Blow Out – Blu-Ray Review

Released just over 40 years ago, Blow Out is perhaps Brian De Palma’s masterpiece, a film made with
incredible skill and rooted deep in the games of cinema. It is a film constructed from its influences
and streamlined into an intelligent, gripping story that plays with the anxieties of its era. Few
thrillers manage to be so tense, and Blow Out absolutely excels as a top-tier suspense film in post-
Hitchcock Hollywood.

While obviously inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, the mixture of influences on Blow Out
extends further than that. By the early 80s, the Hitchcock to giallo to slasher pipeline had been
completed. Blow Out opens with a film-within-a-film that is itself a slasher. In a more deep sense,
Blow Out takes cues from Hitchcock and giallo. A series of murders within Blow Out are executed
with the crisp style and macabre imagery of Italian horror. The way Blow Out focuses on voyeurism
is something Hitchcock did as well, and the plot is similar to his type of suspense movie. There are
also social influences, as Blow Out is one of many films that capture the 70s and early 80s political
zeitgeist which was reeling from Watergate. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was in a similar
vein, also probing the use of audio recording to interpret the world. However Blow Out does not
suffer from these comparisons, because they are merely parts woven into its tapestry. It stands by
itself, though its cinematic context is still fascinating.

John Travolta plays the lead character, in a performance that is sharp and sufficiently unsettled. His
character gets caught into a political crisis after witnessing a politician’s car crash while recording
audio for a movie. Part of Blow Out is its fixation on the process of movie making. So much is spent
on splicing together audio and video to dig deeper into the central mystery. This process is shown in
detail, and it’s often repetitive, but it’s all so compelling as each playback can reveal more of the
answers. In Blow Out, the world is constantly being recorded, re-edited, and reinterpreted. TV is a
constant, being the main news source for all characters. Proof becomes video and sound, no longer
just words and witnesses. In the post-JFK world, conspiracy theories exist in abundance and all
footage can be reinterpreted as meaning something else. Blow Out captures the paranoid and
conspiratorial world that had been built in the aftermath of two decades of change. It was released
just 6 months after Reagan’s inauguration, so the seeds of the next political era had only just been
sown.

Blow Out works in every way it should. It culminates in a finale that ties up its loose ends but does
not provide victory. The sour pessimism of Blow Out only makes it more endearing, as it doesn’t
patronise nor lie to its audience. It’s a thriller told smartly, and deeply engaging because of that. De
Palma’s skill as a filmmaker is on clear display, as the many impressive shots become an impeccable
showcase of technique. Blow Out takes many inspirations, but it mixes them all into a masterful film
that remains among Hollywood’s best.

This Criterion release comes with a restored digital transfer of Blow Out supervised by Brian De
Palma, as well as interviews with De Palma (conducted by Noah Baumbach who go on to make documentary De Palma), actress Nancy Allen, and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. The disc also contains Brian De Palma’s debut feature Murder à la Mod, which is an interesting low-budget effort but also not very good. It also cameos on a TV screen in Blow Out.

★★★★★

Darren Carver-Balsinger

Buy Here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s