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Monday, May 9, 2011
30 YEARS LATER, 'BLOW OUT' HAS ARRIVED
AS CRITERION DELIVERS A WOW
During a bonus interview on Criterion's recent release of Brian De Palma's Blow Out, Nancy Allen laments that the film's original release just didn't seem to have the right timing. A bleak movie released in the summer when everybody is looking to have some fun. Well, thanks to Criterion, thirty years later, Blow Out's time seems to have finally arrived. Widely regarded by De Palma fans and cinephiles alike as one of De Palma's best films, Blow Out currently seems to be cementing its place in the mainstream as the best representation of De Palma's cinema. The Criterion release is a big hit, introducing Blow Out to a wide new audience, and turning the heads of even some of De Palma's harshest critics.

When I was a kid, I had a friend who wrote a song (we were writing songs in the sixth grade) about some advice he had received from his dad. The hook of the song was, "Before you buy anything, it has to be a wow!" I can't say I've always followed this advice, but I can say without a doubt that Criterion's release of Blow Out is nothing less than a wow. Everything from the film transfer, supervised by De Palma himself, to the disc extras (three great interviews, and I never thought I'd see De Palma's Murder A La Mod on a Criterion release!), to the beautiful booklet that includes a reprint of pages from the magazine prop cut-up by John Travolta in the movie, is a treat in and of itself. To have all of this in one package is extraordinary.

A SMALL SELECTION OF 'BLOW OUT' REVIEWS FROM THE LAST TWO WEEKS
Randy Miller III at DVD Talk
Blow Out is unquestionably a fantastic film that, commercially and (perhaps) critically, was released at the wrong time. In the last 30 years, however, it's aged remarkably well and stands as an underrated career highlight for all those involved. Combining equal parts paranoia thriller, black comedy and tragic love story, Blow Out should enthrall those new to the film and delight those that haven't seen it in years. Criterion's Blu-Ray does a perfect job of maintaining the film's tone and spirit, pairing a rock-solid technical presentation with a handful of thoughtful, appropriate bonus features. While it's a bit on the pricey side (even for a Criterion disc), Blow Out is a top-tier effort and this Blu-Ray is worth every penny. Very Highly Recommended.

Travis Crawford at Filmmaker Magazine
The ending of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out hits you in the chest like a hammer. It’s not supposed to be this way; American studio movies don’t end like that. But of course it’s the heartbreaking denouement that has partially helped to make the film endure in the 30 intervening years since its commercially disastrous release, though one can certainly fathom how it alienated audiences at the time (for the record, some critics were passionate defenders; it’s just that most viewers don’t savor being implicated in the spectacle of violence as it is quickly transformed into tragedy).

Bryant Frazer at Film Freak Central
Blow Out is usually considered critically, at least in part, as an investigation of filmmaking processes. It's true that De Palma spends some time with the mechanics of film, depicting the laborious process of synching sound to picture or opening up a Bolex to expose the camera's inner workings. In another funny joke, he has Jack slip Sally out of the hospital and into a motel room where, rather than snuggle up under the covers with her, he sits up all night with his Nagra tape deck. But the element of filmmaking that really matters here is deception, by which I mean performance. Sally, for instance, fancies herself a make-up artist, and it turns out that the face she presents to Jack isn't entirely an honest one. There's the duplicitous Manny (Dennis Franz), who uses a studio-photography business as a front for a blackmail operation. There's the murderous political operative Burke (John Lithgow, in an early rehearsal for his role on "Dexter"), who is so skilled at altering his voice that he sometimes talks as though there's a soundman inside his head, overdubbing the words in real time. De Palma even takes a moment late in the film to slyly depict the negotiation between customer and prostitute as a fundamentally phoney transaction on both sides.

Amid these actors, these practitioners of pure fiction, Jack is a documentarian. Once his boss insists that he bring new wind FX to bear on Coed Frenzy's soundmix, it's Jack's sense of professionalism that sends him wandering around in the middle of the night, recording the breeze rustling through leaves. That work ethic gets him embroiled in the mystery surrounding the governor's death. When the individual frames of a film showing McRyan's car driving into the river are published in a newsmagazine, à la the Zapruder film, Jack finds a way to turn them into a movie he can synch with his sound recordings in order to reconstruct the accident. At one point, he tells someone on the police force that he can't simply let it go because he was there for the real events, which don't correspond with the official story. "I was there, she was there," he argues. "Who gives a damn that you were there?" comes the devastating reply. More than filmmaking, per se, Blow Out is about the tale-spinning power of modern media--the efficiency of well-told lies.


Posted by Geoff at 11:05 PM CDT
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Thursday, February 10, 2011


Posted by Geoff at 11:15 AM CST
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Friday, February 4, 2011


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Friday, January 14, 2011
CRITERION ANNOUNCES BLOW OUT
SET TO INCLUDE NEW HOUR-LONG INTERVIEW WITH DE PALMA, WHO SUPERVISED THE NEW TRANSFER
Criterion today announced that it will release Brian De Palma's Blow Out on DVD and Blu-Ray April 26, 2011. The film marks its 30th anniversary this year. The restored digital transfer for the new DVD was supervised by De Palma himself. The two-disc set (the Blu-Ray is one disc) will include a new hour-long interview with De Palma, conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (Greenberg), as well as a new interview with Nancy Allen. Another inspired feature: Cameraman Garrett Brown on the Steadicam shots featured in the film within the film. The set will also feature select on-set photos from photographer Louis Goldman, the original theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by Michael Sragow, as well as Pauline Kael’s original New Yorker review. But that's not all-- the Criterion website promises that more goodies are apparently in the works for this highly-anticipated release.
(Thanks to Jon Rubin!)

Posted by Geoff at 10:52 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:56 PM CST
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Friday, November 5, 2010
CLUE SUGGESTS CRITERION BLOW OUT
The Playlist's Drew Taylor speculates that a new clue from Criterion hints that a new DVD package of Brian De Palma's Blow Out may be on the way soon. A very welcome idea, as the film has been out of print on DVD for some time now.

Posted by Geoff at 1:51 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 22, 2010
NANCY ALLEN TALKS AT NIFFF
DISCUSSES BLOW OUT, DRESSED TO KILL, ETC.
SciFi Universe's Romain B. and Richard B. got a chance to sit down with Nancy Allen at this year's Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland, where Allen was a member of the international jury. They've posted a video of the interview, and also a text transcript. Allen balked when the interviewers suggested that she plays essentially the same character in two films she made back-to-back with her then-husband Brian De Palma, Dressed To Kill and Blow Out:

I understand why you see it as the same role, in my case I see them as different characters. Because in Dressed To Kill she is a call girl, and she's taking money for having sex with people. The character in Blow Out, she thinks that she is being more of a detective, and then she's getting information so that people can get their divorce. So in her mind, it's a different thing. But I understand the same thing. I tried to make it clear that that wasn't the same, because I don't want to repeat the same. The character in Dressed To Kill is very smart. You know, she knows what she’s doing. And she’s, oh, very materialistic. And the other girl is more simple-minded, I think. She’s very, kind of naïve. And, you know, she wants to do make-up, and she thinks she’s going to be doing movies. You know, she’s just in her own world. So I tried to contrast it a little bit, find the differences. But it was difficult because, you know, the way the part’s written, so I had to find the performance.

Allen further talked about how she became involved in Blow Out, which she says was originally written for older actors:

I was not going to make that movie, Blow Out. I was never supposed to make that movie. In fact, in the original script, the characters were written very differently. They were really written for two older people who were kind of broken down, and, you know, cynical, and just older, and really had been through a lot. And there was a list of actors, more like, um, James Woods, or more of like an intellectual kind of actor. And John [Travolta] just happened to call. I was in Paris, and I was there doing press for Dressed To Kill. And Brian says, “Oh, John Travolta called, and he wanted to read my new script.” And I said, “Well, what are you going to do if he likes it?” [Laughing] Because it was not written for… And he said, “Oh, no, no, it’s not for him. He won’t like it.” So sure enough, he liked it, and I said, “Well, now what are you going to do? Are you going to tell him no?” And he said, “Well, no, I can’t do that. It changes the whole movie.” And I said, “Well, you know, he’s totally wrong for this character. I don’t know what you’re doing.” So I was arguing with him. And he says, “Oh, you think so? Well, he wants to do it with you! Now what do you think?” And I said, “Well, I say yes! Of course I’m going to do it.” So then because it was so different with the two of us, we started to do improvisation to try and now find these new characters. So we worked all these improvisations, and then Brian rewrote the script so it was fitting more to John and I.

As the interview continues, Allen explains how the whole idea of her character wanting to do make-up was something that just popped into her head while doing the improvisations with Travolta. She also confirms to the interviewers that it really is her scream at the end of Blow Out.

(Thanks to Screenfreekz!)


Posted by Geoff at 11:43 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 4, 2010
ESSAYS ON BLOW OUT
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY

"Mr. Peel" attended last month's Brian De Palma double feature of Blow Out and Femme Fatale at the New Beverly, and incidentally reports that Eli Roth was in attendance. During the Q&A that followed Blow Out, Roth asked editor Paul Hirsch a question about De Palma's continued use of split screen techniques (Hirsch replied that he himself never liked the technique, "thinking it was too intellectual as opposed to emotional"). (We still love Eli Roth for defending De Palma's Redacted to FOX News in 2007, even though he had apparently not seen the film yet.) Anyway, Mr Peel starts out wondering whether people who "dismiss Blow Out as nothing more than an imitation of other films" have even bothered to see it. "For all that people talk about what he’s lifting from other films," writes Mr. Peel, "De Palma’s work often does feel dosed with a strong touch of the personal, whatever that may be and this seems to be the case with Blow Out much more than usual." Mr. Peel continues:

What begins as a joke in this film—CO-ED FRENZY feels like him making his own joke of a De Palma movie as if he was giving everyone the coarsest version of all the sleaze they expected after DRESSED TO KILL—gradually transforms into something else as the director’s visual mastery takes hold. In its purely visual way of giving us information the storytelling is absolutely crystal clear in how it allows us to understand things that only a sound expert like Jack Terry can figure out, best exemplified in that simply awesome Scope shot where he pieces together in his head exactly what happened at the moment of the titular blow out. All hail Vilmos Zsigmond, while we’re at it. The economy of storytelling continues right up until the final minutes which always winds up lasting shorter than I expect it to, with just a handful of setups giving us a great amount of information but there’s no need to give us more than that. There’s hardly a wasted frame in the film.

And that joke we got in those several extended takes right at the start (slightly similar to something Tobe Hooper did in THE FUNHOUSE around the same time) gradually dissolves away, a small running gag in the film that seems to be forgotten about as the world closes in on the two leads. What becomes clear on those multiple viewings is that as much as we wish Jack would do a few things differently, there’s the overwhelming feeling that nothing can be done about any of this, the shadowy ‘they’ who are actually just as paranoid about everyone else yet still powerful enough to pull the strings. Frankly, it actually becomes kind of depressing for me to go over certain parts of the film again because of this. Coming from what was at that time over seventeen years of conspiracy talk surrounding the Kennedy assassination (using iconography from both that event and Chappaquiddick) against the bogus Americana of the Liberty Bell Jubilee he muddies the water to have it both ways—a lone nut hired by the conspiracy who engineers his very own plot against the wishes of those allegedly pulling the strings.

In his final paragraph, Mr. Peel muses on the relationships between politics and art in De Palma's cinema between the cynical Blow Out in 1981, and the more "upbeat" Femme Fatale twenty years later:

Several months ago when I wrote about seeing DRESSED TO KILL at the New Beverly I mentioned how based on the screams heard right before the ending the film was still able to get that reaction. The audible response of the crowd registering just what had been done by the film’s lead character at the very end of BLOW OUT, making it clear how many people there were seeing this for the first time, was considerably different and much more complicated, just like the movie. Looking at it now I thought of De Palma as this sixties hippie, getting burnt out, observing what had been going on in all those years since Dallas. I wondered it he was maybe using this ending as a statement to finally throw in the towel on all he once cared about, essentially saying, “we tried to make things better, none of it worked, you went and elected Reagan…just go fuck yourselves.” When something like November 7, 2000 comes to mind for me I think I understand and maybe BLOW OUT is about one final attempt by a person with regrets to engage with the real world, to truly do something to change it for the better, only to find out that such a dream is futile and you can never wipe what happened in the past from your brain. As it turned out FEMME FATALE, screened second that night at the New Beverly, was the ideal chaser to come after this, in a sense transforming all these regrets into a giddy vindication—both films, after all, conclude with the one of the leads finally putting the finishing touch on what he’s creating, something he’s been searching for the entire film. The revelation at the end of the second film is of course much more ludicrous, not to mention considerably more upbeat, but it also offers the feeling that maybe it is possible for a person to find some sort of peace within a work of art that they’re attempting to create. Maybe that was a conclusion that Brian De Palma himself, who after all is an artist, was able to come to in the intervening years, long after he made this bitterly cynical film in 1981. I was in a wonderful mood after this double bill, practically dancing out of the theater, although in the days since those final seconds of BLOW OUT have stayed with me, as I suppose I knew they would. I guess that’s the whole point.

SALLY IS BLOGGER'S "FAVORITE MOVIE PROSTITUTE"
Meanwhile, this weekend Flick Sided's Scott Tunstall, inspired by the recent release Love Ranch (and the fact that he has no way to see that film at the present time), offers up Nancy Allen's Sally from Blow Out as his "favorite movie prostitute." Tunstall writes:

The world’s oldest profession has been a staple on the big screen for generations. Call girls, streetwalkers, call ‘em what you will. Everyone has a favorite type. Sometimes I prefer them to be elegant, like Inara from Serenity, who dresses as a queen and possesses the beauty of a goddess. Other times I get an itch for cheap and trashy, like Punchy from Street Smart, who dresses as a lot lizard and possesses the beauty of a toll booth operator. Like snowflakes, each is unique in their own way.

However, my ideal lady of the night is a combination of the two. She’s got a little bit of class, but not too much. Her wardrobe is slutty, but not disgustingly so. And her beauty is natural, more like the girl next door, not the swimsuit model up the street. In cinema, that representation would be Sally from Brian De Palma’s vastly underrated thriller Blow Out.

Sally is played by one of my first boyhood crushes, Nancy Allen. Her healthy mound of curly strawberry blonde hair frames the face of a cherub. Her voice is slightly squeaky and she speaks with an annoying Philadelphia accent. (Being a Philly guy, that’s an incredible turn on.) Sally is so darn cute she catches the eye of a psychotic serial killer dubbed “The Liberty Bell Strangler,” creepily portrayed by John Lithgow.

In the following scene, John Travolta’s sound technician has bugged Sally and is tailing her to a meeting with the Strangler, who is pretending to be a reporter.

Unfortunately for Sally, she meets a tragic end, as do many big screen hussies. Why must we be so cruel to these hardworking ladies of questionable morals? Have we no compassion? Have we no shame? *wipes single tear from cheek and sighs*


Posted by Geoff at 12:57 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, July 4, 2010 12:59 PM CDT
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Monday, June 7, 2010
HIRSCH AT BLOW OUT SCREENING TUESDAY
PAIRED WITH FEMME FATALE AT THE NEW BEVERLY


Film editor Paul Hirsch will be on hand for a Q&A following a screening of Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which Hirsch edited, Tuesday June 8 at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The Q&A will be moderated by Ain't It Cool News' Jeremy Smith. Aside from Blow Out, Hirsch has worked with De Palma on numerous films, including Hi, Mom!, Sisters, Phantom Of The Paradise, Obsession, Carrie, The Fury, Raising Cain, Mission: Impossible, and Mission To Mars. He also worked as editor on the two best Star Wars films, "A New Hope" and The Empire Strikes Back. Also on the inspired bill is De Palma's Femme Fatale, scheduled to start at 9:40pm (Blow Out begins at 7:30pm). The double bill is part of "Phil's Film Explosion Part 2," in which Phil Blankenship, the man responsible for the theater's midnight screenings, focuses on (mostly) 1980s cinema, with an apparent shot to the future with 2002's Femme Fatale. Dennis Cozzalio offers a terrific suggestion for anyone in the Los Angeles area: attend tonight's double bill at the New Bev of Sorority House Massacre and The Slumber Party Massacre to get a taste of the genre that De Palma parodies at the very beginning of the next night's lead-off feature, Blow Out.

Speaking of Hirsch, he recently served as editor on the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino cop/buddy movie Righteous Kill, which I finally watched last week (watch out for SPOILERS here). De Niro and Pacino got a lot of flack for this one, but the project itself I think was a good one to take on. Where De Niro went wrong, I believe, was in taking the project to director Jon Avnet, who has a style akin to television. The script is good, and the idea to cast Pacino opposite DeNiro in this is a good one. However, with that pairing having previously been directed by Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann, a stronger director would have worked wonders for this project. That said, there are two sequences that really stand out for being extremely well-edited. The first is a scene where the two cops are being interrogated, and the shots roll at us in rapid succession and from various directions, as the pair are compared to Lennon & McCartney ("not an inch of daylight between them"-- how's that for a contrast to their juxtaposition in The Godfather Part II?). Indeed, De Niro and Pacino tease their interrogators with irreverence as if they were two Beatles at a sixties press conference. A followup scene later in the film becomes a split-screen marvel as the two cops are juxtaposed against each other, and then against themselves, as if we are watching four personalities in the minds of two men. Very creatively done.

Righteous Kill also carries thematic links with De Palma's Snake Eyes. Pacino had turned down the role of Kevin Dunn in the latter film opposite Nicolas Cage's Rick Santoro, but in Righteous Kill his character takes a very similar twist, although the roles in each film, regarding who looks up to who, is reversed. In an odd bit of serendipity, Carla Gugino has been cast in both films as the go-between female figure who is the first to identify the real killer. (John Leguizamo plays a younger cop in Righteous Kill, teaming up with Pacino's cop, but there is no real "Carlito"-type of tension between the two characters in this one.) In the making of docs on the DVD, De Niro says he liked the script, which I agree is a good one, but he should have taken it to a great director. De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola, or Eastwood—even Michael Mann, any of these would have elevated the material, which was already a strong piece of work, especially when combined with the casting.


Posted by Geoff at 12:48 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 7, 2010 12:53 PM CDT
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Sunday, April 18, 2010
DRAGON TATTOO FILM ECHOES BLOW OUT
FINCHER TO DO AMERICAN REMAKE
Film projects come along every now and then that seem perfectly fit for someone like Brian De Palma. For instance, when I read the news this past week about Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell being signed to star in a formerly lost Stanley Kubrick project, the dark mystery Lunatic At Large, it immediately struck me that the material seemed suitable for De Palma (who also seemed to have had a solid working relationship with Johansson on The Black Dahlia a few years ago). Production Weekly stated that a director had not yet been confirmed, but that production would start later this year. Another De Palma associate, Edward R. Pressman, was at one time attached to produce Lunatic At Large, but no longer appears to be involved. In any case, according to a 2006 article in the New York Times, the 1956-set story, which was modern at the time that Kubrick originated the project with pulp author Jim Thompson, features promising set pieces which include "a car chase over a railroad crossing with a train bearing down," a "romantic interlude in a spooky, deserted mountain lodge," and "a nighttime carnival sequence in which Joyce [the main female character], lost and afraid, wanders among the tents and encounters a sideshow’s worth of familiar carnie types: the Alligator Man, the Mule-Faced Woman, the Midget Monkey Girl, the Human Blockhead, with the inevitable noggin full of nails."

Another film idea that seemed ripe for De Palma's touch is the American film adaptation of Steig Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which might also be described as a remake of the Swedish film adaptation of Larsson's Men Who Hate Women, which was directed by Niels Arden Oplev. The photo above is from Oplev's film, which, according to The Moviegoer's Paul Matwychuk, includes a scene where the main protagonist "uses a bunch of old photos to make an 'animated' film of [a missing girl's] last moments of freedom." Matwychuk adds that the "nicely edited sequence... holds its own against a similar scene from Brian De Palma’s Blow Out." De Palma a la Mod reader Kim Thompson agrees that the sequence "unmistakably" echoes Blow Out. A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that David Fincher has signed on to direct the American film version-- should be interesting.

Posted by Geoff at 4:18 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 18, 2010 4:20 PM CDT
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
OBSESSION & BLOW OUT SHADE THE BOX
AND ALSO PAKULA, LYNCH, & KUBRICK, ACCORDING TO VIVA LA GEEK CRITIC


According to Jerry Dennis at Viva La Geek, Richard Kelly's The Box uses Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View and Brian De Palma’s Blow Out "as reference points throughout." Dennis, who likes The Box quite a bit, says the film also has shades of De Palma's Obsession, stating that the score by Arcade Fire " has a deliberate Bernard Herrmann feel to it, specifically his score to Brian De Palma’s Obsession." Dennis writes that while there are "some Lynchian touches in the film," it "has a deliberate Kubrickian style to it as well." Dennis specifically mentions Lynch's Lost Highway and Kubrick's The Shining as having left traces on The Box.

Posted by Geoff at 12:49 PM CST
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