There are many reasons to miss the late, great Roger Ebert, but one of my favourite things he ever did was introduce me to the idea of “a shot at a time” movie watching session. He’d do this at festivals and universities, pausing films they watched repeatedly to discuss certain images and points, learning whole new ways to consider the art of film: “Perhaps it sounds grueling, but in fact it can be exciting and almost hypnotic.”
In an age where movies are just another distraction, it can be hard to focus on them. You’re tweeting, Googling and hunting for memes on your phone while you watch with one eye on your laptop. (I’m as guilty of anyone at doing this sometimes.)
Some films deserve more. Take Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 pop-art masterpiece about an arrogant, disillusioned swinging London fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who accidentally discovers a murder. Enigmatic, beautiful and mesmerising, it’s one of my top 20 films of all time, and I got to see it on the big screen the other night for the first time in years, where Antonioni’s astounding control and vision really dazzles.
One of the key scenes of the movie comes near the climax, where the photographer stumbles onto a rock concert filled with zombie-like youth, staring placidly at the thrashing band (the Yardbirds with a pre-Led Zep Jimmy Page). At one point, guitarist Jeff Beck smashes his instrument and throws it into the crowd, who suddenly erupt from their passive trance into a frenzy.
It’s a short scene, but it’s always stunned me – Antonioni combines a disaffected view of youth with a kind of controlled horror. Why are these teens here? What set them off? Who is the watcher and who is the audience? Blow-Up blows me away every time I revisit it, because it’s a movie that demands you question it, that you linger on the imagery, that you don’t just haphazardly file it away in your headspace with all the other distractions of the day. It’s still not for everyone. As Ebert, bless his memory, said, “Movies that require you to figure things out for yourself always leave a lot of frustrated customers behind.”
The club encounter in Blow-Up is just about a perfect scene to me, and every frame, with these unforgettable faces and colours, is worth considering. Here’s One Scene, 10 Perfect Shots from Blow-Up:
The full scene: