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The famous scene in Blow-Up -- carefully excised in many countries -- in which two stray London "birds" finally involve the photographer in casual sex on the floor. The glimpse of pubic hair was unprecedented. Film as a Subversive Art, 1974, Amos Vogel

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Blowup (also rendered as Blow-Up) is an award-winning 1966 British-Italian art film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. It tells the story of a photographer's involvement with a murder case. The film was inspired by the short story "The Droolings of the Devil" by Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, and by the work, habits, and mannerisms of Swinging London photographer David Bailey.

Blowup stars David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, and Jane Birkin. The screenplay was written by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra, with the English dialogue being written by British playwright Edward Bond. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti, who had contracted Antonioni to make three English language films for MGM (the others were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger).

Controversy: end of the production code, start of MPAA film rating system

Blowup was the first mainstream (and British) film to feature a brief glimpse of female pubic hair — in this case, Jane Birkin's, this occurs when David Hemmings is frolicking with two models; the film also includes a simulated orgasm and Vanessa Redgrave topless.

The American release of the counterculture-era film with its explicit content (by contemporary standards) by a major Hollywood studio was in direct defiance of the Production Code and it was denied approval, but MGM released it anyway. Its subsequent outstanding critical and box office success proved to be one of the final events (along with the release of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) that led the code to be finally abandoned in 1968 in favour of the MPAA film rating system.


The plot is a day in the life of the glamorous fashion photographer Thomas (Hemmings), inspired by the life of an actual "Swinging London" photographer, David Bailey. 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 Thomas 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. Thomas is startled when she stalks him back to his studio, asking for the film. This makes him want the film even more, so he hands her another roll instead. His many blowups (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. Thomas is frightened 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! Come back tomorrow!"

As evening falls, Thomas 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. Thomas returns to his studio to find that all the negatives and prints are gone except for one very grainy blowup showing the body. 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, Thomas 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 Thomas watches this alone on the lawn, his image fades away, leaving only the grass as the film ends.

See also

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