1981. Directed by Brian DePalma
A spiritual homage to Hitchcock and an affectionate remake of Antonioni's classic thriller, DePalma's Blow Out is a masterpiece cinematic shocker.
Jack is a audio effects wizard who works on B movie horror films. One night while trying to capture realistic sounds in a park, he witnesses, and records, a car crash involving the Governor of Pennsylvania and a call girl. Listening to his recording reveals a possible gun shot and soon Jack is neck deep in a conspiracy that may cost him his life to expose.
This film is a seminal entry for films about film. It's a house of illusions with sounds and imagery combining to create endless mirrors of reality and the perception of reality. Dan Sable's flawless sound editing and Vilmos Zsigmond's grimy cinematography are the perfect dysfunctional couple, producing a story that is gorgeous in it's smut and harrowing in it's auditory accusations. While Antonioni's original is a glossy high end hor d'oeuvre, Blow Out is remnants from the dumpster reassembled into a gritty neo noir main course.
The themes of Blow Out, and how they're manipulated by the mad man auteur are what elevates this film to greatness. It's characters are flawed and human. The protagonist is a man consumed by guilt and curiosity, not driven by noble purpose. The female lead is world weary and opportunistic. The world is cold and the strings are controlled by the unseen specters of power, willing to kill many to ensure their control remains unquestioned. The idea of perception and it's manipulation are important, but above all, it's application in film is what is truly important. The audience is being shown their own visual victimization and it's presented so purely, so courageously that the you're helpless to resist.
John Travolta is ablaze as the audio artist turned amateur detective. His lack of innocence and struggle with his past is so perfectly communicated in his desperation to set things right that he inspires loyalty from the viewer with almost minimal effort. The underrated Nancy Allen is a perfect companion as the call girl with a not so heart of gold. DePalma is constantly playing with convention, turning everything on it's head to evoke panic and a guilty sense of complicit detachment. The idea that these events are simply how the world works are prevalent from the onset and continue throughout.
DePalma also used regular collaborator Pino Dinaggio for the film's tragic score. One of my favorite things about Blow Out is how even the music is a character, highlighting the film's conclusion in a somber and matter of fact manner rather than spectacle. Blow Out is a small, personal film and every element is offered with the utmost integrity.
Available now for digital rental or on blu ray in a flawless Criterion edition, Blow Out is the kind of film that drags you through the gutter of obsession and voyeurism in such a unique and intimate manner that by the time you realize what's happened, the credits are already rolling. DePalma's best work to date, Blow Out is a great film if you're looking cinema that challenges not only your perspective, but takes you deep into your own fantasies of truth along the way.