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“Blow-up,” by Peter Brunette, from The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni (Cambridge: - page 6 / 11

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Another way of saying this is that all reality and all meaning are achieved contextually^ by means of the frame around a given bit of reality, since someone watching from afar, not participating in the group's meaning-giving operation, would think that they were all insane. The importance of context and framing in the establishment of meaning is demonstrated ear­lier in the film when Hemmings fights wildly for the broken piece of guitar that one of the members of the Yardbirds rock group has thrown to the audience. Once Hemmings is out of the club, out of the meaning-giving context, he realizes that the broken piece has absolutely no value whatso­ever, and tosses it away. Emphasizing the point, another man comes along, picks it up, examines it quizzically, and then throws it away again. (The film itself is "framed" by the mimes at beginning and end, and they them­selves are doubled by the same patch of grass that is below the opening credits and that fills the film's final shot.)

During the mimed tennis match at the end of the film, for a while we watch the photographer watching the invisible ball, but then he and we even begin to hear the sound of the ball. Here the inherent (but usually disguised) split between the visual and aural track that marks all films is used expressively, in this case, perhaps, to imply that membership in the meaning-giving group is always open to us as well. We are part of the way there, in other words, if not the whole way; an act of will, like Hemmings's, can presumably complete the loop of communication. It is also suggested that membership in this group is only a logical extension of film spectator-ship itself, through the film apparatus, which, after all, is already dependent on a group understanding of its cinematic codes. The camera ostentatiously participates in this construction of meaning from the beginning of this scene, when it "follows" the arc of the invisible ball through the air, over the fence. The camera then comes to rest at a specific point in the grass, implying that even if we cannot see anything there, the camera does, or better, it puts it there, through its very act of attention.

The crucial presence of the cinematic codes (and the fact that meaning is never natural but always a product of an unconscious, group construction) is further, and wittily, underlined when the photographer suddenly disap­pears in a jump cut worthy of the early silent films of director Georges Melies, just before we read 'The End."21 This technique reminds us that the photographer is not a real person, but a fictional character, a graphic mark, a made-up "sign" for the purposes of the film, which the director can now decide playfully to delete if he so chooses. We are also forcefully made aware of the presence of the director, of a controlling hand, an Other, outside the confines of the story and the film itself. According to Seymour Chatman, Antonioni has said that Hemmings's disappearance at the end is the director's "autograph" (p. 145 ).22

Closely related to the questions that we have been exploring is what might be called the film's aesthetic theme, which is pronounced by another visual artist, the photographer's painter friend, Bill. Bill represents a curious doubling, on Antonioni's part, of the artist figure and suggests that one character was not sufficient to explore the ambivalences and nuances of this thematic area. This time around, Antonioni seems to want to make explicit the linking of abstract painting and filmmaking/photography that has been present in his films from the first. (This specific attention to abstract art, thematized even in the dialogue, may also explain why the cinematography of Blow-up is, paradoxically, itself much less abstract in design.) The first painting that Bill shows Hemmings looks cubist in inspiration. He tells Hemmings that "they don't mean anything when I do them, it's just a mess. Afterwards I find something to hang on to. Like that leg [he points]. Then it sorts itself out and adds up." In the plainest link to the unfolding film he is a part of, Bill goes on to say that "it's like finding a clue in a detective story."23

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