Watched Antonioni's Blow Up last week for the third or fourth time - still loved it, although Vanessa Redgrave's performance is becoming irritating. This time I was interested in the locations and lo and behold there is an excellent obsessive website that offered me (nearly) everything I was hoping for in my post-viewing research.
Comparing then and now it's depressing how many buildings that looked perfectly fine in the film are no longer there now - those near the hostel, for example, would, I'm sure, had they survived redevelopment - and how bland and boring it is - be highly desirable. How many of us would want to visit that antique shop, original here?
The film really captures the massive architectural changes that London was undergoing at the time: the huge new office blocks flanking London Wall that Thomas (the perfectly cast David Hemmings) drives past in his Roller (previous owner Jimmy Savile) - already being demolished by the 1980s. The hostel where he spends the night roughing it in homage to Don McCullin still there, but probably 'luxury apartments' today; his studio now no doubt worth millions in the obscene madness of the London 'property market' (in recent reports of the prescient floods, homes are now invariably referred to by the media as 'properties'). I'm sure I wasn't alone in assuming that the park where the central 'murder' scene takes place was in central London (I thought Holland Park) and it wasn't until many years after my first viewing - through an Iain Sinclair essay (Lights Out for the Territory) - that I discovered it was Maryon Wilson Park in Greenwich. I'd forgotten the strange scaffolding sign looming behind the park, apparently deliberately constructed for the film and intended to be a 'meaningless' logo.
One scene that I hadn't remembered towards the end intrigued me as to its location: Thomas goes to an archetypal Swinging London party in a very posh house with wood panelling and paintings, stuffed with dolly birds and dope and ends up partaking. In the hazy morning he awakens sprawled alone on a bed and takes in the surroundings: through the window the Thames is clearly visible, with some houseboats moored alongside, so the location is probably Chelsea, certainly perceived as the heart of what was 'happening' at the time. Blowup Then & Now confirms this and delighted me by revealing that the building was in fact Lindsey House, a nice piece of synchronicity as I've recently been researching, in a minor way, Whistler's followers and their views of his house in Cheyne Walk.
Lindsey House was built in 1674 and in the late 18thc was divided into four separate dwellings: Whistler lived at No.2 Lindsey Row (now No.96 Cheyne Walk) between 1866 and 1878 - today the divided Lindsey House is numbered 96-101. A couple of years ago I managed to visit it on a London Open House weekend, although I was disappointed to be only allowed into the hallway, ground floor and garden of one house - it's owned by the National Trust, an institution whose often extremely limited 'access' to many of its properties, paid for by ordinary people so that toffs can carry on living there, is discussed in The Gilded Acorn.
The room in Blow Up has been set-dressed to look suitably patrician but dishevelled: the 'paintings' include the cherubs at the foot of Raphael's Sistine Madonna (later to become a hackneyed cliche, were they already by that point? was this a framed Athena-type poster from the King's Road?) The painting to the left above the chaise longue looks like a Rubens nude, but it's hard to tell. No doubt the paintings were chosen especially by Antonioni. Above stills from Blowup Then & Now and a photo I took of a club in Palermo in February 2013.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact