Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blow Up

Watched this movie some three times over the last six months. Pretty awesome. Not the movie, but what directors think audiences are capable of understanding of their work.

David Hemmings stars as a fashion photographer, who accidentally shoots a murder in progress. Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966 was already big enough to make a philosophical inquiry into the nature of reality using this plot, which most other directors would shoot as a thriller.

David - he has no name in the movie, per say - is burning up his life in the swinging, rock 'n' rolling London of the sixties. Movie begins with him leaving a poorhouse, where he has shot people in various poses. He wants to publish these snaps in a book he is working on. In sharp contrast is what he does for a living; he photographs fashion models. In a famous sequence in the film, he shoots supermodel Veruskha, who stars as herself.
David is rich (drives a Rolls Royce), attractive, snobbish and usually gets what he wants. He uses women, but that may not be his worst quality. He absolutely lacks values and we need to get this because when he suspects that a murder has happened he fails to report it.

David runs into a couple in a park. They are hugging and kissing. The women is Vanessa Redgrave. David shoots the couple. She notices him and demands the film and follows him home to get it. David wants to use the snaps for his book. When he develops the film, he finds a murder may have taken place.

This sequence, which about 15-20 minutes long, where he is developing the film in his studio, has no dialogue and is incredible. In a Tamil movie, we would need a Watson to explain what is happening. But here the shots tell the story as David repeatedly blows up the film and suspects he may have shot a gun aiming at someone. But the pictures are grainy and it's hard to tell.

And then the picture unhinges from reality, I think. The rest of it happens in Antonioini's head. As in the logic of it is hard to see for others. And unlike us, who naturally want to find out what happened, Antonioni never lets us know who committed the murder or why.

He is onto things more important. Like if only you have seen something happen and cannot confirm with anyone whether it happened, now did it really happen or not. Like you see a tree, and I say there is no tree, is there really a tree? How much of the nature of reality is understood by social processes?

In the final scene, a group of revellers are playing a tennis match. Only there is no ball. But the group of them are watching the match. Their eyes move along with the ball just like in a tennis match. One of them, hits the ball out of the yard and gestures for David to pick it up. David is first amused and then picks up the imaginary ball and throws it back and now he can actually hear them hitting the ball.

The movie, except for the studio sequence, tests your patience. But it does dig deeper than the usual Hollywood stuff. Watch only if you are the sort to see it again with the commentary. And if you can sit for days afterwards pondering on the nature of reality. Pointless pursuits? Why are they always so darn interesting? Wanna make a movie on that?