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Blowup DVD cover
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni
Tonino Guerra
Edward Bond (dialogues)
Starring Vanessa Redgrave
David Hemmings
Sarah Miles
Music by Herbie Hancock
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Release date(s) United States:
December 18, 1966
United Kingdom:
January, 1967
Running time 111 min
Language English

Blowup (as shown in the screen credits, also often rendered as Blow-Up on promotional and packaging materials) is a 1966 British-Italian art film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and was that director's first English language film. It tells the story of a photographer's involvement with a murder case. The film was inspired by the short story "Las Babas del Diablo" ("The Droolings of the Devil") by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, and by the work, habits, and mannerisms of Swinging London photographer David Bailey. The film was scored by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, although the music is mimetic as it is played on a record by the main character. Nominated for several awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Blowup won the Grand Prix.

Blowup stars David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills. The screenplay was written by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with the English dialogue being written by British playwright Edward Bond. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti, who had contracted Antonioni to make three English language films for MGM (the others were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger).


[edit] Synopsis

The plot is a tale of about 24 hours in the life of Thomas (Hemmings), a professional fashion photographer, who begins the day after spending the night at a doss house where he has taken pictures for a book of art photos he hopes to publish. He is late for a photo shoot at his studio with a famous French fashion model, which in turn makes him late for another photo shoot with many other models later in the morning. He grows bored and walks off the shoot (also leaving the models and production staff in the lurch). Exiting the studio, two girls, aspiring teenaged models, ask to speak with him but Thomas drives off to look at an antiques shop which he might buy. He then wanders into nearby Maryon Park where he sees two lovers and takes photos of them. The woman (Redgrave) is nettled at being photographed and Thomas is startled when she somehow stalks him back to his studio, asking for the film. This makes him want the film even more, so he misleads her into taking another roll instead. He makes many blowups (enlargements) of the black and white photos. These blowups have very rough film grain but nonetheless seem to show a body lying in the grass and a killer lurking in the trees with a gun. Thomas is frightened by a knock on the door but it is only the two girls again, with whom he has a romp in his studio and falls asleep. Awakening, although they hope he will photograph them then and there, he tells the girls to leave, saying, "Tomorrow! Come back tomorrow!"

As evening falls Thomas goes back to the park and indeed finds a body but he has not brought his camera and is scared off by what seems to be the sound of someone treading on and breaking a wooden twig. At a drug-drenched party at a house on the Thames river near central London he finds both the French model (who tells him she is in Paris) and his publishing agent (Peter Bowles), the latter whom he wants to bring to the park as a witness. However, Thomas cannot put across in meaningful words what he has photographed. Waking up in the same, now stilled house at sunrise, he goes back to the park alone but the body is gone.

Befuddled, he watches a group of university students playing and watching a mimed tennis match, is drawn into it, picks up their unseen, make-believe ball and throws it back to the two players. While he watches the mimed match, the sound of a ball being played back and forth is soon heard. As the photographer watches this alone on the lawn he fades away, leaving only the green grass as the film ends.

[edit] Noted cameos

Sundry people who were widely known in 1966 are seen in the film, others would become famous later. The most widely noted cameo was made by the The Yardbirds, who perform "Stroll On" in the last third of the film. As Keith Relf sings, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck play to either side, along with Chris Dreja. After his guitar amplifier fails, Beck bashes his guitar to bits, as The Who were wont to do at the time, although the Yardbirds otherwise never did this on stage. Antonioni had wanted the Who to perform in Blowup as he was fascinated by Pete Townshend's guitar-smashing routine.[1] Steve Howe of the The In Crowd later recalled, "We went on the set and started preparing for that guitar-smashing scene in the club. They even went as far as making up a bunch of Gibson 175 replicas ... and then we got dropped for the Yardbirds, who were a bigger name. That's why you see Jeff Beck smashing my guitar rather than his!"[2] Antonioni also considered using The Velvet Underground in the nightclub scene, but according to guitarist Sterling Morrison, "the expense of bringing the whole entourage to England proved too much for him."[3]

Michael Palin of Monty Python can be seen very briefly in the sullen nightclub crowd [4][where?] and future media personality Janet Street-Porter dances in stripey, Carnaby Street trousers.

A poster on the club's entry door bears a drawing of a tombstone with the epitaph, Here lies Bob Dylan Passed Away Royal Albert Hall 27 May 1966 R.I.P., harking to Dylan's controversial switch to electric instruments at this time. Beside the Dylan poster are posters bearing a caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

[edit] Filming locations

The first scene (with the mimes acting) was filmed on the Plaza of The Economist Building in (Piccadilly, London, 1959–64, a project by 'New Brutalists' Alison and Peter Smithson). The park scenes were filmed at Maryon Park, Charlton, south-east London, and the park is little changed since the making of the film. The street with the many maroon-coloured shop fronts is Stockwell Road, and the shops belonged to motorcycle dealer Pride & Clark. The scene where Thomas sees the mysterious woman from his car, then proceeds to follow her, was shot in Regent Street, London. He stops at Heddon Street, where the cover shot of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust LP was later photographed.[5] The photographer's studio was filmed at 49 Princes Place, London W11, which in the decades since has been office and studio space for architectural firms.

[edit] Reaction

The onscreen title, no hyphen.

Andrew Sarris said the movie was "a mod masterpiece." In Playboy magazine, Arthur Knight wrote Blowup would be thought of "as important and germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City [sic] [6] and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so."[4]

Blowup was controversial as the first British film to feature full frontal female nudity (although this is sometimes noted as having happened in the slightly later if....). MGM did not gain approval for the film under the MPAA Production Code in the United States. The code's collapse and thorough revision was foreshadowed when MGM released the film through a subsidiary distributor and Blowup was shown widely in North American cinemas.

[edit] Awards

[edit] Academy Awards

[edit] BAFTA Awards

  • Nominated: Best British Film - Michelangelo Antonioni
  • Nominated: Best British Art Direction (Colour) - Assheton Gorton
  • Nominated: Best British Cinematography (Colour) - Carlo Di Palma

[edit] Cannes Film Festival

[edit] Golden Globe Awards

  • Nominated: Best English-Language Foreign Film

[edit] Later cultural references

Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981), starring John Travolta, which alludes to Blowup, used sound recording rather than photography as its central motif. In the DVD commentary to his 1974 film The Conversation, which is also about sound recording, Francis Ford Coppola said he, too, was inspired by Blow Up in writing the screenplay.[citation needed]

In Mel Brooks's film High Anxiety, a minor plot line involves a bumbling chauffeur who takes a picture showing the evil assassin (wearing a latex mask of Brooks's character's face) firing a gun at point-blank range at someone; he makes blow-ups until he can see the real Brooks's character, standing in the elevator in the background. (Technically speaking, the chauffeur does not make blow-ups; the joke is that he simply makes bigger and bigger enlargements until he has one the size of a wall.)

This film also inspired the Indian movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, in which two photographers inadvertently capture the murder of a city mayor on their cameras and later discover this when the images are enlarged. The park in which the murder occurs is aptly named "Antonioni Park".

The comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery features a parody of the scene in which Hemmings' character photographs a model while barking commands and voicing enthusiasm.

The film I Could Never Be Your Woman features an homage to the iconic scene from Blowup in which David Hemmings character straddles model Verushka from above while taking her photo - this time with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer.

This film also has a heavy influence on the music video for Amerie's "Take Control", from her 2007 album, Because I Love It.[8]

The guitar riff of the track "Bring Down The Birds" from Herbie Hancock's score served as a centerpiece for the song "Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite.

In the last episode of the third series of the BBC program, "Monarch of the Glen," Molly MacDonald (Susan Hampshire) clarifies for husband, Hector (Richard Briers) , that it was Antonioni who wanted her for the film, "Blowup", back when she was a model in London in the 1960s. One of the models in the film is played by 1960s fashion model, Melanie Hampshire.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Platt, Dreja and McCarthy, Yardbirds, Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd., London, 1983
  2. ^ Frame, Pete, The Complete Rock Family Trees. p. 55. Omnibus Press, 1993. ISBN 0-7119-0465-0
  3. ^ Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga, Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. p. 67. New York: Quill, 1983. ISBN 0-688-03906-5
  4. ^ a b, Antonioni's Blowup defines cool, 18 December 2008, retrieved 17 January 2009
  5. ^ Time Out (1998), Q Magazine (Oct 12-18, 1984). "ZSC:Heddon St.". The Ziggy Stardust Companion. Retrieved on 2009-01-12. 
  6. ^ For decades, it was far more common for Rome, Open City to be referred to simply as "Open City", e.g. "Open City directed by Roberto Rossellini", Video Yesteryear, 1981.
  7. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Blowup". Retrieved on 2009-03-08. 
  8. ^ "NEW RELEASE: Amerie "Take Control"". Video Static. January 9, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.

[edit] Further information

  • Brunette, Peter. Audio commentary on the 2005 DVD (Iconic Films).
  • Hemmings, David. Blow-Up… and Other Exaggerations: The Autobiography of David Hemmings.

[edit] External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
A Man and a Woman tied with
The Birds, the Bees and the Italians
Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival
Succeeded by
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