Cult Films of London: Blow Up to Repulsion

Does this look familiar by any chance? If it does, that’s maybe because
you’re thinking of ‘Blow Up’, a great film by Michelangelo Antonioni made here in 1965 in Maryon Park in South London. I’ve never been to Maryon Park, although I feel I know it well from Antonioni’s film and from the enormous amount of discussion, the imaging online, discussion of what the film means. It’s quite a strange feeling to actually be here and to see the tennis court that we know so well from Antonioni’s images of it. Why did he come here? Why did Ashton Gorton, the film’s designer show him Maryon Park? And why did Antonioni decide to come and actually famously repaint the grass, to make it slightly more green. There’s something about, the anonymity of this place which I think must have appealed to him. It was a canvas on which he could raise questions about reality, and about the unreality of swinging London, because this is a film which is populated by images which are false, which are two dimensional, which are unconvincing, unreal. If we think about other films made in the 1960s that feature London locations, very often they also show them in a strange light. It’s not London as we know it. It’s London made slightly alien, slightly strange. The strange thing about London is that if you film in real locations, often you do so not to produce a reality effect, but to produce an unreality effect. For instance Michael Powell filmed in a passageway that’s near Oxford Street. It’s called Newman passage, just off Rathbone Place and that’s the opening scene of his great film, ‘Peeping Tom’. That has also become a site of pilgrimage, rather like here in Maryon Park. But it’s not the London that we know, it’s a kind of gothic London that was recreated in this strange modernized horror film. Other locations like South Kensington where Roman Polanski filmed much of the exteriors for his ‘Repulsion’, a psychological horror film or the ‘Ipcress File’, made by many of the team who made the Bond films also in South Kensington. They’re using real locations but not to convince us that we’re really in London, but rather to measure the distance between this London we’re seeing on screen and the imagined London that’s being made by the films. As Michaelangelo Antonioni said of ‘Blow Up’. We’re not trying to capture reality. We’re trying to find out what it is.

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