The Criterion Collection finally has Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up out and in blu ray. While a blu ray Blow-Up has long been wished for by fans, I decided to take a look at the old DVD to see if there was a good reason to upgrade. Warner Brothers brought out a DVD in 2004. Today’s viewing confirmed that the DVD picture looks very good. There are also two special sound tracks: a music only and an excellent commentary track by Peter Brunette, author of The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni. These features are absent from the new Criterion edition.
What struck me, though, was how on top of his game Antonioni was in 1966 when Blow-Up came out. Chabrol was then still groping along and did not master film construction until around 1980. The principle reason seems evident. Antonioni was a highly disciplined filmmaker who did all the work necessary not only so that each shot would be right but so that the film would come together. By contrast Chabrol is self-indulgent, putting himself ahead of his art. The Chabrol films, even if they unfold interesting ideas, are often wooden, clumsy or mannered. Chabrol’s motto seems to be that what is worth doing is worth doing badly, while Antonioni puts the art first. This does not at all mean that Antonioni has to suppress his personal vision.
There is another and perhaps greater contrast between the directors. More than any other of his films Blow-Up makes obvious how plugged into the cultural currents of his time Antonioni was. Perhaps this was from his origins in neo-realism, but he was able to travel to London to make his first foreign film and shoot exactly the right stuff. (I Vinti in 1953, made up of three shorts, did have a section made in England.) Chabol filmed his personal preoccupations, which put a cap on how high his films could rise. Chabrol films are always about some French not measuring up to some French conception of how they should be. As though Chabrol always said that he abhorred judgement and no one had a right to judge, that is what he does throughout all his films, so that there is a flavor of disingenuousness running through them all. The irony is that it is this quality that makes them so representatively French and therefore interesting artifacts. For what is more French than to be always judging and always in bad faith?