Past Perfect

Blow Up

To get us thinking more about these issues, the students heading to Greece got together in late March 2011 to watch the classic 1966 film, “Blow Up,” directed by the Italian director, Michelangelo Antonioni. The film–about a seemingly carefree fashion photographer in London whose attitude toward the world around him changes abruptly when he comes to believe that he may have inadvertently witnessed a murder while shooting random pictures in a park.

This film nicely exemplifies the point of this blog: that narratives of the past, and the perspectives of those telling these narratives, are all we have when it comes to this thing we call the past. In the case of the film, the narrative consists of the afternoon’s photos later arranged around his loft, including the blow ups–increasingly blotchy enlargements in which he finally “sees” a man with a gun aiming at a romantic couple and, ultimately, a corpse laying on the ground.

The question is, however, what actually happened in the park since, as he himself later confesses to a friend, he saw a man murdered but he didn’t see it happen. He “saw” it only through the narrative of events that he created long after the event had apparently happened (and, apparently, right in front of him).

Which brings to mind what the artist, Bill, who lives next door to the photographer, said, concerning his abstract paintings which, while creating them, are meaningless to him:

“Afterwards, I find something to hang on to…. Then it sorts itself out and adds up. It’s like finding a clue in a detective story.”

When viewed through the lens of this blog, this line could be said to be the heart of this film–meaning, identity, significance are all hindsight creations, concocted with the benefit of a lens or filter that enables the viewer, the social actor, simultaneously to focus/ignore (operations that presuppose each other). And all this is done in a manner that tells us everything about the perspective of the framer and perhaps very little, if anything, about the item the frame allows us to “see” and “experience.”

Consider the following scene, featuring the 1960s group The Yardbirds, as an example of how the film portrays the creation of meaning–in this case, the meaning of a broken guitar neck thrown into the audience by guitarist Jeff Beck, for which the film’s protagonist fights. The message? Meaning is contextual, fleeting, and if so, then once outside the frame (in this case, what quickly turns into a frenzied club venue), the much coveted object becomes….

 

Watch the entire film (with Polish subtitles) here.

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