The Blow-Up: Sorting Things Out: Charles Thomas Samuels
Michelangelo Antonioni 1966
Like L’Avventura, Blow-Up concerns the search for something that is never found. As in La Notte, the peripatetic hero fails to accomplish anything. Like the other protagonists, the photographer is the embodiment of a role, although here he is so fully defined by his function that he is not even named. As in Antonioni's other films, the climax is reached when the protagonist comes to face his own impotence. There is even a concluding disappearance that recalls the absence of Vittoria and Piero from the last minutes of Eclipse: as the camera slowly draws away from the photographer, he slowly diminishes in size, an effect made more significant when Antonioni literally causes him to vanish before "the end."
The events in Blow-Up dramatize the same theme one finds in Antonioni's other films. The photographer, a creature of work and pleasure but of no inner force or loyalty, is unable to involve himself in life. He watches it, manipulates it; but, like all of Antonioni's male characters, he has no sense of life's purpose. Thus, when faced with a challenge, he cannot decisively act. Unable to transcend himself, except through ultimate confrontation with his soul, he represents modern paralysis.
Most reviewers have denied that this or any other theme is apparent in Blow-Up, while those few who believed that Antonioni was up to something were either uncertain or wrong, I think, about what it was. Since Antonioni demands closer attention than even professional film watchers are likely to be familiar with, and since reviewers usually have the sketchiest knowledge of a serious director's canon, the errors are not surprising. But what are we to make of the critical misconceptions perpetrated by John Simon?
Simon is, in my opinion, the best American film critic now writing. Expectedly, he was the one critic who saw the need to summarize Blow-Up's events; yet in his exhaustive resumé, he missed the crucial moments. As a result, he determined that Antonioni's theme was Pirandellian, despite the total absence of any metaphysical concern in the director's other work. Together with the common emphasis on Hitchcock, this Pirandellian analogy has done a great deal to obfuscate Antonioni's meaning.
Because the body vanishes, and because the photographer ultimately hears a tennis ball that doesn't exist, some people have thought that Antonioni means us to question the existence of the corpse. Incidental details such as the photographer's initial appearance as a bum who surprisingly enters a Rolls Royce have been cited in support of this interpretation. Yet the point of the first scene is that the photographer isn't a bum, that he took part in the doss-house life merely to exploit it for his picture book. The body exists; what is significant is that the photographer didn't realize he'd seen it.
When the narrator enters the park, we see him performing his first spontaneous gesture. Emerging from the antique shop, he notices it and, for no apparent reason, enters. Perhaps he is attracted by the lush greenness, the melodically rustling leaves.
Chancing on the love ballet, however, the photographer responds automatically, according to a settled routine. Love, as his agent, Ron, later tells him, would make a "truer" conclusion to his picture book. But when the girl tries to get his film and a young man (apparently the murderer) peers through the restaurant window at his lunch with Ron, the photographer begins to suspect that he has witnessed something less than innocent. After the girl leaves his studio, he blows up the photographs; and it is here, I think, that Simon and every other critic I have read misinterpret the action.
What happens is this: While the photographer is studying the shots, he spies something suspicious in the still of some shrubbery behind a fence. What he does not see but what the audience does, as Antonioni's lens pans across the row of blow-ups, is the still showing a body. The audience, but not the photographer, knows that a body exists. (When Vanessa Redgrave ran away from the photographer during the park scene, she stopped to look down at the tree, from behind which a head was unmistakably visible.) But the photographer chooses to blow up only the still showing the murderer and his gun. Exulting in what he thinks is a meaningful action, he rushes to the phone to call his agent. "Somebody was trying to kill somebody else," he says, "I saved his life."
That the photographer jumps to this erroneous conclusion despite contrary evidence is logical in view of subtle but clear hints we got earlier of a latent dissatisfaction with his normal mode of behaviour. His studio is dominated by photographs of a sky diver and a skin diver, his living room by a shot of camels (recalling a similar photograph in Eclipse), and he clearly would like to get away. Vittoria made her frail gesture in a plane; the photographer buys a propeller. Lydia had gone on a solitary walk; the photographer, so far as he knows, takes a stroll in the park. As he tells his agent, "I've gone off London this week. Doesn't do anything for me. I'm fed up with those bloody bitches. Wish I had tons of money, then I'd be free."
Freedom and mastery are cheaply purchased when the photographer allows himself to believe he has saved a man's life. Had he done so, his action would have symbolized a separation from the aimless mod world. What he witnessed, as he believes, was the attempt by a young swinger to murder a gray-haired, older man in a garden. Catching the snake hidden in the bushes, the photographer had preserved the intended victim. The fact of the matter is different.
While on the phone with Ron, he hears a noise at the door. Apparently suspecting the murderer, he opens it surreptitiously; in tumble two teeny-boppers. Although he had previously expressed contempt for these "bloody bitches," he now becomes involved with them. Meanwhile Ron rings off. When the girls, who have come for some exploitation of their own, begin to undress before a clothes-rack, the photographer seizes the opportunity. An orgy ensues, and here Antonioni works his most audacious trick.
While the photographer is romping with the girls (avidly attended by any normal spectator), for perhaps five seconds, in the upper right hand corner of the frame, above the purple paper, we see a man dressed like the murderer, watching them. Antonioni then cuts to the girls as they are pulling on the photographer's clothes, and the photographer, who is sitting up, now notices the shot he had previously overlooked. Much to their chagrin, he ejects the teeny-boppers, blows up the fatal still, and learns that he had saved nothing.
However, instead of calling the police, asking for help, or in any way dealing with what he now realizes, he returns to the park to prove that the murder took place (although in calling his agent, he had acted far more precipitately with no more evidence). Back at the park, he sees the body; but behind him he hears a click, as of a gun or camera, and he runs away. Again, he does not go for the police. Instead, he returns to his studio and looks longingly at the propeller, an old part without a plane, lying on a white floor–useless. He then goes to his frienďs apartment, where he is shocked to find the wife fixing her attention upon him while having intercourse with her husband.
Reentering his studio, he discovers that the blowups have been stolen, presumably by the man who entered during the orgy sequence. After a brief, apparently fruitless conversation with his friend's wife, he takes off in his car. While driving, he thinks he sees the murderer's accomplice; but his attempt to chase her degenerates into his meaningless involvement with an absurd experience at a rock 'n roll club. Once again, he has recourse to his agent; but he finds Ron in a marijuana trance, which he soon joins. In the last scene, returning to the park, he discovers that the murderer has made off with the body. He has accomplished nothing.
For he is part of his world. Hiding behind a tree, like the murderer, he shot with a camera what the latter shot with a gun; and he did not save the older man. He is blond, and so is the murderer. For all his aloof contempt, he is as frivolous as the mod clowns who frame his experience. In the last scene, when he hears their "tennis ball," he effectively actualizes the charade existence that they share in common. His final gesture of resignation - like Sandro's tears, Giovanni's loveless copulation, or Piero's and Vittoria's failure to meet - shows clearly that the photographer cannot change.
The actions I have sketched are nearly pantomimed; their larger implications are also established through visual means. As with the carabinieri's office in L'Avventura, the first shot in La Notte (showing a graceful old building standing in front of Pirelli's glass box), the forbidding sleekness of E.U.R. in Eclipse, Antonioni fills the background in Blow-Up with examples of tradition being razed to make way for a grey, anonymous wasteland. As the photographer drives through London, the camera pans along the colorful walls of the old city only to be abruptly lost in blank space surrounding a new housing project - all grays and browns. When he visits the antique shop, scouting real estate for his agent, he advises purchase since the neighborhood seems to have attracted homosexuals - those great contemporary buyers of the past. The old caretaker, however, refuses to sell him anything, but the young mod owner is only too anxious to turn the shop into cash for a trip to Nepal, where she hopes to escape from the antiques. "Nepal is all antiques," the photographer dryly observes.
The modern world, however, seems bent on destroying its traditions. On the wall of the photographer's apartment, an old Roman tablet is overwhelmed by the hallucinatory violence of the modern painting at its side. More important, traditional human pursuits are being drained of their force. Politics is now playacting; a pacifist parade marches by with signs bearing inscriptions like "No," or "On. On. On." or "Go away." Pleasure is narcotizing, whether at the "pot" party or in the rock 'n roll club. Love is unabsorbing, as the photographer learns from his friend's marriage. Art has lost its validity. Murder is ignored.
These last implications are forcefully portrayed in the film's main scenes of human interaction. The first of these scenes shows the photographer visiting his friend Bill, who is a painter. When the hero enters his flat, the painter is standing affectedly before a large canvas. Attempting to engage the photographer's interest, he explains his condition:
They don't mean anything when I do them, just a mess. Afterward, I find something to hang onto [pointing] - like that leg. Then it all sorts itself out; it's like finding a clue in a detective story.
Although we are likely to find Bill rather pretentious, particularly in view of the obviously derivative nature of his painting, the photographer seems unusually impressed. When the painter's wife enters, he tells her that he has wanted to buy one of the canvases. When we see her massaging his neck with obvious interest on her part but mere friendly comfort on his, we know what this oasis of art and domesticity might mean to a man so cynical and frenetic. Later, in his puzzlement concerning the murder, when he turns to them for help, he discovers that the oasis is dry.
In the second important scene, the murderer's accomplice meets the photographer at his studio because he blew his car horn when he reached his street so as to inform the pursuers of his whereabouts. When he tries to calm her, she replies:
"My private life is already in a mess. It would be a disaster - "
P: "So what? Nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out."
Through turning sparse, functional dialogue into a system of verbal echoes, Antonioni achieves the economy of tight verse. Yet he does not sacrifice naturalness. The painter, in an observation appropriate to the scene, had suggested that visual experience is comprehensible only through recollection, during which process it performs the function of a clue that helps to "sort things out." The photographer, in a casual remark to the girl, asserts that the sorting out process is facilitated by disaster. This verbal cross-reference points to the meaning behind the action.
The most subtle use of dialogue occurs in a sequence which has been either ignored or misinterpreted as a sign that Antonioni's theme is failure of communication. When the painter's wife enters his studio, she comes upon a distraught man; he has lost his evidence and his faith in his friends. Although laconically, they do communicate:
P: "Do you ever think of leaving [your husband]?"
W: "No, I don't think so."
P: [Turning away with annoyance] "I saw a man killed this morning."
W: "Where? Was he shot?"
P: "Sort of a park."
W: "Are you sure?"
P: "He's still there."
W: "Who was he?"
W: "How did it happen?"
P: "I don't know. I didn't see."
W: [Bewildered] "You didn't see?"
P: [Wry grimace] "No."
W: "Shouldn't you call the police?"
P: [Pointing to the one still the murderer didn't take] "That's the body."
W: "Looks like one of Bill's paintings. [Turning to him, helplessly] Will you help
me? I don't know what to do. [He doesn't react. She looks at the shot.] What is it?
Hmmmm. I wonder why they shot him."
P: "I didn't ask."
W: [Looks up at him, smiles sadly, and, after some hesitation, leaves.]
I record this dialogue to show how clearly and economically Antonioni establishes his meaning. The dialogue at the "pot" party is equally clear. After great difficulty, the photographer succeeds in getting Ron to listen to his problem:
P: "Someone's been killed."
P: "Listen, those pictures I took in the park [No response] I want you to see the corpse. We've got to get a shot of it."
R: [Bewildered] "I'm not a photographer."
P: [Bitterly] "I am."
R: [Nonplussed] "What did you see in that park?"
P: [Resignedly] "Nothing." [Ron, who can't focus his eyes well, motions the photographer to follow him. The photographer does. Next scene shows him waking up from the debauch.]
When the painter's wife comes to his apartment, she hears the photographer's confession of failure and declares her own. Bill's art is no alternative to the destruction symbolized by the murder; his art is another version of it. They can no more deal with their marriage than the photographer can deal with the crime. She can only slink away in compassion for their mutual impotence, leaving him to futile pursuit, marijuana, and his depressing moment of truth.
In Blow-Up, as in Eclipse and L’Avventurai island sequence, Antonioni achieves his meanings through the use of sound effects as well as speech. When the photographer shoots his model in a parody of intercourse, and when he poses the mannequins, music, as he says, is "noise" to inspire their artificial vitality. When Vanessa Redgrave comes to his apartment, fresh from the murder, he tries to teach her the lesson that music maintains one's "cool." While giving her some "pot," to which she sensuously yields herself, he shows her that really to enjoy it and the taped jazz he is playing, she must hold herself back - draw slowly and keep time against the beat. Before he begins to inspect the blowups, he turns the jazz on. But the music quickly fades when he becomes involved; as he looks deeply into the frames, we hear on the sound track a rustling of leaves.
The incredible greenness of a park that was the ironic setting for murder suggests another of Antonioni's means. When the photographer discovers the body's loss, he looks up at the tree, whose leaves now rattle angrily, and sees the leaves as black against a white sky. Like the sound analogies and the verbal cross-references, the color in Blow-Up aids comprehension.
The film is composed mainly in four hues: black, white, green and purple. The hero's studio is black and white, as are most of his clothes and those of Vanessa Redgrave. So too are photographs. In fact, the meaning of the event in the park was "as clear as black and white" before he photographed it, which is what makes for significance in his initial failure of perception as well as in his underlying failure to understand the implication of his way of life. The green park was penetrated by evil. Suitably, the door of the photographer's dark room, in which he brings to light the dark deed, is also green. Not, however, until he copulates with the teeny-boppers in a sea of purple does he realize that he did not prevent the crime. Appropriately, the door to the room in which he blows up the fatal still is also purple. One of the teeny-boppers wears purple tights; the other, green.
Colorful though it is, Blow-Up seems to be moving toward colorlessness, black and white - almost as if Antonioni were trying to make us face the skull beneath the painted flesh. But that is not what most reviewers have done. That they should, if my reading is correct, have missed the film's meaning so completely is a phenomenon almost as significant as the film itself. What, after all, does their error tell us?
The familiar things are aspects of a fixed condition. As I have said, few reviewers know the director's work; fewer still have sophisticated ideas about film art. Their collective sophistication, if not their intelligence, is modest; when they simulate brilliance, it is only through the perfervid prose we associate with Time magazine. I doubt that many serious readers would choose books on the advice of the same sources to which, faute de mieux, they are forced to turn for evaluation of films. This much, I think, is sadly inarguable, but not limited to consideration of avant-garde film-making in general or Antonioni in particular
The confusion about Antonioni comes from the unusual demands he makes. Most films are to be looked at; Antonioni's are to be inspected. Decades of film as a commercial form of escapism have atrophied our perception; like all great artists, Antonioni insists that we see anew. Unfortunately, most reviewers can't see. Although many disguised their ineptitude by reporting little of what goes on in Blow-Up, distressing errors of fact tend to characterize the more venturesome accounts. Thus one reviewer (Richard Corliss, National Review) has the photographer buying an oar, while another (Joseph Morgenstern, Newsweek) has the orgy spread out on sky-blue paper. John Simon thinks the painter is unmarried (although Sarah Miles clearly sports a wedding ring) and suggests that the photographer makes eyes at her, whereas the reverse is true. As a result of such errors, he can give no accurate reading of the subplot. John Coleman (New Statesman) loftily deems Blow-Up a "very superficial film . . . about people reckoned as leading superficial lives"; but since he asserts that the photographer saw the body and the gun after the orgy sequence, Coleman is in no position to call anyone superficial.
Such errors of fact are less important in themselves than as manifestations of a cavalier attitude toward Antonioni's difficult style. More than their mistakes, the arrogance of reviewers is what rankles. Confronted with a famously complex director whose films are widely acknowledged to be important, the journeyman critic, both here and in England, treats Вlow-Up as if it were indeed a mechanical piece of Hitchcock. Despite museum cults, the emergence of cinema's right to be considered a form of art is notoriously recent. A parallel growth in movie reviewing is long overdue.
Among critics, the sources of confusion is more profound. Misunderstanding Вlow-Up is not only failure to scrutinize with sufficient care a highly wrought method of expression; it is the consequence of some false, but currently powerful, ideas about the nature of art. Although these ideas are more blatantly damaging with an art form so ill-defined as cinema, they have their origin in wider cultural presuppositions.
The first of them, to use Norman Podhoretz's phrase, is the demand that art "bring the news." Widespread dissatisfaction with contemporary fiction, lack of interest in poetry, and the inflation of non-fictional forms like the book review all indicate the dominance of this aesthetic program. Thus Norman Mailer's lucubrations attain significance because he styles himself a social prophet, confessional poetry becomes the accepted fashion in verse, and nonfiction, a form defined by what it isn't, now begins to absorb whatever it lacks.
From the neonaturalist perspective, Вlow-Up is offensive because it manipulates the materials of contemporary London to express not the city but Antonioni's version of modern life. If one can bear the hip language - not unrelated to the ideas - he can see this attitude clearly expressed in Richard Goldstein's article in the Village Voice, entitled "The Screw-Up." Condemning a lack of "understanding that can only be called Parental," Goldstein insists that Antonioni misrepresents the swinging Samarkand and derides the film for the expressiveness that - autres temps, autresmoeurs - would have guaranteed its status as a work of art. Whatever can be said for such documentary emphasis, it easily degenerates into mindless fixation on the up-to-date. That people old enough to know better don't avoid the trap can be seen in Pauline Kael's review, where, amidst a veritable fusillade, she criticizes Antonioni for not catching "the humor and fervor and astonishing speed in youth's rejection of older values." Godard, sì! Antonioni, no!
The other new aesthetic barbarism has quickly filtered down to its rightful level, having been recently promoted, as I have remarked, by the arts editor of Look. Given a more respectable formulation by Susan Sontag, Richard Gilman and other less conspicuous gurus, the conception of art as "sensuous form" might seem a useful antidote to excess verisimilitude, but it comes to much the same thing. Like those who wish art to be a form of sociology, the advocates of a "new sensibility" reveal a fatal affinity for what's "in." Thus Miss Sontag finds that formal heights are scaled by happenings, pornography and science fiction, while critics like Gilman opt for novels (promoted by magazines like the New Yorker) in which insouciance becomes art by imitating the era's bafflement. (Collusion between the documentary and noninterpretive definitions of art was nicely indicated by the appearance of Robert Garis's review - which argues that the film is good because it is "exciting to watch" - in Commentary.)
One error encourages the sentimental social pieties of some reviewers; the other authorizes their imperception. Thus reviews of Blow-Up express outraged social optimism or a kind of aesthetic trance induced by globules of "surface beauty." The skillful creation of symbols for insight - art, in short - becomes an achievement of negligible appeal.
A third aesthetic error (born, in part, out of reaction against the other two), despite a devotion to artistic seriousness, runs the risk of blocking new modes. John Simon is rightly opposed to art without discursive implications or rational validity. In Hudson Review pieces concerning Albee, Pinter, and thinkers like McLuhan and N. O. Brown, Simon shows himself a powerful demolition machine for a culture besieged on all sides. But in his splendid assaults, he sometimes finds himself forced backward into old-fashioned demands for situational realism, pyschologically valid motivation, and humanistically oriented themes. These requirements should be suspended with considerably less alacrity than most critics now show, but they must be abandoned for those rare cases, like Borges, Beckett or Antonioni, in which authentic art is being produced in a new way. Significantly, Simon is receptive to such art when reviewing books - a further indication that people automatically relax their aesthetics when discussing films.
A similarly based lack of sympathy is detectable in the otherwise laudatory pieces on Antonioni's earlier films that Dwight Macdonald wrote for Esquire. Although Macdonald, along with Stanley Kauffmann was one of Antonioni's few discerning American champions, he became displeased by the Italian's progressive refusal to motivate his characters. Even Kauffmann was made nervous by the abstractionism of Eclipse, although he rejoiced, wrongly as I think, in the colored abstractionism of Red Desert.
Still, despite a few hints of retrograde commitment, Simon, Kauffmann and Macdonald are the most sensitive of Antonioni's American critics and the most useful, intelligent film critics of recent times. The fumbling responses of their colleagues remind us that the always thinly staffed legion of competence is now threatened with depopulation. Macdonald has been replaced at Esquire by Wilfrid Sheed, while Pauline Kael has taken over from Kauffmann on the New Republic. (Fortunately, Kauffmann will review films for the New American Review, but only three times a year; and I suspect he will be pressed for space.)
As a novelist and book or theater critic, Wilfrid Sheed has behind him an estimable body of work. As a film critic, he has nothing - either in experience or rumination - a fact that he candidly admitted in his first Esquire piece. Despite his avowed respect for Antonioni's other films, his review of Blow-Up expresses nearly ruthless contempt. Much of the piece is not about the film at all, concentrating its attention instead (complete with feeble jokes about old musicals that Sheed does know) on Rex Reed's interview with Antonioni in the Times. The rest of his review repeats Judith Crist's complaint that Antonioni let a good story get away, Richard Goldstein's complaint that Antonioni didn't really capture London, and the blank raving about "surface beauty" that characterizes most other reviews. Finding the symbolism "non-organic" and the ideas banal, Sheed disdains to argue either point.
Such offenses against criticism are compounded in Miss Kael's review by offenses against taste, logic and the reader's patience. In a piece so staggeringly verbose that one cannot, as in Sheed's case, attribute the lack of argument to lack of space, Miss Kael serves up that combination of personal exhibitionism, obsession with fashion, and irrelevant inside dope that has become her special ragout. She reviews not the film but the audience.
Antonioni's first color film is in most respects identical to its predecessors, although it is less successful. More even than La Notte, it employs rather embarrassing dialogue. Also, whereas we can accept the representational function of normal people without needing to know much about them, a sick soul inevitably raises questions of causality which Antonioni is characteristically unable to answer.
Will Blow-Up be taken seriously in 1968 only by the same sort of cultural diehards who are still sending out five-page single-spaced letters on their interpretation of Marienbad? (No two are alike, no one interesting.) It has some of the Marienbad appeal: a friend phones for your opinion and when you tell him you didn't much care for it, he says, "You'd better see it again, I was at a swinging party the other night and it's all anybody ever talked abouti" (Was there ever a good movie that everybody was talking about?) It probably won't blow over because it also has the Morgan! - Georgy Girl appeal; people identify with it so strongly, they get upset if you don't like it - as if you were rejecting not just the movie but them. And in a way they're right, because if you don't accept the peculiarly slugged consciousness of Blow-Up, you are rejecting something in them. Antonioni's new mixture of suspense with vagueness and confusion seems to have the kind of numbing fascination for them that they associate with art and intellectuality, and they are responding to it as their film - and hence as a masterpiece.
Space limits prevent me from detailing Miss Kael's other vagaries, but I should like to draw attention to her one valid point. Miss Kael accuses Antonioni of secretly loving the mod life he exposes. This brings me to Red Desert.
More seriously, Red Desert is spoiled by a confusion in perspective, and it is here that Pauline Kael's point about Вlow-Up is relevant. Much of the film seems to indicate that the camera is essentially inseparable from Giuliana's twisted viewpoint. That presumably explains why we see things change color or lose definition as she looks at them. But in addition to several scenes in which she does not appear, there are examples of contradictory focus: in one scene, objects are in soft focus before and behind her, while she is sharp. This technical confusion reveals a deeper thematic uncertainty. Much of the film suggests that Giuliana is sickened by an actually terrifying culture, full of slag heaps, loneliness and exploitation. But since Antonioni is at pains to show that industrial Ravenna is also beautiful (he even paints steam pipes in gay colors), we begin to suspect that Giuliana's inability to adjust is culpable. This would support the apparent optimism of the ending.
Blow-Up suggests, for some people, a similar ambivalence. Isn't Antonioni fascinated by the mod scene, which, although empty, is certainly colorful? So far as I can see, people who answer "yes" are confusing their own response to the undeniably exciting materials with the film's theme. (Could Antonioni have convinced us that a film was set in mod London if he had photographed London the way he photographed the Lipari Islands or Milan?) Nevertheless, I think this is an arguable and important question. Were it possible here, I should like to consider the nostalgia for answers that Antonioni shares with most great modern chroniclers of the wasteland.
Two bad reviews by two irresponsible critics prove little; but when we search for alternatives, the point gets made. There are frequently fewer interesting plays or books in a given season than interesting films. Yet I think the Вlow-Up controversy suggests how ill-equipped American criticism is to discuss them. With the exception of John Simon, there is, at the moment, no aesthetically sophisticated and informed guide available for the growing audience that seeks enlightenment about films - and Simon writes for only thirty-five thousand readers a dozen times a year in the New Leader. Of the journalistic film reviewers, there is scarcely one to be taken seriously. The mass magazines used to employ men like Agee or Macdonald, but such critics have been ill-replaced. Smaller film quarterlies (when they last long enough to be useful) are made up either by film buffs capable, like the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd, of ontological analyses of Jerry Lewis, or they bear the same relationship to live film criticism that a philological journal bears to the vital discussion of books.
Artists like Antonioni will continue to progress, unperturbed by widespread ignorance. (Moreover, they will prosper; Variety says Blow-Up is "k.o.") But scores of interested viewers will be left behind.
Excerpted from The Blow-Up: Sorting Things Out: Charles Thomas Samuels.