Back to B


Geoff and Phil mentioned this last week, but I’ve been waiting patiently to tell you that it was released exactly fifty years ago this week. I recall seeing it in one of the Fratton Road cinemas. It’s not flawless, but still my favourite ‘swinging sixties’ movie

Blow Up

Blow Up


Author: pompeypop

University lecturer, longtime local musician and recently historian of popular music - especially in and around Portsmouth. My blog is entirely about that topic

15 thoughts on “Back to B

  1. Call me thick (careful !!) but I watched the film at the Essoldo in Albert Road, Southsea, came out wondering what it was all about. Chances are if I saw it now, I still woud’nt understand it, an age thing you know…..

  2. What’s It All About was ‘Alfie’ (!) Some you like, some you don’t – no problem. I love it but there again.

    And I’d swop every movie I’ve ever seen to play the keyboard like you, so …

  3. It’s quite straightforward really. There are two themes. One is 60s sex, drugs and rock & roll, which just happens. The other is whether ‘David Bailey’ has photographed a murder.

    Oh, and tennis. But I love the darkroom. People don’t use darkrooms generally anymore but when I was young my dad created a darkroom in a spare room at the back of our house. He was clever like that, although he often took slides. I had a darkroom in the 1980s when I taught at St Lukes – wet and smelly.

  4. I also thought it was a rubbishy, pretentious film with little or no meaning. Can anybody explain this to me after all the years…?

    • I really don’t think you can dismiss a film like that as rubbish “cousin” Paul ! I love my jazz music but a lot of people refer to it as pretentious rubbish, in my book you should judge everything on it’s quality ie I’m not a great lover of trad jazz but if it’s played well, who’s to say it’s rubbish ?? That also applies to lots of music genres.
      As a suggestion, can we start a “What was the most incomprehensible film we’ve ever seen?” The main one for me was a Japanese film called “Onibaba”, the strangest film I’ve ever encountered. There was no musical soundtrack (that always has to be a major priority for me ), the only sounds we had to create an atmosphere was the sound of wind blowing through the rice fields….weird or what ??

      • Well, OK, perhaps not rubbish but still a little pretentious, Rodney. Perhaps I just remember the jumped-up photographer and the model shoots! Perhaps I just couldn’t understand how I managed to stay awake for the whole film … it was all so long ago, I can’t really remember!!

    • Well you could start with what I wrote above. A ‘David Bailey’ figure goes to a park, takes photos, notices, by chance, a couple who might be having an illicit affair and they try to stop him photographing them. He runs off and develops the film in his dark room, where he realises there might also be a dead body in the photo, which leads him to explore whether he has or has not got evidence of a murder.

      Throughout there is a strong sense of uncertainty – it’s not a Hitchcock ‘whodunnit?’ so much as did anyone do anything? You never really know. This is emphasised in the final sequence where a mime troupe – who by definition ‘mime’ things – mime a tennis match except that you hear, but don’t see, the ball bouncing. In that narrative sense, the whole thing could have been situated in Manchester in 1920, or Gosport in 1947 – but it is placed in ‘Swinging London’ and a lot of that is, if you like, decorative and designed to pull in the punters because there is sex, drugs and rock & roll (the Yardbirds). It is after all, commercial cinema, which always wants to recoup its considerable expenditure.

      The idea of uncertainty and ambiguity are certainly key elements that I like very much. For those who crave certainty in life (or art) the world is full of it – try Coronation Street or Donald Trump or predictions by economists or ‘Brexit means Brexit’ for starters. But the world is not so full of the idea that the only certainties are death, taxes and uncertainty. Some people prefer realist art, stories with a clear beginning, middle and end, or memorable melodies, but that’s not the whole story. Antonioni’s next movie ‘Zabriskie Point’ does seem to me to warrant a real slagging off but I’m a big fan of Blow-Up – despite its rampant mid-60s misogyny.

      • Mind you, if you want something that really is difficult to untangle, try ‘One Plus One’ aka ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by Jean-Luc Godard plus a bunch of guys called the Rolling Stones.

      • Thanks PP, that explains everything about the film. You have a great way of putting things across, I only wish you could have been my lecturer if I’d been at university…..now about these piano lessons !!!

  5. Even though it is only half a film, I think it is it is still a brilliant piece of work, from the pre-computer graphics day.

    Recently John Hooten, who played the photographer’s assistant gave his perspective…


  6. “Zabriskie Point” is a real place situated in Death Valley. To my mind the film was much better than “Blow Up“, Antonioni’s previous film.

    It also had a wonderful soundtrack – The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Kaleidoscope, Roscoe Holcomb(!!!) The Rolling Stones, The Youngbloods, Roy Orbison, the brilliant John Fahe, and even Patti Page (“The Tennessee Waltz”, in a scene set in a restaurant in Death Valley). What’s not to like about the album? I love it to bits. Just dug it out and playing it as I type. An “alternative” album by Pink Floyd only emerged later.

    As far as “Zabriskie Point”s film/story is concerned, although Rod Taylor was a professional and well known actor, the most important person in the film (to my mind) is the character Mark played by Mark convenient..) Frechette, who was an “unknown” but had presence. Also Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panthers (wife of Eldridge Cleaver), was in the opening scene – a student meeting at Contra Costa Community College in San Pablo, California.

    Using amateur actors always worked for other great European film makers such as Louis Bunuel, Jean Luc Godard and Federico Fellini, and I can think of a whole plethora of other European filmmakers who ploughed that same furrow.

    The basic idea of “Blow Up” was taken from a real life event where a young guy stole an aircraft and was killed when he tried to return it to Phoenix, Arizona. Antonioni used this as a connection to“Zabriskie Point” – and much of the filming of “Zabriskie Point” was shot in the Phoenix area.

    Although Antonioni prepared a rough draft of “Zabriskie Point” , but it took the great Sam Shepard to write the final script.
    Sam was the drummer (for a while) with The Holy Modal Rounders, including appearing on one of their GREAT albums 1968’s “The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders” . Sam was also an ex boyfriend of Patti Smith, and toured with Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975. Later he co-wrote “Brownsville Girl” with Bob – easily the best track on “Knocked Out Loaded”, Dylan’s 1986 album.

    • Well each to his own JR, but I am struggling to connect the story of Blow-Up with a real event when a guy stole a plane and died, crashing it in Arizona. I realise that I suggested part of its quality was ‘uncertainty’ but the only connection I can find there is that the ‘Bailey’/Hemmings character buys a propellor in an antique shop???

      Incidentally, no quarrel about the soundtrack but there again, the Herbie Hancock stuff created deliberately for Blow-Up is pretty delightful for those of us who like that period of jazz.

      (I’m not that convinced by your point about those European directors and unknowns either, Godard was using Jean-Paul Delmondo, Jean Seberg, Brigitte Bardot, Eddie Constantine, even Jack Palance. Fellini’s ‘classic’ La Dolce Vita starred Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. Bunuel is more complicated because his early surrealist/documentary work is not in the feature-film category. When he gets into European ‘Art-House’ cinema he uses plenty of well-known professionals – Fernando Rey is a regular I think and there are other professionals like Angela Molina, Michel Piccoli and most notably perhaps Catherine Deneuve. I think a better example might be Ken Loach …)

  7. Just found this Dave……

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