Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Antonioni & Blow-Up

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) who died aged 94, on practically the same day as Ingmar Bergman, has long been one of my favourite directors, ever since I first saw his early '60s Italian studies of alienation and fascinating portraits of characters in relation to those landscapes ... His first film in colour IL DESERTO ROSSO in 1964 was a dazzler too, not least for his then muse Monica Vitti with that brown hair, a contrast to her usual blonde. The factories belching fumes around the industrial wasteland of Ravenna was also mesmerising - as was that green park (Maryon, in Woolwich) in that quiet part of London where a murder may have happened ... was a park or trees ever so green (they were painted so, of course, as related in that BBC HOLLYWOOD UK documentary in 1993 (TV, London labels). Left: that first book of 4 Antonioni scripts, essential stuff - I had the hardback edition initially, whatever happened to that? 

I was 21 at the time and seeing David Hemmings up there on the screen was like almost seeing myself - we dressed alike, and I had in fact been talking to his then girlfriend actress Jane Merrow that 1996 summer, when she was doing a play in London, and he was making the film, while Monica Vitti with working with Losey and Bogarde and Stamp on the MODESTY BLAISE pop art classic. This recent coffee table book on the film has some terrific images and essays ....
There are several posts here on BLOW-UP and Antonioni and Vitti - including posters, books - see labels - I just want to look now at how Antonioni saw the Swinging City, as we join Thomas the photographer as he drives around in his car, with that two way radio - cool ! One gets a sense of the city changing and developing as he drives through the centre down to the park - past that red painted street in Stockwell - and that antique shop he wants to buy - as, as he put it, the area is already changing "with queers and poodles" already moved there. I later lived next to that street in Chelsea, off the Kings Road, where that restaurant still is now. The film, usually listed as a 1966 release, did not open in London until early 1967, when it also went to the Cannes film festival, so it will always be a 1967 film for me.
I have always been fascinated by this park scene
At the time the film was much discussed, one simply had to see it - and we loved those dialogue exchanges, with the antique shop girl who wants to get away from antiques to Nepal, as he says "Nepal is all antiques" or the famous quote when he meets model Verushka at that stoned party - "I thought you were in Paris" and she says "I am in Paris" - 
and of course another Antonioni dawn serquence with that imaginary tennis game ... The plot is a tease: he bends over the body in the park - presumably its really there, then its gone when he returns that morning. The stoned party and those girls keen to be photographed, as well as those models kept posing, and of course the kids in the club fighting over the Yardbirds' broken guitar - which is just a piece of rubbish outside. I love the spare Herbie Hancock soundtrack too, and have had it on vinyl, cd and now on ipod.
In the club: Keith Relf and "Stroll On" ....
BLOW-UP is still a fascinating stylish influential movie - there are lots of posters and graphics from it still around. It may have been a bad experience for Sarah Miles but it certainly made Hemmings the icon of the age - to it seems the fury of Terence Stamp who insisted he had been promised the role and it was all about him .... whatever. We will still be looking at it for ages yet ... Its a terrific performance by Hemmings capturing all the jaded ennui of the typical Antonioni male. 
We like THE PASSENGER a lot too, as per the many posts on that - see label - including that review I did in 1975 for "Films Illustrated" magazine. It was good too to catch up with Antonioni's earlier films, now on dvd - reviews at Antonioni label
In some ways THE PASSENGER is the 70s for me, as BLOW-UP is the '60s - along with those Kubrick, Scorsese, Visconti, Losey titles. 


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  2. Hi Mike, congratulations for your excellent blog.
    To me "Blow up" is not just a movie, it's a real piece of art. Antonioni was able to create a sort of " floating atmosphere" which is unique. This blend of time and mistery. Furthermore, the movie retains an historycal value. No other filmed document was able to capture the essence of London Mod at its postwar peak, the so called "Swinging London" Thumbs up.
    Andrew Dardi