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Friday, April 13, 2012
ARMOND: 'DETENTION' 360-PAN IS HOMAGE TO 'BLOW OUT'
JOSEPH KAHN FILM ALSO FEATURES BULLY CHARACTER NAMED BILLY NOLAN
Music video and commercial director Joseph Kahn's second feature film, Detention, opens in select AMC theaters today, before moving on to other cities later on. Kahn financed the high school-set, genre-busting film himself, so that he could call all the shots without argument. Detention is aimed at today's teenagers, who Kahn believes are bored by the movies Hollywood generally gears toward them. The film, which features deliberate references to many many films, is Kahn's call for the death of genres. According to City Arts' Armond White, the film includes a 360-degree pan that is an homage to a similar pan in Brian De Palma's Blow Out:

There’s a continuous 360-degree pan through eleven years of pop song totems and teen fads that sneaks up on you as one of the most fantastically detailed set-pieces in modern movies. It’s also an homage to Brian De Palma’s vertiginous 360-pan in Blow Out. Both De Palma and Kahn use their technical aplomb and social acuity to similarly encircle a moral void. Kahn’s De Palma trickery may obscure his own considerable point about cultural overload (also De Palma’s unconscious panic).

Not sure if this is the scene White is referring to, but Kahn describes his favorite sequence of Detention in an interview with Caliber's Katherine Sziraczky:

I like my teen throwback sequence in the movie, where we go through the eras in detention. Who makes throwbacks for teens? Most people assume that teens haven’t lived long enough to recognize a throwback, but that scene shows you how fast society changes for new young people. Things change so fast, hairstyles, music, that little sequence just throws it in your face, this is a whole new world.

Kahn has been promoting the film relentlessly, and also gave interviews to Complex, io9, Fanbolt, and Collider.

In what is surely a nod to Carrie (both the novel and the film), Kahn, who co-wrote the screenplay for Detention, has a character named Billy Nolan, which was also the name of the character played by John Travolta in De Palma's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 14, 2012 12:49 PM CDT
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Friday, November 25, 2011
ZSIGMOND TALKS 'BLOW OUT'
IN NOVEMBER ISSUE OF AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, ON STANDS NOW
The November 2011 issue of American Cinematographer has a nice 9-page article about Vilmos Zsigmond's work on Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which seems to have finally arrived after being released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Criterion earlier this year. "Brian is really a stylist, and he's very experimental," Zsigmond tells AC's Jon Silberg. He sticks his neck out on movies that sometimes get bad reviews because the people who write the reviews say he's concentrating too much on the visuals. But that's what I like so much about him: he knows about images. There are so many films that just consist of talking heads, and they feel more like what you think of as 'TV coverage.' Brian always wants to do something that has style."

Zsigmond talks about shooting the night scene on the bridge, and the challenges of lighting the shots properly with the slower film stocks of the day (early 1980s). He also talks about the split diopter shots in the film: "You have to plan these shots ahead of time and find a way to hide the vertical line. That's the most important thing. The actors cannot cross that line, because it would look terrible." He mentions that with the types of lenses available today, such shots could be a little easier to do.

Also discussed is Zsigmond's technique of flashing the film, which he did on Blow Out to create less contrast and more shadow detail. This is a technique Zsigmond had developed on previous film projects in order to compensate for the slower film stocks of the day. "I flashed certain things to get more speed out of the film, more shadow detail," Zsigmond tells Silberg. "If we had a big scene-- like the fireworks at the end of Blow Out, where we had to show a whole city block at the port-- I would flash the film at least 10 percent to get a good exposure and detail in the shadows." The article goes on to explain that this was a risky process, involving the threading of exposed and unprocessed negative onto a printer. If there was any mistake made, or some kind of problem with the negative, a large amount of work could be lost for good. Fortunately (and incredibly), this never seemed to happen.

"THE FEWER CUTS YOU HAVE IN A FILM, THE MORE INTERESTING IT IS TO WATCH"
Also discussed is De Palma's penchant for single-take scenes:

"We would sometimes do shots that lasted four or five minutes," the cinematographer recalls. "Brian is very good at that-- he knows exactly what he wants. It's very easy for me to light those kinds of shots on his movies, because I know exactly where he wants the camera to go. And I know he's going to use it all because he loves using those shots-- abd there's no way to cut away. Sometimes he'd go five, six, eight or even 10 takes, knowing that the scene would play out as one shot on the screen."

Zsigmond finds this approach rewarding: "The fewer cuts you have in a film, the more interesting it is to watch the scene. It's like watching real life-- you get up close to people and to the action and let the scene play out. Lately I've enjoyed working with Woody Allen, because he is really aiming for one shot with no coverage. No close-ups, no over-the-shoulders. He wants to move the camera, and he does it in one continuous shot."

For [cinematographer Jan Kiesser, who was Zsigmond's operator on Blow Out], shots like this meant a significant amount of responsibility. "When we were making Blow Out," he says, "we didn't have video playback. It was really on your shoulders as an operator to critically judge composition throughout the shot. You had the best seat in the house for all the critical decisions, like eyelines and framing, but nobody else was going to see the shot until dailies! We were also shooting wide open, so we needed to be very critical about focus."

Michael Gershman was the first AC on Blow Out and worked frequently with Kiesser. "Michael and I started our careers together in animation," says Kiesser, "and we were on many crews togather. Like all great focus pullers, Michael had an uncanny knack for focus-- it was like a sixth sense. On Blow Out, he really had to multi-task, because some of those shots required zooming, focus-pulling and stop changes all at once."

ZSIGMOND: "I NEVER LIKED THE LOOK OF SOME OF THOSE SHOTS AS MUCH AS I DID IN THE BLU-RAY"
The article also discusses the 360-degree shot in Jack's sound studio. "The space wasn't big enough to lay down tracks," Kiesser tells Silberg. "We had the camera in the middle of the room, and we kept panning around and zooming to keep up with the action. In those days, the camera didn't have a battery; it was powered from an external source, so we had to twist the power cable around the tripod and then untwist it during the shot."

Also discussed is the use of the Little Big Crane, which was designed by key grip Richard "Dicky" Deats. "The Little Big Crane let us get into places we might not have been able to access with a larer crane," Kiesser tells Silberg. "We had also used it a lot with Vilmos on Heaven's Gate. This was before remote heads, so I would ride the crane and time the camera movement to the crane's position. My strongest memory of [shooting Blow Out] is sitting up there in the cold and wind."

For the fireworks scenes at the end, according to the article, the production used real fireworks for the wider shots. Zsigmond, who notes that the fireworks were more blown out (or overexposed) than he would have liked, recalls to Silberg, "I brought in as many big lights as I could to bring up the darker areas. I never liked the look of some of those shots as much as I did in the Blu-ray that came out recently. I wasn't involved in timing it, but Brian must have been, or somebody who understood what we were going for, because the colors are more intense than we could get them [photochemically]. Today, we would finish with a DI, and we would have more control." The Criterion transfer of Blow Out was, in fact, supervised by De Palma.

Silberg's article also briefly covers the heartbreaking shot of Jack cradling Sally's body as the camera seems to spin around them:

At the end of the chase, Jack cradles Sally in his arms as the camera spins 360 degrees and reveals the fireworks above them. The shot was one of the film's few optical effects. "The production couldn't possibly create real fireworks in the sky as we spun the camera," Zsigmond explains. "We put the actors and their lighting on a turntable in front of a bluescreen, and we positioned the camera on one side of the turntable facing the bluescreen, where it remained static as we turned the actors around 360 degrees. Because the lighting was moving with the actors, it looked as if the camera was circling them. The fireworks were added in post."

"IT ISN'T IMPORTANT THAT WHAT WE'RE WATCHING IS 'REAL'"
The article concludes with Zsigmond expressing, in Silberg's words, "a particular fondness for the unabashedly stylish films he shot with De Palma" (the other films are Obsession, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and The Black Dahlia). "I've worked on so many films where we aimed to be 'real,' and we would never have done some of the shots I did with Brian," Zsigmond tells Silberg. "But in a movie by Brian De Palma-- or Hitchcock-- it isn't important that what we're watching is 'real.' We're telling a story, and the most important thing is that the audience has fun watching it."

The magazine, as usual, is worth buying not just for the great article, but also for the terrific array of photographs. The cover story interview with Roger Deakins about his work on Andrew Niccol's new sci-fi thriller In Time is also worth checking out. It's a steal at only $5.95.


Posted by Geoff at 7:06 PM CST
Updated: Friday, November 25, 2011 7:08 PM CST
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
EDGAR WRIGHT'S TOP 10 CRITERION DVDS
PICKS 'BLOW OUT' PACKAGE AS TOP CHOICE
Edgar Wright has provided his list of his top ten Criterion DVDs, and Brian De Palma's Blow Out is at the top. "I have heard people call themselves Brian De Palma apologists," states Wright. "I am proud to say that I am a huge fan without any caveats." Here is the rest of Wright's entry regarding Blow Out:

There’s a reason that, back in the seventies, fellow movie brats Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese would defer to De Palma as “the filmmaker.” When on form, his work is something to behold. Even the lesser works of De Palma contain flashes of genius, while the best of his movies rank as pure cinema. Blow Out is certainly one of De Palma’s finest. There’s not a wasted shot, not even a wasted corner of frame. In the telling of this audiovisual thriller, De Palma uses Steadicam work, split screens, split diopter shots, and complex optical effects to utterly exciting but never overly flashy effect. Some directors are great storytellers without their presence being felt, but De Palma, much like his cinematic hero Alfred Hitchcock, is a master manipulator of both his medium and his audience. He plays us like an instrument, maneuvers us like puppets, and frequently makes us look where we’d rather not. Blow Out begins with De Palma turning the camera on himself and criticisms against him, then ends with one of the crueller, blacker chapters in cinema.

The interview on the disc with De Palma and Noah Baumbach is a must-see too; great to hear him talk about Hitchcock, Antonioni, and Coppola and their influence on this film. Filmmakers and film students will be also fascinated to know that Brian thinks coverage is a dirty word. This is a tremendous piece of work that I am very glad Criterion has given the royal treatment.

(Thanks to Jon!)


Posted by Geoff at 11:51 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
KEY GRIP 'DICKY' DEATS HAS PASSED AWAY
WORKED WITH ZSIGMOND & DE PALMA ON 'BLOW OUT' & 'THE BLACK DAHLIA'
Richard "Dicky" Deats, who worked as a key grip on Brian De Palma's Blow Out and The Black Dahlia (both with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond), passed away July 14 at the age of 66, according to Below The Line. Just prior to working on Blow Out in 1981, Deats and Zsigmond built the first portable crane, which Deats called "the Little Big Crane," because it was lightweight and could be disassembled and carried around anywhere. The pair put it to good use on Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980), and Deats later won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 1984 for the Little Big Crane's design and manufacture.

Posted by Geoff at 10:08 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 10:09 PM CDT
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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, 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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