Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The disturbing wrongness of Antonioni's Blowup Alyssa Rosenberg's response to my earlier post reminded me that I never got around to finishing the discussion of Blowup I started in this one, but before doing so I want to note something that my students teased from the film yesterday. Antonioni structures the film around a series of moments in which the sound and actors and actions are at odds with the world. The first involves the mimes at the beginning of the film: Why is that mime's mouth open? Because she is yelling. The second scene occurs slightly after this shot: The blonde on the left is willing to have sex with Thomas in exchange for photographs, but the brunette in the center is not. So what happens? The blonde helps Thomas strip her friend and he proceeds to rape her. How does she react? She laughs while resisting. The third scene occurs at the Yardbirds' concert: As Keith Relf sings about "strolling on" and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck dual it out on guitars, the crowd remains eerily immobile. The fourth (and most famous) instance finishes up the film: Having retrieved and returned the imaginary ball for the (now silent) tennis-playing mimes, Thomas stares at them and begins to hear an actual tennis match. Why Antonioni created this disconnect between the sound and the onscreen actions in a film that obsesses on the visual is not a question I can answer at the moment. But it is significant that the screaming mimes, giggling victims, unmoved attendees and impossible tennis all contribute to the overweening sense of wrongness that permeates the film. What do I mean by that? In addition to the above, there is the opening sequence in which Antonioni violates the 180° rule by having the van full of mimes exit to and emerge from the right: Followed by an eyeline match between people in different areas of the city: To a bizarre series of cuts in which the camera seems to flip along the vertical axis as Thomas faces the camera: Then turns his back to it: Only to be facing it again immediately thereafter: It feels as if he walks into the camera, which then somersaults to catch his back before darting in front of him to catch his face again, almost as if Antonioni is doing to Thomas, his subject, what Thomas will shortly to do his: It makes a certain amount of narrative sense for the camera to dance in this fashion, if only because it places the audience in the role of the model being surveilled, but the result of this odd sequence of shots is a profound and deliberate disorientation. The audience is unclear where it stands with relation to the diegetic world depicted onscreen—which it now occurs to me may be the point. Just as Thomas relates, through his camera, to a world that has ceased making sense—as evidenced by his non-evidence of a crime he can't prove was committed—so too does the viewer relate to Thomas' world....
The man is determined to lose. Jack Cashill — the man who claims his literary sensibilities rival those of a latter-day Auerbach — proves yet again, again, to have problems being intellectually honest. In “Obama Does Best When He Says Nothing,” Cashill compares the President to “Chauncey Gardiner, [who] is the protagonist of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1971 prescient satire, Being There, which was later made into a movie of the same name, co-scripted by Kosinski.” Because his ethos, such as it is, relies so heavily on the impression that he is a man of letters, he neglects to inform the reader that the quotations he draws from Kosinski’s “prescient satire” are not, in fact, in the novel. They are, however, in the film. As I am the last person about to denigrate film as a medium, my point here is not to belittle Cashill for quoting from a film, but simply to note that, like most disreputable literary critics, he believes his credibility relies on always being the first to “lose” a game of Humiliation.* *From David Lodge’s Changing Places: He taught them a game he had invented as a postgraduate student, in which each person had to think of a well-known book he hadn’t read, and scored a point for every person present who had read it. The Confederate Soldier and Carol were joint winners, scoring four points out of a possible five with Steppenwolf and The Story of O respectively, Philip in each case accounting for the odd point. His own nomination, Oliver Twist — usually a certain winner — was nowhere. “What do you call that game?” Melanie asked Philip. “Humiliation.” “That’s a great name. Humiliation …” “You have to humiliate yourself to win, you see. Or to stop others from winning. (96)

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