blowed away

November 3, 2012


(Illustration found here).

Even as a tiny, little shit — vs an old shit now — I’ve always been a full-blown movie nut.
In countless darkened theaters as flickering images played across gigantic screens, these episodes in fantasy seemed to remove me from a world I couldn’t understand, or maybe didn’t want to, and created a life beyond the normal.
And to experience fairy-tale longings amidst living in near-poverty in 1950s Alabama.

The first movie to inflict long-running resonance wasThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘ in 1958, where a beautiful princess was placed in a precarious position by an evil sorcerer, though she was eventually aided by a little genie in a lamp.
Among scores of movies before and after, ‘Sinbad‘ always stayed somewhere near my conscious imagination until I became old enough to comprehend the endangered princess could be found in any particular situation, like a war refugee in ‘Two Women‘ in 1960 (Sophia Loren in this case), or maybe a near-pathetic elevator girl as part of ‘The Apartment‘ in 1960 (Shirley MacLaine), and even an unmarried, but pregnant Macy’s sales clerk as in 1963’s ‘Love with the Proper Stranger‘ (Natalie Wood).
And beyond the ladies, movies provided insight into crazy shit — witness ‘Psycho,’ The Time Machine‘ and ‘Spartacus,’ all in 1960; and later, ‘Dr. Strangelove‘ in 1964.
All these held extraordinary staying power in my young, nubile brain, even as more and more films entered my mind’s movie archives.

However, no movie had the snap-crack of ‘Blow Up,’ first released in 1966, and no one film since has carried my imagination into those sensational places where nothing is really, really real, yet could very well be.
This was poetry on film — even the scenes traveling about London are fleeting moments created as a whole poem where images formed rhythmic expressions not altogether captured by the brain.
Years afterwards (I first saw ‘Blow Up‘ in 1967 while a senior in high school) whenever I saw or heard wind rustling through trees always reminded me of the London park where maybe a murder was inadvertently photographed, or when loud, swishing colors upended memory of some incident beyond recollection.
The movie at the time won critical acclaim: Named as best film of 1967 by the National Society of Film Critics and received screenplay and direction Oscar nominations.
Roger Ebert reviewedBlow Up‘ when the movie was part of a retro film festival in 1998.
He comments:

Watching “Blow-Up” once again, I took a few minutes to acclimate myself to the loopy psychedelic colors and the tendency of the hero to use words like “fab” (“Austin Powers” brilliantly lampoons the era).
Then I found the spell of the movie settling around me.
Antonioni uses the materials of a suspense thriller without the payoff.
He places them within a London of heartless fashion photography, groupies, bored rock audiences, languid pot parties, and a hero whose dead soul is roused briefly by a challenge to his craftsmanship.

Whether there was a murder isn’t the point.
The film is about a character mired in ennui and distaste, who is roused by his photographs into something approaching passion.
As Thomas moves between his darkroom and the blowups, we recognize the bliss of an artist lost in what behaviorists call the Process; he is not thinking now about money, ambition or his own nasty personality defects, but is lost in his craft.
His mind, hands and imagination work in rhythmic sync. He is happy.

Antonioni has described the disappearance of his hero as his “signature.”
It reminds us too of Shakespeare’s Prospero, whose actors “were all spirits, and are melted into air.
“Blow-Up” audaciously involves us in a plot that promises the solution to a mystery, and leaves us lacking even its players.

Poetic license, I guess.

This way-discarded film memory was unplugged last September in a retrospection of the film’s Italian director, Michelangelo Antonioni, shown at left, who died in 2007 at age 90 (image found here) in the UK’s Guardian.
Blow Up‘ was Antonioni’s first English-language film.

After praising Antonioni’s earlier films, the Guardian didn’t really care for ‘Blow Up,’ commenting: Now I have to admit something: I’ve often felt like booing the weak ending – which offers neither conventional plot resolution nor an interesting restatement of metaphysical mystery.

All I can say is F*ck you.

I’d wanted to post on this since catching the Guardian piece three months ago, but politics and a bunch of other shit got in the way.
Until this morning.

Today is the 81st birthday of actress Monica Vitti, shown at right, who for more than a decade was Antonioni’s muse and companion.
She starred in the director’s most-noted early films, L’Avventura (1960), La Notte, or The Night (1961), and The Red Desert (1964), and for awhile I had a great crush on her aligned, tortured persona as I tried to watch/understand Antonioni’s movies prior to ‘Blow Up.’

I really didn’t care for them — despite even my eager anticipation, Antonioni’s follow-up, ‘Zabriskie Point‘ in 1970 sucked a big one, couldn’t understand it at all.
Even with poetry there’s gotta be some comprehension.
And ‘The Passenger‘ (1975) with Jack Nicholson still didn’t make much sense.
All lost in translation, I guess.

But ‘Blow Up‘ still carries the beat — English Prof. Peter Goldman of Westminster College in Salt Lake City in a piece on film theory and logic realism, pins it on Thomas the photographer:

The new economy portrayed in the film is based on style and marketing, not the production of commodities.
The worn-out relics of industry have become the target of Thomas’s talent for aestheticizing.
Early in the picture, Thomas emerges in disguise from a flophouse where he was surreptitiously taking black & white photographs for his photo book, which will be presumably be a high-brow project establishing his credentials as a serious artist.
He photographs the derelicts of working-class life, dispassionately presenting their grotesque bodies as aesthetic spectacle.
Nineteenth-century novelistic realism or Italian neo-realism would have represented the lives of such people sympathetically and in-depth, as the victims of industrialization.
For postmodernity, industry is somehow not as “real” as marketing, the aesthetic “value-added” that makes the difference between success and failure in an economy which has largely solved the problem of production.

In the modern world, everyone is an artist of his or her own life, and Thomas provides a practical model of how to do so.
He aggressively seeks out and creates the newest fashions.
The point is not simply to accumulate wealth but to become the object of everyone’s desire.
The propeller, for example, doesn’t have any great resale value, but it says something important about its owner.
He’s not afraid to take risks and do outrageous things in order to create himself as the glass of fashion.
He consciously teaches other characters like Jane (so-called in the script, played by Vanessa Redgrave) how to be “cool.”
He tells her that she needs to move against the beat of the music.
In larger terms, this means going against, rejecting the current trend in favor of the upcoming fashion, which is still relatively unknown.
One must take chances and go against the grain in order to distinguish oneself in a modern society of liberated desire.

And against the grain I went, blowed away by time.

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