Watch Jeff Beck Smash His Guitar While Jimmy Page & the Yardbirds Jam By His Side: A Classic Scene from Antonioni’s Blowup (1966)

Art film and rock and roll have, since the 60s, been soul­mates of a kind, with many an acclaimed direc­tor turn­ing to musi­cians as actors, com­mis­sion­ing rock stars as sound­track artists, and film­ing scenes with bands. Before Nico­las Roeg, Jim Jar­musch, David Lynch, Mar­tin Scors­ese and oth­er rock-lov­ing auteurs did all of the above, there was Michelan­ge­lo Anto­nioni, who bar­reled into the Eng­lish-lan­guage mar­ket, under con­tract with Metro-Gold­wyn-May­er, with a tril­o­gy of films steeped in the sights and sounds of six­ties coun­ter­cul­ture.

Blowup, the first and by far the best of these, though scored by jazz pianist Her­bie Han­cock, promi­nent­ly fea­tured the Yardbirds—with both Jim­my Page and Jeff Beck. In the mem­o­rable scene above, Beck smash­es his gui­tar to bits after his amp goes on the fritz. The Ital­ian direc­tor “envi­sioned a scene sim­i­lar to that of Pete Townshend’s famous rit­u­al of smash­ing his gui­tar on stage,” notes Gui­tar­world’s Jonathan Gra­ham. “Anto­nioni had even asked The Who to appear in the film,” but they refused.

In stepped the Yard­birds, dur­ing a piv­otal moment in their career. The year before, they released mega-hit “For Your Love,” and said good­bye to lead gui­tarist Eric Clap­ton. Beck, his replace­ment, her­ald­ed a much wilder, more exper­i­men­tal phase for the band. Jeff Beck, it seemed, could play any­thing, but what he didn’t do much of onstage is emote. Next to the gui­tar-smash­ing Town­shend or the fire-set­ting Hen­drix (see both below), he was a pret­ty reserved per­former, though no less thrilling to watch for his vir­tu­os­i­ty and style.

But as he tells it, Anto­nioni wouldn’t let the band do their “most excit­ing thing,” a cov­er of “Smoke­stack Light­ning” that “had this incred­i­ble buildup in the mid­dle which was just pow!” That moment would have been the nat­ur­al pre­text for a good gui­tar smash­ing.

Instead, the set piece with the bro­ken amp gives the intro­vert­ed Beck a rea­son to get agi­tat­ed. As Gra­ham describes it, he also played a gui­tar spe­cial­ly des­ig­nat­ed as a prop:

Due to issues over pub­lish­ing, the Yard­birds clas­sic “Train Kept A‑Rollin’,” was reworked as “Stroll On” for the per­for­mance, and as the scene involved the destruc­tion of an instru­ment, Beck’s usu­al choice of his icon­ic Esquire or Les Paul was swapped for a cheap, hol­low-body stand-in that he was direct­ed to smash at the song’s con­clu­sion.

The scene is more a tantrum than the orgias­tic onstage freak-out Town­shend would prob­a­bly have deliv­ered. Its chief virtue for Yard­bird’s fans lies not in the fun­ny, out-of-char­ac­ter moment (which SF Gate film crit­ic Mick LaSalle calls “one of the weird­est scenes in the movie”). Rather, it was “the chance,” as one fan tells LaSalle, “in the days before MTV and YouTube, to see the Yard­birds, with Jeff Beck and Jim­my Page.” Anto­nioni had seized the moment. In addi­tion to fir­ing “the open­ing sal­vo of the emerg­ing ‘film gen­er­a­tion,’” as Roger Ebert wrote, he gave con­tem­po­rary fans a rea­son (in addi­tion to explic­it sex and nudi­ty), to go see Blowup again and again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “Lost” Pink Floyd Sound­track for Michelan­ge­lo Antonioni’s Only Amer­i­can Film, Zabriskie Point (1970)

13-Year-Old Jim­my Page Plays Gui­tar on TV in 1957, an Ear­ly Moment in His Spec­tac­u­lar Career

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Jason Garcia says:

    Love it!

    Beck was born to be show­man. He is the best gui­tarist ever.

  • Bill W. says:

    Kei­th Relf’s clos­ing-act was spec­tac­u­lar com­pared to the antics above!

  • John Greer says:

    Great movie, I real­ly enjoyed the fact that he used his gui­tar to smash the mal­func­tion­ing Vox amp FIRST, every­one always talks about the gui­tar being pul­ver­ized! Jeff looked like he real­ly enjoyed destroy­ing the amp. A Vox AC 15 with an A/B switch is a my favorite amp. Thank you Vox for mak­ing incred­i­ble Ampli­fier’s.

  • Johnny 🎸 says:

    Won­der­ful stuff. Great to see these hero’s as young kids hav­ing such a great time. You can clear­ly see Jeff is play­ing a cheap old gui­tar used spe­cial­ly so he can trash it. Lol…but don’t think a dodgy con­nec­tion on your amp is real­ly a jus­ti­fi­able rea­son to wreck your gui­tar!! Lol 😵… awe­some

  • Mike Lenowsky says:

    Such a great movie! The thing that drew me to see it was def­i­nite­ly know­ing the Yard­birds were in it. It’s pret­ty fun­ny how non cha­lant and out­right trance like the audi­ence seems while watch­ing them tear it up.. It’s got­ta be one of the most excit­ing music seg­ments there’s ever been in a film! Though it’s only about 1 1/2 to 2 min­utes long.. It’s a glo­ri­ous short clip. But I also got­ta add that the movie as a whole is also a real­ly good shows a slice of swing­ing 60s Eng­land that I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed with and is just anoth­er exam­ple of why I often wish I’d been born about 15–20 years ear­li­er. The excite­ment that sur­round­ed the music scene of that era as well as the whole counter cul­ture is some­thing I so wish I could have been a part of!

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