Ziggy Blown-Up

Upon returning from a trip to London, it seemed the right time to finally watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece, Blow-Up. Shot in London during the swinging sixties, the film’s main character played by David Hemmings, is a London fashion photographer discontent with a life of superficial success. He covertly shoots a couple cavorting in a park and later pieces together his prints only to discover what appears to be a murder.

In London’s West End, just off Regent Street, there lies the isolated little Heddon Street. It was here in a remote corner where David Bowie was photographed in a red phone booth for his Ziggy Stardust album by Brian Ward in January 1972. Naturally, it’s a bit of rock-trivia attraction. Also here, at 25 Heddon, is a touristy-chic dining spot called Momo, a North African restaurant which was recommended by a driver called Sasha from Karma Kabs, an outfit that supplies vintage Ambassador cars decked out in psychedelic decor. The food at Momo was fine; the downstairs bar, Kemia, was much too crowded with people sitting on the floor listening to a run-of-the-mill female singer songwriter. And the drinks were weak.

Adjacent to Momo was the Below Zero Bar featuring the Ice Bar, aided and abetted by Absolut. Definitely gimmicky, but only for the possibility of making a decent image or two, I agreed to go in. Friends Mary Beth and Charlotte donned the silver eskimo coats with attached gloves. The gloves were too thick to use with a camera (plus they stank) so I did without. Inside it was 23 degrees fahrenheit but without any wind or humidity it felt just like a refreshing jump into a walk-in freezer. Drinks—the citrusy vodka kind–were poured out into glasses carved out of ice atop a sleekly crafted bar of what else…ice. The lighting and flooring were drab and disappointing. The novelty quickly grew thin as my hands began to freeze. Out we went.

More than halfway into Blow-Up, the David Hemmings character walks along Regent Street at night looking for the woman from the park who has deftly evaded him. He takes a quick peek down a long narrow street with a red phone booth at the far end, barely in focus. This familiarity, if you will, was apparently still in my head, and without prior knowledge of Blow-Up trivia, I paused the DVD player:

That’s got to be Heddon Street, I thought. That’s the phone booth.

I grabbed two frames from the film and looked at it closely. The word Heddon House appears on one building to the right. Sure enough, I found a web page that documents the making of Blow-Up and mentions the Ziggy correlation. As I stared curiously at the screen grab from the film, here was an ordinary street with an ordinary phone booth in 1966 when it had no significance at all. David Bowie was unknown. North African food? Wouldn’t have a standing chance. A bar made of ice sponsored by Absolut? Ridiculous.