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Internal Rhythm: Blowup, High angle camera placement decreases internal rhythm

by Michael Frierson

In this scene, Thomas (David Hemmings), a swinging London fashion photographer, returns to a park where he believes he has photographed a murder. Antonioni’s film expresses deep reservations about a “mod” world in which the photographer is so distracted by the surfaces of the world he inhabits that he lacks the moral gumption to actually deal with what he believes to be the death of another human being. At the same time, Antonioni asks the audience to address questions about whether what the photographer sees may or may not be true. Those two ideas dovetail effortlessly in closing sequence of the film.

The photographer wakes up at sunrise in a house where he partied all night long, and returns to the park alone, having failed to convince anyone of what he thinks he has seen. He finds nothing to prove there was a murder, and is leaving the park when a troupe of anarchic mimes arrives in the park and begins to “play tennis” in pantomime. The photographer looks on as the “match” progresses, and is slowly drawn into the game, as one of the mimes appears to hit the tennis ball over the fence and out of the court. The camera tracks the illusory “ball” as it rolls to a stop, and the female tennis mime gestures for the photographer for help retrieving it. As the troupe looks on silently, he trots over to retrieve the “ball.” Setting his camera on the grass, he “hefts” the imaginary ball and runs towards the camera, “heaving” it back onto the court. Here, the camera holds him in a medium close-up for :36 seconds, while the sounds of a tennis ball being volleyed back and forth are slowly sneaked underneath the shot. In a remarkable moment, the photographer’s eyes begin to follow the “ball” until he pauses, and seems to be thinking back over what has transpired.

The film then cuts to a high angle wide shot, a framing that not only trivializes the main character and all he represents, but that also reduces his movements to a slow crawl as he walks idly back to pick up his camera, then walks to the center of the frame and pauses, swing his camera slightly by his side. The films’ momentum is gradually winding down with this placement, a visual marker that slows his actions, and brings down the curtain on his moment of contemplation. An instant later, Antonioni dissolves to the same framing without the photographer, essentially erasing him from the film in a moment of overt directorial control, and triggering the appearance of the end credits.

Internal Rhythm: Blowup, High angle camera placement decreases internal rhythm

The high angle wide shot at the end of this sequence trivializes the main character and slows the internal rhythm of his movements.

from Blowup (1966)
Creator: Michelangelo Antonioni
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Posted by Michael Frierson