DePalma’s BLOW OUT (1981)
A movie about movie-making. That’s how I would best describe this Brian DePalma film. First time around, BLOW OUT disappointed at the box office but has since undergone a revival which I reckon is mostly down to critics and cult movie fans.
The film is popping with genre references and homages, exquisitely photographed and fluidly shot; I’d argue that this is DePalma’s technical best with full credit also going to cineamtographer Vilmos Zsigmond. We are treated to the full arsenal of tricks from DePalma’s cinematic circus: split screens, deep focus photography, slo-mo steady cam and crane shots are all lovingly in here. But it’s not simply the director’s technical toolbox which make BLOW OUT a stand-out piece of cinema; the cast are also very strong. John Travolta, John Lithgow and Nancy Allen are on top form whilst Dennis Franz’s sleazy photographer is a cringingly good bit-part. More specifically, Lithgow is undeniably unnerving and deliciously creepy in his role as the killer; Travolta gives one of the best performances of his career, particularly in the film’s depressing ending and Allen is charming naive as cheap escort caught up in a conspiracy.
There are some elements of the film which are exhilarating for the fan-boys. The pre-credits sequence, really a ‘fake’ start to the film as we watch a low-budget horror film (Travolta is providing the audio for this piece of horror trash), is a joy and almost like an ‘easter egg’ hidden within the film itself rather on on a DVD menu. The shots in this segment are out of the sync, the acting reprehensible, the steadi-cam anything but and the music bluntly unimaginative. It’s a ‘bad’ movie filmed magnificently well by DePalma.
At its heart, BLOW OUT is really about film identifying truth in the world – it’s the production of a film along with audio which is key to exposing the corruption of the elite, and it’s also highlighted that the abuse of this medium can have serious sequences. In terms of the relationsthip to DePalma’s other thrillers, BLOW OUT is less violent than both 1980’s DRESSED TO KILL and 1977’s THE FURY. On the other hand there is one scene which I found particularly horrific and that’s where Lithgow garrottes a prostitute over a toilet stall, her feet panickily jamming against the wall. It’s not that you see this graphically in front of your eyes but it’s the hint of the concealed visuals which are most unsettling.
If you’re look to pick holes in BLOW OUT, I guess you can take issue with the unsophisticated nature of the story and the script. This is clearly one of the more straightforward thrillers – in terms of narrative – of all the films in DePalma’s cannon. Does that really matter though? Not when a film is this well put-together and executed.