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.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Blow-Up goes to Vienna ...

No film captures Sixties London as perfectly as BLOW-UP. A new exhibition pays tribute to the hellraising fashion photographers who inspired it, begins Tim Burrows in a weekend supplement feature (above) on the enduring classic....
Is there another film that seems to crystalise a moment in time as perfectly as Antonioni's BLOW-UP? Viewed today, it seems like a "greatest hits" compilation of London's swinging era: the buoyant Herbie Hancock soundtrack; (which I have loved in vinyl, CD and iPod), the Yardbirds gig, complete with a cameo from Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck; Jane Birkin's blink and you'll miss it full-frontal moment that ushered in more lenient censorship in cinema.

A new book and exhibition at Vienna's Albertina Gallery (April - August) seeks to delve deeper into the context of the 1966 film, which really gained momentum in 1967, with a mix of photographs from the film and those photographs taken by veteran photographer Don McCullin (now 79) which Antonioni wanted for 'the murder in the park' sequence - those grainy images which turn out to show a man with a gun. McCullin says the reason Antonioni came to London was that "he saw it as an uptight country that was suddenly breaking open like a paper bag".  There was an exhibition in London which I attended, maybe 5 or 6 years ago now, on the film also showing those McCullin photos, so the Vienna exhibition may be more or less similar.
Antonioni was fascinated by London's fashion photographers after a significant feature about them in The Sunday Times on David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy who were immortalised in Francis Wyndham's 1964 article. The film became a process of art imitation pop life. Bailey declined to appear in the project, Terence Stamp was lined up to play Thomas the photographer, but lost out after Antonioni saw the relatively unknown David Hemmings in a play at Hampstead Theatre. 

I did not know that the model dancing on the roof over the opening credits was American supermodel Donyale Luna (whom my Australian friend Garry knew). Verushka of course is the other super-model in that stunning scene with Hemmings, while Jill Kennington and Peggy Moffitt are among the models waiting to be captured on film, and Janet Street-Porter is the girl dancing in the club!. We love that studio (John Cowan's) too, which was once an abbatoir. Landscapes and interiors are so mesmerising here, as is usual with Antonioni films, and not only that green park but the streets and city landscrape our hero drives around in, talking on his two way radio ! 
There have been several books on the meaning of BLOW-UP over the years and I think I have seen most of them. That recent coffee-table tome is terrific, great photos and essays. I was 21 when I first saw BLOW-UP that great year 1967 - it and The Beatles' SGT PEPPER album defined our cultural landscape that year. The film also highlights the political and social ambiguities that resonated during that '60s boom. 

The Vienna gallery says: There is hardly another feature film that has shown the diverse areas of photography in such a differentiated fashion, and which attempts to fathom them in such a detailed and timeless manner.
The protagonist believes that he has "documented" a murder; however, the photos turn out to provide only ambivalent evidence, because even enlargements or blow-ups of these photos don't reveal the presumed corpse. This cinematic study of the representation of images and their ambivalence demonstrates that Blow-Up has retained its cultural relevance since its creation in 1966.

I saw Sarah Miles at that THE SERVANT screening last year, it would have been interesting to have been able to talk to her about BLOW-UP but we already know it was not a happy shoot for her ... 
The film still looks marvellous now, London looks fresh and clean, but is it a British, Italian or American film?, seeing as it was created and produced by Italians, shot in England, for MGM ... whatever, it remains an essential '60s classic.
One hilarious BLOW-UP artefact for me is Professor Peter Brunette's commentary on the DVD which is very po-faced as it states the obvious and tells us what we are about to see, and comes across like he is trying to explain the film's milieu to a classroom of American teenagers who know nothing about the Sixties or who these people like Vanessa Redgrave are. Maybe that's what teaching teenagers is like .... ?
See BLOW-UP label for more on the film, ditto Antonioni, Hemmings, Redgrave, Miles labels

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