Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michelangelo Antonioni|
|Story by||Michelangelo Antonioni|
|Based on||Las babas del diablo|
by Julio Cortázar
|Music by||Herbert Hancock|
|Cinematography||Carlo Di Palma|
|Edited by||Frank Clarke|
|Box office||$20 million|
Blowup (sometimes styled as Blow-up or Blow Up) is a 1966 mystery thriller film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. It was Antonioni's first entirely English-language film, and follows a London fashion photographer, played by David Hemmings, who believes he has unwittingly captured a murder on film. The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Tsai Chin, Peter Bowles, and Gillian Hills, as well as 1960s model Veruschka. The screenplay was by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with English dialogue by British playwright Edward Bond. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti.
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, in turn based on a story told to Cortázar by photographer Sergio Larraín, and by the life of Swinging London photographer David Bailey. The film's non-diegetic music was scored by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. In the main competition section of the Cannes Film Festival, Blowup won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film, the festival's highest honour.
The American release of the counterculture-era film with its explicit sexual content (by contemporary standards) by a major Hollywood studio was in direct defiance of the Production Code. Its subsequent critical and box-office success influenced the abandonment of the code in 1968 in favour of the MPAA film rating system. In 2012, Blowup was ranked No. 144 in the Sight & Sound critics' poll of the world's greatest films.
The plot is a day in the life of a glamorous fashion photographer, Thomas (Hemmings), inspired by the life of an actual "Swinging London" photographer, David Bailey, and contemporaries such as Terence Donovan, David Montgomery and John Cowan.
After spending the night at a doss house, where he has taken pictures for a book of art photos, Thomas is late for a photo shoot with Veruschka at his studio, which in turn makes him late for a shoot with other models later in the morning. He grows bored and walks off, leaving the models and production staff in the lurch. As he leaves the studio, two teenaged girls who are aspiring models (Birkin and Hills) ask to speak with him, but the photographer drives off to look at an antique shop.
Wandering into Maryon Park, he takes photos of two lovers. The woman (Vanessa Redgrave) is furious at being photographed, pursues Thomas, demands his film, and ultimately tries to snatch his camera. He refuses and photographs her as she runs off.
Thomas then meets his agent Ron (Peter Bowles) for lunch, and notices a man following him and looking into his car. Back at his studio, the woman from the park arrives, asking desperately for the film. They have a conversation and flirt, but he deliberately hands her a different film roll. She, in turn, writes down a false telephone number and gives it to him.
He, curious, makes many enlargements of the black-and-white film of the two lovers. They reveal the woman worriedly looking at a third person lurking in the trees with a pistol. Thomas excitedly calls Ron, claiming his impromptu photo session may have saved a man's life. Thomas is disturbed by a knock on the door, and it is the two girls again, with whom he has a romp in his studio and falls asleep. Awakening, he finds they hope he will photograph them, but he realizes there may be more to the photographs in the park. He tells them to leave, saying, "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!"
Further examination of a blurred figure under a bush makes Thomas suspect the man in the park may have been murdered after all, during the time Thomas was arguing with the woman around the bend.
As evening falls, the photographer goes back to the park and finds the body of the man, but he has not brought his camera and is scared off by the sound of a twig breaking, as if being stepped on. Thomas returns to find his studio ransacked. All the negatives and prints are gone except for one very grainy blowup of what is possibly the body.
After driving into town, he sees the woman and follows her into a club where The Yardbirds, featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar and Keith Relf on vocals, are seen performing the song "Stroll On".
A buzz in Beck's amplifier angers him so much, he smashes his guitar on stage, then throws its neck into the crowd. A riot ensues. The photographer grabs the neck and runs out of the club before anyone can snatch it from him. Then, he has second thoughts about it, throws it on the pavement, and walks away. A passer-by picks up the neck and throws it back down, not realizing it is from Beck's guitar. Thomas never locates the elusive woman.
At a drug-drenched party in a house on the Thames near central London, the photographer finds Veruschka, who had told him that she was going to Paris; when confronted, she says she is in Paris. Thomas asks Ron to come to the park as a witness, but cannot convince him of what has happened because Ron is terrifically stoned. Instead, Thomas joins the party and wakes up in the house at sunrise. He returns to the park alone, only to find that the body is gone.
Befuddled, Thomas watches a mimed tennis match, is drawn into it, and picks up the imaginary ball and throws it back to the two players. While he watches the mime, the sound of the ball being played is heard and his image fades away, leaving only the grass as the film ends.
- David Hemmings as Thomas
- Vanessa Redgrave as Jane
- Sarah Miles as Patricia
- John Castle as Bill
- Jane Birkin as the Blonde
- Gillian Hills as the Brunette
- Peter Bowles as Ron
- Veruschka von Lehndorff as herself
- Julian Chagrin as Mime
- Claude Chagrin as Mime
- Susan Brodrick as Antique Shop Owner (uncredited)
- Tsai Chin as Thomas's receptionist (uncredited)
- Jill Kennington as Model (uncredited)
- Peggy Moffitt as Model (uncredited)
- Harry Hutchinson as Shopkeeper (uncredited)
- Ronan O'Casey as Jane's lover in the park (uncredited)
- Reg Wilkins as Thomas's Assistant (uncredited)
The opening mimes were filmed on the Plaza of The Economist Building in St. James's Street, London, a project by 'New Brutalists' Alison and Peter Smithson constructed between 1959–64. The scene in which men leave The Spike was shot on Consort Road, Peckham. The park scenes were at Maryon Park, Charlton, south-east London, and the park is little changed since the film. The street with red shopfronts is Stockwell Road and the shops belonged to motorcycle dealer Pride & Clarke. Outside shots of the photographer's studio were at 77 Pottery Lane, W11, and 39 Princes Place, W11. Photographer Jon Cowan leased his studio at 39 Princes Place to Antonioni for much of the interior and exterior filming, and Cowan's own photographic murals are featured in the film.
The scene in which the photographer sees the mysterious woman from his car and follows her was in Regent Street, London. He stops at Heddon Street where the album cover of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust was later photographed. The exterior for the party scene towards the end of the film was shot outside 100 Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea. The interior, which is believed to be the same address, was shot in the apartment of London antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs. The restaurant on the corner where Hemmings stops is on Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea SW3, where there is still a restaurant but no longer the one used in the film. The scene in the reproduced Ricky-Tick club with the Yardbirds performing "Stroll On" – a modified version of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" – was filmed at Elstree Studios, from 12 to 14 October 1966.
The film was distributed in North America by MGM shell company Premier Pictures. Writing about Antonioni for Time in 2007, the film writer Richard Corliss states that the film grossed "$20 million (about $120 million today) on a $1.8 million budget and helped liberate Hollywood from its puritanical prurience".
According to Variety, the movie earned $5,900,000 in North American rentals in 1967.
Film critic Andrew Sarris said the movie was "a mod masterpiece". In Playboy magazine, film critic Arthur Knight wrote that Blowup would be "as important and seminal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so".
Time magazine called the film a "far-out, uptight and vibrantly exciting picture" that represented a "screeching change of creative direction" for Antonioni; the magazine predicted it would "undoubtedly be by far the most popular movie Antonioni has ever made".
Bosley Crowther, film critic of The New York Times, called it a "fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed". Crowther had reservations, describing the "usual Antonioni passages of seemingly endless wanderings" as "redundant and long"; nevertheless, he called Blowup a "stunning picture – beautifully built up with glowing images and color compositions that get us into the feelings of our man and into the characteristics of the mod world in which he dwells". Even film director Ingmar Bergman, who generally disliked Antonioni, acknowledged its significance: "He's done two masterpieces, you don't have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I've seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that's mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau." Of the film's ending, Roger Ebert wrote in The Great Movies: "What remains is a hypnotic conjuring act, in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep of bored alienation and then drifts away again. This is the arc of the film. Not 'Swinging London.' Not existential mystery. Not the parallels between what Hemmings does with his photos and what Antonioni does with Hemmings. But simply the observations that we are happy when we are doing what we do well, and unhappy seeking pleasure elsewhere. I imagine Antonioni was happy when he was making this film."
Ebert also published a letter by actor Ronan O'Casey (dated 10 February 1999) which claimed that the film's mysterious nature is the product of an "unfinished" production, and that scenes which would have "depict[ed] the planning of the murder and its aftermath – scenes with Vanessa, Sarah Miles and Jeremy Glover, Vanessa's new young lover who plots with her to murder me – were never shot because the film went seriously over budget." Two scenes in particular give credence to this theory: that in the restaurant when Glover's character is seen apparently tampering with Thomas' car, and the second when Glover and Redgrave are glimpsed together in a Rover 2000 (which also appears elsewhere) following Thomas' Rolls Royce.
MGM did not gain approval for the film under the MPAA Production Code in the United States. The film was condemned by the National Legion of Decency. The code's collapse and revision was foreshadowed when MGM released the film through a subsidiary distributor and Blowup was shown widely in North American cinemas.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Academy Awards||10 April 1967||Best Director||Michelangelo Antonioni||Nominated|||
|Best Original Screenplay||Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra and Edward Bond||Nominated|
|British Academy Film Awards||1968||Best British Film||Michelangelo Antonioni||Nominated|||
|Best Cinematography, Colour||Carlo Di Palma||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction, Colour||Assheton Gorton||Nominated|
|Cannes Film Festival||27 April – 12 May 1967||Grand Prix du Festival International du Film||Michelangelo Antonioni||Won|||
|French Syndicate of Cinema Critics||1968||Best Foreign Film||Won|||
|Golden Globes||15 February 1967||Best English-Language Foreign Film||Blowup||Nominated|||
|Nastro d'Argento||1968||Best Foreign Director||Michelangelo Antonioni||Won|||
|National Society of Film Critics||January 1967||Best Film||Blowup||Won|||
|Best Director||Michelangelo Antonioni||Won|
Symbolism and philosophical subtext
In his commentary for the DVD edition of the movie, Peter Brunette provides insights on the symbolism of the movie, and its philosophical implications, with regards to the existentialist tenets that actions and experiences and people's values or qualities have no meaning per se, but are given a meaning within a particular context. The whole movie is relevant to illustrate those notions, but two scenes in particular bear a striking symbolism: the mime tennis scene at the very end, and the disposal of the broken guitar after the rock show, which takes place shortly before. Excerpt of the commentary of that particular sequence:
It's a very interesting sequence, and leads to I think the ultimate meaning of the film here, especially as it comes out in the end. This is the Yardbirds. One of the things that's most remarkable about this scene is that until the breakout at the end of the scene, everybody here looks like a zombie. Now remember that this is the Swinging London of the Sixties. And I think Antonioni is offering a very sharp comment here. Again, he has this push-pull, this kind of divided feeling about all this. On the one hand, he's attracted to this, and he said that he was attracted to the sexual freedom and all that goes with that. On the other hand, I think he sees through this so-called sexual freedom, and realizes that it brings a lot of difficulty with it as well. So throughout the film, in the party, in Yardbirds concert scene, we have some very very bored out people who don't look like they're having any fun at all. And part of their act of course – early version of punk rock I guess – was breaking up their instruments and throwing 'em out to the crowd. And there's a violent fight that takes place for this neck of a guitar. And yet, once David Hemmings has grabbed this neck of the guitar and taken it outside, it's out of its context, that means it's completely meaningless and therefore completely useless and worthless, and he throws it away. The important point here being that meaning, and the construction we put on reality, is always a group social function. And it's contextual. Any word can mean anything in a different context. It's the context that determines meaning. And that's what you'll find out here, and what we'll find out very vividly in this guitar destruction scene. There's nothing more meaningful than this object at that moment, 'cause it's a part of this environment, it's a part of this scene : people are trying to kill each other to get at this... artifact, sacred artifact, filled with meaning; and David Hemmings is right in there with the best of them. He wins. He's rescued the object, this intensely meaningful object. Yet, out of the context, it's just a broken piece of a guitar. And to verify the point and bring it home even more powerfully, someone else comes along, picks it up, looks at it, also throws it away.
In popular culture
- While writing the screenplay of the mystery thriller film The Conversation (1974) – similar in the plot in some way but about sound recording rather than photography – Francis Ford Coppola explained in the DVD commentary to that film that he was inspired by Blowup.
- In the satirical comedy film High Anxiety (1977), starring, written, produced and directed by Mel Brooks, a minor plot line involves a bumbling chauffeur who takes a picture showing the evil assassin (wearing a latex mask of Mel Brooks' character's face) firing a gun at point-blank range at someone; he makes blow-ups until he can see the real character, standing in the elevator in the background. (Technically, 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.)
- Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blowup also inspired the Egyptian film Darbet shams (1980), directed by Mohamed Khan, in which photographer inadvertently capture the murder while doing his job at wedding.
- Blow Out (1981), directed and written by Brian De Palma and starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow and Dennis Franz, alludes to Blowup and used sound recording rather than photography as its motif.
- Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blowup also inspired the Indian satirical comedy film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983), directed and co-written by Kundan Shah, in which two photographers inadvertently capture the murder of a Bombay Municipal Commissioner on their cameras and later discover this when the images are enlarged. The park in which the murder occurs is named "Antonioni Park".
- Both the spy action comedy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and its sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) feature a parody and homage to Veruschka von Lehndorff's photo shoot in Blowup.
- The romantic comedy film I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007) pays homage to the scene from Blowup in which David Hemmings' character Thomas straddles German model Veruschka von Lehndorff from above while taking her photograph – this time with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer.
- In the tenth episode of the third season of the BBC drama television series Monarch of the Glen (2000–2005), Molly MacDonald (Susan Hampshire) clarifies for her husband Hector (Richard Briers) that it was Michelangelo Antonioni who wanted her for Blowup when she was a London model in the 1960s.
- In the 2007 music video of the song "Hot Lips" written by Daniel Högberg and Björn Synneby and performed by Swedish Gothenburger electro musical duo Pacific! (in which the song's music video was directed and rotoscope animated by Stéphane Manel), footage from the ending scene of the movie of Thomas picking up the imaginary ball and throwing it back is used for rotoscoped animation.
- ^ Several people known in 1966 are in the film; others became famous later. The most widely noted cameo was by The Yardbirds who perform "Stroll On" in the last third. Michelangelo Antonioni first asked Eric Burdon to play that scene but he turned it down. As Keith Relf sings, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck play to either side along with Chris Dreja.
- ^ After Jeff Beck's guitar amplifier fails, he bashes his guitar to bits as The Who did at the time. Michelangelo Antonioni had wanted The Who in Blowup as he was fascinated by Pete Townshend's guitar-smashing routine.
- ^ Steve Howe of Tomorrow recalled and wrote "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!" Michelangelo Antonioni also considered using The Velvet Underground (signed at the time to a division of MGM Records) in the nightclub scene but according to guitarist Sterling Morrison, "the expense of bringing the whole entourage to England proved too much for him".
- ^ Janet Street-Porter can be seen dancing in a silver coat and red and yellow striped Carnaby Street trousers during the scene inside the nightclub. A pre-Monty Python Michael Palin can also be seen in the motionless crowd watching The Yardbirds.
- "Blowup (1967)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- Corliss, Richard (5 August 2007). "When Antonioni Blew Up the Movies". Time. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- "Best of Bond". The Guardian. 21 January 2008. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
- Beltzer, Thomas (15 April 2005). "La Mano Negra: Julio Cortázar and His Influence on Cinema". Senses of Cinema. Archived from the original on 28 October 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Forn, Juan. "El rectángulo en la mano". Página 12 (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 August 2017.
- Brigitte Tast, Hans-Jürgen Tast: light room – dark room. Antonionis "Blow-Up" und der Traumjob Fotograf, Kulleraugen Vis.Komm. Nr. 44, Schellerten 2014, ISBN 978-3-88842-044-3
- Walter Ryce (27 November 2013). "Ethan Russell's seminal '60s rock photos dazzle at Winfield Gallery in Carmel". montereycountyweekly.com. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- firstname.lastname@example.org (snopes) (25 May 1993). "Re: The MPAA". The Skeptic Tank. The Skeptic Tank. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
- "Votes for Blowup (1967)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
- PDN Legends Online: David Bailey; retrieved 28 July 2012.
- "Yardbirds 1966 Blow Up," YouTube
- Simon R.H. James (2007). London Film Location Guide. Batsford (London). p. 87. ISBN 978-0-7134-9062-6.
- James (2007) p. 169.
- James (2007) p. 181.
- Staff writer (10 September 2006). "On the Trail of the Swinging Sixties – 'Blow-Up', Antonioni's Cult Film, Hit Our Screens 40 Years Ago. Robert Nurden Goes in Search of the Places Used for Filming, from Notting Hill to a Neglected Park in a Little-Known Corner of South-East London". The Independent. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Blow-up: John Hooton's Photography Blog. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- James (2007) p. 38.
- "Heddon Street, London" The Ziggy Stardust Companion. Retrieved 25 December 2009.
- The Telegraph, "Magical Memory Tour of London" by Rory Maclean. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Birnbaum, Larry (2012). Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-8629-2.
- "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- "Antonioni's Blowup Defines Cool". filminfocus.com. 18 December 2008. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 25 December 2009.
- Staff writer (30 December 1966). "Cinema: The Things Which Are Not Seen". Time. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Crowther, Bosley (19 December 1966). "Blow-Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Interview published in Sydsvenska Dagbladet. "Bergman on Film Directors" Archived 26 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine at zakka.dk. Retrieved 25 December 2009.
- Ebert, Roger (2002). The Great Movies. Broadway Books. p. 78. ISBN 0-7679-1038-9.
- "Antonioni's Corpse from "Blow-Up" speaks!". rogerebert.com. 10 February 1999. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- "THE 39TH ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2015. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Film in 1968". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Festival de Cannes: Blowup". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 8 March 2009.
- Staff writer (19 May 1967). "People: May 19, 1967". Time. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Passafiume, Andrea. "Blow-Up (1966), AWARDS AND HONORS". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Blow-Up". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
- Commentary track by Peter Brunette on the 2005 DVD edition of Blow Up
- Kael, Pauline (1984). "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gadgeteer". Taking It All In. New York City: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 227. ISBN 0-03-069361-6.
Blow Out is a variation on Antonioni's Blow-Up
- Sudip, Geetika (7 December 2007). "Of Naseeruddin Shah and Michelangelo Antonioni …". TheHindu. Archived from the original on 16 February 2019. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
This key sequence, which takes place in a park, was obviously inspired from Antonioni's 'Blow Up.' In fact, the park where they click pictures of D'Mello's murder is named Antonioni Park in the film, in a bow to the Italian master!
- "Pacific – Hot Lips". stephanemanel.com. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
- Platt, John; Dreja, Chris; McCarty, Jim (1983). Yardbirds. Sidgwick and Jackson (London). ISBN 978-0-283-98982-7.
- Frame, Pete (1993). The Complete Rock Family Trees. Omnibus Press (London; New York City). p. 55. ISBN 978-0-711-90465-1.
- Bockris, Victor and Malanga, Gerard (1983). Uptight – The Velvet Underground Story. Quill (New York). p. 67. ISBN 978-0-688-03906-6.
- Hemmings, David. Blow-up and other exaggerations. p. 23.
- Dennis, Jon (24 November 2011). "My favourite film: Blow-Up". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
- Brunette, Peter (2005). DVD Audio Commentary (Iconic Films).
- Hemmings, David (2004). Blow-Up… and Other Exaggerations – The Autobiography of David Hemmings. Robson Books (London). ISBN 978-1-861-05789-1.
- Huss, Roy, ed. (1971). Focus on Blow-Up. Film Focus. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-13-077776-8. Includes a translation of Cortázar's original short story.
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- Peter Bowles on making of Blow-Up
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- On the set of Antonioni's Blow-Up and how this film about a '60s fashion photographer compared to the real thing.
- Blow-Up: In the Details an essay by David Forgacs at the Criterion Collection