Sunday, November 14, 2010


 photo BlowupF_zpsab53d254.jpg

Director Michelangelo Antonioni was a Genius! ( opinion...). I am still amazed and awed by his skill at weaving a story on film. The Italian mindset and view of life is so mysterious and complex you really have to be alert and current to catch all the implications and subtle references in his films (and I'm sure I missed many of them).

(Big licentious plus: Beautiful Miss Vanessa Redgrave topless!)

(Click Pix to Enlarge)

BLOWUP (1966) was just such a film and his very first english language endeavour. On the surface is the story of a 60s London photographer frolicking with the ladies and the times, in the actual Headlines of the day a similar story that brought down the entire British Conservative Government in 1964, told in a very oblique manner in the movie. A very Italian trait.

Paparazzi everywhere.

In order to watch this movie in context let me take you back in time to 1962 and try to re-create what was going on at the time. The middle of the "Cold War" with the hated Russians as the Cuban Missile Crisis approached in October of that year. Communism, Kennedy & Khrushchev were facing off as the looming nuclear exchange with the USSR was daily news and a large part of what made this movie important.

The two young girls were beautiful and sexy. One was was only eighteen yrs. old and her young sexy friend was just sixteen. Her name was Christine Keeler and her sixteen yr. old sexy friend was Mandy Rice Davies and the similarities between the Newspaper Headlines of the day and the movie "BLOWUP" started right here....

at The Flamingo Jazz Club in London in 1962.

(Click Pic for Directions)

... it started at night with a viscious knife fight between Jamaican born 'Psycho' Gordon's brother 'Lucky' Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe.

In 1959 Miss Christine was just seventeen and pregnant from an African American sergeant known only as "Jim". She unsuccessfully tried to abort herself with a knitting needle and the male boy survived only six days after being born on April 17, 1959. Soon after she was working as a topless showgirl at Murray's Cabaret Club in Soho where she met Osteopath and part time artist Dr. Stephen Ward.

In July of 1961 Dr. Ward introduced Miss Christine to Mr. John Profumo, the British Secretary of War at a pool party at the Buckinghamshire Mansion owned by Lord Astor. Profumo was gaga over Miss Christine and immediately started a torrid affair with her not realizing Miss Christine was also sleeping with Yevgeny Ivanov a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy.

In October of 1962 the Flamingo Club was a popular hangout for a large numbers of African American airmen stationed at Lakenheath AFB just outside London. There were few places our troops could hang out and socialize in those days. Johnny and 'Lucky" were both lovers of Miss Christine and met in The Flamingo that night. An argument ensued that would finally end on the front pages of every major newspaper around the world.

The fight ended that night when Johnny made a deep slash across the face of 'Lucky' Gordon that sent 'Lucky' to the hospital. A black anger seethed in the defeated 'Lucky' as he received seventeen painful stitches to his face, now scarred for life. He later removed the seventeen stitches himself, put them in an envelope and mailed them to Miss Christine with a note that said:

"...for each one of these stitches you'll get two on your face in return..."

Johnny Edgecombe was frightened knowing 'Lucky' Gordon meant business and decided to go into hiding with Miss Christine until things cooled off. Miss Christine went out and bought a German Luger pistol to protect herself from 'Lucky'.
(Mouseover to Enlarge)

Of course it went downhill from here as these things generally do and on Dec. 14, 1962 Miss Christine found Johnny with another lover and threatened she would go to the police and testify that:

" was Johnny who had attacked Lucky Gordon at The Flamingo..."

> ...two months earlier. Miss Christine abandoned Johnny Edgecombe over his infidelity and went to see her friend Mandy Rice-Davies at Dr. Stephen Ward's apartment in Wimpole. Unknown to Miss Christine, Johnny Edgecombe had followed her there in a taxi. When Miss Christine refused to speak to Johnny through the door he pulled out the Luger pistol and began firing shots into the door.

The Terrified Mandy and Christine called Dr. Ward at his office and he called the police. The police showed up and arrested Johnny Edgecombe who was already being sought in the 'Lucky' Gordon slashing. This is where it all started to unravel. This is where the press was to finally get a hold of the story and information began to come in drips and drabs from the tabloids to the legitimate press. Sir Roger Hollis, the head of MI5 (Military Intelligence Section 5) was aware of the affair and had already spoken to Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook about the Profumo/Keeler affair and Sir Norman advised Profumo to break with Miss Christine. (You can't make this up! I LOVE this stuff!)

Hoping to keep a lid on things Miss Christine was magically whisked away to a beach in Spain so she wouldn't have to appear as a witness and testify under oath before the Edgecombe trial began.

(Mouseover to Enlarge)

Because Miss Christine failed to appear as a witness, Johnny Edgecombe was acquitted of the 'Lucky' Gordon slashing incident and the "attempted murder" charge of Miss Christine. The only charge that stuck was the "possession of an illegal firearm", Christine's Luger the police caught him with after firing the shots at Dr. Ward's door. Johnny was sentenced to seven years in prison of which he only served five.

On April Fool's Day of 1963 Miss Christine was fined for "Failure to Appear" in court as a struggling 'Lucky' Gordon was hauled away by police screaming "...I love that girl! I love that girl!..."

By this time it was all over the press, sex, love, counter-espionage, MI5, the Secretary of War (Profumo) resignation, the Soviet lover, the fight of Keeler’s jealous ex-lovers at The Flamingo Club, the magical trip to Spain, attempted murder and on and on.

Two months later in June 'Lucky' Gordon was given a three year prison sentence for yet another purported assault on Miss Christine.

Also in June Dr. John Ward was arrested and convicted of "Living off the immoral earnings" of Miss Christine so he turned out to be high society's favorite favorite pimp, portrait painter and osteopath. He committed suicide.

(The Famous Keeler Portrait)

Seeking to capitalize on her fame at the height of the Profumo affair in 1963 Miss Christine sat for a photo shoot at actor Peter Cook's Establishment Club for the now famous portrait (above). She had signed a contract to help promote a "B" movie effort entitled THE KEELER AFFAIR that was only to be distributed outside of Britain.

Supermodel Verushka

Miss Christine had previously signed a contract which required her to pose nude for publicity photos and was reluctant to continue with the above photo shoot, but the film producers insisted and persuaded her to pose sitting astride a plywood chair so that while technically she would be nude, the back of the chair would obscure most of her body. It was a MAJOR hit and appeared thousands of times around the world. On the left is the photo shoot scene from the movie BLOWUP. That's model/actress Verushka on the left in the movie....

Ultimately Miss Christine did have to face judgment in a British Courtroom in April of 1963. After a long drunken tape recorded confession was revealed in open court in which Miss Christine confessed she had lied about 'Lucky' Gordon assaulting her, she was convicted of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice at 'Lucky' Gordon’s trial. Miss Christine was sentenced to nine months in jail.

(Mouseover to Enlarge)

Michelangelo Antonioni wove his story in BLOWUP around a photographer that takes an innocent photo of his luscious model in a British park. When the photo is blownup to huge proportions it reveals a clandestine meeting in the background between a call girl and a British Minister in the same park. The call girl is later found dead and the complex story begins to unravel.

NOTE: All this was taking place at approx. the same time President John and brother Robert Kennedy were both having affairs with Miss Marilyn Monroe and the press knew and kept ever so quiet.

Click for Pix!
Jane Birkin

The girl credited in this movie as "The Blond", playing a bit part as a groupie for David Hemming's character was in fact one of Miss Jane Birkin's beginning roles in the movies. That is her pictured in the two pix just above and the one just below. In 1968 she had a passionate and long lasting (13 years) affair with Serge Gainsbourg which gained them both a lot of notoriety with some rather dramatic pictures you can see in the album on the left. She took a break from acting in 1971-1972 but came back with a bang when she appeared as Brigitte Bardot's lover in "If Don Juan Were A Woman" in 1973. I've included several shots in the album on the left. These two women (Brigitte and Jane) became icons for the '60s.

Jane Birkin on the left and Gillian Hills on the right

Jane Birkin wrestles with David Hemmings

David Hemmings and Super Model Veruschka.
Click Pix Above to Enlarge - Slideshow Photos are located HERE
Super model Veruschka and David Hemmings

The sixties were a tumultuous era and now that you know the landscape and backstory going on at the time, I recommend you obtain a copy of BLOWUP and let me know what YOU think!

Movie Classics

Click Pic Above for Main Menu


Carlos De'ath said...

I think you need to watch Blow Up again because from reading the above, it seems like you have not seen it at all. In the park, the photographer was alone, not photographing a 'model'. He had just spent the night in a homeless mens hostel in Peckham. A lot of this movie was shot in south London which is where I live and I know all the locations. He had gone to look at an antique shop that was for sale. The actual location is in Charlton. Next to the shop is the park which he decided to go into with his 35mm camera first photographing pigeons until he sees the two lovers. A young woman and a much older middle aged man. He takes many photos of them from a distance. Eventually the young woman sees him and runs towards him to challenge him and demands the film from his camera, at which the photographer becomes angry and finally says she cant have the film because there is other stuff on the roll, probably some of the previous nights hostel photos. She then runs off towards where she left her older lover and the photographer takes photos of her as she runs away. When she reaches the spot from where she was, she looks around but her older lover has gone..she then disappears. The photographer then drives back to Holland Park to his studio via Brixton and Stockwell. She later finds out where his studio is and pays him a visit... Later on when he develops the photos he realises he has captured a murder in his photos and by blowing up the prints he can see the gun used to shoot the older man and also see his body in undergrowth....We are not told who the Vanessa Redgrave character is or the older man victim. It is a mystery set to the background of 'swingin' 60's London' with a unique performance by The Yardbirds of 'Train Kept A Rollin' featuring Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck playing live in the Ricky Tick club off Oxford Street. The long haired 'hippy' dressed in silver dancing is Janet Street Porter. Your blog is the first time I have ever heard of a link to The Profumo affair and Blow Up, I must say.

Carlos De'ath said...

..oh I see .. the comments here are 'vetted' .. to clarify my previous post, there was no model in the park . It is not implied that Vanessa Redgrave is a 'call girl' or that the older man is a British Minister. It is the older man who is found dead not the 'call girl'. The complex story does not unravel.. we are presented with events as the photographer experiences them, including him walking in on a couple having sex .. another moment of voyeurism but no moral slant is forced on us the viewer, also the 'voyeur' .. ultimately this movie is about control and lack of control of events that unfold before our eyes and also apathy.. for example how unmoved, unexcited the crowd are even with a great rock band performing live right in front of them until the broken guitar neck is grabbed by the photographer, then they react ... the issues/events in Blow Up can be taken at face value or read into deeper, that is why it is such a great cinematic experience and watchable over and over.... I would suggest anyone interested in Blow Up then screens Zabriskie Point which was Antonioni's first USA made movie and also his 'take' on America as he saw it.... another non Antonioni movie to create a tryptic I would suggest Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinbridge Dir. by Michael Sarne who I have had privilege of working with on an as yet un-released movie set in London and his only movie since 'The Punk & The Princess' which was made in the early 1990's

MovieClassics said...

Hiya Carlos!

I was a little confused by your comment but I think I understand now. Please correct me if I am inaccurate. This Blog is about context in the 1960's. Contrasting political events of the time with Antonioni's movie. The "unraveling" is about the Profumo Affair and how the politicos got caught and the similarity with Antonioni's storyline.

The Profumo Affair was a British political scandal (same as the movie) which occurred in 1963 (three yrs. before the movie was released), and I remember it quite well. Politicians having clandestine sexual affairs and the consequences thereof was the point of both the movie and the Profumo Scandal. The Profumo Scandal was a worldwide event following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 at the height of the Cold War and "unraveled" over many months after re-examining the evidence (same as the movie). It occurred between a "much older middle aged man" as you've stated above, and a very young woman. Capitalizing on the Profumo Affair added significantly to the believability and appeal of the movie and the general view of Govt. cover ups at the time. I certainly appreciate your comment and your obvious knowledge of the production details. Thanx for your comment.....

MovieClassics said...

Hello Again Carlos!
Yes, I review all the comments to make sure they apply. I agree with your post with respect to Zabriski Point and Myra Breckinbridge although I have not seen "The Punk and the Princess" and cannot comment on that. I appreciate your insights and thank you for commenting. - Sam

About Me

My photo
We love Vintage Hollywood! The likes of Errol Flynn, Richard Widmark, Cary Grant, Sterling Hayden and those magnificent ladies of yesteryear!
.glossymenu{ list-style-type: none; margin: 5px 0; padding: 0; width: 170px; border: 1px solid #9A9A9A; border-bottom-width: 0; } .glossymenu li a{ background: white url( repeat-x bottom left; font: bold 13px "Lucida Grande", "Trebuchet MS", Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: white; display: block; width: auto; padding: 3px 0; padding-left: 10px; text-decoration: none; } * html .glossymenu li a{ /*IE only. Actual menu width minus left padding of A element (10px) */ width: 160px; } .glossymenu li a:visited, .glossymenu li a:active{ color: white; } .glossymenu li a:hover{ background-image: url(; } body {background-color:#404664 ;