Inspired by my friend That Film Girl's recent write up about it, I decided to revisit the first true "art-film" that I ever saw, 1966's Blowup. Here's her piece, you should check it out, it's great: http://thatfilmgirl.blogspot.com/2009/02/spotlight-michelangelo-antonionis-blow.html. I first came across Blowup when I was about 14 or so. I watched it due to the promise of naked women within (which as a 14-year-old without the internet was reason enough to do anything), and was instead exposed to my first real taste of European cinema.
Blowup was the first English language movie by legendary Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, and it deals with about 24+ hours in the life of a London fashion photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings). He's bored with the models he's working with and decides to visit the park and shoot some landscapes to clear his mind. He sees a couple strolling through the park and includes them on a few of the photos. But when the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) sees him and almost hysterically demands the film, Thomas is intrigued and develops the film back at his studio. What he sees in one shot is the woman looking off into the bushes where he thinks he sees a man with a gun. In another shot he took, he sees a body lying in a different set of bushes. Has he seen what he thinks he's seen? Is his mind playing tricks on him? Some (though not all) of the pictures just look like indiscernible black and white shapes to us, but Thomas obviously sees something there. If the man in the bushes had a gun, and the other man in the bushes is dead, why didn't Thomas hear a gunshot? Why is the woman, who seemingly isn't directly involved in the murder, so adamant about retrieving the footage?
Antonioni plays this like his version of a Hitchcock thriller. But whereas Hitchcock typically wanted his audience to be caught up in the story and the characters, Antonioni looks at things a bit more psychologically here. More importantly, he gets us to think about it too. All of the questions that come up, their seeming unconnectedness; hell, he even had me wondering when Thomas is talking to a neighbor about his photos and she asks "I wonder why they shot him?" it made me think "Hey, Thomas never said anything about 'shoot', just 'murder'. And the picture of the guy in the bushes isn't out for her to see." It made me wonder just how Redgrave was able to so quickly find Thomas when she comes to his apartment. Is this neighbor woman involved somehow? Is it Redgrave that ransacks his apartment after he's (purposefully) given her the wrong film role? Wouldn't she have just destroyed the film? There's no reason for her to have developed it and found out he gave her the wrong role. She probably wouldn't have even had time to do it. Antonioni never gives us the answers, but never leaves things so vague that you think he's just messing with us.
The final sequence has been much discussed. It's a scene where Thomas good humoredly observes a group of mimes acting out a tennis match. When the "ball" gets knocked over his way, he picks it up and tosses it back to the mimes. He continues to follow the game and begins hearing the actual sounds of a tennis match. Antonioni is making a point about the nature of reality. The ball is real to the mimes, so what does it matter that it's not technically real? Thomas believes what he saw in his photographs, does it matter that it might've not actually happened that way? What did happen? Where do reality and perception meet and where do they part? Few major films have ever explored such a concept as well as Blowup.
P.S. These concepts were in fact explored in other major films. Notably the Francis Ford Coppola movie The Conversation, which he made between The Godfather and The Godfather, part II. It starred Gene Hackman as a guy who does audio surveillance on a couple. Did he hear "He'd kill us if he got the chance" or did he hear "He'd kill us if he got the chance"? It wasn't a straight up remake, but it was fairly close. However, it is also a masterpiece and required viewing for all movie buffs (some even consider it Coppola's greatest achievement). The same concepts were supposedly again explored in the Brian De Palma/John Travolta collaboration Blowout, but I haven't seen it.