Sometimes, on a day off when it is really hot outside I have this ambition to do something for my cultural education, rather then spending the day dozing at a pool. Even though I'm generally a curious person who loves to learn about new things, especially anything related to art, I have to admit that the prospect of cool, air-conditioned rooms is probably the most attractive point about spending a summer afternoon at a museum or an art gallery. On one of these missions, I recently visited the "Albertina", one of the largest art galleries in Vienna, whose history goes back to the 17th century. The museum continues attracting visitors from around the globe (including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who visited the gallery on a spontaneous trip to Vienna a couple of years ago) with its impressive collection of drawings and master prints.
The exhibition I was particularly interested in was "BLOW UP" a photography exhibition dedicated to Michelangelo Antonioni's cult film of the same name from 1966. I really enjoyed the exhibition. It offered a detailed overview of the diverse areas of photography presented in the movie and additional material about the photographers involved in the making of the film, which illuminated its cultural and artistic background.
Yet, the more I took in the provided information and background stories, the more I felt slightly irritated.
The problem is, I am not a photographer, nor an expert of photography. I admire and enjoy good photographs and at times my own amateurish attempts of capturing a moment with my camera turn out more or less respectable, but I wouldn't go as far as calling myself an expert. Although I am a film theorist, the Blow Up exhibition did not inspire me to analyze the information provided in relation to the cinematographic imaging of the film. In fact, it was my literary academic self or maybe even more the author in me, who finally left the gallery with a bitter aftertaste.
In its folder, the exhibition is promoted with the words:
"This cinematic study of the representation of images and their ambivalence has since provided the artistic basis for the works of a variety of contemporary photographers, which demonstrates that Blow-Up has retained its cultural relevance since its creation in 1966."
Reading these lines, it is hardly surprising that in regard to this exhibition, Antonioni takes full credit for the thematization of the relationship of photography to reality in his film. Yet, the importance of the angle of the beholder for the interpretation of reality was not Michelangelo Antonioni's original idea. Antonioni, who dedicated his creative spirit to filmmaking as well as painting, was an admirer of photography. He certainly dedicated a lot of research and preparation time to make this extraordinary film. But he owes the idea and initial point for his congenial storyline to the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. In 1959, Cortázar, one of the pioneers of the "Argentinian boom", published a short story called Las barbas del diablo. The main topic of this story is the difficulty of presenting reality through art, in particular through writing and photography. The protagonist of Las barbas del diablo is a young photographer who witnesses a situation between a young man and a woman at a park, while another man is half hidden in a car. As the others become aware that they are being watched, the young man flees and the woman threatens to destroy the film roll. The photographer does not know what to make of the scene that he has captured, and afterwards he enlarges (blows up) the photo various times and puts it on the wall of his study. Every time he looks at it from a different angle he interprets the situation differently.
The parallels between Cortázar's story and Antonioni's film are obvious. Yet, while the author is mentioned in the credits at the beginning of the film, he is invisible in the exhibition as well as in almost every critique and commentary about the movie.
The question of plagiarism is treated slightly differently in every country. Often it is almost impossible to determine who was the first to come up with a certain idea. Yet, original ideas could be handled more carefully than they often are, especially when it comes to adaptations. We live in a time where many school kids couldn't name as much as ten different authors and recognize classics only by their most recent film adaptations.
It has been a long, ongoing discourse, whether writing should be considered as mere text, which stands on its own, or in the context of its author and time.
However, Blow Up, the exhibition, deconstructs Antonioni's film into many pieces, putting them in context with pop culture, fashion, art, as well as with the lives and work of people involved in its making, yet it ignores the author whose thoughts had inspired the director. In the exhibition's critical presentation of "Blow Up", Julio Cortázar remains invisible.
As Goethe once said, everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again. If we know, who has thought it before, shouldn't we at least pay tribute to the original thinker?
100 years of Cortázar
Julio Cortázar (August 26, 1914 - February 12, 1984)