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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Blow Up (1966) - Spotlight on... Trailblazers

**Warning: The contents of this blog post may offend some readers**

"I'm only doing my job. Some people are bullfighters, some people are politicians. I'm a photographer." - David Hemmings (as Thomas in 'Blow-Up')

'Blow-Up' is a 1966 mystery/thriller directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Tsai Chin, Gillian Hills and 60s fashion model Veruschka.  The film's screenplay was written by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with English dialogue by British playwright Edward Bond. The story is based on a short story by Julio Cortazar called 'Las babas del diablo' (or 'The Devil's Drool'). Produced by Carlo Ponti, this was the first of three English-language films Antonioni was to make for MGM.

Thomas takes photos of Veruschka
in one of my favourite images

Fashion photographer Thomas (played by Hemmings) believes he has unintentionally taken photographs of a murder, whilst taking photos at a nearby park. Thomas is almost driven to insanity with his obsession and quest to uncover the truth.


A key theme in the film is voyeurism with Thomas willingly photographing anything he likes. That said, voyeurism it is not just seen through the lens of a camera. When Thomas walks into his friend's house and hears them in bed together, he doesn't leave as the average person would. He continues to walk through the house, into the hallway and watches their love making from the bedroom door. He watches them for over a minute before he decides to leave.

American release controversy

The American release of 'Blow-Up' was a significant milestone with it's explicit nudity and sexual innuendo. The strict Hollywood Production Code had initially refused to approve it. To bypass this, MGM created a new distribution company called 'Premiere Productions', which did not have an agreement to comply with the Production Code. The box office success and critical acclaim of the film led to the eventual destruction of the Production Code in 1968, and was replaced by the current classification system.

Watch the iconic controversial photography scene

Watch a controversial clip from 'Blow-Up'

Did you know...

  • This was Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni's first English language film
  • The character of Thomas was inspired by real-life swinging London photographer David Bailey
  • One of the first British films to show full-frontal female nudity
  • Antonioni did not like the colour of the grass in the park, and it painted green
  • Terence Stamp was originally cast as Thomas, but was dropped 2 weeks before filming began
  • Swedish actress Evabritt Strangberg was originally considered for the role of Jane 

Closing remarks

I would consider 'Blow-Up' to be one of the first arthouse films I ever saw. I first watched it when I was in 18 in my first semester of studying film at university. Words cannot express my experience of watching 'Blow-Up' for the first time. While the majority of students in my tutorial found the film to be very boring and slow, I enjoyed it very much.  

There are three reasons why I love 'Blow Up'
  • They say a picture says a thousand words - With very minimal dialogue throughout the film, I like the way in which Antonioni uses image as a storytelling medium
  • I like how the music soundtrack is diegetic - This means it is heard only when someone turns on the radio or puts on a record
  • The third factor I like is how the film cuts off and does not give the spectator closure on how the story ends -  We, as the spectator are left to consider our own perception of what happens to Thomas, and the corpse

With it's psychedelic music soundtrack by Herbie Hancock, and borderline-anorexic models with vacant facial expressions, 'Blow-Up' is the ultimate mod movie from the 1960s.

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