Thursday, August 2, 2007
To wrap up my tribute to Michelangelo I am going to be posting some personal thoughts on some of my favorite films of his in the next couple of days. These won't be reviews or intellectual musings on them as those are in no short supply when it comes to Antonioni's works. Instead these will just be some random personal thoughts on some works that have really moved me in a way that few other films or works of art have in my life.
I first saw BLOW-UP when I was fourteen or so. I was living in Newburgh, Indiana which is just outside Evansville. It was a lonely time in my life as I had moved around constantly as a child so I never really had time to develop any substantial friendships. I had just started high school and a couple of major discoveries greatly influenced and helped me through this difficult period. One had been while in Junior High finding a picture of Brigitte Bardot in a book called, I think, THE LOVE GODDESSES. This picture started my love affair with European cinema and would lead to me finding BLOW-UP just before High School. The other major discovery in this period was pulling out a hardly played copy of Lou Reed's GROWING UP IN PUBLIC album from my dad's record collection and suddenly finding a voice that echoed much of the frustration and loneliness I was feeling. Ironically Lou would play a small part in BLOW-UP's story as it was The Velvet Underground and not The Yardbirds that Michelangelo had originally wanted for the famous club scene.
BLOW-UP, if you'll forgive the pun, blew my young mind. I had never seen anything like it and its ambiguity and questioning of what is real and what isn't had a huge impact on me. I fell in love with London in the Sixties through this film and suddenly my mom's old Beatles and Bee-Gees records sounded more alive than they ever had before. I began sifting through old magazines hoping to find images and stories of this period and soon names like Twiggy, Oliver Reed and David Bailey began to occupy my young mind.
More than anything else though, I fell in love with the film BLOW-UP itself and especially Antonioni's incredible style and certain scenes from the film seemed to become part of my DNA. The long takes and stretches of silence, the way he photographed Vanessa Redgrave, the minimal use of Herbie Hancock's fantastic score, the way the wind sounded in the park, how David Hemmings is looking in a different direction in the first scene than everyone else, Veruschka, that final image and so much more. The film affected me in a profound way and I would frankly give anything to have another film make me feel the way that I did the first time I saw BLOW-UP.
As I had no one to really talk to about the film, I immersed myself in old articles and two books I managed to find in downtown Evansville's famously haunted Willard Library, FOCUS ON BLOW-UP and the film's screenplay, which contained some fabulous stills as well as interviews with Michelangelo.
I was so impressed to find how much the film had affected people on its release and just how much it had been discussed. I certainly didn't agree with many of the views on it and much of it frankly seemed like overly intellectual garbage but I did admire how many different opinions the film caused.
I have heard people describe BLOW-UP as dated or not relevant anymore. This frankly baffles me, if anything the film is as fresh as it was the day it was released and in our increasingly spiritually disconnected world, even more important. I finally got to see the film at a theater in the mid nineties at a revival at the grand old Kentucky Theater in Lexington. On the big screen, the film still felt like it could cause a revolution and it was one of the most exhilarating times I have ever had in a theater.
My favorite moment in the film comes towards the end when David Hemmings runs into Veruschka at a party. Earlier in the film she had told him she was travelling to Paris so he is surprised to see her. He asks her why she isn't in Paris to which she matter of factly responds, "I am in Paris." It's an astounding moment and to me it has always summed up the way that I feel about Antonioni's films. When I watch these films it doesn't matter that they are very much in a past that I yearn for but will never be able to experience. Michelangelo's films have the unique ability to carry me to another world and to make me feel not so alone in this one. Every time I watch BLOW-UP I can honestly say that I am in Paris too (or wherever else I want to be) and no one can ever take that away from me.