Blow Out

It’s a simple and understandable request for sound technician Jack Terry, his producer tired of hearing the same old screams and background noises dubbed on their latest film, low-budget slasher Co-ed Frenzy, Jack dutifully heading out into the night with his microphone and reel-to-reel to capture a new palette of atmospheric sounds from which to draw.

The tape running, Jack is witness to an accident, a car swerving out of control into the creek. Able to rescue Sally Bedina and conduct her to the hospital, shaken and disoriented, it is only there he realises the driver who did not survive was Governor George McRyan, about to launch his presidential bid. Pressed to keep quiet about “the other woman,” reviewing the tape Jack becomes more convinced that the moment before the tyre blow out there was a sound suspiciously like a gunshot.

A bittersweet thriller of murder and moviemaking written and directed by Brian De Palma set in his hometown of Philadelphia, Blow Out was made with many of his trusted collaborators, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Obsession), editor Paul Hirsch (Phantom of the Paradise), composer Pino Donaggio (Dressed to Kill), yet the casting was by chance, mentioning the script to a friend with whom he had worked on Carrie when he had been a television actor trying to break into feature films, surprised when John Travolta asked to read it and then to play the lead.

De Palma’s then-wife Nancy Allen asking for the role of Sally to allow her another opportunity to work with Travolta whom she had met during screentests for Carrie, interviewed on Criterion’s new Blu-ray she recalls “both of the roles as written were really not right for either of us,” struggling in particular with the question of how Sally can be so sheltered and gullible even as Jack tries to impress upon her that as a key witness to a politically motivated assassination, her capacity to trust a frustrating necessity of the otherwise watertight plot.

Taken advantage of the grand spaces and architecture of Philadelphia and playing against its history as “the seat of liberty,” the hallmarks of De Palma are present, split screen shots reminding that there is a process behind everything seen by an audience or witness, split diopter lenses allowing foreground and background action to have equal importance, the lurid lighting of the city at night and the commonplace act of murderer, Raising Cain‘s John Lithgow coldly clocking up a count of random women to conceal the identity of his sole true target.

While there is no commentary track, the disc also contains an hour-long interview with De Palma which comprehensively covers the production of Blow Out, an interview and demonstration by Steadicam creator Garrett Brown who recalls shooting consciously over-the-top slasher “film within a film” Co-ed Frenzy immediately after completing work on The Shining (“It’s not easy to be bad, particularly after Kubrick”), and De Palma’s 1968 directorial debut, Murder à la Mod, once thought to be lost until a print was discovered in 2011.

Blow Out is available on Blu-ray from Criterion now



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