Design in Antonionis’ ‘Blow-Up’

As part of Film-TV 1 we were asked to discuss a scene from Antonioni’s Blow-Up in terms of its visual design. Not having seen the film, it does make it more difficult to assess the narrative significance, but the scene is very self-contained and the exchanges between the two characters convey a lot, even though the specific details of the plot aren’t explained.

The scene opens with the photographer leaving exiting a phone booth. The colours certainly jump out at me, or rather, the lack thereof. There are a lot of neutral shades of grey, along with black and white. The exterior scene is overcast, and the street and buildings quite dark. The photographer’s dark top contrasts with his white pants. The woman is also dressed in neutral colours, with a dark skirt and a black and white checkered shirt with a black cravat/scarf. The only real colour that jumps out in this scene is the bright red phone booth, so instantly, there’s a sense of coldness and dreariness to the scene.

The binary colour opposition becomes more apparent when they enter the house, the dark brick walls replaced by smooth white ones. They proceed to walk through a black door into a room which is, yet again, mostly white. As the camera tracks across the floor, the characters are semi-obscured by layer upon layer of tinted glass. This creates various shades in the same shot, but their straight edges add to the sense of coldness the colours have already established.

The upstairs set is less sparse, with more organic looking objects (the rack of feather hats), and colour (the multi-coloured cushions on the sofa, the green carpet, and the painting on the wall), along with the wooden rafters and beams. This adds some homeliness to the scene, but it doesn’t clash with the established aesthetic, and even though the wood looks so organic, the sharp angles also work with the rest of the design. Even some sunlight (almost definitely artificial) manages to stream through, casting a warmer light over the photographer’s face and the woman’s hair. When the photographer sits down on the couch and takes off his jacket, he reveals his blue shirt, adding a bit more colour to the scene, but matching the cooler tones.

The tinted glass is cleverly used to include both characters in the shot after the photographer crosses to the other side of the room to pick up the phone. The woman’s reflection is perfectly framed in a full shot in the glass. After the awkwardness of the phone conversation, the warmer light coming in through the window helps defuse some of the tension as the photographer discusses his wife.

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