MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

Autobiography from Antonioni on the Thames

London swings and so does Blow-Up as a brilliant director switches moods

WENDY MICHENER March 1 1967
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

Autobiography from Antonioni on the Thames

London swings and so does Blow-Up as a brilliant director switches moods

WENDY MICHENER March 1 1967

Autobiography from Antonioni on the Thames

Michener on movies

London swings and so does Blow-Up as a brilliant director switches moods

THE YOUNG MAN with the camera frolics through the misty-green wind-tossed park. He chases birds to make them fly . . . past his lens. He creeps from tree to tree shooting a couple embracing passionately in this mid-London haven of peace. It’s like a painting by Constable: a green and pleasant land with clumps of stormy trees.

Of course, back to Nature. Back to Beauty, Reality, Truth. The guy is sick of photographing all those narcissistic models with their frozen faces. We settle back comfortably into the reassuring cliché. But no. Something’s not right here. The girl (Vanessa Redgrave) suddenly spies him and chases him, as though he were a thief. He defends himself: “Who says I can't go around taking people’s pictures? I’m only doing my job. Some people are politicians. I'm a photographer . . . Most girls would pay me to photograph them.” With that he turns to catch a few more shots of her panicked face in flight.

A rather sour ending to a lark in the park. But this is only the beginning. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni has a lot more layers to peel off the surface of reality before his first English-language picture, Blow-Up, is finished. At 54, Antonioni has pulled a sudden about-face: he has exchanged the bored malaise and alienation of his contemporary world in Italy, for the new, switched-on world of “swinging" London. I can’t think of another director who has managed to capture the spirit of two so different generations. In terms of style, he has moved from the remoteness of abstract expressionism to the immediacy of pop art. In terms of subject, he has shifted his attention from the relationships between people to the relationship between people and objects, people and

reality. What’s more, Antonioni offers us, in the character of his modish fashion photographer (David Hemming), a remarkable confession about himself as a movie-maker-, his weaknesses, his curiosity, his doubts about his role in the world.

There’s one scene where David Hemming tyrannizes the models he works with (Antonioni is well known as a perfectionist). Another where he practically seduces the girl, then leaves her panting on the floor once he has got the desired effect safely inside his camera. (No comment.) Another where he masquerades as a down-and-out to catch the real feel of misery in a dosshouse. (Antonioni is still haunted by the pandemonium he caused on his first film assignment, in a mad-house.) Antonioni has said he chose a fashion photographer for his hero because they have such terrific power (David Bailey? Tony Armstrong-Jones? Terence Donovan?) in the London world of models and stars, and because he sees these people as the avant-garde of a generation with a new style of living. But this portrait of the young man with a camera has a personal ring to it. BlowUp is comparable to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 8Vi rolled into one.

The idyl! in the park becomes a crisis of conscience, or of consciousness, in the photographer's life. He was not, as it seemed, shooting for pleasure, but for a book of snaps to prove his greatness. At first he refuses to give Vanessa Redgrave the film simply because he fancies the scenes as “something fab” for the end. “The rest of the book is pretty violent so it’ll be better that way, it’ll ring truer.”

But when he develops the pictures, choosing the “fab” ones first, he is startled to find evidence of a crime more sinister than any in his photographs of obvious violence, and he pursues the clues through blow-up after blow-up. By sheer chance he now finds himself landed with the responsibility for other people’s very lives —not just their images. In showing how he handles this responsibility the director manages to examine the attitudes and manners of a whole generation, and

without ever letting his movie turn into a judgment or a message.

As usual, Antonioni’s images have a seductive loveliness. No fashion photographer ever took more glamorous shots, or made London look more inviting. And despite all his talk about treating actors like objects, David Hemming is the very model of a mod photographer with his cherubic baby face, sensual mouth, clear cool eyes and casual throwaway elegance.

I think Blow-Up is great.

WENDY MICHENER