The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 24, 2010

Mark Schuster, movie review: Controversial films worth an evening’s watching

By Mark Schuster
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — “Blow-Up”

A photographer snaps pictures of a couple in a park ... thus begins one of the most discussed, analyzed and ambiguous mysteries in cinema history.

The first English language film directed by acclaimed Italian film-maker Michaelangelo Antonioni, “Blow-Up” scandalized audiences upon its initial release in 1966. Rarely had a mainstream film dealt so openly with the questionable moral fiber of a society’s younger generation. “Blow-Up” ushered in a new morality in cinema, and set a new bar for the inclusion of graphic content in film.

The film, with its sensationalism, would merely be a flash-in-the-pan of cinema history, were it not for the rich foundation of mystery the film is built upon.

Thomas, a young photographer (played expertly by David Hemmings) has achieved all the trappings of material success. He spends his days photographing the world’s top fashion models, driving around London in his Rolls-Royce and discussing the publication of his forthcoming book with his agent. The world he inhabits is rich but empty, exciting but apathetic.

One day, on a walk through a park, Thomas notices a man and woman embracing in a picturesque meadow. Concealing himself, he begins to photograph the couple. Apparently satisfied, he goes on his way.

Through a series of suspicious incidents, including a tensely erotic encounter with the woman from the park (played by Vanessa Redgrave), Thomas begins to realize that there is something in the pictures he took that nobody was supposed to see.

In one of the classic sequences from the film, Thomas begins to obsessively blow-up smaller and smaller elements of the pictures, until, through the masterful use of editing, the audience and Thomas simultaneously begin to realize that something very sinister was happening in the park that morning.

But will Thomas be able to prove it, and if he could prove it, does he really want to get involved?

Antonioni meticulously crafted every aspect of the film, reportedly listening to hundreds of recordings of wind blowing through leaves before deciding on the soundtrack for the scenes in the park. Antonioni also ordered whole streets painted different colors to reflect the mood of the protagonist, Thomas, as he speeds through London in his Rolls-Royce. The attention to detail pays off, as the film is both visually stunning and emotionally gripping throughout.

“Blow-Up” remains a challenging, rewarding, and exciting viewing experience even 44 years after it was first released. While the film openly addresses topics such as the subjective nature of reality, it never loses touch with the strange, intriguing mystery at its core.

Director Antonioni paints the canvas of “Blow-Up” with the broad and confident strokes of a true master film-maker. One of the greatest films of the ’60s, it remains a mystery for the ages.



“Knife in the Water”

There are a handful of great films that stand common cinematic sense on its head and drastically limit their settings.

Films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” and “Rear Window” set a standard of excellence for this type of film. They are able to milk their stifling, claustrophobic locales for all they are worth, and the results are that much stronger for it.

Another film in this vein, lesser known but equally brilliant, is Roman Polanski’s Polish-language debut feature, “Knife in the Water.”

The setup is deceptively simple: A married couple picks up a handsome young hitchhiker on their way to a holiday at sea. Reacting to some primitive flare of machismo, the much older husband invites the man along on the holiday, intending to use the tiny forum of the boat to showcase his masculine skills.

As tensions between the two men escalate, events quickly begin a downward spiral towards tragedy.

A brilliant study of masculine hubris, as well as one of the greatest films of Polanski’s storied career, “Knife in the Water” wrings more suspense out of its scenario than it has any right to. A wonderful precursor to the Polanski masterpieces that would follow, “Knife in the Water” is sexy, sly and brilliantly subversive -- the perfect way to spend an evening.