Thursday, 17 January 2013


The classless photographer indulges in his fashion shoot.

It wasn’t until Michelangelo Antonioni ventured to the UK and made his first English language film that he becomes a truly international filmmaker. Blow-Up (1966) was the Italian directors biggest commercial success. It was based on a short story Las Babas del Diablo by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar. Shot mainly in South London it tells the story of glamorous fashion photography, inspired by classless snapper David Bailey who divides his time between serious shoots and sessions with fashion models. The film opens with Thomas (David Hemmings) dressed as a transient leaving a Salvation Army Hostel, a place that would then have been referred to as a doss house, with reels of 35mm stock showing the men and the conditions they lived in, all of which are to be used in a forthcoming book. Leaving the area in a convertible Rolls Royce he goes back to his studio to photograph the German model Veruschka and a fashion shoot for a magazine. Later whilst waiting for the owner of an antique shop to return so he can make an offer for the property he enters Maryon Park and starts taking photos for a future project.  He see's a young women (Vanessa Redgrave) and an older man petting and intrusively starts taking pictures. The woman is furious and tries to get hold of his camera, eventually tracking him down to his studio. Thomas can't understand why the woman wants the negatives so much until he develops and enlarges the prints.

The films release was blocked because of some explicate images.

If the film does nothing else it shows what the mid 1960s were perceived to be like underlining the hyped up feel so beloved of the media at the time. But in fact there was a significant discrepancy between most people's experiences and the colourful dream that was the swinging sixties. Most of us were earning our living in a far less romanticized fashion than the well-heeled individuals portrayed in the movie. It did however show the beginnings of the celebrity culture, note the two young girls (Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills) notoriously going to any length to get a famous photographer to take their pictures with perhaps the hope that some of his fame will rub off on them. Certainly, for a main stream British film at that time, the nudity was quite explicit, including Redgrave removing her blouse and wondering around the studio with only her crossed arms protecting her modesty, the films initial release being blocked because of it. It also shows the acceptance of the drug culture, the casual sex, and the fashion consciousness of the time and of course music concerts, all of which was available to those that could afford to indulge in the life style. Incidentally the film has a great soundtrack from Herbie Hancock and also includes the track performed by The Yardbirds with a classic lineup that included both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.

The Swinging Sixties wasn't like this for us all!!

Antonioni's film was said to influence Coppola's 1974 movie The Conversation and after seeing both film’s recently I would beg to differ. Coppola set out to make a thriller where as Blow-Up was neither suspenseful nor a thriller. It was really a portrait of what was to become known as a swinging London movie but like many of them had the addition of some disturbing undertones involving the mystery of what our aggressive young photographer saw or did not see in a dog less South London park. 

The mystery of Maryon Park, South London.

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