja. After his guitar amplifier fails, Beck bashes his guitar to bits, as The Who did at the time. Antonioni had wanted The Who in Blowup as he was fascinated by Pete Townshend's guitar-smashing routine. Steve Howe of The In Crowd recalled, "We went on the set and started preparing for that guitar-smashing scene in the club. They even went as far as making up a bunch of Gibson 175 replicas ... and then we got dropped for The Yardbirds, who were a bigger name. That's why you see Jeff Beck smashing my guitar rather than his!"
Antonioni also considered using The Velvet Underground (signed at the time to a division of MGM Records) in the nightclub scene, but, according to guitarist Sterling Morrison, "the expense of bringing the whole entourage to England proved too much for him". Michael Palin, later of Monty Python, can be seen briefly in the sullen nightclub crowd and Janet Street-Porter dances in stripy Carnaby Street trousers. A poster on the club's door bears a drawing of a tombstone with the epitaph, Here lies Bob Dylan Passed Away Royal Albert Hall 27 May 1966 R.I.P., harking to Dylan's switch to electric instruments at this time. Beside the Dylan are posters bearing a caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
The location of the murder was filmed in Maryon Park, London. The opening mimes were filmed on the Plaza of The Economist Building in Piccadilly, London, a project by 'New Brutalists' Alison and Peter Smithson constructed between 1959–64. The scene in which men leave The Spike was shot on Consort Road, Peckham. The park scenes were at Maryon Park, Charlton, south-east London, and the park is little changed since the film. The street with maroon shopfronts is Stockwell Road and the shops belonged to motorcycle dealer Pride & Clarke. The scene in which Thomas sees the mysterious woman from his car and follows her was in Regent Street, London. He stops at Heddon Street where the album cover of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust was later photographed. Outside shots of the photographer’s studio were at 77 Pottery Lane, W11, and 39 Princes Place, W11. Photographer Jon Cowan leased his studio at 39 Princes Place to Antonioni for much of the interior and exterior filming, and Cowan's own photographic murals are featured in the film. The exterior for the party scene towards the end of the film was shot outside 100 Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea. The interior, which is believed to be the same address, was shot in the apartment of London antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs.
The classic sequence in which Thomas shoots a glamorous photo shoot with a lifeless, self-absorbed model (played by the real-life model Verouschka) is entrancing and yet slightly artificial and sterile. During the erotic, frenzied picture-taking Thomas energetically snaps fashion photos over Verouschka's skinny, writhing, body while he gets totally engrossed in the moment and of his action of the camera. He straddles her, kisses her neck, and crawls over her, bringing her to the point of an climatic orgasmic release and satisfaction, saying to her such words as "Give it to me now, come on. That's good...Now, now, yes, yes, yes!", as if he is talking dirty to her during a sexual act. The cinematic cuts that are being made throughout the model shooting sequence are very much like photographic cuts, as if there is a distinct doubling between Antonioni as the director and of Antonioni as the photographer. Antonioni seems to be repulsed by the character of Thomas and of his sexually promiscuous swinger life-style, and yet at the same time also seems perversely attracted by it.
Thomas also photographs a vapid flock of other unsmiling, stationary birds (which means 'chicks' in Britain) in stylized poses before rectangular backdrop screens. Seeming bored and slightly contemptuous Thomas cuts short the photo-shoot, instructing the vacant-looking girls to "close your eyes." Antonioni seems to shoot the models and the fashion world in a immensely grotesque and unnatural way, presenting the women as extremely pale, sickly thin, and artificially inhuman. The models that Thomas shoots seem to be clearly in the service of some form of male sadist, as Thomas cruelly controls and dominates the environment. "Wake up! Thank your lucky stars your working for me, ain't you." After Thomas is finished using the models for the photos that he wants, he coldly discards them like they are merely objects and less than human. Thomas's superficiality on beauty is why Thomas becomes interested in purchasing a propeller wing. When asked what it is good for he simply states, "Nothing. But it looks great."
Thomas seems to have a deep-rooted contempt and cynical hatred for the female sex, usually calling them such nasty things as 'birds' and bitches'. And so Thomas particular loves it when he knows he is in full control, especially when the Woman at the park (the unnamed Vanessa Redgrave character) comes by his studio wanting the film that he took. Thomas invites the Woman in his studio, and thrives on the complete power struggle and control that he has of the situation. In this one sequence in the story the audience could finally learn something about Thomas's character after he receives an ambiguous phone-call from a mysterious woman, as Thomas explains that he has a wife, and children, only to come to learn shortly after that it was all a lie, and he was only teasing and playing a game.
The only woman who Thomas seems to show some slight feeling of affection or compassion for is his apartment roommate Patricia who is an unhappy woman married to an abstract painter named Bill. Bill explains the work of his painting to Thomas saying, "They don't mean anything when I do them. Just a mess. Afterwards, I find something to hang on to...Then it sorts itself out and adds up. It's like finding a clue in a detective story." This description seems to be Antonioni talking about his own method of his artistry. The character of Patricia seems to be the only hope in saving Thomas's soul, and yet what stands between them is her genuine loyalty to her husband Bill, who like Thomas is also a passionate artist.
There were of course obvious reasons for Blow-up's great initial success, as it became scandalous for several of the sequences of party goers smoking dope, and most famously with the ménage à trois orgy involving Thomas and the two teenage groupies, as they all three roll around on a large extended roll of purplish-blue backdrop paper. It was whispered that audiences could actually see pubic hair during this sequence, and if this is true (I didn't see anything) it would be considered one of the very first commercial films to show it. Even the scene when Vanessa Redgrave's character comes to Thomas's home and offers her body to Thomas in exchange for the film roll, she is nearly topless throughout most of the entire sequence, with her breasts almost shown if it wasn't for her crossing her arms over them, or of them being purposely covered with distinct objects throughout the setting of Thomas's studio.
Antonioni started out as a documentary filmmaker, and there seems to be several moments throughout the film where Antonioni is trying to establish a colorful and psychedelic documentary like commentary on the swinging London of the 60's, and of its vapid world of fashion photography, swinging groupies, ennui rock audiences and dope burned out parties; as Antonioni has stated that he found the anti-authority rebellion of youth culture extremely fascinating. This theme is expressed through the famous cocktail party sequence in which Thomas asks Veruschka why she wasn't in Paris like she stated she would be and she says while taking a toke from a marijuana cigarette, "I am in Paris." This theme is also greatly explored in the sequence when Thomas ends up in a Yardbirds concert, in which the audience seems to be one of the most unenthusiastic audience for a rock concert that I have ever seen. They're more like spaced out zombies, who look extremely bored and uninspired, until the musical group begin to start smashing their guitars and amplifiers, finally stirring some life into the audience.
The vacant park in which the supposed murder takes place seems to be the only real thing that is natural and not artificial throughout the film, and yet when Thomas is photographing the couple in the park, there seems to be a gap between what he is seeing and what the audience is seeing. It's as though it is coming from a third angle or third filmmaker, as Thomas is inflicting himself on this reality by taking these photographs, director Antonioni is doing identically the very same thing. It's an abstract moment of 'reality' and truth for Thomas, but he has no idea what lies beneath the surface of the scene he has just documented. Even the photos that are later developed in Thomas's studio look different than what Thomas and the audience had seen earlier and the angles and visual perceptions of the camera shots seem to be aesthetically different from the placement that Thomas was standing when at the location taking the pictures. How is this possible? (Many critics believe that is another reason the director might be a third witness in the story, suggesting his presence throughout the film which adds another layer of reality or illusion.) After the Woman confronts Thomas in the park, the sequence immediately after when Thomas is taking the Woman's picture while running away, you can see a body lying there, and yet most viewers won't notice it on first viewing.
Thomas's artistic project of a documentary photo-book that he is producing which includes striking and searing images of the homeless men and women throughout London can be looked at as a existential and powerful project of an artist, but I don't see it like that. Thomas is a narcissistic man who buys and sells businesses, uses and disregards women as simply objects, and drives around in a Rolls Royce convertible, and this claim to fame project of exploiting the tragic and less fortunate, is just another way to signify his superficiality and feed off his already much bloated ego. Throughout Antonioni's films he makes many specific political commentaries, but with Blow-up it doesn't feel he is expressing too much politically, besides the one cynical scene of some anti-war protestors in the street, as Thomas accepts a protesters sign to be placed in his Rolls Royce convertible, but it doesn't seem to worry him too much when it blows out of his car and onto the street shortly after.
They're several different truths and layers of reality throughout the fabric of the story of Blow-up, especially when it comes to Thomas's personal investigation of the photographs that he has taken in the park, that might or might not reveal information that cannot be discovered with the naked eye. In the film's brilliantly edited centerpiece of extreme analyze and subtle sexual intrigue we watch Thomas actually take a physical picture of a picture, using closer shots of larger blowups, coming to the shocking discovery that Thomas may have photographed a murder. The photographs that are developed appear to be laid out in a suspenseful sequence of visual arrangements which give them life and activity, light and shadow, and dots and blurs, as if they are individual frames in a motion picture. In the beginning Thomas makes the discovery that the Woman's eyes are directed toward the bushes, which leads Thomas to discover that there is in fact a man in the bushes with a gun. Was the Woman an accomplice or unknowing? Thomas comes to an early conclusion that he had saved a man's wife, and prevented a murder. This layer of reality and the truth is then taken to another hidden level when Thomas makes another discovery that there was in fact a corpse in one of the photographs, which concludes that Thomas did not in fact prevent a murder and save someone's life that he originally believed. After constructing a meaning to all these different images, starting from Point A to Point B (similar to the way an audience watches and constructs the meaning of a film) Thomas decides to go back to the original reality of his image, to verify the constructed meaning of that original image that he has concluded when observing the photographs. To the appeal that the reality has brought out the interpretation of a murder, when Thomas does discover the dead body when returning to the park he confirms the reality. However since all meaning is social and can be only obtained through group understanding and is never individual, Thomas goes to get Ron to confirm this reality of his and to verify its conclusion with a second pair of eyes; and then finally the reality will be properly established.
When returning to his studio all of Thomas's photos have been stolen, and the only photograph that remains is one that is no good on its own, except for the context of all the other images that proceeded it. (Similar to the broken neck of a guitar which is extremely important to a crowd of people in the context of a concert, but once it is taking out of its context the object is meaningless and it is simply discarded.) When Patricia arrives to the studio Thomas tells her that he saw a dead body. She than asks the film's key question, "Are you sure?" Patricia looks at the one photograph that wasn't stolen from Thomas's studio, and tells Thomas that the photo looks like one of Bill's abstract paintings, which is extremely important in the context of the film. When looking at an image from afar most people would see nothing of any real importance. And yet, when looking closer they're hidden truths and meanings that remain just beneath the surface. Sometimes something can only have meaning when meaning is opposed on it, for instance when Bill had to explain the meaning of his abstract painting to Thomas, the painting then made sense and had a meaning for its audience.
And so when Thomas returns to the scene of the crime to confirm his suspicions, the body is now no longer there. Did Thomas originally see a dead man? There is no substantial evidence, so did it in fact happen? Perhaps not. Thomas has indeed seen the dead body, and the audience has too, but with no documented evidence it can never really be proven that it happened. Similar to the quote, "If the tree falls in a forest, and nobody hears it, did it fall?" They're many interpretations on what Thomas had accidentally got himself involved in. One famous one is that the Woman wanted the photos because she was having an adulterous affair, and her gray-haired lover dropped dead, with her fleeing the park in a panic, and his body the next morning had simply been discovered and removed by the police. But that wouldn't explain for the mysterious man in the wood's with the gun. My interpretation is that the man in the wood's was probably the Woman's husband, who had recently discovered his wife's current affair and had committed the murder. And yet that strange and surreal sequence where Thomas spots the Woman standing outside a concert, and then she turns and takes a few steps and simply disappears into thin air still bothers me. I replayed this sequence in slow motion and notice the Woman presumably steps into a doorway, but her legs become another woman. Is the Vanessa Redgrave character in fact a figment of Thomas's own imagination? After all, no one else ever saw the Woman except for Thomas. Just because Thomas is the main protagonist in the story doesn't necessarily mean his mental state is reliable and accurate. (Similar to the infamous Rashomon effect.)
And yet, whether there was a murder or not isn't necessarily the point that Antonioni is trying to make with the film. Antonioni uses the formulaic materials for a traditional suspense thriller, without the climatic payoff. Nothing never really adds up, truth is never made visible or explained, and the film's ideas and climax are simply left for interpretation. Blow-up is less about the pieces to a puzzle and is more a character study on a soulless empty vessel who becomes spiritually awakened and aroused by his passion as a photographer. We watch in awe and complete fascination as this artist becomes alive once again as he rhythmically moves between his darkroom and his blowups, getting lost within the craftsmanship of his work, and finds himself happy and content. Thomas in the beginning of the story seemed to be a cold, cruel and disconnected individual, and yet throughout the murder investigation he has begun to transform and change, showing a slight form of empathy, understanding and human warmth. During Thomas's independent investigation throughout Blow-up, he is trying to probe and understand the meaning of his photographs, all the while audiences are trying to probe and understand the meaning of the main protagonist. This brief excitement and absorption with the perplexing 'murder mystery' that seemed to spiritually stir and awaken a new sense of passion for Thomas's artistry unfortunately comes to a abrupt end when the body disappears, losing any necessary form of evidence. Now more difficult than ever to confirm and nearly impossible to solve Thomas no longer has any photographic form of evidence produced by his camera-tool, his sole means of communicating and connecting with the reality of this world he has constructed, and is in the end left with nothing. Thomas surrenders his conviction that there even was a murder, and resorts back to his boring, soulless and unfulfilling routine as a fashion photographer. The themes that Antonioni is trying to express throughout Blow-up are greatly presented in the infamous and philosophical final sequence of the film, in which Thomas encounters a group of pantomiming mimes that play an invisible game of tennis with an imaginary ball. There has been a great deal written about Blow-up's ending since the films release in 1966, and to the meaning of the pantomiming mimes that seem to bookend the beginning and end of the story. Some believe these clowns (Which were described as "white-faced clowns" in critic Pauline Kael's pan of the film, but a British audience would have known they were participating in the ritual known as "rag," in which students dress up and roar around town raising money for charity,) represent an anarchist, anti capitalist, and anti authoritarian representation of the swinging 60's in European society. Thomas will ultimately decide to join the mimes in this alternate reality of tennis when he tosses the invisible tennis ball back to the two players after it is imagined that the ball was hit outside of the court. What's greatly fascinating about this ending sequence is that not only does Thomas succumb to the mimes reality of the invisible ball, but the camera does so as well, as it follows the imaginary ball back and forth over the net, as the sound of a ball being hit is lightly heard on the soundtrack. Some might say there is no ball, but the mimes clearly see one, and ultimately so does Thomas. At first reluctant, but ultimately Thomas accepts it and buys into their version of reality. The invisible tennis ball is finally something that Thomas hasn't photographed and preserved on film (with the camera he is carrying) which actually exists signifying Thomas's transformative change over time. It is another indelible image emphasizing the slim line between objective reality and illusion, as the tennis ball becomes as 'real' as the 'illusory' photographs he earlier took, as Thomas saw nothing, and at the same time saw everything. The film ends with an aerial view of Thomas standing at a distance in the middle of a grassy field in the park near the tennis court, with his camera in his hand. As the camera rises above him for the shot which is aesthetically framed like one of Thomas' own blow-ups, Thomas fades from view just before the words THE END zoom forward; as Antonioni stated this last sequence of Thomas disappearing to be his own personal signature for the film. The very last shot in which the character of Thomas disappears from the frame, underlines such similar shots earlier like the vanishing of the corpse and of the Woman vanishing outside the concert, as these different layers of illusions can both coexist in the same physical world emphasizing between objective art and abstract reality. These ideas on what can be perceived as real, and not real can be created and suggested through all forms of art, including the world of the cinema. Antonioni explores that even the images within the cinema can be questionable and that the authenticity of its images that an audience perceives and interprets when the director places them up on the screen, should not be something audiences should quickly accept as fact or reality. Antonioni once stated, "We know that under the revealed image there is another one which is more faithful to reality, and under this one there is yet another, and again another under this last one, down to the true image to the absolute mysterious reality that nobody will ever see, or perhaps not until the decomposition of every image, every reality. Therefor abstract cinema would have its reason for existing."