Filmsite Movie Review
Blow-Up (1966)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Blow-UpDallying with the Girl From the Park In The Studio:

At his studio/home as he was about to unlock the street door, the mysterious female breathlessly rushed up to him from down the street (off-screen), again desperately and persistently asking for the illicit photographs (the undeveloped roll of film). She didn't respond to his question: "How did you manage to find me?" and he likewise didn't answer when she inquired: "Do you live here?"

Inside after entering the photo studio and climbing up the stairs to the second floor fashion-shoot dressing area - amidst photo equipment and costuming ostrich plumes, she seemed frazzled and anxious as he offered her a whiskey drink (that she didn't pick up). He confronted her: "What's so important about my bloody pictures?" He asserted that he needed to keep the shots from the park, since he expected them to be very good due to the lighting conditions.

Impatient and jittery, she claimed her private life was disastrous (was she involved in adultery or something more sinister?), and the exposure of the photos would be damaging, although he countered ("So what? Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out"). He suggested that she would be an excellent fashion model for the way she stood and sat: "You've got it." He instructed the neurotic, restless female to stand in front of a lilac-colored paper backdrop and then complimented her: "Not many girls can stand as well as that." He falsely promised: "You'll get your pictures. I promise, I always keep my word," when she claimed she was in a hurry. He also instructed her to sit on the sofa next to him.

Then, while his phone rang, he ignored the call for many rings before lunging or diving for the phone hidden under a chair. He claimed the call (presumably the anticipated call from Patricia) was for her - and then announced: "It's my wife." When the female handed back the phone, Thomas told the caller: "Sorry, love. The bird I'm with won't talk to you."

Toying with the female, he told her a series of alternating, contradictory statements about his relationship with Patricia: his marital status and whether he had kids or lived with her. His falsehoods revealed that he didn't really know where he stood or what he wanted with her. And then he told her about his distaste for his job - photographing pretty fashion models: "But even with beautiful girls you look at them, and that's that....Well, I'm stuck with them all day long." She added: "It would be the same with men."

When he turned up the jazz music already playing, she began to gracelessly dance and nod her head - until he motioned for her to just listen to the jazzy music: "Listen and keep still" and to be cool by moving "against the beat" - a significant viewpoint to be untraditional within the wider cultural world - to reject all current trends.

After some hand-play with his cigarette, she confessed: "I can't stand it. I'm nervous enough as it is." During a short absence to get her some water, she attempted to grab his camera (prominently displayed in the foreground), and run down the stairs, but he had anticipated the attempted theft and flight. At the outer studio door in the path of her exit route, he smiled slyly at her as he intercepted her, and extended his hand for the camera: "And I'm not a fool, love." She then begged piteously: "Can I have the photographs?" He repeated his offer: "Later."

She realized she could acquire the film only by bargaining with her body and sexually submitting herself to him: "Why didn't you say what you want?" She disrobed, becoming topless to sexually flirt with him. With her nudity concealed behind ostrich plumes, he walked over to her as she stood waiting to have him touch her naked breasts, but then he cooly declined: "Get dressed. I'll cut out the negatives you want." In his studio darkroom, he removed the roll from his camera, but then replaced it with a false, different roll of undeveloped film. When he returned a few moments later, she had coyly crossed her arms over her bare chest behind the purple backdrop. With the film roll now in her possession, she decided to remain and enjoy his company. She thanked him with a brief fleeting kiss. She then turned back and received a more forceful kiss as he took her in his arms and directed her toward his bedroom. The decoy film canister was casually tossed onto her discarded blouse as they passed by. Standing bare-chested next to her at his bedroom door, she implored him to ignore his loud door buzzer.

Downstairs, he answered and remembered about the delivery of the propeller that he had bought that morning - an example of pop-art. He unlocked the studio's garage door and helped unload the heavy wooden propeller from the top of a van and bring it inside. The female, still half-naked, watched from the upper floor and suggested a functional purpose for the propeller: "If I had a big room like this, I'd hang it from the ceiling like a fan." He changed the subject and asked her: "Do you live on your own?" And then he proposed to display the 'artwork' in his upstairs studio "like a piece of sculpture." As they smoked cigarettes together (it was unclear whether they had sex together), she happened to glance at her watch, hurried off ("It's late") and slipped on her blouse. Before leaving, she wouldn't confirm one way or the other if they would see each other again, but she provided him with a contact phone number (but it later turned out to be phony).

Photo Room Blow-Ups or Enlargements of the Park Encounter:

In a brilliantly-edited cornerstone to the entire film, the photographer then proceeded to his dark room to process the roll of film taken during his park visit, to discover hidden mysteries that might be there. After examining the strips of 35 mm black and white negatives with a magnifying glass, he enlarged some of the pictures to poster size, and pinned the giant-sized, blown-up photos around his upstairs studio's living room walls during a process of extreme analysis.

He imagined in the process of self-discovery that as the woman embraced the man and looked over his shoulder, she looked tense and panicky, and her line of sight was directed to some shrubbery bushes behind the fence. After staring some more and using a magnifiying glass to study the scene, he marked one square area with a white wax pencil to be further enlarged.

In this new blow-up, there was a white patch in the shadows of the vegetation behind the fence - could it be a man's face? Two additional enlarged photographs showed the female holding out her hand (to cover her face), as she noticed the photographer's movements at the other end of the meadow. The nervous woman also appeared to glance at the shadowy man in the bushes - was she complicit or unknowing? A few more photos showed the couple (the man and the nail-biting woman) slightly separated, and a final shot of the man standing by himself looking down the meadow.

The photographs were arranged in a suspenseful sequence - giving them life and activity as if they were individual frames in a motion picture. The pictures had completely reconstructed the park episode - and they were now much richer and thought-provoking than previously. Originally, he interpreted what he had seen as a simple instance of sexual intrigue. But now, they told a different story - was the man in the bushes a voyeur, part of a deadly threesome, or a threatening individual with a weapon, and had a murder-for-hire been thwarted?

He remembered that the woman had given him her phone number (Knightridge 1239), but when he dialed, it was a wrong number. With one more burst of energy, he enlarged another picture of the bushes, and thought he saw a man's hand holding the fuzzy image of a gun. An additional picture showed the female standing at the far end of the meadow looking down at the foot of a tree (magnified, she appeared to be looking at a body lying face-up on the ground), but didn't pursue any further speculation. For once, the dissatisfied photographer - mired in tedious work and ennui - had finally become aroused by something he could become passionate about. He theorized that his picture-taking might have foiled or interrupted a potential murder attempt.

He phoned Ron with his findings, ecstatic about his discovery, but Ron didn't seem receptive:

Something fantastic's happened. Those photographs in the park, fantastic! Somebody was trying to kill somebody else. I saved his life. Listen, Ron, there was a girl. Ron, will you listen? What makes it so fantastic ---

Thomas' quest for the truth in the photos was side-tracked and interrupted by the annoying sound of his door buzzer. He left the phone off the hook to answer the door (eventually Ron hung up).

Distraction and Temptation: Sexy Photo Romp with Nude Teen Models

The two giggling groupies/models (with red and green tights under their dresses) paid their second visit to his studio, to have their pictures taken with some of his fashionable model outfits. While trying on clothes in the dressing room, the skinny blonde was stripped of her clothes (except for her green tights pulled up to her waist) by Thomas as she ducked behind a wig and clothes rack. He pulled her hair and grabbed her towards him, as she screamed and tried to free herself. Then, the blonde claimed about her dark-haired friend: "She's got a better figure than me," and began to wrestle her - to also strip her friend. A grinning Thomas watched close-by and coached the 'wrestling-boxing match' as the blonde tackled her friend atop a pile of dresses: "Go on, give her a left hook!...I'll put you in the ring together."

The two topless girls ran into the photo-shoot studio where everything evolved into a very sexual, menage a trois orgy with all of them rolling around on the large extended and crushed roll of purplish-blue backdrop paper as their tights were pulled down and completely removed (Thomas called out: "Hold her legs"). There were a few tactful, quick glimpses of female pubic hair from both girls after they were stripped naked, amidst screams and laughter.

Exhausted by the romp, sometime later in the evening, Thomas had fallen asleep on the floor. As he awakened, the two girls (now dressed and still there) helped him to put on his socks and shirt. He stood up - and then completely ignored the two groupies. Tensions were heightened when he was drawn back to the enlargement blow-ups surrounding them on the walls. He returned to his investigation of the situation pictured in the photos, and used a magnifying glass to look at more photo detail. With no time to take photographs with the two expectant teens, he ordered them out ("I'm too whacked! It's your own faults"), but promised photos with the disappointed girls the next day.

Photo Evidence of a Murder?

After enlarging one of the photos, the one of the female standing by the tree and bushes at the far end of the meadow, he studied the two grainy blow-ups and discovered what appeared to be a corpse lying prone on the ground in the far distance. He further imagined a more riveting possibility - that he may have accidentally recorded and obtained visual, criminal evidence of an actual murder - the figure hiding in the bushes with a gun in his hand may have shot and killed the female's elderly paramour. Perplexed, he ran his fingers through his hair, and decided on his next step.

He drove back to the vacant and unlit park that night, passing by a white neon sign (FOA) (symbolically in the shape of a gun). He stooped down to examine the perfectly-posed, gray-haired man's corpse (the cheating woman's middle-aged lover?) next to some bushes at the far-end of the park - he believed it was real proof of a murder that he had accidentally recorded as a witness. Unfortunately, he didn't have his camera (Thomas was at his weakest without it) to photograph the white-faced body of the gray-haired man (with his eyes still open) - who hours earlier had been embracing the female. Was the body real, or only a creative figment of his imagination? He whipped around when he heard the sound of a twig snapping - and cautiously looked into the darkened trees. While turning back repeatedly, he hurriedly ran to the park's exit.

[Note: Certain doppelganger similarities emerged from the plot: (1) the gunman in the bushes and Thomas with his camera were both "shooters" - and at one point, were both 'aiming' from the outside of the frame - on the other side of the fence; (2) if the gunman and the young, blonde stranger outside the restaurant were one and the same, Thomas resembled the stranger; and (3) the stranger pursued Thomas in a car to his studio, and later ransacked and stole the incriminating photos and negatives, and eliminated the corpse]

Distractions: His Relationship with Patricia, and Stolen Photos

When he returned home and entered the ground floor of his studio, he prodded the wooden, disembodied airplane propeller-part with his foot. He walked outside, crossed the courtyard and entered his neighbor's apartment (with the door ajar). Jazzy piano music softly played on a radio as he slowly came down the front corridor, and at a bedroom door opening, he voyeuristically watched his unhappily-married friend Patricia (with a prominent wedding ring on her left hand) underneath her husband Bill as he made love to her. She wordlessly entreated Thomas to not leave, by shaking her head, to stay in view nearby so she could achieve orgasm. Although he was ill at ease, he remained and his presence aroused her passion. The camera panned over to one of Bill's abstract paintings composed of colorful dots.

[Note: In the previous sequence, after being shaken by his second visit to the park, the photographer returned home in order to reassure himself of his solid existence by revisiting circumstances and locations from earlier: the propeller on the floor, the location of the sex-infused Verushka photo shoot, Patricia's marital relationship in the neighbor's apartment, and Bill's painting.]

Back in the second floor of his studio, all of his meaningful reality had suddenly evaporated. The blown-up pictures on the wall and the negatives - tangible evidence of the apparent park murder - were discovered missing and presumably stolen. He was shocked that everything had been overturned and ransacked in his darkroom. Only the extremely grainy blown-up picture of the body on the ground remained - lodged and hidden between two storage cabinets. It was so fuzzy, abstract and indistinct that it was meaningless and proved nothing.

When Patricia stopped by after love-making, she appeared to be wearing a see-through dress, but upon closer scrutiny, it was opaque. He denied to her that he was looking for something. During an awkward, fragmented and disjointed exchange of information, he asked her about her unhappy, unfulfilling marriage: "Do you ever think of leaving him?" - she responded ambiguously and inarticulately about her dissatisfaction: "No, I don't think so." He told her that he saw an unidentified "someone" shot and killed in the park that morning - and she asked a very grounded, highly-crucial question:

Are you sure?

He didn't directly answer!, but asserted that the body was still there. But when she asked about how it happened, he answered: "I don't know. I didn't see." He ignored her suggestion to call the police. She commented, importantly, that the only picture he had of the body "looks like one of Bill's paintings." Before leaving, however, she sincerely begged for help with her tangled relationship: "Will you help me? I don't know what to do," but then distractedly changed the subject back to the murder: "I wonder why they shot him" - he answered dispassionately and simply: "I didn't ask."

Without any further conversation, she smiled and also disappeared (for the film's remainder).

Distractions and Temptations: Yardbirds Concert and Pot Party

He phoned his collaborator Ron with the intent to "take him somewhere" (the park), but couldn't reach him - another missed connection. While he was driving to meet up with Ron, he experienced his last, uncanny view of the female from the park. He spotted her window-shopping on a sidewalk outside a shop known as Permutit - a water-softener equipment company. As he glanced at her, she turned and began to step away in a crowd of other pedestrians - and simply vanished! He ran to look for her, but there was no sign of her anywhere.

After walking through a number of corridors and doors, he found himself at an indoor Yardbirds rock concert in the Ricky Tick Club where the legendary group members (Jeff Beck, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page, and Keith Relf) were playing before a very stationary, glassy-eyed and subdued posed audience - a song called "Stroll On." The black walls were lined with painted white portraits of various rock stars.

When one of the loudspeakers began to emit static, the group's lead member Jeff Beck smashed his guitar into an amplifier and then stomped on it, stirring the passive crowd into hysteria. The photographer was caught up in the contagion of the destructive mob inside the concert hall, when the broken neck of a guitar - a prized souvenir/artifact - was thrown into the crowd, and he was able to snatch up the valued fragmented object touched by the singer. After he fled the club and frenzied pursuit by a few others, he soon tossed away and discarded the broken guitar piece as worthless junk in front of a clothing store's window-front, significantly populated with mannequins.

Delayed again in his quest for truth, in order for him to enigmatically engage in more nocturnal wandering, Thomas finally located Ron at a fashionable and elegant cocktail party in a gated apartment building, where about a dozen of the young people were rolling joints and smoking dope in a back bedroom. His friend was stoned and disoriented, and smoking from two joints at once. Thomas excitedly reported on the murder ("Someone's been killed...Those pictures I took in the park..."), but they were interrupted by a totally-stoned Verushka, the model from earlier in the morning. Thomas questioned her veracity: "I thought you were supposed to be in Paris." She answered: "I am in Paris." Ron passed a joint to the model through Thomas, who returned to their conversation - he told Ron that he wanted to record more shots of the dead body:

I want you to see the corpse. We've got to get a shot of it.

But a disoriented Ron was uninterested and disbelieving: "I'm not a photographer," but Thomas insisted impatiently: "I am." In a daze, Ron muttered softly to himself ("What's the matter with him?"), but then asked Thomas standing next to him: "What did you see in that park?" Thomas capitulated and answered that he also could not comprehend or explain what he saw: "Nothing." It was the last dialogue in the film. Thomas joined in the drug-taking with Ron and remained at the party until the next morning.

Enigmatic Conclusions: The Faux 'Murder' and Mimed Tennis Game

Awakening at sunrise in the bedroom in the empty apartment littered with evidence of the party, he decided (with his camera) to revisit the windy park and its expansive meadow. There, he saw that the corpse had disappeared and the murder evidence had vanished - he confirmed for himself that he did see "nothing." His assumptions about a murder were now completely discredited and lacking proof. The lack of evidence could not be ignored, and the 'murder' had become impossible to define. Without photographic evidence produced by his camera-tool - his sole means of communicating and connecting with the world, he was left with nothing, and his brief excitement and absorption in the perplexing 'murder mystery' ended abruptly. As he stood in front of the giant, non-illuminated FOA sign in the daylight, the gun imagery had faded. He surrendered his conviction that there was a murder, and began to wander disconsolately.

In the film's finale, he strolled further through the expansive wooded park. He again encountered the same troupe of bizarrely-dressed, clownish university students in white-face that careened into the park in an overloaded Land Rover. The mimes both opened and closed the film, as a framing device. The vehicle pulled up at the park's tennis courts and two of the group members (actress Claude Chagrin and actor husband Julian) frolicked and played an invisible game of tennis in the fenced court with non-existent rackets and balls (some of the mimes acted as a participatory audience outside the court). In this concluding allegorical sequence, his attention was directed toward their lengthy charade, and he also suspended his belief in concrete reality to completely join in and share their mock tennis match. The panning back and forth of the spectators 'watching' the non-existent ball mimicked the panning back and forth in the studio between the blown-up photographs that may or may not have documented a murder.

He became directly involved, beyond only watching, by deciding to participate in the fiction - he imagined that the ball was hit out of the court, and he tossed the invisible or faux 'lost' tennis ball back to the two players. On the soundtrack, one could now hear the illusion in Thomas' accepting mind - the sound of an actual tennis game. He realized he was the only one who could see and hear the tennis balls - and also reflecting back, that he was the only one who had witnessed or seen the 'murder.' Something that he hadn't photographed and preserved objectively on film (with the camera he was carrying) now actually existed in some manner - signifying a transformative change. It was another indelible image emphasizing the slim line between objective reality and illusion - the tennis ball was as 'real' as the 'illusory' photographs he had taken of a murder (without an auditory gun shot).

The Photographer's Disappearance:

The film ended with an aerial view of the now-tiny and solitary Thomas standing at a distance in the middle of the expansive grassy field in the park near the tennis court, with his camera in his hand. The view was positioned above him for the shot (framed like one of Thomas' own blow-ups), before he faded and vanished from view just as the superimposed words THE END zoomed forward. He literally disappeared into the background. He became as imaginary, isolated, or indistinct as the tennis ball, or as the grainy dots on his enlarged photos, or the colored specks on the painter's canvas, or the woman from the park who disappeared on the sidewalk. And he was as non-existent (or "Nothing") as the corpse itself. The ambiguous film ended with no narrative closure or certainty of anything.

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