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Blow Up David Hemmings photography

Blow Up David Hemmings photography

Formative Films Season at Electric Palace

Was David Bailey the inspiration for the central character in the film Blow Up? Style guru, lecturer, author and photographer Ted Polhemus provides his viewpoint, as the first special guest to share his choice of influential film in a new Formative Film season at the Electric Palace cinema in Hastings Old Town. Starting this Friday 20 October, Polhemus will present Michaelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 iconic film, Blow Up, a countercultural masterpiece set in the streets of swinging London. Annie Waite speaks with the social commentator Polhemus about why the “film about style which gets just about every element of styling spot on” changed his life.

Do you remember why Blow Up had such an impact on you?

“I first saw Blow Up in 1968 or 1969. I was just finishing my undergrad studies in anthropology in Philadelphia. Many of my friends were set on heading for California. Like my friends, I was very much a scruffy hippy but when I saw Blow Up I was captivated by a different aesthetic – modern, urban and, unlike the hippy look, very artificial: geometric haircuts, false eyelashes, make-up, etc. Suddenly the idea of living on a commune in California lost its appeal. I have spent my adult life studying what might be called the anthropology of style but it is still a mystery to me why I was drawn so compulsively towards ‘Swinging London’ artifice and cool but this shaped my life and then led on, beyond the 60s, to Glam, Punk and Goth. No question, Blow Up changed my life.”

Ted Polhemus image

Ted Polhemus Image via

What do you feel the film Blow Up offers younger viewers today, who perhaps aren’t already familiar with it or its historical and cultural significance?

“In the mid to late ’60s, London emerged as the centre of the known universe – on the back of extraordinary changes which challenged long-held ideas regarding class, gender, sex, youth. As someone who has written about and organized exhibitions about youth culture, popular culture and streetstyle, I am only too aware that the hype surrounding ‘Swinging London’ means that it is very difficult to get an accurate picture of what really happened. Blow Up is, of course, a fiction but it has long seemed to me that it captures a reality but so much of the set up, contrived ‘documentary’ stills and film do not. Not everyone agrees: I once interviewed David Bailey at the ICA and when I asked him if, as many have suggested, he was the inspiration for the central character of Blow Up, he was extremely huffy and dismissive of this idea.”

Are there any scenes you particularly enjoy or would flag as key to the film’s style or message?

“I wouldn’t be honest if I failed to mention the scene with Jane Birkin and another girl naked on the purple photographic background paper. Pheww. But the other scene which stands out is when the photographer gives a lesson in listening to jazz on the off beat. And who wouldn’t want to live in that mews house with its white walls and huge black and white photos? It’s the little touches that are so mesmerizing. A film about style which gets just about every element of styling spot on. And the jazz score is also wonderful. Precision film-making. And in the midst of all this stylistic perfection, the question of whether there can be substance within this groovy future world.”

The Electric Palace’s Formative Films Season invites special guests to present a film that was influential to their lives and to share the reasons for their choice.

  • Friday 20 October 7.30pm Blow Up with Special Guest Ted Polhemus
  • Saturday 9 December 7.30pm Repulsion with Special Guest Jordan Mooney, noted for her work with Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s, icon of the London punk subculture.

Link to the Electric Palace Cinema in Hastings Old Town.

Posted 08:15 Monday, Oct 16, 2017 In: Film

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