Blow Up
1966
Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni
'Blowup' was Antonioni's first totally English language film, and was both a critical and commercial success. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and grossed $20m on a $1.8m budget.

It strikes me that this says something interesting about the appetite of film audiences in the 60s. 'Blowup' is most definitely not your average commercial film. It has little plot, a disagreeable main character, and little is ever resolved. Shots are left long, and the pacing slow. In fact, it must have been Antonioni's intent to leave audiences somewhat bewildered. (The 'Harry Potter' films always leave me similarly bewildered, but one suspects that wasn't the intention.)

One could argue, of course, that audiences went to see it because of its provocative poster, and the idea that this passionate Italian director might provide a more exciting and erotic experience than other films of the year, including 'Carry On Screaming', 'Doctor in Clover' and 'That Riviera Touch' with beloved English comedians Morecambe and Wise.

One might also argue that it caught the zeitgeist of swinging '60s London and that it's music, its fashions, grabbed the attention of audiences excited by the new culture. On 15th April 1966, 'Time' magazine first referred to 'swinging London'.

But, I think the film itself and its popularity was part of a mood for change and experimentation. Also released in 1966 were 'Fahrenheit 451', 'Cul-de-sac', and 'Alfie'. This was a time where people in the UK were looking to the future, seeking new experiences, and opening their minds to alternative forms of narrative.

Also in 1966:
Britain's first nuclear reactor was opened.
Decimalisation of the Pound was announced.
John Lennon commented 'We're more popular than Jesus now.'
Barclaycard was launched.
England won the World Cup
'Cathy Come Home' was broadcast on BBC1, watched by a quarter of the British population and changing the face of BBC drama.
Centre Point was completed, the first skyscraper in central London.

It was into this world that 'Blowup' was launched, and perhaps that is the best way to watch it, as an extraordinary product and record of its time.

Paul Spurrier