Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Blow Out (1981)




Brian De Palma is a director who lovingly wears his influences on his sleeve and Blow Out certainly offers us some rich pickings of influential material, whilst revealing itself to be an intelligent and original work in its own right.

Antonioni's Blow-Up and Coppola's The Conversation, Italian Giallo and the works of Hitchcock and real life events and characters like Chappaquiddick and the tragic Mary Jo Kopechne, the Kennedy dynasty and Jack and Bobby's political assassinations, eyewitnesses like Abraham Zapruder, Watergate and shady, shadowy Mr Fix-It's like G. Gordon Liddy, all of these come together to produce a rich, deep film of conspiracy theory and cinematic flair and intelligence for our time. 



Cross referencing the likes of Blow Up and The Conversation may make the story a familiar one, but its enjoyable and smartly told nonetheless. John Travolta stars in one of his most challenging roles and one of his three personal favourites as an obsessive sound effects man for B movie slashers who, when spending the night recording sounds in the woods stumbles into an elaborate and deadly conspiracy when he inadvertently witnesses and records the sound of a presidential candidate's car crashing into a river. Launching a rescue bid, he finds the governor dead but manages to save his passenger, an escort girl, from drowning.  Pressurised by the authorities to keep the girl out of the story for the dead man's reputation, Travolta soon finds that the recording he made doesn't match the official explanation.

Like many films about the process and technologies within movie making, Blow Out revels in the art of cinema itself and De Palma stages some truly memorable and impressive set pieces that elevate the schlocky or kitsch cliches of mystery and suspense thrillers into compelling art in an intelligent and insightful manner not unlike Hitch himself. As a result of which, Blow Out earned itself the tag of 'the best of all American conspiracy movies' by Pauline Kael.



Until tonight, I hadn't watched this in a very long time (I picked the DVD up for just a quid in a charity shop last week) and I was a little worried that I may have remembered it via rose tinted glasses. I needn't have bothered worrying, and many moments I'd totally forgotten about thanks to the midst of time which made this an almost new experience. It's one my favourite De Palma's let down only perhaps by the perennial issue raised against the director; namely his depiction of women. I do wish Nancy Allen's call girl could have been less of a 'Well gee Mister, wanna buy me a lollipop' ditzy dumb broad stereotype that seems to originate from the 1930s. Surely there would be more opportunity for an emotional involvement and more punch if the character was more three dimensional and heartfelt?

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