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Brian DePalma was at the height of his film career when he undertook
the direction of "Blow Out". Some comments to this forum have compared
it to other distinguished films like Francis Ford Coppola's "The
Conversation" and Michaelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up", a comparison
that seems to make sense, in a way, but Mr. DePalma, who wrote his own
screen play, is an intelligent man who didn't need to copy anything
from those masters of the cinema.
In fact, "Blow Out" has kept its impact as a thriller mystery with its political overtones as it mixes crime with the lives of influential people that might give viewers a point of reference between the movie and actual historical facts.
We are given an introduction to Jack's line of work as we watch scenes of the porno film that he is working on as a sound technician. The only thing that is needed is a real scream which the many actresses, either on the film itself, or being auditioned, can't produce. Whatever comes out of those women's throats are wimpy sounds, not a horror yell for help.
Jack, who is out one night recording sounds for future ventures, captures the shot that causes the "blow out" and makes a car plunge into a creek. Jack abandons everything and jumps to rescue whoever he can save. He is only successful in bringing Sally out of the water. This is the beginning of Jack's involvement into the mystery behind the actual fact.
Mr. DePalma's thriller is visually stylish. He photographed the movie in Philadelphia. The film has the excellent Vilmos Zsigmond behind the camera. The atmospheric music by Pino Donoggio serves the movie well.
John Travolta's career was in decline when he made this movie. He gives a terrific performance as the sound effect man who stumbles in a conspiracy to eliminate the witnesses to the accident. Nancy Allen is not as effective as Sally, the young prostitute at the center of the story. Being married to the director might have helped her land the part, which with some other actress might have paid off better. John Lighgow is perfectly creepy as Burke, the evil man. Dennis Franz has the pivotal part of Karp, the man who was able to photograph the whole incident.
"Blow Out" is a must see for all Brian DePalma's admirers.
Jack is a sound editor for small films. When he is out one evening
recording background noises, he inadvertently records a car crash which
kills a politician running for the US Presidency, although Jack saves a girl
in the car. When pressured to say that the politician was alone, Jack finds
that his recording may prove that it was murder and not an accident.
However someone is cutting off the loose ends around the
A clever rework of Blow-Up that is given a thriller twist and visual style by De Palma. The story is quite straight forward and doesn't contain too many twists and turns. However it does have a good premise at it's core and it builds to a suitably low-key ending.
De Palma works well with the material at some points it's a little obtrusive, but he certainly can frame a shot. From his use of foreground and background focusing to the scene where Travolta realises what he has on tape he has style to spare. He handles the ending well but perhaps feels he wants to be like Coppola a bit too much.
Pre-career dip Travolta gives his best performance before Pulp Fiction he plays the everyman really well and is totally convincing. Allen is a little too squeaky and irritating, but get past this and she's OK. Franz is on-form as a sleazy opportunist, while Lithgow is chilling as a ruthless, clinical killer.
Overall it occasionally feels like there is more style than substance but everyone holds their end up and the result is a solid, enjoyable thriller that maybe pays a bit too much homage to other work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film starring John Travolta in the early eighties was sure to attract
attention, but that did not mean it would necessarily be good. A film
about conspiracy, murder, and politics would not take in the best at
the box office, but that did not make it bad. Well, in the world at the
time "Blow Out" was released, John Travolta's career was beginning to
fade and more people were being taken in by Science Fiction and
slasher(which is noted and poked fun at in the film's opening) films
and did not want to use neurons to enjoy this film. Not a wise choice.
"Blow Out" is a psychological and poignant film about the curiosity and
outcomes surrounding the death of a politician. When Jack Terry
(Travolta, in what may be his best, but most underrated role to date)
is out catching sounds for a film he is putting together, he
records(and therefor, witnesses) a car get it's tire blown out and fall
into the nearby river. Astounded, he jumps into the car and finds there
to be a dead driver, but a woman, very much alive and in distress. He
rescues her, and both are taken to the hospital. It is revealed that
the lady's name is Sally Bedina(Nancy Allen, in one of her best roles
also) and the man she was with is the man who was most likely to be the
next president, Gov. McRyan. Chaos ensues when Jack finds out (through
his sound recordings) that the car was not hit by a flat tire, but that
someone may have shot the tire out, as an assassination. As Sally and
Jack delve deeper and deeper into the mystery, someone is out there,
watching them, waiting, with an agenda of his own. Cleverly written
thriller, which keeps you on the edge of your seat through the entire
film, never lets up, and suggests what most films(especially in today's
times) will not-Conspiracy. In every sense of the word-in the
government, in the working classes, in humanity in general. A take from
an earlier film, Antonioni's "Blow Up" which was released in nineteen
sixty-six, this film explores the diversity of human emotions, and
motivations. All the characters are clearly developed, and all with
different aspects about them.
Jack, is a sound man, doesn't seem to care much about opulence, and is an all around type of guy. He is punctual and very quick to find the truth. His psychosis suggests a character which stands to morals, sharp judgment, and a very likable guy in general. John Travolta plays Jack out with sensitivity, profound genuity, and adroit intricacy. As the lead, the film rests well on his shoulders...and with the help from the rest of the fine cast as well.
Sally is a naive young woman, full of choices and ambition. She is from a more darker side of history, doing odd jobs for money just to get by, and certainly has more morals than she would let on. She is a very nice and heartful person, but is also afraid of her life ending up wrong. This is where you can see a dark past, and the way Nancy Allen plays her out surely lets the audience know. Allen had passion for this role, and the role itself is not an easy role to fill, there are emotions discreet, and a lot of pain. However, Allen flourishes as she speaks with mannerisms that transcend any other role she portrayed. I learned to like Sally from the moment she opened up to the audience.
A supporting turn from Dennis Franz, who is always a reliable actor, makes up for the perfect example of a good supporting role, albeit it offensive in the least.
The film can much be compared to the Kennedy assassination, as a politician was killed, and the conspiracy theories were tossed and turned in the tabloids, who are seen in this film as one of the real enemies, but there are many more. One other thing this film proves is that there are Blow outs in the mind, as well as in the film. The more our two heroes find out, the more the art of this film comes clear, and their minds are toyed with, but we as an audience see this, as part of making this a terrific viewing experience. This film was not a success, as far as money goes, but this film is clearly one of De Palma's best efforts, right up there with Scarface and The Untouchables. It is a touching and central effort, with likable characters, a grandiose Pino Donaggio score(one of the maestro's finest) and an ending that will rock your mind. The political undertones are fully understood at the films end, which is something not seen at all today. This is a really good film to show to film classes, film-making classes, film appreciation classes, etc.
All in all, one helluva viewing experience, and one that never gets old either, making it one of De Palma' finest hours.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Banal story? Give me a break. I just watched "Snake Eyes" and "Mission
to Mars" on DVD from beginning to end. They're very beautiful films. I
think you missed a lot. All the critics ever talk about is the banality
of my stories!" - Brian De Palma (2002)
Do not treat De Palma's films too logically. He has one agenda, and that is to enable his camera to become multiple characters. His camera, deceives, lies, lusts, stalks and mocks. When it's not adopting a character's point of view, it's literally becoming a character of it's own. There's real intelligence behind some of his films, despite their B movie roots and surface cheese.
Watch the jeep scene again. See how it begins with the camera suddenly changing stance. The music booms and everything becomes operatic. The scene itself plays out like a self contained mini-opera. Of course the whole sequence is illogical, but then one of De Palma's themes throughout his career has always been reconstructing truth. In "Snake Eyes" and "Black Dahlia" it's the truth of a murder. In "Mission Impossible" it's reconstructing the truth of a mission gone bad. In "Femme Fatale" it's reconstructing the truth of a heist. In this film it's reconstructing the truth of an assassination. But what makes De Palma interesting is that this constant theme of "finding the truth" clashes continusouly with his artistic style. He's a formalist who's entire filmography stresses the fakery or superficiality of film.
On one hand he acknowledges the lie that is film (his famous quote: "film is 24 lies per second"), whilst on the other, his character's constantly search for some objective truth.
But back to the jeep scene. Notice how De Palma shifts to slow-motion to heighten the clues. Travolta crashes and we linger on the "Liberty or Death?" shop window as a plastic hang man slowly tips over. De Palma as artist and formalist has the power of deciding Travolta and Sally's fate. Like the end of "Femme Fatalle", he's asking his audience, teasing them, letting them know that his film isn't reality, and that only the artist as God has the power to decide the fate of characters. Do we let them die or do we let them live?
He then inter-cuts this with Sally's conversation with the killer, which suddenly shifts from friendly to hostile. De Palma signifies this newfound danger by jump cutting from day to night. And so with Sally now in trouble, he literally resurrects Travolta, who of course climbs and climbs but still doesn't get there in time. Travolta's guilt and failure rings eternal as Sally's scream is immortalised in the final film-within-the-film. A film kills Sally and a film immortalises her death. A recorded sound (blow out) brings her into De Palma's world and a recorded sound (her scream) brings her out of it. There's a cinematic purity to Sally's life.
9/10- Brilliant opening, brilliant ending and some memorable scenes in the middle. The virtuoso camera work doesn't touch "Snake Eyes" and the purposefully cheesy acting (the porno within a film makes it clear that De Palma sees this as self conscious formalist film-making) at times detracts. Still, this is nevertheless enjoyable and one of the more accessible De Palma films.
Jack Terri is a soundman for a B-movie studio. One night as he is out
recording sounds for a film he sees an accident - a car swerves through
a guard rail and into a river. Jack jumps in in effort to help and sees
that the driver is dead, but he manages to save the passenger. He soon
finds out that the driver was the current favorite in the presidential
election and after listening to the recording he suspects that what
happened was no accident.
This is the type of movie many people call a rip-off as not only does it take an idea from a previous story and film ('Blow Up') it is one of DePalma's many Hitchcockian efforts. However, under his direction the film feels fresh and moves very well. It is 13 years before John Travolta made 'Pulp Fiction' but he was already a good lead actor. Dennis Franz also gives a good turn as a photographer who knows more than he is telling.
However, the scene stealer, would have to be John Lithgow who stoically walks his way through the film as a ruthless killer who wants to remove Jack Terri for the evidence he has. Rarely is such a emotionless and callous role played out so well to such great effect.
Then there is DePalma's direction which is the great thing that put all the good stuff together. He has a particular skill of blending shots/scenes without dissolves and that carries the movie is an interesting way. Using shadows, silhouettes, rotating camera shots he is truly a master in good form here. 9/10
Rated R: some grisly violence, and profanity
DePalma's best film by a mile and also as dark as night. It has his moral core but it is unrelenting. Sally set up a politician to be killed; Jack saved her but like his master Hitch she is doomed. Want to understand the movie's essence?, it occurs in the most brilliant image of Brian DePalma's career. Sally walks in the station chattering to Jack, as she prattles, the camera pulls back and up to God's eye and with the black angel of death towering over her horrifically: that is Brian DePalma. This is the entire movie in one single image. Jack saved her but she must die. She was manipulated by Manny but she caused another's death; her fate is sealed. Like Marion in PSYCHO, she must be destroyed. Jack is not Caul from THE CONVERSATION who hides within his technology from the horrible things he has done to people, for a handful of dollars. He flees into the minutia of recording, speaks as laconically as possible, running from people. Jack uses his skills to trap the murderer, sadly, he starts the unstoppable concatenation of events that end up with Sally dead on the steps. Notice the existential and moral differences between the characters, actually, Jack is morally opposite of THE CONVERSATION'S Caul.
The film is like midnight. It is not for kiddies. Lithgow's Burke is one of the coldest monsters ever depicted in film. He begins shadowing Jack, killing hookers, so that his real target Sally will be lost among the victims. His garroting and hanging of a hooker in the restroom, with her kicking legs, is one disturbing scene. Notice how you do not need gallons of blood to be frightening. Hitchcock and DePalma imply not show; the mark of directors who possess minds. The film is unyielding; the ending doomed it at the box office. I admire Brian's courage to make the ending that I assure you Hitch would have made. With the fireworks exploding, as Jack ascends the stairs all of you who have cared for, like me, dying people know what he is going to experience. As he pulls him off her, sees her dead, grabs her and holds her: it models the hardest of all duties, caring for the doomed.
The film does not show Jack's suicide but it does not have to. His producer has the scream he coveted never grasping what the sounds mean. Jack does now. Like SNAKE EYES, where Rick sees the blood on the money, truly for the very first time. "I never killed anyone before," hear the realization in his voice. Here, the screams destroy him. We last see Jack on a winter bench listening to Sally's screams of terror. He rams his hands over his ears; they destroy him. DePalma like Hitch wants you to see that some goodness will obliterate you; it is still worthy of doing. He paints morality in both movies as quite expensive. It is a bit more than sending the positive energy. Rick, in SNAKE EYES, loses everything. Jack, in BLOW OUT, is destroyed. We know what the screams will do to him. Yet, even when it destroys you, it still is worthy of doing. The master's best movie by a mile.
Brian De Palma's ''Blow Out'' starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen and
John Lithgow would go down as my favourite film (just ahead of
"Causalities of War" and ''Dressed to Kill'') of his on-going
filmography. Usually I find him to be an on-and-off director, and
''Blow Out'' was switched on. It's one of those presentations that
doesn't just hold you there with its captivating sombre murder mystery
(similar to Blow-Up and 'The Conversation') relating to a political
conspiracy, but also De Palma's showy technical side is nothing short
than exquisitely striking. Well you might say that's the case for most
of his work, however on this occasion its extremely well controlled to
balance the story and it isn't so much the peering camera and sharp
editing (although still commendably evident and how can you go wrong
with split frames) but the ingenious use of sound effects and the
ironic nature of our main protagonist being an audio technician for
b-grade horror movies (which within the building he works bestows some
cool horror posters that fans will surely pick up on).
The layered story has that old-fashion noir quality, with the momentum building upon mood and suspense constructing illuminating atmospherics and consisting of fitting performances. While the brooding plot screws around with its webby developments and taut tension, never does the suspiciously tactical script entirely pick it apart with any sort of depth or rationality. In the end its quite basic. However this made the harrowing impact of the film's conclusion even more lasting, as the emotional brunt came from De Palma's intensely slick visual work like the stirring slow-motion climax with Pino Donaggio's harrowing score (which holds a delightfully crisp and variable arrangement throughout). It's top drawer in De Palma's illustratively intimate details oozing with colour, tones and shades with it being served by some beautifully projected expressive photography and a lingering nasty current. An excellent John Travolta brings a convicted temperament to the lead and a bubbling Nancy Allen adds a perky injection. A precisely scheming performance by John Lithgow is truly menacing. Also in support is Denis Franz.
An enjoyably stylish, if simple thriller.
I was blown away by Brian DePalma's "Blow Out" (1981), the Real American Classic from the 80th. Yes, of course, De Palma pays homage to both, "Blow Up" and "Conversation" but "Blow Out" is a vintage DePalma at his best, in his glory and brilliance. The story is great, packed with twists and turns and also lets us peek once again as in Body Double" at the B-movies making process. John Travolta is Jack Terri, a sound technician who rescues a girl (Nancy Allen) from a car that crashes into a river after a blow out. The man who drove the car did not survive and he happened to be the next presidential candidate. Jack soon realizes that it was not just a blow out but a murder, and he's got an evidence to prove it, the tape that he made on the bridge while recording the background noises for the movie. As good as the story is, it does not forget its characters, and they are memorable and multi-dimensional. The actors are terrific. It was the time when John Travolta was both cute without being smug and compelling. Nancy Allen as Sally, was sweet and heartbreaking, Dennis Franz's character, Manny Karp, the petty blackmailer who got more than he bargained for was fun to watch, and John Lithgow made such a chilling villain that Anthony Hopkins could've learned something from him. I did not even start on Vilmos Zsigmond's camera work. Only one word comes to mind - mesmerizing. The final chase sequence on the streets of Philadelphia during the celebration of the ringing of the Liberty Bell is as well staged and shut and as exiting as the similar climatic chase on Mount Rushmore in Hitchcock's "North By Northwest". The movie is perfectly balanced by the last scene and the hilarious opening scene mirroring each other but this time the scream is different. It IS a good scream that came from the streets of Philadelphia.
The opening of this movie must rival Bullit as cool openings go. Wonderfully shot throughout, and even though you can see how dated the film is just by Travoltas' and Allens' hair and dress sense, it doesn't affect the quality. The story is competent, but what makes the film is DePalma's treatment. The quiet scenes and the complete focus on noise, other than that of the characters talking. Visuals and backgrounds start this movie and run all the way through the major scenes, finally closing it. This is an excellent thriller, and many modern films of this genre should take notes. A great movie.
In 1981, Brian De Palma released what might be considered his "best"
thriller to date. The "Slasher" genre was at full blossom, and the
conspiracy driven, psychological thrillers of the 1970s were slowly
declining in terms of popularity.
"Blow Out" stars John Travolta as Jack, a sound engineer for an independent movie picture, that discovers what first appears to be a tragic car-accident - is in fact a murder. Sally, who is rescued from the wreck by the protagonist (Travolta) himself stays as his counterpart though out the movie. Jack must set the story straight, and prove the police wrong.
De Palma is known for his themes of guilt, paranoia and obsession which work as essential parts for the character development in "Blow Out". It's a hell of ride from start to finish, and one can truly state that Brian De Palma is a master of suspense.
The acting of John Travolta is superb and convincing, and I dare to say that it's his best role to date. I was a bit skeptical to Nancy Allen at first, but her naive character grew on me over the course of the film, and might actually be one of the things that makes this film so great; that is believable character development without the often sudden change of identity.
Blow out is stylish, and both the directing of De Palma and cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond is highly impressive. From beautifully shot scenes in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola to the drastic suspense of Hitchcock, De Palma uses all the best tricks in the book.
"Blow Out" is non-stop suspense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The last 15 minutes finale is quite extraordinary. The atmosphere, mood and cinematography are all close perfect. It truly is Brian De Palma's forgotten masterpiece.
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