Time Traveling, "Blow Up" DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 03-20-08, 06:25 PM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
Posts: 792
Time Traveling, "Blow Up" DVD review

I decided to do a little time traveling over the last couple of days so I borrowed
some DVDs from my local library. There's always a danger taking out discs because
people tend not to take care of items they don't own. Many DVDs I've tried to watch from
our libraries have so many scratches and nicks in them they freeze up or the image breaks
apart into pixels. It appears that some people were using them for coasters.

Fortunately the two I did borrow played fine. In fact I doubt whether many people took
them out considering the titles. They were Antonioni's "Blow Up" and Sydney Pollack's
"Castle Keep". Both are extremelly dated and self consciously arty movies that do give
a glipse into into the worldview of the era and attitudes of the time. Both contain
counter-culture and Vietnam references and are difficult to impossible to comprehend.
Intentionally so.

The better of the two is "Blow Up". It's probably Italian director, Antonioni's only mainstream
feature which indicates how inaccessible his other movies are. It was hit when it came out
in 1966 which may confuse many viewers today since so much of it is cliched. But they weren't
cliches decades ago when first produced. Historically it's significant because it was the first
movie that MGM released without a Production Code Seal. They couldn't obtain one because
of some mild nudity and pot smoking. It would probably get a PG-13 today. While there's
a plot of sorts that weaves in and out of the strange sequences, the movie is primarily about
alienation and the old 'what is real' bit which was typical of the era. A young 24 year David
Hemmings (Mordrid in "Camelot" the following year) plays one of those Fellini type characters
who lives life impassively and doesn't relate to anyone. He plays a fashion photographer who
shoots stills of skinny, bolemic looking models but doesn't seem interested in them or anything
else. There's even a brief orgy scene when two teenagers come looking for work but he throws
them out after rolling around semi naked in his backdrops which was the sequence that kept
the picture from receiving the Seal. He only seems to show some interest in his surroundings
when he takes some random shots of Vanessa Redgrave (Gueneviere in "Camelot") with her older boyfriend in the park. She discovers his covert photography and visits his studio demanding he give her the negatives. Redgrave even takes her top off to seduce him into letting them go but he gives her a different roll of film instead. When Hemmings (who has no name in the film) develops the shots he
thinks he sees a gun aiming at the man. Later shots seem to show him dead in the bushes.
He begins to blow up the images so they are larger but the bigger they get, the fuzzier the image
and he begins to question his sanity. Is it real or isn't it? Was there a murder or is he trying
to project his theory onto unrelated shapes of film grain. Since this is an Antonioni film,
you won't get a resolution to the mystery which will probably anger a lot of people.

This 'plot' is only a small portion of the running time. The rest of the picture examines 'Mod'
London with hippies, rock concerts, groupies and Vietnam war protestors running amuck with psychedelic colors in bizarre compositions. I must admit I found that aspect of the film entertaining. Actually it was pretty funny since these types took themselves seriously back then. The Hemmings character doesn't seem too interested in them which is supposed to make him a symbol of post-modern alienation...I think.

The 16:9 transfer is pretty good considering the film was released in Metrocolor instead of Technicolor. There are some scenes where it's obvious the color or contrast had faded and the transfer technicians were pushing the image to the maximum which resulted in some murkiness and grain. There's even
a shot where a hair blob wiggles on the bottom of the frame. They should've digitally painted it
out unless it was intentional and in a film like this one never knows. After all, Ingmar Bergman
shot the film breaking in the gate in "Persona" which was part of the movie. Overall however, it
looks pretty good for a 42 year old Eastmancolor film. Colors are very intense. Green is really green and the artist's studio is full of vibrant primaries. The narrative is book ended with a group of hippie mimes who pass by the photographer. At the end they begin to play a game of invisible tennis and Hemmings starts to hear the sounds of the ball being hit indicating that life is an illusion or whatever. Antonioni never explained the story. I'm not sure he could. It's one of those sixties' pictures that if you didn't 'get it' you weren't 'with it' which almost exempts it from criticism.

When it was released, some reviewers thought this movie was a masterpiece. I would call it an
interesting curio now. You might enjoy the period atmosphere and Hemmings skinny, mop topped swinger. Or you might find it boring, pretentious and frustrating. Either way
it's a very slowly paced film. Hemmings died a few years ago and was almost unrecognizable.
Like Brando he became grotesquely overweight as he got older. I wonder what he thought when he
watched himself in this picture as one of the icons of the sixties. If you log onto www.google.com
you can find some photos of him in the last years of his life along with the famous
image of him standing over a model with his camera from this movie. Be prepared for a shock.

In comparison, Sydney Pollack's "Castle Keep" (1969) is even more confusing and frustrating. It
had a huge budget and was a huge dud upon release. If you like action scenes, skip ahead
to the last twenty minutes and you'll see some spectacular explosions and gunfire in
a simulated 'Battle of the Bulge' climax. Before then it's anyone's guess what this film
was supposed to accomplish. The 16:9 transfer and Technicolor Panavision cinematography
and compositions are excellent. The 4 channel sound is also good. The cast is fine
with Burt Lancaster, Patrick O'Neal and Peter Falk. The only thing they didn't have was
a coherant story.

I guess it's supposed to be some kind of symbolic commentary about Vietnam and the futility
of war. Lancaster plays a hawkish Captain leading a group of weary "Dirty Dozen" type
of misfits into a Castle to defend it against the advancing German army. O'Neal is a historian
who wants to save the rare artwork inside. Falk is a baker who wants to cook for the soldiers.
The rest perfer to hang out at the local bordello rather than fight. Lancaster realizes that they are greatly out numbered but decides to hold their position even if they are killed and all of the artwork destroyed which of course it is showing how destructive war is. The trouble is, the film is really about Vietnam not World War II which is an uneasy fit. You won't too find many people around today defending
our participation in Vietnam. On the other hand who can deny that World War II was a necessary conflict we had to win. The linkage doesn't make sense.
Nor does the group of misfits who have shaggy sixties style hair and talk like drop outs with anachronistic philosophy. If it's supposed to be 'symbolic' then Pollack didn't come up with a style suited to this approach. It looks like a realistic war film populated with counter-culture types. Some choppy editing doesn't help either. Scenes are cut short before you can get involved
with the characters. By the time you get to the final battle, you aren't emotionally involved
with them, just bewildered. For example, there's a scene where Scott Wilson seems to
worship a Volkswagon that just won't sink in the moat surrounding the castle and he's
able to drive it out...on the water. Go figure that out. Is it supposed to mystical or funny?
Pollack's direction doesn't indicate which. I suppose it's possible that the
studio removed a lot of expository footage at the beginning which explained
the characters and their motivation but I'm just guessing.
As it stands now, none of the charcters make any sense. For instance,
immediately after arriving at the castle, we find Lancaster in bed with
the owner's wife. No set up seduction or explanation is given. Pollack just
cuts to it. You response will probably be "huh?".

The movie seems to have it's defenders today. Some of you might thing it's worth watching just for the location photography and climax. Give it a shot if you dare but don't say you weren't warned. Also avoid the earlier pan/scanned version released
on DVD.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 03-21-08 at 04:32 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


blow up , dvd , review , time , traveling

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