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Screens Reprint

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Four decades later, 'Blow-Up' is still compelling, but decidedly unhip

Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up was scandalous in 1966 and is startling now, albeit for different reasons: Then, its few nude scenes were decadent; today, the grotesque emaciation of its actresses quashes any potential titillation. Then, showing characters smoking pot was daring; now, we wonder how this gray London (where a roomful of motionless 20-somethings stare dead-eyed as the Yardbirds go wild) could ever have been called "swinging."

Blow-Up
Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni; writ. Julio Cortázar (short story), Antonioni, Tonino Guerra; feat. David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills (NR)
Mostly, though, contemporary viewers will be shocked that '60s hipsters might have identified with the celebrity fashion photographer played by David Hemmings, whose misogyny was evidently once perceived as cool aloofness. He's a repulsive man, full of himself and contemptuous of the world. However unlikable the character, Hemmings' performance is a triumph; every gesture is perfectly tailored.

Blow-Up is, famously, a mystery that goes nowhere. Hemmings is playing shutterbug in a park, spying on a pair of lovers who don't want his attention, when he accidentally snaps what may be evidence of a murder. He finds this ambiguous evidence later, while making prints from his negatives. That scene, in which he enlarges sections of the photo, examines them with a magnifying glass, and tries to make sense of what he sees, has rightfully entered the film-history books. Another sequence - a fashion shoot in which Hemmings and model Verushka writhe around as if they are having sex - has made its own mark on pop culture, inspiring an Austin Powers spoof.

Iconic sequences aside, the movie may leave new viewers cold. Its deliberately ambiguous ending and the complicated themes within (How does Hemmings' professional exploitation reflect on the director? Discuss.) make for fascinating post-viewing debates, but the film refuses to connect in the way a contemporary audience usually expects.

Texas Public Radio reboots their beloved Cinema Tuesdays this week with Blow-Up, and they're making a special offer to cinephiles who by now know the series' value. Fans who act before May 31 (contact info below) can purchase a season pass for $150. With 17 films scheduled, that's a $20 savings for TPR members or a whopping $54 off for non-members. You know what to do.

Blow-Up screens at 7:30 pm, Tuesday May 24, at the Bijou at Crossroads Theatre. Tickets are $10 TPR members, $12 nonmembers, available at tpr.org or 1-800-622-8777.

By John DeFore

Blow-Up
Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni; writ. Julio Cortázar (short story), Antonioni, Tonino Guerra; feat. David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills (NR)


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