Leading Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni attempted to capture London during the swinging sixties in his first British film, Blow-Up, and came up with the benchmark of sixties British grooviness.
With a life divided between hanging with the In-Crowd, driving his Rolls Royce, shagging in his studio and straddling voluptuous models with a Pentax saying, “Give it to me . . . give it to me”, David Hemmings was himself very much a symbol of the period – the man who has it all.
So to even out the odds, Antonioni sends him on a dark journey into his own powers of perception. While photographing in a London park, he sees a man and a woman embracing.
The woman runs over to stop him from taking pictures, but he returns to his studio. The woman appears, demanding the negatives, and he gives her a substitute roll.
On developing his pictures, he is startled to find what appears to be a man with a gun in the bushes and, in a later shot, a body.
Rushing back to the park in the middle of the night, he finds the body, but on his return to the studio, all his pictures have disappeared.
When he returns to the park in the morning, the body, too, has gone. It all might never have happened. And to emphasise the thinness of the gulf between illusion and reality, the photographer, leaving the park, takes part with some students in an imaginary tennis match, without a ball or racquet, yet with the sounds of a game being heard on the soundtrack.
As an attempt at a thriller style, the film was less successful than it might have been, lacking the precise cutting of a Hitchcock or the unambiguous symbolism of a Lang.
But Antonioni attempted merely to work within the genre, finding it a convenient means of establishing his point.
The bulk of the soundtrack is timelessly cool, dark and melancholic jazz from keyboardist Herbie Hancock, best known then as a Miles Davis sideman. The spark of genius was including one performance by The Yardbirds, during the fleeting period when their line-up boasted both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
Antonioni originally wanted The Who, so in a meticulous Elstree Studios’ recreation of Windsor’s famous Ricky Ticky Club. The Yardbirds obligingly executed a dramatic guitar-smashing routine, a la Townshend’s mob.
Verushka von Lehndorff