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Subject: Italian neorealism, 7 Women, Marc Rembold
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This article is about the British-Italian film. For other uses, see Blow up (disambiguation).
File:Blowup poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced by Template:Plainlist
Written by Edward Bond (English dialogue)
Screenplay by Template:Plainlist
Story by Michelangelo Antonioni
Based on "Las babas del diablo" 
by Julio Cortázar
Starring Template:Plainlist
Music by Herbie Hancock
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Editing by Frank Clarke
Studio Template:Plainlist
Distributed by Template:Plainlist
Release date(s)Template:Plainlist
Running time 110 minutes
Country Template:Plainlist
Language English
Budget $1.8 million[1]
Box office $20,000,000[1]

Blowup, or Blow-Up, is a 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni about a fashion photographer, played by David Hemmings, who believes he may have witnessed a murder and unwittingly taken photographs of the killing. It was Antonioni's first entirely English-language film.[2]

The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, Jane Birkin, Tsai Chin and Gillian Hills as well as sixties model Veruschka. The screenplay was written by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with English dialogue by British playwright Edward Bond. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti, who had contracted Antonioni to make three English-language films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the others were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger).

The plot was inspired by Julio Cortázar's short story, "Las babas del diablo" or "The Devil's Drool" (1959),[3] translated also as "Blow Up" in Blow-up and Other Stories, and by the life of Swinging London photographer David Bailey. The film was scored by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. The music is diegetic, as Hancock noted: "It's only there when someone turns on the radio or puts on a record."[4] Nominated for several awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Blowup won the Grand Prix.

The American release of the film with its explicit content (by contemporary standards) by a major Hollywood studio was in direct defiance of the Production Code. Its subsequent outstanding critical and box office success proved to be one of the final events that led the code to be finally abandoned in 1968 in favour of the MPAA film rating system.[5]


The plot is a day in the life of a glamorous fashion photographer (Hemmings), inspired by the life of an actual "Swinging London" photographer, David Bailey.[6] It begins after spending the night at a doss house where he has taken pictures for a book of art photos. He 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 teenage girls who are aspiring models (Birkin and Hills) ask to speak with him, but the photographer drives off to look at an antiques shop. Wandering into Maryon Park, he takes photos of two lovers. The woman (Redgrave) is furious at being photographed. The photographer then meets his agent for lunch, and notices a man following him and looking into his car. Back at his studio, Redgrave arrives asking for the film, but he deliberately hands her a different roll. She in turn writes down a false telephone number to give to him. His many enlargements of the black and white film are grainy but seem to show a body in the grass and a killer lurking in the trees with a gun. He is disturbed by a knock on the door, but 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 tells them to leave, saying, "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!"

As evening falls, the photographer goes back to the park and finds a body, but he has not brought his camera and is scared off by a twig breaking, as if being stepped on. The photographer returns to his studio to find that all the negatives and prints are gone except for one very grainy blowup showing the body. After driving into town, he sees Redgrave and follows her into a club where The Yardbirds, featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar, are seen playing. At a drug-drenched party in a house on the Thames near central London, he finds both Veruschka – who had told him that she was going to Paris, and when confronted, she says she is in Paris – and his agent (Peter Bowles), whom he wants to bring to the park as a witness. However, the photographer cannot put across what he has photographed. Waking up in the house at sunrise, he goes back to the park alone, but the body is gone.

Befuddled, he watches a mimed tennis match, is drawn into it, 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. As the photographer watches this mimed match alone on the lawn, his image fades away, leaving only the grass as the film ends.

Noted cameos

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. 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 his guitar amplifier fails, Beck bashes his guitar to bits, as The Who did at the time. Antonioni had wanted The Who in Blowup as he was fascinated by Pete Townshend's guitar-smashing routine.[7] Steve Howe of The in Crowd recalled, "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!"[8] 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".[9]

Michael Palin, later of Monty Python, can be seen briefly in the sullen nightclub crowd[10] and Janet Street-Porter dances in stripy Carnaby Street trousers.[11]

A poster on the club's door bears a drawing of a tombstone with the epitaph, Here lies Bob Dylan Passed Away Royal Albert Hall 27 May 1966 R.I.P., harking to Dylan's switch to electric instruments at this time. Beside the Dylan are posters bearing a caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Filming locations

The opening mimes were filmed on the Plaza of The Economist Building in Piccadilly, London,[12] 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.[13] The park scenes were at Maryon Park, Charlton, south-east London, and the park is little changed since the film.[14] The street with maroon shopfronts is Stockwell Road[13] and the shops belonged to motorcycle dealer Pride & Clarke. 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[15] where the album cover of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust was later photographed.[16] 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.[17][18] 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.[19]


Box office

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".[1]

According to Variety, the movie earned $5,900,000 in North American rentals in 1967.[20]

Critical reception

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 germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so".[10]

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".[21]

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".[22] 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."[23] Of the film's ending, Roger Ebert wrote: "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."[24]

MGM did not gain approval for the film under the MPAA Production Code in the United States.[22] 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.[5]

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

BAFTA Awards

  • Nominated: Best British Film – Michelangelo Antonioni
  • Nominated: Best British Art Direction (Colour) – Assheton Gorton
  • Nominated: Best British Cinematography (Colour) – Carlo Di Palma

Cannes Film Festival

Golden Globe Awards

  • Nominated: Best English-Language Foreign Film

In popular culture

Blow Out (1981), directed by Brian De Palma and starring John Travolta – which alludes to Blowup – used sound recording rather than photography as its motif.[27]

While writing the screenplay of the thriller film The Conversation (1974) – also about sound recording – Francis Ford Coppola explained in the DVD commentary to that film that he was inspired by Blow Up.

In the comedy film High Anxiety (1977), 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 Brooks' character's face) firing a gun at point-blank range at someone; he makes blow-ups until he can see the real Brooks' 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.)

In Blade Runner (1982), there is a photo-scanning sequence in which Deckard (Harrison Ford) scans a photograph and then electronically pans to and blows up specific portions of the photographic image to find clues for his investigation.

The romantic comedy film I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007) pays homage to the scene from Blowup in which Hemmings's character straddles model Veruschka from above while taking her photograph – this time with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Antonioni's film also inspired the Bollywood film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983), directed by Kundan Shah, in which two photographers inadvertently capture the murder of 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".[28]

In the tenth episode of the third series of the BBC programme, Monarch of the Glen (2000–2005), Molly MacDonald (Susan Hampshire) clarifies for her husband, Hector (Richard Briers), that it was Antonioni who wanted her for Blowup when she was a London model in the 1960s.

The music video for Amerie's "Take Control" from the album Because I Love It (2007) and the original video for Seal's Kiss From a Rose were influenced by the film.

Both the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), and its sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) feature a parody/homage to Veruschka's photo shoot in Blowup.

See also

Film portal




  • Includes a translation of Cortázar's original short story.
  • 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.

External links

  • Template:Allmovie title
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • TCM Movie Database
  • Where Did They Film That? — film entry
  • website

Template:Palme d'Or 1960-1979

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