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Blow Out: Brian de Palma´s perfect synchronization of image and sound

Author: latsblaster from Örebro, Sweden
18 June 2003

"Blow Out" is for me a combination of "Blowup" and "The Conversation". Here the anti-hero (Travolta) gets the chance to use booth images and sounds (in fact moving pictures). "Blow Out" also show that you can bring "Blowup" and "The Conversation" together into some kind of a synchronization.

The difference between "Blow Out" and it's two forerunners is that this version is not as vague, hazy and indistinct. There is more obvious here who has done what and what has happened. This doesn't make "Blow Out" to a worse version or less interesting. "Blow Out" is a strong cinematic experience. A strong reason for that is Brian de Palma´s perfect direction, but also the good music (even if it sometimes isn't necessary, just redundant) and John Travolta´s acting - maybe his best performance ever.

The most inspiring scene is when de Palma let the camera goes round and round in Travolta´s apartment, makes it look like the camera doesn't follow or focus at any object.

Brian de Palma has an enormous potential, and here he uses it to maximum.

Rating: 8 of 10.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Stylish, Gripping, Funny, Nail-Biting Political Conspiracy Thriller

Author: ShootingShark from Dundee, Scotland
21 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jack Terry is a movie soundman in Philadelphia out recording sounds one night when he witnesses a car crash into a creek. He jumps in and pulls out a young woman, but the driver of the car - a powerful senator - drowns. Jack is approached by the authorities to keep quiet, but when he listens to his tape he is convinced the crash was not an accident but an assassination. Can he unravel the mystery before the killer comes calling on him ? One of the most brilliant and overlooked political thrillers ever made, this is a fabulous movie featuring a dynamic career-best performance by John Travolta who sadly almost disappeared into obscurity afterwards until Pulp Fiction thirteen years later. It's very hard to play a complex lead in a densely-plotted thriller and yet somehow he manages to be exciting, tender, funny and guilt-ridden, all the while holding the story-threads together. Allen is fun as the dopey call-girl, Franz hits a new high in his sleazebag roles for DePalma (he doesn't even stop talking when he goes to the bathroom), and Lithgow is truly chilling as the Gordon Liddy-styled hard-as-nails killer with the coolest garrotte in cinema. The problem I have with most political thrillers is that they're all talk and no action (The Parallax View, The China Syndrome) - they may be credible but they're dull; Blow Out gets its balance of plot-twists, social commentary and hair-raising moments exactly right. It contains everything you could want to know about Nixon-era political tricks (wire-taps, surveillance, police coverups, etc), but it also has some seriously scary stalking scenes, a giddy chase through a Liberty Day parade and an amusing subplot about dubbing a horror flick. It combines DePalma's love of style and technique (split-screen, montages, complex shots, slow-motion) with his love of film engineering and technology, as Jack makes an animated film of the crash from newspaper stills and dubs his soundtrack onto them using lovely old moviolas and analogue tape machines. There's an extraordinary shot at one point when Jack finds all his tapes have been erased and the camera spins slowly around his studio, literally dizzying us with the bewildering conspiracy surrounding him. Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is stunning throughout and Pino Donaggio's lush score is haunting and poignant. The one criticism that could possibly be levelled against this movie is that it cribs from many sources, notably Rashomon, Vertigo, and Blowup (explicit in the title), and the premise is a variation on the infamous 1969 Chappaquiddick incident (senator Ted Kennedy crashed his car into a sea-channel and escaped but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned). But DePalma's script is as perfectly manicured as his visuals, and has lots of good ideas of its own; Lithgow's trick of murdering two other women prior to Allen to make her death look like the work of a serial killer is a brilliant twist, and one that's been used in many subsequent thrillers. And the usual protest against DePalma's work - that he has no interest in character and directs clinically - is usually unjustified, but particularly so here - Jack is a nice guy with a guilty conscience and Travolta imbues him with energy, warmth, humour and tragic pathos. This movie is everything a good thriller should be and, along with William Richert's equally low-profile Winter Kills, is the touchstone American political conspiracy movie.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Undervalued DePalma and Travolta

Author: Jerry-93 from Milwaukee, WI
6 May 2000

All of DePalma's early movies that he wrote and directed pay quite a bit of "homage" to other, greater directors. Dressed to Kill from Psycho; Obsession: Vertigo; Body Double: Rear Window and Vertigo (see a pattern?). Well, Blow Out is no different (though it does break the pattern): it's an audio take on the photography of Antonioni's Blowup.

Travolta plays a b-movie producer's sound man. One night, while recording some outdoor sound FX for his latest film, he witnesses, and records on audio tape, what appears to be an auto accident that takes the life of Pennsylvania's governor (the movie takes place in Philly, so I assume it's the governor of that state). By the time he reaches the car, the governor is dead, but the girl (not his wife) that he was with is still alive. As Travolta develops a relationship with the girl, he comes to believe that what he hears on his audio tape is not a tire blowing out, but a gun shot. When he "makes" a film of the incident from still pictures to accompany his audio track, his suspicions are confirmed. And then the trouble starts.

I'd guess not a lot of people have seen this movie in recent years. It's a shame, because it's really a great movie. Travolta is good, and this movie doesn't seem any of his tampering that most of his recent films do (these were the days when you could get Travolta for peanuts instead of 1/3 of the budget). Nancy Allen essentially plays the same role she plays in all of her then-husband's movies: the dumb blond. NYPD Blue fans may find the appearance of a thin, fully coiffed Dennis Franz worth a look. DePalma is very sharp in this one, using a lot of his quirky directorial touches to full effect (especially the scene where Travolta makes the movie of the accident; who would think to do that?). Clever wrapup, too. Well worth a look.

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

fills the screen if not the brain

Author: jonathan-577 from Canada
25 August 2007

People talk about De Palma's pastiches like they're a bad thing, but when you set out to pastiche Blow Up and The Conversation PLUS Zapruder PLUS Chappaquadick PLUS Vertigo PLUS who knows what, you can't say the man's being lazy. But how do you tie it all together? How do you come up with an ending? Well as to the first question, I can only hope it was studio interference that prescribed the John Lithgow psycho, who is as engaging and complex as a sheet of drywall and who totally pounds at the "one bad apple" theory, so you ain't here for politics. And unfortunately, none of the other characters engage as characters either - Travolta's haunted sound-recordist gets more remote as the movie progresses, and you keep waiting for Nancy Allen to have a Kim Novak moment that never arrives. And speaking of Kim Novak, we have the ending. In order for De Palma to have his Vertigo angle (with history repeating itself in the death of a loved one) he has to reach out of the main narrative and impose two matching set pieces - external, extraneous, preposterous set pieces - on the second act and at the climax. I much prefer the tools-of-the-trade process intrigue as sound-guy Travolta pieces together a government cover-up through bits of media. The funny thing is, the process itself is also preposterous. Sure, the magazine published every frame of the home movie in sequence. Sure, he pulls the negative out of the camera WITH THE LIGHTS ON and then sends it to the lab. This, I grant you, may be deliberate head-games, an admonition to look somewhere else for the meaning. I'm not saying it didn't move along nicely, or that it didn't impressively fill the screen in 35mm. And while the denouement may be totally cheap, as such it's a bit shocking, and welcome for that. Badum-bum!

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

what a way to wind down

Author: skian31 from Japan
19 May 2006

Home from work after a busy week...sit down and see a spry John Travolta playing some desperate sound man in a movie from the early eighties. Turns out to be one heck of a film. Very stylish, I think the review says. Check out the shot of John's jeep going through Philly's old district. It's so cool...from a helicopter. The old train station with John Lithgow stalking is fantastic. The characters of the T.V caster and of Manny are also perfect, especially Manny. He's such a scumbag it's perfect for the deal going down. The final 10 minutes are really mesmerizing. The desperate run of Jack through the crowds, the bands, the fireworks. Liberty Day? The symbolism is overwhelming. Is that my ten lines? Just wanted to let you know that I thought it was worth watching. I can't wait to see the first half of this film!

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

1 of the Best from America's 2nd favorite scientologist.

Author: bluessingger from United States
6 May 2006

OK, so I always hated Travolta. I hated Welcome Back Cotter in general, and Travolta in particular. I hated greasers, disco and rednecks, which eliminated most of his best known stuff. I did a lot of hating in those days, but I'm not such a hard ass that I can't admit when the boy done good, as he did in this case. I lived in the City of Lovely Brothers when this came out, so I have a soft spot in my heart for it. I had already seen Antonioni's "Blow Up", (at Philadelphia's Theater of the Living Arts no less,) and I think Blow Out was the much better film. There's more suspense, and I loved the ironic ending. DePalma did a great job, and all the cast was wonderful. Yes, I admit it, Travolta was particularly excellent.

In the world that is my mind, there are only three great Travolta films. This one, Pulp Fiction, and Phenomenon. Carrie was great, and even though I hated him, I must admit John was superb in his rather limited role. But Carrie wasn't really a "Travolta" movie was it? I was really happy for John when he made his big comeback in Pulp fiction, (his best,) and really loved Phenomenon, but it was this movie that changed my opinion about Travolta, making the other two movies intimately more enjoyable.

I recently bought the DVD at WalMart for $4.88, along with the movies Valley Girl, and Flawless. They are the pride of my legal DVD collection. I have viewed Blowout twice already, and plan on watching it for many years to come. Thanks John!

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:


Author: Bill Treadway ( from Queens, New York
14 July 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brian DePalma's "Blow Out" is a smart and suspenseful thriller that is probably his most original. It owes more to Antonioni than to Hitchcock, especially the former's "Blow Up", which starred David Hemmings as a photographer who thinks he is a witness to a murder. "Blow Out" starts with that, but DePalma has his own agenda. He loads this film with so many nice surprises that he manages to surpass his previous work (which includes "Dressed to Kill", "Sisters" and "Obsession")

The story this time:(WARNING:SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT NOT MANY)John Travolta plays Jack Terri, a soundman working on a Philly based B-movie. He is out recording night sounds when a "blow out" occurs and forces a car into the river. Jack dives in and saves the girl (Nancy Allen), but is unable to save the man. Looks like a normal accident, right? Well, the girl turns out to be a high paid call girl (This is Allen's third call girl in a row in a DePalma film, following "Home Movies" and "Dressed to Kill"; no wonder the marriage didn't last)and the victim is a powerful Presidential candidate.

That's all I can describe without spoiling it for you. What I described is the first 15 minutes of a 108 minute labyrinth. "Blow Out" is less explicit and bloody than DePalma's previous film "Dressed to Kill", but it is more intelligent and dignified. The technical credits are absolutely tops. Vilmos Zsigmond's Panavision photography (which will be ruined on TV; the tape is cropped to show a 2.35:1 image in a 1.33:1 screen)has all sorts of nuances and surprises that you might not catch on initial viewings. A lot of this movie is dark, but Travolta's character is thrown into the dark side of Philly (and life, come to think of it),so the visual scheme is appropriate. Best of all is Pino Donnagio's score. As in "Dressed to Kill", "Body Double" and "Carrie", the music doesn't give away DePalma's surprises, but it creates additional suspense and mood, as all great scores do. This is the best work Donnagio has done on a film and he deserved an Oscar nomination.

The performances are also exceptional. John Travolta is finally given a smart character to play, especially after the idiots Barbarino, Tony Manero and Squash (from "Moment to Moment"). He gets to showcase his intelligence and his good looks simultaneously. It is a tight rope of emotions and Travolta pulls it off. Nancy Allen's hooker is not as smart as the one she played in "Dressed to Kill", but at least it is miles better than the glamorized Julia Roberts stereotype I'm used to seeing these days. In supporting roles, DePalma regulars John Lithgow and Dennis Franz do their usual good job as villains (Lithgow in "Obsession", Franz in "The Fury", "Sisters" and "Dressed to Kill")

Blow Out is one of the best thrillers you'll see. Check it out. Right now.

**** out of 4 stars

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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A personal favourite

Author: Lucianivision from Oakville
11 July 2001

From the opening credits and cheesy slasher film setup, right to the often criticized denouement, Brian DePalma's "Blow Out" stands out as one of cinemas forgotten treasures. John Travolta gives a performance that will easily make you forget about anything he's done after "Get Shorty"-o.k. not everything; Nancy Allen takes a while to warm up to as the ditsy call girl, but she will eventually win the viewer over; Dennis Franz is perfect as a sleazy photographer, and John Lithgow shines as the abnormal assassin. All of DePalma's trademarks are here-split screen and deep focus shots, melodramatic slo-mo sequences, amd homages to past directors. Unfortunately, most of the video transfers of the film suffer in poor image quality (It's not letterboxed (widescreen)-a must for all of DePalma's, actually anybody's work) and sound quality (since this film is about a sound recordist the sound plays a major role). A DVD has yet to be released, so to this date only the beautiful widescreen laserdisc transfer of the film does it any justice. This film is a personal favourite. If you enjoy DePalma's films (forget "Bonfire of the Vanities" and "Mission to Mars") and/or political conspiracy thrillers then treat yourself to one of the best. "Blow Out" delivers. Lets just hope a DVD (a special edition would be amazing) is in the works!

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8 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

I was shocked it was so bad! Beware spoilers...

Author: ShrinkSteve from Hurricane, WV
24 July 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Direction alone doesn't make a movie for me. The plot might be decent for this movie but the story built around it is unbelievable and poorly written. The police work is abysmal in the story since they are supposed to be investigating the death of a governor, and future presidential candidate. The car he wrecks isn't even impounded or investigated the night of the crash, but is left unguarded in a garage. The governor is able to "slip out the back door" of a major event where he's supposed to speak without anyone noticing. The police don't know how to get material evidence from the film maker? They aren't suspicious of a man "happening" to be there when the car wrecks? They don't ask for proof he filmed anything else that night? They can't find him several days later? My brother once shot photos of a burning building, the police confiscated the film for an investigation and he never saw it again. Give me a break. The continuity errors are many and ridiculously obvious, but nobody here is bothered? How about the broad daylight dash through town in the Jeep by Travolta, ending well after dark only a few minutes after the crash? How about the sequence of colors flashing on Travolta's face as he is struck by another of his "wired" helpers dying? Have you ever been to fireworks that cast shadows and flashed in constant consistent sequence like that? It was hard to watch the film and stay with it due to the shabby acting of the fem-fatal as well. She was poorly cast and couldn't hold a candle to Travolta. How about the critical judgment errors of Travolta's character... he never gave the girl's name, never mind her number, to the TV guy, how would the TV guy have called her not knowing who she was? Ugh... with any real examination of the story, it crumbles like a fragile house of cards. This was a real waste of a Saturday night for me.

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9 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Biggest Piece of Crap I've seen in a long time

Author: ricanwarrior from Santa Monica, CA
23 March 2006

The movie is crap!!! The irony of ironies is that the soundtrack to the film has awful dated melodramatic music where no music or a select song or two from the times would've been better suited. The dialogue between Travolta and Allens characters is plain awful.

The opening scene was idiotic (I mean I know it was a campy movie farce but still, like if none of the sorority women not see this guy??).

A presidential hopeful is driving by himself without an entourage?? If the premise was to set him up with a floozy; then why shoot him? Why did Lithgows character kill that one woman the way he did when he knew it wasn't the gal he was looking for? Why would they erase all of Travoltas tapes and how could they have that much time to do it?? (If you want to do something quick, you set fire to the place. If you wanted to cover up something, you're not just going to steal a tire; you would execute Travolta and Allen the moment they left the hospital.

I'm sorry but this movie was extremely stupid aside from being poorly directed and acted.

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