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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Last night (Saturday) at Ebertfest, Nancy Allen presented Brian De Palma's Blow Out to a packed house at the Virginia Theatre (which seats 1463) in Champaign, Illinois. In her introduction, Allen giddily told the crowd the film was about to be projected from a 35mm print. The day before, Allen had graciously sat down with me for an interview for "De Palma a la Mod" (I'll post that later, after I get it all transcribed), and she talked about screening a 35mm print of RoboCop at a recent fundraiser, and how much more alive and gorgeous the film was than when she has seen it screened digitally. So she was really looking forward to the Blow Out.

And what an amazing experience it was, watching Blow Out projected in 35mm on the huge Virginia screen, and with hundreds of other people, many of whom were seeing the film for the first time. As with each film shown at Ebertfest, the audience paid attention to every shot, every line of dialogue, laughed at every joke, even finding humor in places that remind one what it is like to see the film for the first time-- what a joy. There were a few scattered bits of seemingly-derisive laughter during the climactic shots of John Travolta running in slow motion, and a guy behind me also cackled a bit as the fireworks surround Jack as he looks down at, and then holds, Sally-- Matt Zoller Seitz, who was also in attendance, was right on with his "jackass" comment on Twitter (see below for several of his tweets from last night).

Yet these occurances did not appear to diminish the film for most of the audience. For me, who (of course) has seen this film a million times (so to speak), the experience of seeing and hearing Sally run to the edge of the roof and scream out at the top of her lungs, with the enormous American flag behind her, brought everything home in a chilling and emotional way. Right here, the film hit me in the gut with its message of heart and passion-- truth-- hidden within a sea of hackery.

After the film, Allen was joined on stage by Leonard Maltin for a discussion and Q&A with the audience. Maltin marveled at the film as a tribute to analog technology, from tape recorders, to film-development shops, to pay phones (and more). Allen mentioned how everyone seems in a hurry these days, noting the audience's patience in watching the long dialogue scenes in Blow Out. An article about that Q&A, and hopefully a video, will eventually post to RogerEbert.com. My own interview with Nancy will post here sometime this week. Meanwhile, here is a link to an interview she did prior to the screening with the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. Talking about Roger Ebert, whose review of the film appears in the Ebertfest 2016 program, Allen told the newspaper's Paul Wood, "A lot of critics didn't get Blow Out, but Roger and Pauline Kael did."

The Daily Illini's Shalayne Pulia interviewed Allen right after the Q&A, asking for (among other questions) her advice to young women trying to carve a career in film. "Don’t let anyone tell you ‘No’," replied Allen. "You teach people how to treat you. If I had stopped when people started telling me ‘No,’ I wouldn’t have had a career. If you look at it as an adventure of where you’re supposed to be, if they say ‘No,’ just keep going until you end up where you’re supposed to be. Follow your bliss; the money will follow."

Posted by Geoff at 9:32 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2016 9:56 PM CDT
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Monday, February 22, 2016

A 35mm print of Brian De Palma's Blow Out will screen at this year's EbertFest, with Nancy Allen in attendance. Allen will present the film, and participate in an on-stage discussion and Q&A following the screening. Blow Out was announced today as EbertFest revealed several films that will be screened at the 18th annual edition of the festival, which runs this April 13-17 in Champaign, Illinois. The fest had previously announced that it will open with Crimson Peak, with Guillermo del Toro in attendance. The other four films announced today are The Third Man, Northfork, Force Of Destiny, and the 1925 silent film, Body & Soul. Six more films will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Back when Roger Ebert started this festival back in 1999, he called it "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," and focused on films that he didn't think had received their fair share of exposure or discussion. Blow Out might have fit that festival description quite well back then, even coming a few years after Quentin Tarantino brought renewed attention to the film by talking it up as one of his favorites and casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, etc., etc. These days, however (and thanks in no small part to Criterion), Blow Out is widely seen as De Palma's best film. Yet picking it for Ebertfest still highlights the fact that the film really does remain somewhat overlooked in the grand scheme of things, perhaps as a Travolta film (in the shadow of Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever, Grease), and also as a De Palma film (in the shadow of more, shall we say, dazzling works such as Carrie, Scarface, or The Untouchables).

The blurb in the Ebertfest press announcement reads:

Roger Ebert considered “Blow Out” to be Brian De Palma’s finest film. From his review of “Blow Out”: “’Blow Out” stands by itself. It reminds us of the violence of ‘Dressed to Kill,’ the startling images of ‘The Fury,’ the clouded identities of ‘Sisters,’ the uncertainty of historical ‘facts’ from ‘Obsession,” and it ends with the bleak nihilism of ‘Carrie’.. But it moves beyond those films, because this time De Palma is more successful than ever before at populating his plot with three-dimensional characters.”

Posted by Geoff at 6:00 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 2:45 AM CST
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brian De Palma's Blow Out will play every night (except Tuesday) at 9pm for one week, beginning Friday, January 29, at the Gables Art Cinema in Coral Gables, Florida. "One of Brian De Palma’s greatest films and one of the great American films of the 1980s," states the Gables web site, "Blow Out is such a hallucinatory, emotionally and visually commanding experience that the term 'thriller' seems insufficient. De Palma takes a variety of elements - the Kennedy assassination; Chappaquiddick; Antonioni’s Blow Up; the slasher genre that was then in full flower; elements of Detective Bob Leuci’s experience working undercover for the Knapp Commission; the harshness and sadness of American life; and, as ever, Hitchcock’s Vertigo - and swirls and mixes them into a film that builds to a truly shattering conclusion. With John Travolta, in what is undoubtedly his greatest performance, as the sound man for low-budget movies who accidentally records a murder; Nancy Allen, absolutely heartbreaking; John Lithgow as the hired killer; and De Palma stalwart Dennis Franz as the world’s biggest sleaze. This was the second of three collaborations between De Palma and recently departed master DP Vilmos Zsigmond, in whose memory these 35th anniversary screenings are presented."

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 22, 2016 12:01 AM CST
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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Posted by Geoff at 11:38 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, January 2, 2016 11:39 PM CST
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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Guillermo del Toro posted a thoughtful tweet last night about Brian De Palma's Blow Out, and follower B.J.Boogie did the opposite with his response: "yeah but it's part Blow-Up and part The Conversation ... way too derivative and not as good." Really? Is that pretty much all Blow Out is? Just a mix of those two movies, eh? Boy, you really get it, don't you? Wow, you must have watched with eyes wide open at the film's opening faux slasher film parody, and the premonitory split-screen work of the opening credits, and, hmm, wait, where is the Yardbirds sequence in Blow Out? And, hmm, was there an ice-pick murder in either of those other films...? I can't quite... the serial murders as cover-up... which of those two movies does that come from? How about the experience of media as presented in the film, manipulated by various parties to inspire false ideas about what is really happening? What about the use of color in Blow Out, how does that relate to those other great films? And, wait a minute, did either of those older films reference the Chappaquiddick incident, or is that just one more real life event that makes De Palma's film even more derivative? And what about De Palma's claim that he was inspired to make Blow Out when he found that scraps of a great masterpiece, Lawrence Of Arabia, were being used as garbage filler while he was doing some sound editing. Well, that just takes us back to the film "as a meditation on the cannibalistic nature of art," now doesn't it? But you know, for some people, acknowledgement of and the furthering of great works such as Blow-Up and The Conversation (instead of ignoring the work that has come before you) will always just be, simply, derivative.

Posted by Geoff at 1:02 PM CST
Updated: Monday, December 21, 2015 12:26 AM CST
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Monday, November 30, 2015
A 35mm print of Brian De Palma's Blow Out will screen at 9:45pm on Saturday December 5th and Monday December 7th at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. The screenings are part of the weeklong series "Tarantino & Friends," featuring "a selection of [Quentin Tarantino's] best films and the movies that inspired him during his formative years when he worked at a video rental store," according to the theatre's program notes. Along with the films mentioned in the program page pictured here, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing also screens as part of the series.

Meanwhile, beginning December 1st, Blow Out will begin streaming on Hulu. In a streaming guide this week, Rolling Stone's David Ehrlich writes, "The consensus choice for Brian De Palma's greatest movie, this deeply neurotic 1981 conspiracy thriller churns the director's most profound obsessions through the analog mechanics of cinema. Set in Philadelphia (but more accurately located somewhere between Blow-Up and The Conversation), the story concerns sound technician Jack Terry (John Travolta), whose equipment inadvertently records proof that a fatal car accident was the result of an assassination attempt. Sending Jack on a dangerous path that puts him in the crosshairs of a merciless killer (John Lithgow, natch), Blow Out builds to a haunting final scene that illustrates just how literally filmmakers transmute their anguish into the films their audiences come to love."

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 12:12 AM CST
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Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Brian De Palma's Blow Out will screen Wednesday night as part of EMPAC's On Screen/Sound series. EMPAC is located in Troy, New York.

This week's screening "examines the influence of Foley and sound effects on moving image," according to the website description. "Creeping tension is defused by the banality of production in Deborah Stratman’s Hacked Circuit," the event description continues, "while the hyperactive, fantastical sounds of magic highlight the otherworldliness of an episode of Kou Matsuo's Japanese anime Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta. The feature film of the evening, Brian de Palma’s Blow Out, a sonic response to Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic Blowup, finds a movie sound-effects engineer (John Travolta) in the wrong place at the wrong time as he unwittingly records the sound of a murder and is drawn into a web of intrigue."

Posted by Geoff at 12:11 AM CST
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Brian De Palma's Blow Out will screen tonight and tomorrow night (8pm Thursday August 13 and 8pm Friday August 14) at Cinema Under The Stars in San Diego. (Thanks to Brian!) Glenn Heath Jr. at San Diego CityBeat has a nice preview write-up:
"Unlike other great conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View and Twilight's Last Gleaming, Brian De Palma's Blow Out has a demented sense of humor. In some ways this makes its theme of institutional failure all the more discomforting. The plot surrounding a political assassination grows more outlandish by the scene, lending darkly comic implications and an overwhelming sense of helplessness to a film about the worst kind of warped patriotism.

"While recording sound in the countryside for a horror film, audio technician Jack Terry (John Travolta) accidently captures a car crash on tape. The occupants of the vehicle careen off a bridge and into a creek. Terry saves aspiring make-up artist Sally ([Nancy] Allen) but the driver, governor of Pennsylvania and a presidential hopeful, perishes. His death sends a shockwave throughout the nation, but the real drama unfolds when Jack and Sally begin to piece together how and why he was killed.

"De Palma, ever the cinephile, utilizes the components of film sound (repetition, recording, scratching) to great effect in scenes of tension. There's the woozy 360-degree shot in which Jack slowly discovers all of his tapes have been erased by a proactive assassin (John Lithgow), and the diabolical ending where a character's murder is captured on tape only to be reclaimed for use in a schlock horror film.

"Long takes and crane shots are pivotal to De Palma's examination of corrupt power structures and personal vulnerability. Multiple murder sequences are shot from above, looking down at the victim who is unaware they are about to perish.

"Blow Out, which screens at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 13 and 14, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills, is unflinchingly cynical about how quickly our individual freedoms can be compromised. "I hate to be observed," Sally confesses early on, but in De Palma's film she really has no choice in the matter."

Meanwhile, a little later this month (8:30pm Wednesday August 26, and 6:30pm Thursday August 27), Blow Out screens from DCP at The Cinematheque in Vancouver. Each night is a double bill with the other film in the sidebar, Alan J. Pakula aforementioned The Parallax View, which screens from a 35mm print before Blow Out on August 26, and after Blow Out on August 27. The sidebar is part of The Cinematheque's Film Noir 2015 program, for which they've crafted a limited edition T-shirt featuring Rita Hayworth as Gilda.

Posted by Geoff at 3:33 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That Synching Feeling from Insane Horizon on Vimeo.

In the audiovisual essay above, That Synching Feeling, Yusef Sayed focuses on the way that Brian De Palma's Blow Out is concerned with synching sound and vision, and how two key references (the Zapruder film and the Watergate tapes) each lack either audio or image, respectively. Along the way, Sayed also includes riffs on three films that strike him when thinking about Blow Out (read about those below or in Sayed's accompanying tumblr text). Don't expect to find any references to Chappaquiddick or The Conversation here, but what is here is rather interesting, nonetheless. Here is an excerpt (all but the first two paragraphs) from Sayed's essay (or read the entire essay at the Insane Horizon tumblr) :

"Jack Terry’s desire to prove beyond question that Governor McRyan was murdered depends on his ability to reconcile image and sound; to succeed where the Zapruder film and the Watergate tapes failed; to provide as full an account of the event as possible, to resolve as many unanswered questions as he can. But does truth really exist at the point of sychronisation? The irony is that Jack himself makes his living by fabricating reality, dubbing heterogenous audio onto low budget exploitation films. This paradox is what structures That Synching Feeling. The eyes and ears must strive to put things into place.

"It draws upon two key cinematic influences, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up (1966) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder (1954) and source materials relating to the political events described. It handles these different materials in a way that reflects the techniques of Jack’s own working practice. Sound is aligned precariously with image and at times it will fool the viewer. We are displaced from one reality to another, as we are in the opening moments of Blow Out when the slasher pic we are immersed in is suddenly revealed to be the film that Jack is currently foleying for.

"The essay calls for the viewer to question what they are seeing and what they are hearing, to notice a detail that might stick out – a punctum, in Barthes’s term – a sudden puncture, that impacts on our senses and creates meaningful engagement with the matter at hand. All the while it aims to put all the pieces together into a meaningful whole; to create a pattern; to create resonances; to reconstitute a stable order amidst the violence and lies, with attention to shot composition, camera movement and gesture, aural echoes.

"Surprising connections are also presented, of a sort that might thrill a conspiracy theorist – or an auteurist, seeing links, intentional or not, among the works of their favourite directors in an attempt to root out some sort of consistent voice: There’s the fact that Jack is an audio specialist who finds himself in the middle of a political murder; that a professional drummer named Steve Barber heard police radio frequency recordings from Dealey Plaza, released on a ‘paper record’ with an issue of Gallery magazine in 1979, and was prompted to develop his own view on the assassination of JFK; that a drummer, too, is at the centre of another murder mystery, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – directed by Dario Argento, whose style bears intriguing similarities with some of De Palma’s best work – moments of which echo Blow Out; that Jackie Kennedy’s last words to her husband were 'Jack, can you hear me?' a line of dialogue which also appears in Blow Out.

"That Synching Feeling is intended to enter the world of the film and to immerse the viewer in the shifting realities, the doubts, the history, the fabrications, secrets and the melancholy that it evokes."

Posted by Geoff at 8:22 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 16, 2015 1:02 AM CDT
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