- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

OK, ‘60s art-movie buffs.

Identify those scruffy young guitar-slingers in the London Mod-rock scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.”

If you answered Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, here’s a virtual pat on the back.

Were the Yardbirds the first rock band to play themselves in a feature film, a la the Red Hot Chili Peppers in “Tough Guys” and My Morning Jacket in “Elizabethtown“?

Beats me.

I’m also not sure whether “Blow-Up,” an ambiguous murder mystery set in Swinging London, is such a classic. The period kitsch very nearly overwhelms Antonioni’s attempt to show a society decaying, Daniel Bell-style, from affluence and loosening moral norms. Productivity has given way to ennui.

Pauline Kael wrote in the New Republic at the time of the movie’s 1966 release that Antonioni was a kind of irresponsible closet moralizer: “In some terrible way that I suppose could be called Antonioni’s genius, he complains of dehumanization in a dehumanized way, and it becomes part of noninvolvement to accept a movie like this as a ‘chronicle of our time.’”

But Roger Ebert gave it a frame-by-frame scouring a few years ago in Charlottesville and concluded that if you look at the movie outside of its specific cultural context — the one that Mike Myers lampooned so brilliantly — “it emerges as a great film, if not the one we thought we were seeing at the time. … Antonioni uses the materials of a suspense thriller without the payoff. He places them within a London of heartless fashion photography, groupies, bored rock audiences, languid pot parties, and a hero whose dead soul is roused briefly by a challenge to his craftsmanship.”

I, at any rate, was roused briefly by the Yardbirds’ “Stroll On,” the clip of which, by the way, you can view here.

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