Blow Up: The Forms of an Esthetic Itinerary: David I. Grossvogel

Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

The essays contained in Focus on Blow-up (Ed. Roy Huss. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971) confirm much of what one might have concluded already about the film itself and about film criticism as it is generally practiced. The sheer amount of ink that flowed because of Blow-up establishes it as one of the most important and enduring motion pictures of the sixties.

Collectively, these essays demonstrate how inadequately even trained eyes see a motion picture (the accounts of what Vanessa Redgrave does or, does not do with the roll of film she has come to retrieve from David Hemmings are sufficiently diverse to cast serious doubt on the value of eye-witnesses in a court of law. They also show with what haste the so-called film critics rush to their typewriters and their effortless words. The essay by John Freccero, "From the Word to the Image," saves us the trouble of dwelling on this point: in addition to a masterful analysis of Antonioni's work, he lays to rest the petulant, narrow-minded and self-seeking pronouncements of the "professional" movie critics whose culture begins and ends with the cinematic experience).

There might have been fewer words wasted if critics had first gone to the work of Julio Cortlazar–as did Antonioni himself. (References to the short story which suggested the motion picture are scant in Focus; one especially benighted critic goes so far as to write, "Small wonder that Hollywood's film so still wedded to the written script derived from a literary source, find Blow-up so difficult to accept" p. 69). The oversight is unfortunate: most clues to Antonioni's movie were not to be found were not to be found under the hero's magnifying glass but within the pages of the Argentinian writer.

"Las babas del diablo" (which is closer to "Skin of the Teeth" than to Antonioni's more salable title under which Cortlizar's short stories are being marketed in this country) tells the story of an amateur photographer (actually a translator by trade), who discovers, during one of his walks through Paris, a woman seducing a young boy on the Ile Saint-Louis. Michel takes a picture of the scene. The woman notices him and comes up to demand the incriminating film while the young boy flees. An older and ugly man, to whom the photographer had paid only scant attention, gets out of a parked car and walks towards them. Michel refuses to give up the film and leaves. He believes that his action has saved the young boy from the woman's clutches.

Some time later, Michel develops the roll of film. He enlarges the frame of the Ile Saint-Louis to life size. As he does so, the scene is reenacted for him in such a way as to divulge its truth: the boy is once again within the woman's embrace, but she is not seducing him for her own sake; she is doing so for the benefit of the ugly old man who has now moved into the picture. Even though the boy escapes again, Michel is powerless to alter the event and is, in fact, sucked into its happening. The old man moves closer to the center of the picture, occupying more and more space, until he becomes its out-of-focus and blurring totality. Michel covers his eyes and begins to sob. When he opens them, he is a prisoner of the huge and empty blow-up across which a cloud or a stray bird occasionally drift.

There is of course more to Cortizar's story than this science-fiction synopsis. Like most of Cortazar's short stories, it is primarily a tale about the impossibility of telling and about the frustration of seeing-twin expressions of the ontological dilemma that defines man, for Cortizar, as an irreducible separateness that recognizes similarly hermetic presences, without ever being able to establish more than a surface contact with them, without being able to assimilate them through either perception (sight) or definition (telling). The dramatic tension of Cortazar's stories derives from the exacerbation of their people's attempts to cancel and transcend their ontological sentence. They fail, but their efforts are sometimes of such magnitude as to alter forever the order of the natural world in which they previously dwelled.

Michel is a translator: his job is to understand telling and to make it intelligible to others. Hitherto, he has performed his task mechanically: it was merely a matter of finding "the way to say in good French what Jose Norberto Allende was saying in very good Spanish" (Blow-up and Other Stories. New York: Collier Books, 1971. Third ed.; p. 111). But as a consequence of his unearthly adventure Michel will sense that his plight resulted from a desperation to see beyond the surfaces that limit human sight, and that even beyond existence (for the people of Cortizar are afflicted with the same curse as Beckett's people: death does not still their metaphysical questioning) the problem remains one of telling.

Michel's dilemma is that however he focuses on the objects of his world, those objects remain separate from him and alien; his focusing instrument-the camera, the typewriter, the word-cannot bite on those objects, is irremediably inert: "if I go, this Remington will sit turned to stone on top of the table" (p. 100). His camera is no better. The "stupid" lifelessness of the photograph is the most signal subversion of the live scene it intends to record. Even as an amateur photographer, and prior to his conscious questioning, Michel has had qualms about the ability of his camera to comprehend a “life that is rhythmed by movement but which a stiff image destroys" (p. 108). "Michel knew that the photographer always worked as a permutation of his personal way of seeing the world as other than the camera insidiously imposed upon it" (p. 103). But the camera which Michel carried with him in his walks through Paris was, even then, evidence that his questioning of othernesses had already begun–an indication of pre-conscious stirrings, a first effort to escape from his ontological bondage by penetrating an existence other than his own, while at the same time maintaining his ontological awareness by describing this process of self-transcendency (the paradox of understanding noted by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus which would require him to be himself and the tree in order for him to know that tree): "I think that I know how to look, if it's something I know, and also that every looking oozes with mendacity, because it's that which expels us furthest outside ourselves" (Blow-up, p. 104). But "furthest" is not far enough; ultimately, the word and the act do no more than express the frustration of remaining hopelessly locked within the limits of the self, knowing how unknowable are the objects and the people beyond.

As the virulence of the ontological sickness intensifies, the victim's urge to escape into, and possess, his vision increases his need to voice the sense of his proximity to this vision and the sense of his frustration at not being able to cancel the forever remaining distance. He must tell his state of being: "if you take a breath and feel like a broken window, then you have to tell what's happening, tell it to the guys at the office or to the doctor. Oh, doctor, every time I take a breath . . . Always tell it, always get rid of that tickle in the stomach that bothers you" (p. 101). But the attempt to tell becomes a frustration commensurate with the frustration that the telling was to have conveyed: this second attempt to break out of the ontological prison is as ineffectual as the first: "nobody really knows who is telling it, if I am I or what actually occurred or what I'm seeing" (p. 101). Just as the still photograph subverts the life it intends to reproduce, the very act of telling subverts the substance of what is to be told: "Right now (what a word, now, what a dumb lie)" (p. 103). But in Michel, as in so many of Cortizar's protagonists, the ontological exacerbation is sufficient to affect the fourth dimension of his universe; like that of a latter-day Pygmalion, Michel's relentless desire to possess the object of his sight informs the photographic blow-up with the life of that desire and that life is sufficiently powerful to draw him into its own truth. He crosses over to another ontological dimension (retracing, in a sense, the steps of the surrealists drawn into their metaphysical mirror) and, in so doing, forever affects the natural balance of his universe without allaying the need that precipitated the metaphysical calamity.

Whatever else the parable may convey about the human condition, Cortizar's fable comments up–on the Mallarmean need and frustration of the writer whose work is tensed between his unbounded vision and his unequal capacity to express it. Cortizar makes a literary point from the very first: "It'll never be known how this has to be told, in the first person or the second, using the third person plural or continually inventing modes that will serve for nothing" (p. 100). Like Michel, the artist can neither tell as he knows he must, nor can he accept not to tell, or tell inadequately He must possess through words (if he is a writer) the objects of his world (and his sense of those objects), but the words have an opacity equal to his own ontological encapsulation: he cannot be the other and therefore he cannot tell what that other is, and the failure of telling extends to his inability to tell in its fullest the failure of telling. His attempts end in fiction. The writer is doomed to live out the double anxiety of his failure to achieve or voice the intensity of his questioning, but through a process of world reversal, his anxiety becomes the parafictional substance of his character. Michel's hunger and his agony are those of writer attempting to deliver himself of Cortizar’s–the writer attempting to deliver himself of that “tickle” in his own stomach and of which Michel is only an irremediable fiction. Michel's hopeless journey is the desperate groping of his creator.

The frustration of the writer begins with the ambiguity of the word. Except as sound, the word is only a stimulus for something else. The ultimate truth of any word as sign is in the experiential assimilation of a reader. In addition to his frustration at never being able to sate his desire to know the world (to understand it and to possess it), the writer experiences the added frustration of never being able to know the exact resonance of his words within the intimate consciousness of another. His reader is at all times the opacity of an otherness, but one which, in its assimilation of the author's words, puts those words likewise out of the author's reach.

It is that same "tickle”–the itch of all modern art to understand and outreach itself-that must have brought Antonioni to consider the work of Cortaizar with special care. That and the additional dimension that remained to be analyzed: the self-defining awareness of a significant difference between the artist who uses words and the one who uses images: "The idea for Blow-up came to me while reading a short story by Julio Cortaizar. I was not so much interested in the events as in the technical aspects of photography. I discarded the plot and wrote a new one in which the equipment itself assumed a different weight and significance."'1

One assumes that Antonioni did not need Cortaizar to experience the opacity of the artifact. Like Cortaizar, he must have felt that his creation could never be more than a mediating object, imperfectly suggesting a truth of which he would never be fully enough possessed. He had previously said, "The greatest danger for the film maker consists in the extraordinary means the medium provides in order to lie" (Focus, p. 120)–an especially serious danger for the artist who, as Antonioni had noted about himself, "does nothing more than search for himself in his films. The films are not the record of a completed thought, but rather that very thought in the making" (Focus, pp. 122-23). One can safely assume that the ontological itch was within Antonioni before he read Cortizar–both being products of a time that has seen so much of its art become a reflection upon itself and grappling for esthetic absolutes that measure the distance between the artist's inner eye and what he feels to be the inadequacy of his artistic reach. Pictures like Bergman's Persona and Fellini's 8 1/2 were comments about the nature of the motion picture and its making, by motion picture makers who had progressed beyond autobiography.

Antonioni is likewise an analyst rather than a translator: he needed Cortizar in order to explain their differences–once their common esthetic quandary had been stated. Cortaizar's Michel is an amateur photographer because, for Cortaizar, photography is an analogue for the translating word. Antonioni, concerned essentially with the visual statement, knows that the analogue is hasty. Instead, his hero is a professional photographer, a cool product of London's youth and mod cultures–for reasons that have little to do with either London or culture: each protagonist is a maker of art forms and each evidences a similar need to possess the world around him through the form he constructs. Thomas has fewer metaphysical questions and, at first, fewer anxieties because he is seen in his former life while Michel is a troubled voice that addresses the reader after the event. Also, Thomas does not use words: his world has always been his instantly, through his view-finder. When, in the course of this effortless world-appropriation, each hero is involved in a drama that is too intense for such automatic assimilation, the first reaction of each is identical–and identically wrong. Each believes that his appropriative control persists: on the basis of inadequate evidence, each believes that he has saved a human life. And each must slowly lose his self-assurance through the progressively more urgent questioning of an art object that has now become irremediably separate from its maker.

In fact, the two analyses are as different as the different modes that are being analyzed: only the initial posit of absolute possession through the art form, and the failure of that absolute endeavor, are identical. Not having experienced the ambiguous world of words, Thomas is a less complex character than Michel. He is simply his camera: his eye is its lens, his life-rhythm (disjunctive, episodic, made of instants that are neither judged nor related to any other) is the rhythm of his picture taking:2 it is significant that the only sexual encounter which he follows through to its climax is the one he shares with the model he is photographing. (His attempted intercourse with Jane aborts: it is only prior to their going to bed, when he sees her as a photographer's model, that he is actually with her.) His intrusion upon the park scene is not his but his camera's and he will first turn to his camera for the answers to his questions.

Such questions as Thomas will eventually ask derive from his particular phenomenology: he is an esthetic creature, supremely intuitive in his response to shapes, colors and the shades of light and darkness. His studio is visible proof of the fact that he lives in a world of exquisite and unusual colors that are harmonized and contrasted with consummate skill. His eye (in this case, Antonioni's camera) endows the face of London with the same rich, metallic hues. In Red Desert (1964), Antonioni had similarly repainted his natural settings but with less logic: in that film, the chromatic expression of the heroine's inner world inhibited the statement of the crude industrial city that had contributed to induce her frame of mind. Thomas' eye may make of London something which it is not: he is not dependent, as a character, on the image of London as it is. In his first incarnation, he is largely defined by the fact that his eye is a superficial and esthetic caress. The propeller which he buys (and into which nearly every critic read dreams of escape and flight) is a pleasing object because of the harmonious lines of the helix. Thomas also spends much of his time in antique shops for the same reason–on a quest for shapes that are interesting and new because they are obsolete. Thomas has yet to go from esthetic intuition to artistic questioning, but he is necessarily moving in that direction. Already, he is in the process of turning a discontinuous artistic intuition (as might be, for example, the publicity or fashion shots of commercial art, limited to a contrived and fraudulent world–that of the synthetic studio and the artificial model–a world reduced to estheticism) into a structured artifact that attempts to interpret and represent a defining world–the world of the book about London which he is in the process of putting together. It is this inevitable process that must draw him into the same vortex that absorbs Michel and must give him a first resemblance to Cortaizar and Antonioni.

Michel, however much he is informed and displaced by Cortaizar, remains a fictional creature to be accepted or rejected by the reader, and he uses words whose final meaning is not his but that of the same reader. But when Thomas takes a picture of an identical world (or, more accurately, when Antonioni takes a picture of Thomas' picture), that sight is unequivocally the spectator's: there need be no mediation to prevent the immediacy of the spectator's perception and no fictional distancing. Fiction enters into the motion picture world through stimuli that are more equivocal than those of sight–its voice (especially its dialogue, but also its music, or as in Blow-up, specifically cognitive sounds) or its mood-inducing tones–color, light, shade, etc., all of which Antonioni has generally downgraded, if one thinks of such pictures as The Cry (1957), The Adventure (1960), The Eclipse (1961), etc. But through Antonioni's camera lens, the eye of Thomas (which is his own camera lens) becomes directly the spectator's. The surface sexuality of Thomas is the spectator's who stands in Thomas' position over the model and has approximately the same contact with her as does the photographer (scarcely more than a voyeur's). The artist's studio is a real studio, inasmuch as both the (fictional) photographer and the (non-fictional) spectator see it through the same lens. As long as Thomas does not interpret the transients whom he photographs at the Camberwell Reception Center for his book on London, Antonioni's spectator sees them as superficially, but as immediately, as does his fictional character. When Thomas turns Jane into a model, it is a parafictional model whom the spectator sees–not an actress playing the role of a fictional model–since at that moment she is only modeling before a camera. And since there is in fact no fictional photographer, but only Antonioni's camera, the image-maker's statement is instantly his spectator's. It is this unequivocal immediacy of his own eye and the spectator's, and the identity of the surfaces seen by both, that Antonioni will use to analyze and convey the distance that exists for him between his vision and the image that expresses it.

This distance begins with the necessary failure of the artifact to satisfy the artist's intent, an intent for which the modern artist has come to substitute more and more his statement and assessment of that failure, making of his art object the exemplar and the cause of his reflection. The modern art object is double as a result, being both what it is (a statement of the artist's failure) and what it is not (with reference to the parafictional commentary of the artist that is embodied in it). In the Cortazar story, Michel so desires his inadequate artifact to be more than its inadequacy that the artifact is ultimately loosed from the bonds that normally keep it within the phenomenal world and becomes, ironically, the object that possesses him. (In a similar way, the hero of Cortizar's "Axolotl" is so fascinated by the salamanders in the aquarium that his exacerbated need to know them projects him within the object of his desire: it is as an axolotl that he can finally see the desireless part of him losing interest in, and leaving, the aquarium.) When this intensity to know turns the characters into the representation of the one who conceived them (and the reason for that conception), the characters can no longer tolerate the artifact that has come to stand as an opacity between them and their artistic sense of the world. But they must also be the evidence of the unbridgeable distance that persists between artistic desire and expression: they must enter, without ever penetrating it, the object of their creation (Cortizar's protagonists upset the natural balance of the universe without ever alleviating their artistic dilemma). No critic, to my knowledge, has shown to what extent the blow-ups of Thomas come alive in their stillness: the first series yields no clue, showing only a man and a woman walking through a park. For reasons that are more acceptable at the symbolic level and at the level of the story being told, Thomas wants to know Jane better than he was able to in his bedroom and he starts enlarging the enlargements. A movement of her head away from her lover directs the attention of Thomas towards the bushes to her left. He begins enlarging the portion that her glance has indicated until the grainy pattern of the tremendous magnification discloses the spectral suggestion of a human figure. From this moment on, Thomas remains within the ambiguity of his own mind: he is no longer his camera but a private consciousness questioning a hitherto unquestioned statement. What happens from now on happens in a realm of unclear statements and tenuous answers.

As answers come less readily, Thomas' fever to know increases: it is he who must now suggest answers. His inner world is mustered frantically to compensate for an exteriority that is gradually separating itself from him (the wind that rustled through the park trees of the original scene is heard once again). Thomas continues to blow up the prints to ever larger dimensions. As he does so, the grain of the prints reveals less and less but affords, proportionally, an ever freer interpretation. The last blow- up is Antonioni’s–an extreme close-up of the absurdly magnified print: Thomas believes that it shows a gun held by the figure in the bushes. He thinks he has penetrated the photograph: "The wind's rustling has stopped. [He phones his friend.] 'Ron? . . . Something fantastic's happened! Those photos in the park! Fantastic! Somebody was trying to kill somebody else. I saved his life .. .' " (Focus, p. 139).

He is wrong: that much at least is clear–he was not able to save a life. A little later, by accident, he discovers in the over-enlarged print the grainy suggestion of a corpse partly hidden by the bushes: the prints keep offering suggestions in order to show the tenuousness of any affirmation. At the point where reviewers (and the spectators) should have separated themselves from Thomas and accepted at least the ambiguity of the enlarged photographs, even respectable critics chose to see Thomas' interpretation and fell back on positivistic affirmations. None noted how little evidence there is for any affirmation, such as would suppose, for example, that the presumed murderer comes out of the bushes after Jane moves towards Thomas (Jane's lover is still alive–the prints show this–until that moment). For a subsequent picture to show the corpse, it is necessary to assume that the man in the bushes shot the older man and dragged the corpse towards partial cover (in broad daylight) during the interval in which Jane attempted to recover the film (fifteen camera shots) and within sight of Thomas, since Jane was able to see Thomas from the spot of the presumed murder.3 But that is precisely the point: we are no longer in the realm of an absolute statement and an unmediated artifact, but at the core of the problem as Antonioni sees it. In the article previously cited, Freccero describes that problem as a latter-day form of the medieval journey intra nos, a self quest no longer accomplished through the spiritual odyssey of morality texts but through the questioning of the artifact for a revelation of the same final truth. Freccero quotes Antonioni on the subject: "We know that beneath the revealed image there is another more faithful to reality, and beneath this still another, and once more another. Up to the true image of reality itself, absolute, mysterious, which no one will ever see. Or perhaps up to the decomposition of any image at all, of any reality at all" (p. 123).

Through the exacerbated eye of the artist, Antonioni is able to place his spectator directly within this Platonic journey towards the Idea by offering that spectator stimuli identical to those that move his fictional hero and are very precisely of Antonioni's making: the picture can be as intense a mystery for the spectator as for Antonioni inasmuch as that picture is the same for both.

The interposed fiction of characters provides the level of commentary. It is Bill, the abstract painter, who says of his own canvases, "While I'm doing them, they don't say anything to me–just one big mess. After a while I find something to hang onto. Like that leg there. Then it comes through by itself. It's like finding the key in a mystery story." The fallacy of Bill's esthetics is that they require his surfaces to yield a meaning. He does not understand that if that "leg" were indeed the "key" to the artistic mystery, he would be required, as a painter, to seek it out in the phenomenal world and paint it. Bill is a fraud: his painting is the haphazard occurrence that allows him, interpretationally, to discover something that he neither discerned in the phenomenal world nor wrought in the artistic one. Bill, the painter, exists only in a verbal and non-painterly dimension.

Bill's is the false path along which Thomas is first led:4 he is looking for a truth to "hang onto" in an artifact which every succeeding analysis destroys a little more. He is moving away from Antonioni's speculation (which would lead him from the shallowness of representational images to the truth of unintelligible ones): like Bill, Thomas first attempts to move from the opacity of representation to the revelation of an analysis based on that given representation. His error extends his previous mode–the belief in effortless assimilation; he is not yet purged of his former hubris. At this point, Thomas has forgotten the lessons of his estheticism: he liked the propeller because of its shape, not because of its function or its symbolism. But a process of growth compensates for this temporary loss; he has begun to question the surfaces which he intuited before (cf. Rimbaud's visionary trajectory as he described it in his "Alchimie du verbe"): Thomas has begun to experience the defining anxiety of the artist.

It is at this point that the spectator should separate himself from Thomas (until he encounters him again at the moment of his final epiphany): the stimuli that affect both Thomas and the spectator are identical, but the spectator does not have the same reasons as Thomas for interpreting what he sees. It should be possible for that spectator to measure the extent of the character's error and, in so doing, to speculate on the reasons for, the form and the consequences of that error. Thomas, the superficial creature of a superficial culture, but one with the affluence and the training at least to possess those surfaces, is the right sort of hero to be placed at such a crossroads: it is only a question of time until, having mastered the technical aspects of his craft, he must begin to question the craft itself; and, reinforcing this process, it is likewise only a question of time until his attention to surfaces begins to draw him to a truth concealed beyond those surfaces (once again, cf. Rimbaud). Just as his questioning of the prints represents a first level of growth, the emergence of Jane as a reality beyond the pictorial surface represents an acknowledgement of the phenomenal world that inverts the previous impositions of his esthetic eye (within the contrivances of his studio or upon the brilliant surfaces of his selective London–the "brutality" of which emerged presumably in the moments when the brilliance unexpectedly limmed without offering ready reasons or eliciting questions). It is this acknowledgment that takes Thomas away from his prints at last and into the park to see the corpse in its phenomenal unequivocalness. It is interesting that he is interrupted in his new way of seeing by what sounds like the click of a camera shutter.

Having taken these first steps away from his camera, Thomas will not be able to return to its mediating protection. When he comes back to his studio, the prints are no longer there. It is here that Antonioni introduces another parable in his continuing commentary on the nature of the esthetic process. In search of Jane, Thomas reenters a part of his former world, a rock hall where the Yardbirds are performing. The large crowd filling the hall is presumably there for the music. But when one of the performers who is displeased with the working of his electric guitar smashes it and throws the pieces out to the audience, it is apparent that the crowd is part of a cult–their scrambling for the pieces shows that the fragments of the dead guitar are at least as valuable as the music it performed. By accident, Thomas leaves the night spot in possession of a sizable piece of the cultist instrument. His belonging to this mod and swinging world, as well as his special attention to objets trouves, should make the fragment valuable for him. But he is now in a different moment of his journey. He throws the broken instrument away. A passer-by picks it up, but he too belongs to a different world (the world outside the rock hall–the night spot being, like the studio, the encapsulated world of a limited number of imposed acceptances): the passer-by is unable to read any significance into the broken guitar which is now discarded for good.

One by one, the unidimensional voices of the closed world in which Thomas dwelled must be stilled. After the uselessness of his camera, he must experience the uselessness of his friends. Late that night, the pot party, at which he tries to talk about the corpse in the park, turns into the same kind of separateness as the enlarged prints. Nor is this the end. Since every spiritual journey is essentially a process of denudation, Thomas must lose even the evidence of his phenomenal world. When he returns to the park the following day, the corpse which he had seen by night is no longer there. Thomas is now ready to enact and demonstrate the final parable. As he walks towards the tennis courts, he finds the same Rag Week students (whose presence opens and closes the picture): they are miming a tennis game. There are no rackets, there is no ball: many of the critics who sensed the importance of this final scene assumed that when the mimes direct their attention to Thomas by casting an imaginary tennis ball at his feet and inviting him to return it, Thomas' acceptance signifies his final and irremediable sinking into the world of illusion. This interpretation would not seem to conform either to the previous evolution of Thomas or to the kind of illusion which the mimes represent.

The illusion which the Rag Week students indulge momentarily is of their own making; it is not the passive acceptance of someone else's imposition. They are not victims of a set of circumstances (like Bill) but the creators of those circumstances (possibly, even serious creators: they are students and they have been seen previously mingling with a group of peace demonstrators): their illusion is a game, not a truth born of a camera or a cultist guitar. In the exclusive world of the mod swinger, the neo-individualist establishes his identity through the isolation of induced forms of inwardness–the deafening pitch of his music that encloses him within a world of sound, the narcissism of his dancing that refuses touch, the solitariness of his drug-attained states, the asexual nature of his episodic promiscuity (all of which Blow-up examines). And he performs these attempts at individuality in the midst of large and identical groups, accepting a number of given illusions as the emblem of his difference. In contrast with these groups, the small cluster of Rag Week students creates for a moment a willed act of illusion (its gaily outlandish dress and masking) of which the mimed tennis game is symbolic. We may well assume that when Thomas returns the imaginary ball to the mimes, in a participatory gesture, he has understood that the self-hypnosis of looking for a leg in a non-objective painting or a gun within the black and white blots of a blow-up is sterile. His gesture is an affirmation of life that rejects both the unquestioning acceptance of surfaces and the imposition of answers dictated by those surfaces. Within an expanded, existential consciousness, the artifact will henceforth require anxious questioning (since it will be the artist's expression), but it will no longer be expected to yield the ready answers that still questioning.

Other than being a photographic term, a blow-up is also the explosion that destroys what formerly was. Like Fellini's movies, this one ends in the morning, when the light of day exposes the illusions and the lies of the night (here the actual night and the permanent night of the photographer's studio that is only artificially lit). As Thomas walks away, the sound of a ball being struck by tennis rackets is heard, as once was heard the rustling of the park trees within Thomas' studio. It remains for the spectator to determine whether the sounds are now part of his own reality or part of a rejected image.


1. Translated by Roy Huss (Focus, p. 5). However thoughtful the statements of a movie maker, they are no match for the instant pronouncements of his reviewers. Antonioni also said: "I do not really intend to make a film about London. The same story could be shot in New York, perhaps also in Stockholm, and certainly in Paris." "As for knowing if it tells a story about our time, or, on the contrary, a story without any relevance to our world, I am incapable of deciding" (Focus, pp. 10, 11). Nevertheless, the film was generally regarded as a disquisition on the swinging London youth scene–if the reviewer was of a swinging turn of mind–or as a social comment when the reviewer was possessed of a social consciousness. Etc.

2. Leading socially-conscious critics to logical developments about the hero's alienation in a mercantile world.

3. Nor is there absolute proof that Jane, after her first outburst in the park, is particularly desperate to recover the film. In Thomas' studio, her attention certainly strays from her purpose and she does not treat the spurious roll, when she has it, as an object of special concern.

4. When he will show Bill's woman what might be the corpse in one of the magnified prints, she will look at it with unseeing eyes and tell him, "Looks like one of Bill's paintings."