Blow(ing)-up House of Leaves

Antonioni's Blow-up

A Short Synopsis of Anonioni’s Blow-up

Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult favorite Blow-up was released in 1966. Superficially, the focuses on mod London and a disorienting string of events surrounding Thomas, a professional fashion photographer who believes he may have evidence of a murder. The film opens with Thomas leaving a dosshouse to go shoot a model. Thomas stayed at the dosshouse, posing as a hobo in order to photograph the other people staying there. He is trying to be a “legitimate” photographer rather than just shooting fashion editorials. While trying to shoot something pleasant for the end of his book, Thomas follows after what appears to be a happy man and woman in the park. The woman notices Thomas taking pictures and chases after him, but he refuses to give her the film. Later at his studio, Thomas prints and makes proofs of the film he had shot in the park. By looking at the woman’s increasingly troubled-looking gaze and following her line of vision, Thomas sees what he believes to be a gunman in the bushes. By repeatedly blowing up the images, Thomas zooms in on the gunman and what he believes to be a body lying in the grass. However, by Thomas has blown up the images so much that the graininess of the film makes the image more closely resemble an abstract expressionist painting than a typical photograph. To see if the body in the grass is only his own interpretation and to confirm his suspicions, Thomas returns to the park (forgetting his camera) to discover the corpse of the man lying in the grass. Distressed, he returns home only to find that most of his prints and film are gone – except for the grainy and unintelligible image of the body in the grass. Thomas goes to a house party to try and convince his agent to return with him to the park and confirm the presence of the corpse. Failing to acquire a witness, Thomas falls asleep at the house party and does not return to the park until the next morning to find that the corpse is gone. At this point, potentially suffering from an ontological crisis, he watches and is drawn into a tennis match being played by mimes. After chasing the mimes’ ball into the grass, the camera zooms out and Thomas disappears.

Relevance to House of Leaves

Even without applying any sort of hermeneutic reading to the two texts, the similarities in plot as well as character are obvious for House and Blow-up. Both Thomas and Will Navidson are professional photographers that seem to be unhappy with their current place in their careers (Thomas wants to go beyond fashion while Navidson wants to go beyond the walls of the house). Karen being a former fashion model strengthens the career connection for the two characters. Both Navidson and Thomas become obsessed with understanding, uncovering, and exploring extraordinary occurrences they seem to have discovered by either accident or fate. Getting a bit more hermeneutic, both characters use their cameras as a way to distance themselves from others, often those they objectify (one could argue Navidson does this  on a lesser level than Thomas). The premise for both stories – unsatisfied photographer discovers phenomenon and uses his craft to investigate – seem simple but have quite complex implications. Both texts seem hyper-aware of the false idea that photography is objective, and both “main” characters being photographers means that they would be acutely aware of hot to manipulate this (although they could just as easily forget when artistic ego takes over). Both Thomas and Will are using what they should know to be a subjective medium to search for “truth” to explain what they do not understand. The result, in both cases, is an ontological crisis the characters cannot recover from. Other similarities between the two texts include ambiguity, an abundance of cultural references with relevant connections, and a respect for the work of Julio Cortazar.


Julio Cortazar’s “Las Babas del Diablo” (later renamed “Blow-up” after the film became popular)

Blow-up on Wikipedia

Blow-up. Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. Perf. David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles. MGM, 1966. DVD.

Danielewsi, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. (Post-)Print.


~ by hlrypngr on March 21, 2010.

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