Yes, she is very pretty, and she looks a bit cold. Get her wrap, why don’t you? Of course, it’s Vanessa Redgrave in the most famous pose of her career, and of the movie by Antonioni, “Blow Up.” I watched it today, for the second time in about 25 years. I think I saw it in college in a film class, and at that time, I took it moderately seriously. On this viewing, I could only regard the film as preposterous. I wonder, did anyone take it seriously at the time it was produced? A quick look at some reviews online shows that people still do, and so, I assume, did then.Well, Redgrave and Hemmings are fun to look at, and the period styles and mood of Swingin’ London are moderately diverting. Of course the drug use and ‘orgies’ are so tame by today’s standards that one could almost miss them, but that’s not the fault of the film. Problem is, it’s boring and obvious. The protagonist is a self-involved, alienated, artist, and the intelligence behind the film is preoccupied with making rather obvious points about “we see what we wish to see,” and “who knows what is real and what is illusion…?” Were these points not obvious in 1966? If not, we can only say that the film has not weathered the decades well.
Still, watching it, I get a whiff of the stale miasma of the avante garde. That stilted, self-referential intellectualism that leads artists to publish manifestos and make grand pronouncements about subverting traditional conventions of narrative, structure, expectation, yada yada yada. Time and popular culture subvert them instead. And ideas are never an excuse for being boring. And so we have minimal art of the 60s and 70s, which is art, of course, but only minimally interesting. And we have its descendants today, covering gallery walls with text and message, but nothing to look at. I wish they’d all go read Jean Gimpel’s masterly tirade, “Against Artists,” in which he traces what he calls the decadence of modern art to a centuries-long progression down the road of too much philosophizing. Well, it’s one point of view.
Does the avante garde have any currency today? Does it mean anything to anyone outside of the tiny art world, and inside it, is it anything but commercial? I hope not! I’d rather have a lot of sold-out avante gardists than a vigorous Mario Marinetti and his fascist futurist thugs. Lenin was always talking about the vanguard of the revolution, the political wing of the avante garde. Same idea – a small class leads, and receives from on high the nectar of final truth.