Thursday, 30 March 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare rediscovers the magic of Antonioni in Criterion's 4K edition of BLOW UP

(Click to enlarge)
A row of chalk painted, wordless mimics looks past the audience to David Hemmings ("Thomas") off screen who is about to join their pantomime of reality in the next shot after glimpsing what might or might not have been in reality a killing, early on in Antonioni's majestic first English language feature, Blow Up from 1966.

Criterion and Warner MTI have remastered the film in 4K from a new inter-positive of the original Eastman (Metro) color 35mm negative and in the process they've made reparation for twenty plus years of very badly skewed color timed and poorly printed video and broadcast reissues since the first run. First release prints were razor sharp with gorgeous fine grain and pristine color balance, with Antonioni himself going to the trouble of spray painting trees and grass and objects like the red London Public Telephone booths to particular shades of green and red to perfectly balance the color compositions.

Antonioni's attention to the expressive elements of color is perhaps less subtle here than it is in Red Desert (Italy, 1964), but the clarity of Blow Up's color is very much in character with the strongly linear narrative which is then very consciously designed to stop abruptly midway in the film. This then leaves Thomas free to question his own alienation after the early glimpse of potential mystery, and in the process Antonioni formally inverts the ideas in the ending of L'Eclisse (Italy, 1962), his outright masterpiece, in which the camera becomes the last silent witness to a narrative and characters who have disappeared in a now dead landscape with a short montage that suggest, like Chris Marker that the world may have ended.

In Blow Up Antonioni brings back the troupe of mimes who have been spotted briefly twice before and shows them enacting a mimed game of tennis in the park for the finale, in the spot where Thomas had previously witnessed or perhaps not witnessed a death. Thus the wide shot above, with Thomas only visible in the next shot.

Then the picture ends with the notion that the "reality" of the exposition which leads Thomas nowhere is being played out with the actors in the film enacting a mime to vivify a landscape that was previously hinting at death, or, like the final montage of L'Eclisse, a landscape actually devoid of life. So, the gaze, his gaze, the actors' gaze, our gaze is what creates the life and the narrative, if any.

Vanessa Redgrave
The new Criterion and 4K exemplarily returns the film to its original visual glory, with not a trace of the ugly gray undercoat that seemed to permeate the old PAL and NTSC DVD's. It also restores the film to its original aspect ratio of 1.85, which was Antonioni's preferred AR after L'Avventura (Italy, 1960), in which he fell in love with the widescreen frame and its expressive potential.

One of the greatest films of the director, and of all cinema.

Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings

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