One of the side benefits of my new working/house-sharing conditions with Jim Groom is getting a chance to watch some movies together. I have a lot of backlog to catch up to his catalog, but this week we watched two classic films, that almost randomly had eerie amounts of similarity.
The first was Blowup, apparently the first English speaking film by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.
In this 1960s psychedelic London scene, David Demmings plays Thomas, a busy, almost haggled, photographer, who has an apartment/studio space that is a story unto itself. After we get some insight into his surroundings, and his rather detached gruff behavior with clients and models, he ends up wandering into a park, taking some sneaky photos of Vanessa Redgrave’s character, Jane, encounter with a man there.
(I have some quibbles about the photography portrayed- Thomas uses the same camera and lens way too close, to take the fashion photos of Verushka in the studio that he uses in the park to take photos from very far away).
Jane is not happy about the photos, and she tried very hard to get them back, but Thomas is to curious, and after developing them, he goes through a rather unreal number of steps to “blowup” the photos, which reveal a murder that took place in the park (hence Jane’s urgency).
There are a number of scenes that show the culture of the time, notably the part where Thomas runs into a night club, where the audience is standing frozen listening to a performance of the Yardbirds
where Jeff Beck does a Pete Townsend like smash up of a guitar, as Jimmy Page plays on.
The movie ends with a metaphoric encounter with the band of mimes seen at the beginning, and opens the whol question of what was real and what was… mimed? As the opening of the trailer says
Sometimes… reality…. is the strangest fantasy of all
Last night, we decided to focus on a Hitchcock classic, and went for Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window.
Again, a photographer is the central character, Stewart’s L.B. Jefferies, an action seeking photographer who has been stuck in his apartment mending a broken leg (broken in shooting a daring shot of a car race). In the heat of a New York summer, his neighbors often leave their windows open, providing Jefferies an ongoing story to watch from his window, that he cannot stop watching.
He sees everything from romance, to comedy, to musicals, to tragedy, and in one couple’s case, he is sure he witnessed everything but the act of murder- that Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) has not only killed the wife that he constantly argues with, but in fact, has carted off the pieces in his suitcase. Jefferies gets his nurse Stella, and his girl frield Lisa Freemont (played lusciously by Grace Kelly) drawn into being a believe.
There is the tension of that relationship, as Jeffries seems less invested in the relationship than Lisa, and less willing to compromise on his free wheeling life style.
As Jeffries draws a cop he knows, Lt Doyle, into this, we find the story may be more doubtful, until Lisa and Stella take some drastic steps, concluding with the dramatic encounter with Thorwald where Jeffries actually defends himself with a flash bulb.
(In this case, the camera is realistic as it looks like Jeffries is sporting a giant 600mm lens).
Like Blowup, there is the music scene aspect in the apartment of the Songwriter where we see a large party going on the night where the action happens. The camera work here is so masterful, with the pans, sweeps and zooms that convey the sense of watching, as well as the artful use of the thermometer as a setting for the weather that in some ways, drives the opening and closing of windows.
IN both cases the central character, a photographer, is not quite a likable character, and both end up convinced they have seen evidence of a murder through their cameras.
What is also remarkable is the spareness of dialogue, especially in Blowup, where the camera tells much of the story. Likewise, in both the opening and closing of Rear Window, the camera moves to objects which do the narration, in fact, everything that is told of the character sin the final scene is done without dialogue.
And in both movies, we have this play between reality and what the photographer “see” through their camera as reality.
It’s been fun to watch and talk about these movies, maybe there is a mashup coming…