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“Blow-up,” by Peter Brunette, from The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni (Cambridge: - page 3 / 11





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ends up approximately in the same place as the movie cam­era), thus further linking the two apparatuses in this shot. More conven­tionally, the still shots of Verushka taken by Hemmings are signified by various frozen jumpcuts in the film we are seeing, in other words, through the movie camera. Later, in the initial scene in the park, the movie camera pans back and forth, replicating both the movement of Hemmings's gaze and the movement of his still camera. Much later, when the photographer begins to put together the crucial blow-ups in order to reconstruct the murder in the park, Antonioni's movie camera abruptly zooms in on the still pictures as though forcefully to remind the audience both of its pres­ence as mediating agent and its connection to the photographer's camera.

It is difficult to fix Antonioni's intentions here, but virtually all of his films, as we have seen, can be interpreted as questioning, ambivalently, perhaps, the phallic, penetrating power of his own camera. His decision in this film to move to a male protagonist who is a photographer seems, among other things, to have been made to more directly foreground this problematic. Hemmings is an obnoxious human being, a predatory male who says he is sick of all the "birds" and "bitches" he comes in contact with. The models he lives off of are grotesquely anorexic beings, horribly made up, who have been turned into near-monsters. The screaming artificiality of their clothes, hairdos, and poses (underlined by the presence of artificial props such as clothespins, carefully placed out of sight of Hemmings's camera) strip them of any residual humanity. These women have been completely made into objects for the dominating male gaze, a literalization of a conventional power dynamic that, if contested by more recent feminist film theory, seems in full operation here.10

Furthermore, Vanessa Redgrave walks through nearly their entire scene together in his apartment naked from the waist up, in a supremely vulner­able position. The director seems to implicate himself as well in the creation of this vulnerability, since the camera performs an elaborate choreography to keep from showing her breasts (thus paradoxically foregrounding them even more, while still avoiding the threat of censorship). Hemmings's big­gest compliment to her is that she would make a good model, and earlier in the scene in the park, several shots were aimed down on the Redgrave character, putting her in an extremely servile position visually.

Hemmings treats the cockney "birds" with disgust (asking one of them her name and then quickly saying, "What's the use of a name?" and "Just tell me what they call you in bed") and pulls their clothes off, making them, like Redgrave, embarrassed and vulnerable as well. (Note also that their offer of sex - like Redgrave's - is part of an economic exchange, condi­tioned on getting something nonsexual from him in return, and that the "orgy" takes place on and through the blue background of the models' photo shoot, further equating the two groups of women.) They are "appro­priately" servile when putting his shoes back on him after the orgy, before he ruthlessly dismisses them.

Though on one level he may be critiquing "typical" male behavior in the person of Hemmings, the director seems also to be enjoying vicariously, as it were, the parade of women who show up to abase themselves at the photographer's feet. In fact, the director told interviewer Aldo Tassone: "I like the protagonist, I love the life he leads. When I was preparing the film I also led this kind of life and I had a lot of fun. It was an agreeable life, but one that I was leading in order to follow the character, and not because it was my own."11

It is important to point out that many male critics tend to see the film, and all its attendant self-reflexivity, as a benign exploration of the nature of artistic creativity and not in any way as a critique of the male figure. Seymour Chatman, for example, takes Hemmings as

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