Blow-Up, it was high time we review one of FORMIDABLE MAGAZINE all time favorite films.
Blow-up became an instant cult film. The photographic seduction session with Verushka, the three-way romp with Jane Birkin on the purple photographer’s backdrop, the footage of the Beck/Page era Yardbirds, David Hemmings’ as the kind of photographer of the time who became famous in their own right as fashion magazines and celebrities wanted to be captured in the new and innovative style.
London in the 1960s was a place of enormous change and cosmopolitanism. The original poster for Blow-Up encapsulates the age brilliantly. The film also is a brilliantly-focussed snapshot of an emerging rootless generation for whom the attraction of the here and now has an insistence that clouds any wider search for meaning or solid ground.
Sixties top model and style icon Veruschka. The part was only a cameo, lasting no more than five minutes, but it made her a superstar. Slinking like a cat toying with a mouse, half-naked on the floor in a beaded dress, while the photographer shouted encouragement “Give it to me! Give it to me! . . . Work, work, work!”, she was sixties sexuality incarnate.
Antonioni was fascinated by London’s fashion photography boom, in particular, the “black trinity” of David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, who matched sex with spontaneity in a string of shoots for publications such as Vogue, Queen, and Harpers Bazaar. They were immortalised in Francis Wyndham’s 1964 Sunday Times article, “The Model Makers”. “The only thing between you and the girl is the camera.” explained Bailey, in a quote that reads like an elevator pitch for Blow-Up. But it’s also present in the film the director’s ambivalence towards the subject matter and the “beautiful people”, who are also repellent.
The plot was inspired by Julio Cortázar’s short story, “Las babas del diablo” or “The Devil’s Drool” (1959), translated also as “Blow Up” in Blow-up and Other Stories, and by the life of Swinging London photographer David Bailey. But interesting enough the studio scenes were shoot at a different fashion photographer’s studio, John Cowan, and many of his photos can be seen on the walls of the studio through out the film.
Antonioni was introduced to John Cowan by Terence Donovan at Cowan’s studio. The studio was originally a barn for horse hay and straw, and had a unique atmosphere of excitement. There was a flat at one end of the studio with a huge screen that overlooked it. Antonioni knew immediately that this was what he wanted. A deal was done and he rented the premises for three months. The studio was at 39 Princes Place, Princedale Rd, off Holland Park Avenue, London W11, the Notting Hill area. It was run down area back then.
Models Jill Kennington, Peggy Moffitt, Melanie Hampshire, Rosaleen Murray and Ann Norman.
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III Drop Head Coupé “Chinese Eyes”, by Mulliner Park Ward. The car apparently was bought from Jimmy Saville and re-sprayed in blue/grey for the film. Thomas convertible Rolls Royce features a two-way radio system. In real life, who had the same car with the same radio system was fashion photographer Terence Donovan.
Jane Birkin caused a stir when she became the first actress to show her pubic hair in mainstream cinema. “I never thought that would shock,” she said. At the time she was the wife of the composer John Barry, the creator of the James Bond theme.
Filming in the streets of London.
David Hemmings, Ann Norman, and Peggy Moffit in the set.
The soundtrack album by Herbie Hancock evokes the ambience of swinging Sixties’ London with grooves that create effective bluesy Jazz moods on the slow pieces, and funky ones on the up-tempo tracks. The album features performances by Hancock on keys, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Newman on trumpet, Phil Woods and Joe Henderson on sax, Ron Carter on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Rumours go that either the fabled Jimmy Smith or Paul Griffin played the Hammond organ on this record.
Antonioni’s first choice was The Velvet Underground—a band closely associated with Andy Warhol’s New York scene. However, according to V. U. guitarist Sterling Morrison, “the expense of bringing the whole entourage to England proved too much for him.” Antonioni was fascinated by Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing routine, so he approached The Who. Nothing came of that. A fairly obscure psychedelic British band called Tomorrow, which included guitarist Steve Howe, later a member of Yes, recorded two songs for the film—including one called “Blow-Up”—but neither was used.
“Simon Napier-Bell, The Yardbirds’ manager at the time, happened to run into Antonioni at the London discotheque Scotch of St. James and made his case that The Yardbirds were the group for his film. Antonioni caught The Yardbirds live on September 23 and was convinced. The Yardbirds wanted to do original material and offered five tracks, but Antonioni loved The Yardbirds’ version of ‘The Train Kept A-Rollin’. However, copyright permission for the song could not be obtained by the filming date, so Keith Relf modified the lyrics and created ‘Stroll On’.
Director Antonioni on the set.
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