In my 1960s-set novel Follow the Sun, there’s one movie that gets mentioned more than any other: Antonioni’s Blow-up (Disc/Download). This is no accident. For a book that celebrates the style, fashion, photography, and sexual freedoms of the era, this film captures those themes better than any other. It’s a movie about looking without seeing, and one that feels as revelatory now as it probably did then. Movies, and audiences, would never be the same again.
Like an art-house Hitchcock film, Blow-up follows a successful London photographer who inadvertently witnesses a murder in the park, capturing the minutes just before and after the crime with his camera lens. Thomas (David Hemmings) thinks he’s photographing two people in the midst of an afternoon tryst, but after the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) harasses him and then tries to seduce him to get the film back, and a strange man is seen walking around his car, he gets suspicious. Blowing up the negatives, he begins to see what his eyes failed to register in the moment: there was another person there; a person with a gun. After that, Thomas starts to unravel. He doesn’t know what to do with this information, or if it’s even real. He may be witness to a potential murder, but London is still swingin’ all around him. Pencil-thin models are parading around in their colorful, sculptural clothes, Jeff Beck is smashing his guitar, and Jane Birkin shows up for an audition and a three-way tryst amid his purple seamless backdrop. The scenes of Thomas examining his photos are such a contrast to the debauchery of the rest of the film that it creates an incredible tension. Only by standing still can he (and we) start to see what was right in front of him.
Purple is such a prominent color in this movie that I naturally had to make a purple cocktail. This drink is made with one of my favorite British botanical gins (Plymouth), along with violet liqueur to give it a nice coloring. You could also use Empress 1908 Gin if you want to go full purple. While watching Blow-up, I recommend drinking an Aperture cocktail.
2 oz Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
1/2 oz Creme de Violette
3/4 oz Pink Lemon Juice
Lemon Twist (for garnish)
Mint (for garnish)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and mint.
If you appreciate sixties fashion, then you’ll love this film as much as I do. Watching Verushka slide across the screen in her slinky sequined black dress that leaves almost nothing to the imagination captures the sexual freedom of the era every bit as much as later scenes that were much more explicit in nature. When I decided to make one of my Follow the Sun characters a minor player in this cinematic masterpiece, it was done with reverence for both the film and the beautiful women populating it. Part of the fun of writing a book set in another time period is imagining what it was like to exist in that era. Blow-up, with its mod clothes, strange, dreamlike plot, and haunting jazz score by Herbie Hancock, is a movie that lets the imagination run wild. Cheers!