Movies can break all sorts of rules but they can’t cheat.
A film has to stick to an internal logic. For example, it can’t portray a photographer so obsessed with his calling that he even takes a camera with him to an antique shop and starts shooting off roll and after roll capturing the area’s rundown streets but then the one time he really could do with a camera – to prove there is a corpse at his feet – he is somewhat remiss. Especially when the movie turns on that plot point.
Setting aside what’s a somewhat contrived snapshot of “Swinging London” there’s a lot to admire here. The absence of music for one thing. Most of the movie runs without musical accompaniment, a bold move since so often we rely on the soundtrack to provide guidance for a scene or an overlay for the entire film. Here, Antonioni makes us falls back on our own interpretation.
David Hemmings, all mop-top and intense stare, is a high-flying high-living fashion photographer in the David Bailey mold (casual sex with wannabe models a perk) who turns investigator on being confronted in a park by Vanessa Redgrave after taking snaps she wants back. Tension is sustained by her sudden appearance at his studio, willing to pay with her body for the return of the photos, and then by Hemmings’ careful, photo-by-photo blow-up-by-blow-up analysis that slowly comes closer to the truth.
Everything in his world is judged through a lens, as if he can capture elusive truths, and he has aspirations to being more than a mere fashion adjunct, having spent time taking portraits of down-and-outs. He judges Redgrave as he would a model, she has a good stance and sitting posture. Even by the standards of the permissive society, he is a bit of sexual predator, taking advantage of two giggly model wannabes.
But the photography scenes are well done and Antonioni captures the intimacy between model and photographer that create the best images. If you can get past the cheat and the deliberate obtuseness this creates – and the tsunami of artistic interpretations it inspired about the director’s intent – then it remains intriguing.
This isn’t Hemmings’ greatest work – Fragment of Fear is much better – but it certainly provided him with a marketable movie persona. Redgrave is excellent as the nervy woman willing to do what is required and the movie might have worked better had she had been allocated more screen time and their duel had continued through other scenes. But then that would have been Hitchcock and not Antonioni. I’d have given it a higher score except for the cheat.
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But is it a cheat, or just a contrivance? Maybe it’s irony that a happy snapper doesn’t take the picture he needs. Never really felt that plot-points were of much interest to this director….
Felt it was too contrived a contrivance.
…except he really DOESN’T take his camera into the antiques shop, (nor does he when he’s at the restaurant or when he spots Vanessa Redgrave just prior to the nightclub scene); it’s only when he’s outside that he goes to his conveniently nearby car and spontaneously grabs the camera.
So I find it totally conceivable that he momentarily forgets his camera there in the glove-box of his car under the stress of returning to what he fears is the scene of a murder. And then he’s too spooked after discovering the body, then hearing a twig snap, to go back to his car and retrieve it.
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That’s a fair old argument, Brian, but he struck me as anything but a guy who was easily spooked. He was introduced as a strong character otherwise, being a posh fashion photographer, he would not have managed to spend a night in a doss-house. When he’s outside he picks up his camera the first time but not the second does seem to me too contrived. But I admit I’m in a minority here. and excellent films have pivoted on a lot less.