April 2nd, 2009

BLOW UP (1966) **

I've heard this movie referred to as "revolutionary" and "highly influential".  I didn't really get all of that out of watching it though.  Then again, this is the first flick released by a major studio to show full frontal female nudity (albeit very briefly), so I guess that does make it pretty revolutionary.  Mostly though, Blow Up is just one of those arty Italian deals where people do a lot of random shit and the filmmaker tries to pass it off as a "movie". 


A temperamental photographer (David Hemmings) takes some pictures, yells at some models, takes some more pictures, goes shopping for antiques, harasses a woman in the park, buys a propeller, gets stoned, watches two half-naked chicks wrestle, wanders around a lot, watches some mimes pretend to play tennis and uh... thinks he took a picture of a murder.


Blow Up was directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.  Supposedly this dude is like one of those cinematic "geniuses" or something.  All I know is that he ain't no John McTiernan or Renny Harlin.  He definitely doesn't know dick when it comes to telling a story.  I mean, it takes a whole hour of Hemmings lollygagging around before the whole murder plot kicks in.  Even then, not much is ever done with it.  I probably won't be watching another Antonioni movie any time soon, I can tell you that.


The symbolism in the film's final scene is kinda striking though.  I mean you got Hemmings standing idly by and watching a bunch of mimes play tennis.  Is Antonioni trying to say that Hemmings represents the mimes and his search for the murderer in the photo represents the imaginary game of tennis?  Is Antonioni basically telling us that the murder, like the tennis ball, didn't exist?  My feeling is that the mimes (and to a lesser extent, tennis) are meant to represent the movie itself, which is to say that it's just one big waste of time.


I will say that Hemmings is quite good and helps to carry the movie throughout its more self-indulgent scenes.  The score by Herbie Hancock is kinda groovy, although I prefer his music from Death Wish a lot better.  Speaking of music, you also get to see The Yardbirds (featuring Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page) performing in a club too.


Brian DePalma later ripped this movie off 25 years later with Blow Out.  At least that flick kicked a little ass.


Future director Piers (Blood on Satan's Claw) Haggard got his start as a "dialogue assistant".


Steve McQueen stars as Thomas Crown, a rich businessman who moonlights as a bank robber for "kicks".  Actually he doesn't really rob the banks himself, he just calls a bunch of dudes on the phone and they do all the legwork while Crown hangs out in his office and reaps the rewards.  Meanwhile, a catty insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) is hot on his heels trying to recover all the loot Crown has stolen.  Predictably, Crown steals her heart as well.


Director Norman Jewison uses split-screen and multi-paneled frames for a lot of scenes.  I guess he was trying to create suspense or something, but the end result actually detracts from the suspense and makes things pointlessly arty looking.  I can see why Jewison would do all these fancy-schmanzy camera tricks during the robberies, but when he starts doing it during a throwaway polo game, it gets a bit aggravating.  This needless self-indulgentness dampens the mood of what could've been a fun flick and will get on your damn nerves by about the tenth time it's used.  (The annoying theme song, "The Windmills of Your Mind" will also bug the shit out of you as well.)  My guess is that Jewison knew that he was making a vapid brain-dead movie and had to spice things up somehow with all the multi-camera chicanery.


It also doesn't help that McQueen (who also starred in The Cincinnati Kid for Jewison) is woefully miscast.  Sure, he's great in stuff like Bullitt where he can be a total badass, but here he just seems all wrong as a suave, smooth-talking businessman.  Although he has a modicum of chemistry with Dunaway (the chess-as-foreplay scene is quite memorable), neither of them have enough scenes together to make the flick worthwhile.


The film was remade 31 years later with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.  It wasn't great but at least Russo got naked every chance she got.  Dunaway doesn't get naked in this one, so it goes without saying that the '99 version is much better.


AKA:  The Crown Caper.  AKA:  Thomas Crown and Company.