Blow Out

Blow Out

[bloh]

Blow Out is a 1981 thriller film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The title and themes derive from and are an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blowup. The film stars John Travolta as Jack Terry, a movie sound effects technician from Philadelphia who, while recording sounds for a low-budget horror film, accidentally captures audio evidence of the possible assassination of the Pennsylvania governor who was planning to run for President. The supporting cast included Nancy Allen (in the role of Sally, a prostitute who was riding in the governor's limousine when he was killed), Dennis Franz as sleazy private investigator, Manny Karp, a Zapruderesque figure, and John Lithgow as the cold-blooded assassin Burke (a.k.a. 'The Liberty Bell Strangler').

Plot

Jack Terry works as a sound technician in the film industry, mainly associated with a producer of sleazy exploitation horror films. One of his current problems is that he needs an authentic scream for a crucial scene in his current project. While out recording night sounds in a local park, he is shocked when a car suddenly passes by, careens off the road, and plunges into a nearby lake. Jack dives in and tries to help, discovering a dead man and a young woman, still alive, inside the submerged car. He pulls her to safety and accompanies her to a local hospital.

The situation turns out to be stranger than Jack thought. The car happens to have been driven by the governor of Pennsylvania, a strong candidate for the presidency, and the girl is a prostitute named Sally. Since the governor was a married man, there is a strong bid to hush up the fact that Sally was with him in the car. Later, Jack listens to the audio tape he was making at the time, and he distinctly hears a gunshot just before the blow-out that caused the accident. As Jack begins to suspect, the incident was actually an assassination, perpetrated by a psychotic hired assassin named Burke.

Jack becomes enamored with Sally even as he draws her into his own private investigation of the incident. With her help, he pieces together a crude film of the incident, using images shot by a photographer who happened to catch the crash on camera. However, Jack can get nobody to believe his story. Every move he makes is immediately hushed up in a seemingly widespread conspiracy to silence the truth. Even worse, Sally is in grave danger after Burke sees her as a loose end that needs to be eliminated. In preparation for her murder, Burke begins murdering local prostitutes in an attempt to establish a fictitious serial killer scenario, marking the body of each victim with the pattern of the Liberty Bell.

Finally, Jack attempts to gather irrefutable proof of the assassination attempt wiring Sally with a hidden microphone and sending her off to meet a secret media contact. Shadowing her from a distance, he is alarmed to see Burke posing as his contact. Immediately realizing that she is in danger, Jack attempts to warn her, only to have them slip out of range into a large Independence Day crowd. Jack makes a mad dash across Philadelphia, attempting to head them off and rescue Sally. Burke takes her to a rooftop and attacks her just as Jack, still listening in on his earpiece, spots them on top of the building. Jack hears Sally screaming as he rushes to save her, but he is too late. He arrives just after Burke has strangled her to death and is marking her body with the bell pattern. Jack takes Burke by surprise and kills him, but Jack is heartbroken that Sally is dead. He becomes obsessed with listening to the tapes he made of Sally the day she died, even going so far as to use her death scream in the horror movie he is working on.

Reception

Initial reaction to Blow Out was mixed. Some critics, such as Pauline Kael, thought the film was a masterpiece. In her review in The New Yorker, Kael noted, "It's a great movie." She elaborated, "I think De Palma has sprung to the place that Robert Altman achieved with films such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville and that Francis Ford Coppola reached with the two Godfather films - that is, to the place where genre is transcended and what we're moved by is an artist's vision." Roger Ebert gave it four stars, and in his review in the Chicago Sun-Times stated, "Best of all, this movie is inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence. The audience isn't condescended to... We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses." At the same time, Andrew Sarris despised the film, denouncing it as "misogynistic". And Harlan Ellison famously walked out of a Writers Guild Film Society screening, stating that DePalma's movie "consciously and gratuitously debased the human spirit.". At the box office, the film failed to bring an audience. With an estimated $18 million budget, Blow Out managed to only return approximately $12 million in box office receipts ultimately labeling it as a flop.

Over the years, the general critical response to the film has become much more favorable, and many critics now agree that Blow Out is one of De Palma's best movies. Quentin Tarantino has consistently praised the movie, and listed it as one of his favorite three films, along with Rio Bravo and Taxi Driver (although Tarantino had apparently changed his mind in 2002, when he left it out of his top-ten list for the Sight & Sound poll of the best films of all time). Tarantino would later go on to use the track "Sally and Jack" from Pino Donaggio's score for his Death Proof segment in Grindhouse.

Trivia

  • During the editing process, two reels of footage from the Liberty Parade sequence were stolen and were never to be seen again. This meant that the scenes had to be reshot at a cost of $750,000. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was no longer available, so he was replaced by László Kovács.
  • The idea of a man discovering a crime by listening to a recording is a reinterpretation of Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blowup (1966), but using sound instead of photographs.
  • The accident at the start of the film alludes to the Kennedy incident at Chappaquiddick.
  • Also alludes to the Watergate scandal and the JFK assassination.
  • John Travolta suffered from insomnia during the shoot. His lack of sleep helped him create a very moody performance and is why his character seems so downtrodden throughout the movie.
  • In the French version, John Travolta's voice was dubbed by Gérard Depardieu.
  • Al Pacino was Brian De Palma's first choice for the role of Jack Terry. When he proved unavailable Travolta was signed, prompting a suggestion from at least one studio executive to cast Olivia Newton-John in the role of Sally (which De Palma refused).

See also

External links

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