Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Siren Blows Up

The Siren indulged in a bit of comfort movie viewing over the weekend as she fought off a terrifying Ragweed Pollen Invasion. In this case, the movie was Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966).

Unfortunately, her initial comfort evaporated soon after seeing her new DVD.

The Siren just never tires of the look of this movie. The fashions, the glimpses of London, the way the main character's studio/flat is decorated; it all looks great, still. Time hasn't been entirely kind to this film, once the coolest of art flicks. The Siren thinks the main problem is that a lot of its devices have been recycled so often by lesser filmmakers that they make even this, the original, seem stale. But there are many reasons to see Blowup, aside from its place in history. There's the cast, an amazing eyeful of what made Sixties London swing. Feast your eyes on Verushka, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Jane Birkin and, most of all, then-gorgeous David Hemmings. He is in almost every scene, and the Siren readily admits that for her, he's a big part of the film's appeal.

The famous scenes hold up very well--from Hemmings photographing a writhing Verushka, then collapsing after the session climaxes, to Redgrave trying to seduce her way into getting the roll of film, to the series of scenes from which the movie gets its name.

Maybe it no longer seems revolutionary. But here in 2005, every other TV show is a makeover program, and magazines are stuffed with photos of celebrities whose looks we scrutinize in minutest detail. And here from 1966 is a movie with a dazzling surface, that still insists on telling the audience that surfaces are just that.

It was wonderful to curl up on the couch and get re-acquainted with this one. The Siren saw it about 20 years ago, at the Thalia, if memory serves. She rented it on VHS a couple of times subsequently. Ah, the pleasures of a DVD. Crisp picture, glorious color, good sound in the club scene. (Jimmy Page looked awfully handsome in his Yardbirds days, didn't he?)

But something was nagging at the Siren. She was embarrassed to admit it. It seemed rather gauche to be actually looking for them. But hey ...

She could have sworn she saw Vanessa Redgrave's breasts the first time she viewed Blowup. And Jane Birkin full-frontal in that so-called orgy scene, too.

Gosh, guess that's another aspect of the movie's greatness, huh? Antonioni, like Hitchcock with Psycho, makes you think you saw bits where there weren't any bits to be seen. The Siren shut off the player, went off to browse film sites and IMDB before writing up her impressions. And she followed one link, and then another, until she came across this.

Which made her madder than Bette Davis at a Joan Crawford tribute.

What the hell?

No, excuse me, let me rephrase that.

What the FUCKING hell is going on here?

This film, a landmark by any meaningful definition of the term, got snipped, stripped and re-framed by some nameless Pecksniffs who-knows-when. And Warner Brothers went back to do this DVD, which is supposed to be some kind of goddamned definitive edition, and either knowingly or unknowingly used a Bowdlerized negative.

If I could find the imbecile who cut up this movie, I would make him eat the DVD, case and all, and feed him the stupid cellophane wrapper and those annoying sticky-tape labels for dessert.

Blockbuster, among others, rents out versions of NC-17 movies that have been cut down to an R. And some people have tried to tell me that this is merely an example of the marketplace at work. After all, who does it hurt if someone out in East Bra Strap, Texas, can see a sanitized version of Henry and June, goes the reasoning. It isn't like they just tossed the footage, like with The Magnificent Ambersons. There's a full version around somewhere. Right?

WRONG. You let the sniveling, fatuous censors have at something once, even once, and before you know it, you don't know which goddamned negative is which, or which print you are seeing. Who knows how long this Cuisinart version has been circulating. Who knows whether I ever saw Redgrave's breasts, or a complete print of Blowup at all.

Please excuse the Siren's unladylike language. She had to get this all off her chest, before writing a calm, rational, well-phrased and entirely G-rated letter to Warner Brothers DVD. See you again soon.


katiedid said...

Yeesh - I am sorry. It burns me up when they do that to perfectly good movies. Hell, it bugs me when they do that to terrible movies. Good luck with the angry letter writing - they really need to have it.

girish said...

I haven't seen the DVD version.
The last time I saw "Blow-Up" was on the big screen over ten years ago, and--this is embarrassing--I remember Ms. Redgrave's toplessness well.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I have the DVD of Blow Up but hadn't gotten around to seeing it. The article that you've linked is a little confusing because it makes it sound like the most recent DVD has the original footage. DVD Beaver is not helpful either. Warner Brothers has no consistent policy for their DVD releases. They have an "unrated" version of True Romance, but refuse to release anything but the R version of Eyes Wide Shut for the U.S. market. I would think that if Blow Up was presented uncut to the MPAA, it would get an R rating which would not affect sales. In any event, I did see Blow Up theatrically a couple of times and remember Vanessa Redgrave topless.

Bela said...

I saw Blowup when it came out and first visited London two years later, so it was still like in the film. I was never fond of that film, but it shouldn't have been tampered with.

That "now you see it, now you don't" phenomenon - I got it when I saw Sea of Love on a VHS tape, then on TV: two (it may have been even three) scenes had vanished from the TV version. I thought I'd dreamed them. Infuriating!

Tania said...

Never saw the movie, but

1) Bully for you
2) East Bra Strap, Texas! I think I've been there.

surlyh said...

Moi aussi, uncut and in widescreen Ms. Redgrave I did see.

damion78mackenzie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Exiled in NJ said...

The film is not a favorite, but you are spot-on. Just like the phrase "It has been modified to fit your television screen" precedes many videos, Warners should warn us that the film may not agree with our memories of same.

Sometimes I wonder how different the world of VHS and DVDs would be had there been blogs back then. I cringe when cable shows the credits in wide-screen and then shfits to 'squashed' when the film begins.

Mudge said...

I have seen the uncut version on Turner Classic Movies..late at night to be sure, but all the choice footage remained. Saw it first in the late '60s. It was a ground breaker.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

DVD Beaver does have this on the issue, though I'm not sure I understand this. Anyway here's what he says:

It seems (we assume) some early pressings (or later ?) of the Blow-up sold in Region 1 are actually region 1,4 NTSC meaning e-tailors were reselling the Brazilian censored ones in North America (possibly because they are cheaper ?)... Perhaps it will be a collector's item one day... you probably just need to check the region coding of your disc. If it is only Region 1 it is not censored, if it is Region 1+4 it IS.

It's not uncommon for a screwed-up and non-screwed-up version of a DVD to be on the market, especially from Warners. There are two versions of Blake Edwards' The Great Race, one with a horribly screwed-up soundrack that kills an important joke, the other without, and there is no indication which is which.

Of course, even if the uncensored Blow-Up turns out to be available, WB deserves all possible scorn for allowing censored versions of "Tom and Jerry" cartoons to go onto the market.

PaulC said...


Yes, I saw BlowUp in the cinema when it came out - and am sure I saw Vanessa's naked breasts in a slightly wider (waist-up) shot, and remember them as being quite small, and a bit droopy (sorry Vanessa!).

And, yes, despite many viewings and tapings of TV showings since, have not seen this topless shot - and like you, am very irritated by this - particularly since such shots are ten-a-penny these days.
Real mean-spirited mealy-mouthed censorship!

The thing is, this film has so many dialogue-free pauses, and time/place cuts, that it's terrribly easy to cut a few frames, and assume no-one will notice (except those who remember!). I have also seen notes about tighter telecine scans on this film, which push her nipples offscreen - but I think it's more likely a snip-job.

So I think you're right - and they (the anonymous, shadowy, no-word-is-too-bad-for-them defender of unfathomable morals are bad, bad, bad, and should be taken out and shot!