Having watched well over 3,000 films during the course of my lifetime, (I only count the first viewing of a movie in that equation) I’ve developed an appreciation for, and have become a fan of, numerous directors. There are, however, only a handful of filmmakers, for example, my cinema idol, Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), who move me to the point where I must see their movies in the theater. One other such person is Brian De Palma, and this week’s blog focuses in on the newly released Blu-ray Criterion collection edition of his film Blow Out.
Released on July 24, 1981, Brian De Palma’s thriller pays homage to the brilliantly directed Michelangelo Antonioni’s (L’Avventura) 1966 film Blow Up. Historically, it was one of the first films to use the then revolutionary steadicam for long tracking shots. Three years after John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever) acted in the box office smash Grease, he found himself starring in a political thriller that is the antithesis of the musical hit. His character, Jack Terry, is a sound technician who works in the world of second rate horror movies. Jack, an idealistic man, becomes literally obsessed by what he perceives to be a conspiracy to conceal the murder of a presidential hopeful, Governor McRyan, (John Hoffmeister) who died in a car accident. The reason for his quest to uncover the truth springs from the fact that late one evening, while recording sound, Jack records the accident. Further complicating matters is that Jack falls in love with Nancy Allen’s (Carrie) character Sally whom Jack rescues from the Governor’s car which went into a body of water and was sinking. The presence of Sally in the film brings out the protective side of Jack’s character. The catch, Sally is a hooker and was the mistress of the married politician.
In this blogger’s opinion, John Travolta gives one of the finest performances of his career. He doesn’t rely on, what at the time were, his boyish good looks, nor on his natural charisma; but instead he employs solid acting that goes beyond a superficial veneer and digs into the inner workings of his character. In addition, also in this blogger’s opinion, the film progresses at an excellent pace. The viewer is given ample time to get caught up with Travolta’s character who becomes ever so convinced that he’s right in his assumption that an assassination has taken place. Not only that, but that the powers that be are shirking their responsibilities by failing to look into the matter any further than a cursory investigation. Because of the lack of interest on the part of people who can look into the matter, De Palma films several meticulous scenes which showcase Travolta’s character attempting to reconstruct, both with audio and photographs, the car accident. By doing so, he discovers new information, which places him in mortal danger from those who wish to let things die quietly.
The film, which features a wonderful musical score by Pino Donaggio, also co-stars Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) and the always effective, exceptionally competent, John Lithgow (Obsession). The character of the cold-blooded killer Burke, played by Lithgow, is an exquisite villain; a man who is jolting to watch because of his apparent disconnect between his efficient demeanor and the acts of violence he commits in order to keep safe the secrets of his employer. The scenes featuring Lithgow’s Burke are the catalyst which spring boards the movie forward and allows the director to dazzle the viewer with visual treats of suspense each one more powerful than the previous.
Among a host of others, the following are some of the wonderful extras that are included with the Blu-ray release for cinema geeks like myself, and for all who wish to learn more about the movie: The original theatrical trailer; A new interview with Brian De Palma, conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale); Brian De Palma’s 1967 feature Murder a la Mod; And also a discussion with cameraman Garrett Brown about the use of the steadicam.
I generally tend to write about films, television shows, and novels that I feel strongly about in a positive way, and Blow Out is no exception. The climax of the vivid film alone was worth the price of admission back when it was released in 1981, and subsequently, the few dollars it costs to rent it. The ending De Palma offers the viewer is both jarring and definitive and will stay with you long after the movie’s credits finish rolling. The Criterion Collection’s newly restored DVD version of Blow Out has been available since April 26, 2011.