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Saturday, July 24, 2021
'BLOW OUT' RELEASED IN THEATERS 40 YEARS AGO TODAY
PAULINE KAEL QUOTED IN THE 1981 NY TIMES AD, AND SCOTT TOBIAS ON "DE PALMA'S INGENIOUS THRILLER" AT 40
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/splitcollage45.jpg

At The Guardian, Scott Tobias looks back at Brian De Palma's "dazzling 1981 masterpiece," Blow Out, which was released in theaters 40 years ago today:
Brian De Palma’s best movie, Blow Out, opens with scene from a movie-within-a-movie, a Z-grade slasher rip-off called Co-ed Frenzy, from the director of such esteemed films as Blood Bath and Blood Bath 2, Bad Day at Blood Beach and Bordello of Blood. The camerawork mimics the killer POV shots of Black Christmas and Halloween, peeping through the windows of a sex-crazed sorority house before ducking inside, where the action alternates between T&A and stabbings. It finally ends with the umpteenth crude variation on the shower scene in Psycho, and the punchline that takes us out of the movie: the actor has a terrible scream.

Blow Out is about the sound man, Jack Terry (John Travolta), finding a better scream. It’s also about the movies, and about how easily the truth can be manipulated or obscured. Beyond that, it’s about what America had become after a decade where trust in the government was lost to Vietnam and Watergate, and how conspiracies of the powerful could crush ordinary citizens who happened to get in the way. Here was De Palma at the peak of his talent, making a film that’s politically loaded and emotionally operatic, with great technique, visual wit and an arsenal of sly references to other films and historical events. It’s so multi-layered, yet De Palma can make it feel like a magician’s sleight-of-hand.

Look again at that opening sequence. By that point in his career, De Palma could have people convinced that it wasn’t a movie-within-a-movie at all, but another lurid sequence from a director whose Hitchcockian thrillers were full of voyeurism and high-toned exploitation. After all, De Palma had already opened a film with a tracking shot through a girls locker room in Carrie and he had already done a softcore homage to Psycho in Dressed to Kill, which had Angie Dickinson lathering up while we anticipate her early exit. De Palma pulling out of the fake movie with that awful scream is not only a terrific joke, but a primer for the deconstructive trickery of the rest of the film. We’ll need to question everything we see and hear.

Despite garnering some of the best reviews of De Palma’s career, Blow Out tanked when it came out 40 years ago, most likely because audiences found the ending too despairing. Who could guess that juxtaposing the bicentennial celebration with a murder and a cover-up wouldn’t be commercially sound? But the film has lost none of its power over the years, as we’ve sunk deeper and deeper into media manipulation, conspiratorial thinking and a greater opacity among the governing elite and their ultra-wealthy patrons. What is, say, Jeffrey Epstein’s prison suicide but a Brian De Palma film waiting to happen?

True to form, De Palma used the films of the past as the building blocks to construct Blow Out, most directly Blow-Up, the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni thriller about a fashion photographer who believes he’s captured a murder on a shoot, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, itself a play on Blow-Up, only about a surveillance expert who believes he’s captured a murderous political conspiracy on tape. What De Palma did in conceiving his film was simple math: Blow-Up + The Conversation = Blow Out. Or, put another way, Image + Sound = Film.

The sound part comes first. The director of Co-ed Frenzy sends Jack out to get fresh sound effects, so he heads to a Philadelphia park at night with his microphone wand to get some authentic wind noises and the like. He happens to have the recorder on when a Chappaquiddick-like incident happens off in the distance, with a car careening off a bridge and into the creek water below. Jack rescues the young woman inside, Sally (Nancy Allen), and accompanies her to the hospital, where he learns that the driver of the car is a popular governor who could be the next president. One of the governor’s handlers takes him aside: would he mind, for the sake of the deceased’s wife and family, keeping his mouth shut about Sally being in the car?

The image part comes next. By a crazy coincidence, a sleazy photographer (Dennis Frantz) was also in the park and caught the incident on film, which he then sold to a tabloid, which prints the footage frame by frame. Only it’s not a coincidence: the photographer and Sally have been shaking down wealthy two-timers by putting them in a compromising position and asking for cash in exchange for the shots. Meanwhile, Jack makes something like a full-sound Zapruder film by syncing his recording with the printed frames, confirming his suspicion that the car’s tire was shot out before it veered off the bridge. He and Sally now possess knowledge too dangerous for them to have.

From there, Blow Out takes the basic form of the classic 70s political thriller, like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor, but De Palma gives the film a florid grandeur that’s far removed from the chilly paranoia of those earlier films. Travolta and Allen are fully invested in characters who develop a romantic bond under duress, and so when the stakes get high and the danger mounts, De Palma’s signature set pieces have a genuine emotional flavor on top of the amplified suspense. The ending seems particularly harsh because we’re so invested in Jack and Sally’s survival, along with the faint hope that justice against the powerful is possible to achieve in America.

Jack gets his scream in the end, but it’s a final, bitter irony that only he knows its source. The sound and images that Jack had once put together to reveal the shocking truth about a supposed accident are now gone, and the most horrific moment of his life is now ADR for a fictional piece of garbage. As a movie about making movies, Blow Out not only pulls the curtain back on how film-making works, but challenges the audience to question the reality of a medium that’s based around an optical illusion. Believe it or not, there are image-makers out there more sinister than Brian De Palma.



Posted by Geoff at 4:19 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 24, 2021 4:28 PM CDT
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Friday, July 23, 2021
IN BLOW OUT, 'DE PALMA SWINGS BIG'
"AND BY SWINGING BIG, HE EMPHASIZES JUST HOW SMALL JACK IS IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blowoutprince55d.jpg

Two more strong critical appreciations of Blow Out as the film's 40th anniversary nears, including an excerpt from Peter Sobczynski. Sobczynski, who considers De Palma to be his favorite filmmaker, regards Blow Out as De Palma's "greatest cinematic achievement." And, as "a film that I have loved and admired since I first saw it nearly 40 years ago," Sobczynski adds, "I would go so far as to proclaim it both one of the finest American films of its era and one of my all-time favorites to boot." An excerpt from Sobczynski's article is below, but first, Andy Crump shows how De Palma's political lens from 40 years ago reflects what is happening in the here and now...

Andy Crump, Paste
Blow Out Remains Brian De Palma's Politically Cynical Masterpiece

Brian De Palma’s Blow Out turns 40 years young eight months after the Democrats’ clear-cut victory in the 2020 general election, and throughout that interminable stretch of time, a disinformation campaign about the election’s results that’s best represented by the Jeremy Bearimy timeline has been pushed by too many members of the GOP for comfort. People don’t assassinate American presidents in the 2020s. Instead, they spew whatever easily disproved batshit nonsense they can conjure on social media, where the lies metastasize into truth for the same crowds of gullible chumps Barnum rightly called “suckers.” It’s enough to make you miss seedy, clandestine murder conspiracies.

Scurrilous balderdash is the bread and butter that’s fed the American right wing since the days of Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley and Roy Cohn, and even before then. Part and parcel of the liars’ strategy is the cover-up—a concerted, smug attempt at obfuscating facts and covering the keister of everyone involved in the lie. Andrew Clyde characterized the January assault on the U.S. Capitol as a “normal tourist visit.” Kevin McCarthy, formerly opposed to a January 6th investigative commission, has handpicked a pack of lying slack-jawed yokels, including Jim Jordan, for his own commission.

Will these scumbag elected officials get away with muddling the roots of political violence? Maybe. Blow Out doesn’t really care, not in any overt way. The film doesn’t wear politics on its sleeve, though it is undeniably a political work of grimy art. It does, however, tell De Palma’s narrative through a politically aware lens, even if the argument he ultimately makes about politics and politicians is that they’re infinitely scuzzier than the boobs ‘n’ blood exploitation movie-within-a-movie Blow Out opens on. (For that matter they’re scuzzier than most of De Palma’s pictures, too.)

George McRyan, the Pennsylvania governor and presidential hopeful the audience learns about on a TV news broadcast, isn’t identified explicitly as either Democratic or Republican. Liberal viewers may interpret McRyan who, based on polling appears poised to win the general election in a landslide, as liberal due not only to his broad popularity compared to the movie’s sitting president, but where his popularity gets him: Lifeless on a hospital gurney. Republican viewers might assume the opposite.

Standing between them and on the opposite side of Blow Out’s lens, De Palma doesn’t give one solid damn. He’s not interested in his conspiracy thriller’s politics, not directly anyway. He’s interested in making Blow Out’s life into an imitation of art, and telling a story about the vast individual components of filmmaking that, when brought together, find the film’s sum. Movies are made of more than scripts and actors and fancy camera angles. They’re made of noise, too.

Jack Terry (John Travolta), De Palma’s laid back sound tech protagonist, engages noise in his work and in the world surrounding him. It’s a passion. He stands at tranquil ease on the Wissahickon Bridge, scanning the area for new aural wonders to capture with his Nagra recorder, waving his mic around like a magic wand as if he’s a wizard and his gadget is the source of his arcane power. A contingent of cinephiles today think of De Palma only as a smut purveyor, and while they’re not wrong, exactly, that read is narrow verging on oversimplified. De Palma likes his sleaze. He also likes cinema as art. He’s in many ways the ultimate cinephile, someone born to make movies and who understands how movies speak to an audience. In Blow Out, he demonstrates that understanding within and without the frame: Calling this his best film is an easy layup, but it’s quite possibly true, and if not then it’s certainly his best display of bravura.

Do you like split diopters? Do you enjoy seeing an entire image in deep focus, such that the foreground and background become a single balanced entity? If that’s your thing, you’ll lose your mind when Jack records an owl’s hoot and De Palma fills half the frame with Travolta and the Nagra, and the other with the noble nocturnal bird of prey staring down the viewer up close, contempt blazing in its eyes. When Burke (John Lithgow), the remorseless iceman responsible for McRyan’s demise—another candidate hires him to catch McRyan in a compromising position with Sally (Nancy Allen), an escort, but Burke zigs instead of zagging and chooses to kill McRyan instead—stalks a woman he confuses with Sally through a market at night, the camera lands on the dead, lolling stare of a fish on ice. Burke’s hand reaches into the display to seize an ice pick as “Sally” walks through the back door, illuminated in red light.

The pleasure in Blow Out is the naughty thrill De Palma whips up in an artful, skillfully composed shot executed with advanced filmmaking techniques. This is a really dry way of saying that his work looks great, so great in fact that his craftsmanship belies the material’s indecency. These contradictions coexist harmoniously in the same space. It’s a matter of tone. Sleaze can be exquisite. In fact, the higher De Palma aims, the more we appreciate the sleaze as an element with purpose, because the grandeur of Blow Out’s filmmaking imparts on the plot a sense of scale: De Palma swings big, and by swinging big he emphasizes just how small Jack is in the scheme of things. He’s naïve at best, doomed at worst, and at all times a cog in a society run by powerful, unscrupulous men. There’s nothing he can do to stop the machine’s gears from turning, doggedly as he tries.

Deep focus and basic split screens, another of De Palma’s favorite flourishes, function as other ways of seeing in Blow Out. The film shows us Jack’s efforts to save the day and stacks them against the inevitability of his failure. A surface take on De Palma’s aesthetic is that it looks cool, a detail De Palma prizes as highly as sleaze. But the “cool” is an admission of his pessimism. The act of “seeing” he performs throughout Blow Out is the bluntest tool in his belt, intended to hammer home that McRyan’s death is set in motion by the unstoppable wheels of American political intrigue.

In the end, Burke dies. It’s a small victory. Sally dies, too, and that traditional American celebratory lubricant, the fireworks display, bursts overhead as Jack cradles her body in his arms; the explosive exuberance mocks his grief, rubs in his defeat and reminds us in the audience that the deaths of people like Sally—small people, the socially undesirable types on America’s fringes—are inconsequential to the United States’ political designs. George McRyan is dead. A salvo of brocades, mines, Roman candles and tourbillons for George McRyan. Sally Bedina is dead. Who the hell cares? The fireworks tell the myth of how Americans see themselves and how they see their country. Sally’s limp form and Jack’s defeated gaze tell the sordid truth.

It’s a truth only De Palma and the audience recognize. When Blow Out ends, the lie holds. The cover-up stands. Justice is left undone. The only truth left is Sally’s scream, a nerve-shredding wail immortalized by Jack’s recorder. What will immortalize the dead bodies in the aftermath of January 6th, and bodies yet to come, as Democrats struggle in vain to stem Jordan, McCarthy and Clyde’s corrosive falsehoods flooding the account of what really happened at the Capitol that day? Again, Blow Out answers with truth: Nothing that will mean a damn or make a difference to America’s trigger-happy jingoistic spirit. If De Palma’s a cynic, then he’s a cynic behind a masterpiece we can all still relate to.


Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com
I’m a Sound Man: Brian De Palma’s Blow Out at 40

In many respects, “Blow Out” is a recapitulation of the various obsessions that had been driving De Palma throughout his entire career. The murder of the governor is obviously meant to evoke memories of the JFK assassination (with a hint of Chappaquiddick thrown into the mix) and Jack’s dogged attempts to expose the vast conspiracy surrounding it to a public that may not ultimately care is reminiscent of Gerrit Graham’s attempts to crack the Kennedy conspiracy in De Palma’s audacious social satire “Greetings” (1968). Beyond that specific plot concept, the film touches on such elements as voyeurism; a cynical take towards contemporary entertainment; modern technology and the dangers that can come from putting one’s faith entirely behind it; and deeply flawed heroes who are struggling to find some kind of redemption and either fail at it or succeed, only to discover that the price to achieve it may ultimately not be worth it.

Part of De Palma's genius comes from presenting his narratives in such stylish and striking visual terms that it isn’t until later on that you realize not everything adds up. While the aforementioned “Blow-Up” and “The Conversation” are undeniable inspirations for the film—all three involve emotionally isolated men with a particular skill set that they attempt to utilize when they stumble upon murder plots—De Palma uses such a conceit in "Blow Out" only as a mere leaping-off point for his own unique take on the premise. The resulting screenplay is a bit of a miracle, as it offers a narrative as dense and complex as any that he had done up to that point (or since then), but in a surprisingly graceful and straightforward manner. With "Blow Out," De Palma allows viewers to grasp what's going on without letting them get lost in the labyrinth (except when that's the point, of course) and without any extraneous bits of business. Even the stuff that appears to be extraneous, such as the “Coed Frenzy” opening or a spree of murders of prostitutes, all ends up fitting together in the big picture that De Palma presents with jigsaw precision.

Like practically all of De Palma’s key films, there are a number of elaborately constructed set pieces in "Blow Out" that bring his considerable skills as a visual stylist to the forefront. But unlike some of his other films, such sequences are so perfectly integrated into the storyline they never feel like he's showing off. Obviously, the "Coed Frenzy" opening is a standout that illustrates that while he's perfectly capable of cranking out mindless exercise in violent style—the kind that he has often been accused of making throughout his career—he's no longer interested in such a lack of artistic challenge. There's also the haunting flashback sequence in which Jack recounts his days with the police and the case where everything went wrong, which serves both as a compelling way to fill in his backstory and explain his cold, cynical attitude towards everything, and to allow De Palma to show what he might have made of “Prince of the City,” a project he was scheduled to do even before “Dressed to Kill” but which he lost out on when the producers elected not to wait a year for Robert De Niro’s schedule to clear up and instead gave it to Sidney Lumet. (This sequence, originally devised for De Palma's version, will make you look at De Palma's "Prince of the City" as one of the great unmade movies.)

The climactic chase, in which Jack speeds through the crowded streets of Philadelphia (at one point barreling through the middle of a parade) to rescue Sally fro mthe deadly trap that he has inadvertently placed her in, is such a miracle of filmmaking—both in terms of sheer technique and the emotions that it engenders—that Hitchcock himself would have doubtlessly bowed to it out of sheer admiration. (The scene is especially impressive when you realize that De Palma was forced to reshoot it at the last second, after all the footage he shot vanished when the truck carrying it was stolen.) However, the most spellbinding sequence in the film—possibly of De Palma’s entire oeuvre—comes when Jack, using his audio recording and a collection of photographs of the accident published in a magazine a la the Zapruder film, creates a mini-movie that proves once and for all that it was anything but an accident. A scene like this in a contemporary film would be all but unimaginable, and not just because of the massive changes in technology—it has to go on for a while or else it simply doesn’t work. As shown here, it's not only a completely spellbinding exercise in pure cinema but it also serves as beautiful and potent a display of the seductive allure of the filmmaking process as has ever been put up on the screen.

With the major exception of Sissy Spacek's character in “Carrie,” De Palma's characters were oftentimes essentially pawns that he moved around like chess pieces and whom it was sometimes difficult to relate to on an emotional level. Here, the central characters of Jack and Sally are both fleshed out and ultimately engaging despite their flaws, which not only allows viewers to develop an actual rooting interest in them but also gives the finale the overwhelmingly powerful punch that it might not have otherwise produced. Of course, the ability to care about these characters comes in no small part from the truly inspired performances behind them. For example, I don’t think that I am going too far out of line when I suggest that Travolta (who first worked with De Palma and Allen on “Carrie”) has made a number of films that are of a somewhat dubious nature—so many that while the aforementioned “Moment by Moment” was once regarded as a potential career-killer, it probably would not even rank among his ten worst films. However, one thing that you can say about him is that even in the worst and most ill-advised of his projects, you rarely see him simply coasting through a part—even in something like “Battlefield Earth” or “Gotti,” he is always putting in 100% effort. When he puts that approach in the service of a worthy screenplay and role, as is the case here, the results can be extraordinary. Beautifully suppressing the natural charm that helped make him a star but which would have been all wrong here, he plays Jack as a cold fish who has willingly removed himself from the world in order to avoid getting hurt and as he struggles tome the choice to care and reengage once again, he manages to engage viewers without breaking his character. Even though he is a mess, we still root for him and when it all goes wrong, we are just as shattered as he his in the film’s unforgettable final shot. This is by far the finest performance of Travolta’s career—even his turns in “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Pulp Fiction” pale in comparison to it—and one of the biggest tragedies of the eventual failure of the film is that few people saw it at the time are realized what he was capable of doing.

The other key performances in the film are nothing to sneeze at either. When the film came out, there was much criticism that Allen (in what would be the last of the four films she did with De Palma, whom she was married to at the time) was merely playing a downscale version of the high-class sex worker she portrayed so memorably in “Dressed to Kill.” Like so much of the criticism of the film at the time, this observation was not entirely accurate and fails to take into account just how engaging and likable she is in the role—Sally may be a bit naive in certain regards but she is far from being just a mindless bimbo and, as is the case with Jack, we genuinely care about what happens to her during the breathless finale. More importantly, although the film smartly avoids any hint of a conventional romance between Jack and Sally, the onscreen chemistry between the two is off the charts, so much so that one can almost picture them taking those exact same characters and spinning them off into a potentially fascinating romantic comedy.

And since a film of the sort has a tendency to live or die on the strength of their villains, “Blow Out” is blessed with two equally strong performances in the bad guy roles. As the sleazy photographer, Dennis Franz (who had small roles in “The Fury” and “Dressed to Kill”) is an absolute hoot as a guy who suggests what might result if a stained T-shirt suddenly became a sentient life form. John Lithgow, who worked with De Palma on “Obsession” (1976) and would later reunite with him on “Raising Cain” (1992), is a scream of an entirely different and more chilling manner, as someone who suggests a cross between G.Gordon Liddy and the serial killer character that Lithgow would later play so memorably on “Dexter.”

In the wake of the failure of “Blow Out,” De Palma quickly signed on to do the splashy, big-budget remake of “Scarface” (1983). He continued with a career that would continue to raise the hackles of critics and audiences alike while hitting upon the occasional success with films like “The Untouchables” (1987) and “Mission: Impossible” (1996) that allowed him to channel his undiminished filmmaking skills into a more commercially viable framework. The one downside is that, with the exceptions of the war dramas “Casualties of War” (1989) and “Redacted” (2007), De Palma never really tackled material as serious-minded again, even though he proved himself more than capable of with it.

And yet, the reputation of "Blow Out" has continued to grow in the 40 years since it first came out. While the technological aspects have certainly changed, the story has not aged at all—in an era in which people are more willing than ever to find conspiracy in everything, it now feels more in sync with the times than ever before and even the infamous finale feels like less of a shock. It remains a work of stunning cinematic craft from one of our greatest, if too often undervalued, filmmakers and while he has made any number of other great movies over the years, this is the one he deserves to be remembered for above all.



Posted by Geoff at 10:54 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 22, 2021
'BLOW OUT IS SUCH A VISCERAL PICTURE EVEN TODAY'
"BECAUSE IT CAPTURES THE DISAPPOINTMENT AND ANGUISH", WRITES HILARY JANE SMITH
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/fireworksglow.jpg

"Brian De Palma’s political thriller, Blow Out, turns forty, and the celebration will likely be patchwork and muted," begins Hilary Jane Smith, in an article at Merry-Go-Round Magazine. "The film is a lonely, forgotten slow burn, one whose quiet success is akin to the slow-but-steady demeanor of Jack Terry (John Travolta) amassing audiotapes." Smith emphasizes that she "apologetically" loves "the work and spirit of Brian De Palma," calling him arrogant, "a man of great ego that tells stories where men are dogs, and beautiful, troubled women are raped, murdered, and bullied by those problematic men… But then saved by other men with 'good intentions.'" A few sentences later, she adds, "I unfortunately absolutely dig him." Here's more:
Here’s how we define the De Palma Gaze: a macho, threatening perspective that audiences and academics can’t decide if they like or not. Some even call him a “talented recycler who riffed on the movies of great auteurs.” I unfortunately absolutely dig him. Each time I watch, I get to psychoanalyze this troubled man’s unfiltered patriarchal mind that’s as primal as a cromageden man. His force-fed binary world of heroes and villains kill, snoop, and ogle womens’ bodies. His work is easy to understand and unapologetically male – and I love it. Am I just curious about how men think? I have no idea, but I am highly entertained regardless. I know he’s problematic, but I can’t help it.

BLOW OUT is a lot less bloody and a lot more cerebral than De Palma’s other flicks. It’s a conspiracy-driven thriller set in a complicated world of fixers, violence, and good samaritans forced to rise to the occasion. While it may not host an uplifting finale, it’s an ending flush with morality and satisfaction that lingers in ambiguity. BLOW OUT delivers intrigue while maintaining a concise, relatable story. Going up against the big guns of the political establishment might not pan out, but we are compelled to roll up our sleeves and dig because we might find something, anything at all. It’s a tight story with intimate cinematography, and scarily meta sound design all while showcasing a career-best Travolta: this is cited as the main reason why Tarantino cast the declining actor as Vincent Vega in PULP FICTION. His two greatest performances are both thanks to the mind of Brian De Palma.

Each time I rewatch BLOW OUT, I gain a greater thrill in sinking into the blitzed out world of 1981. There’s a new edge or angle to bridge between my personal experience and the film. If there was a systemic issue at my job where I had to find a solution within an insanely bureaucratic process, the political roadblocks and bad actors felt minimal compared to a menacing John Lithgow. While Donald Trump was rarely held accountable for corruption, BLOW OUT was clear in its stance. Consumers getting poisoned by baby food or sunscreen without regulation validated my feelings about how the government views citizens: I could inhabit a world where chipping away with my curiosity and livelihood would reveal the truth. Watching John Travolta pick at the scab of a murder plot is the allegory that salves my anxieties. It’s both a facsimile of our unique political fears and an entertaining escape. There is a resounding, thrilling identification in watching Travolta as Jack Terry piece together his snuff sound recording. Terry’s motive, borne out of obsession, ushers him into a new world. His comically banal gig recording female screams for low-budget horror films becomes secondary to this new purpose for the supposed greater good. It’s bleak, but hilarious that the film culminates with Jack transformed and splicing in the perfect scream to the soundscape of a project; his lover and investigative partner’s recorded death wail, the witness to the political assassination.

De Palma likely gets omitted from the New Hollywood pantheon because the early ‘80s slate of culture gets overshadowed by both dying disco and the policies of Reagan’s second term. The post-70s boom-and-bust mentality rippled throughout the industry and in the lives of average people. Blockbusters with special effects were favored by studio capital, and Oscar-bait period pieces became ubiquitous money-makers. Visions of world peace and environmental justice were fluffy pipedreams leftover from the 70s. If we’re only here on this planet for a short time, we better make it a good one. BLOW OUT is coming-of-age decades later, while also being one of the finest films of the Reagan era. J Hoberman, veteran film critic for The Village Voice, came out with his critical anthology on the period Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan in 2019. In it, he references BLOW OUT, and has spoken to the distrust and the rampant anti-government sentiment radiating on and off the screen at the time of its release. Violent crime (and the conservative fear mongering of said crimes) was peaking in the United States, and stagflation and fraught geopolitics stoked further fears. A failed Carter administration did little for progressive causes, so why bother? BLOW OUT is such a visceral picture even today because it captures the disappointment and anguish. It tells the viewer exactly how the world is while acknowledging that we are not just pawns, but stakeholders. Our society is one we can attempt to fix, but are embattled by a system that is impossible to overthrow.

We’re living through a time of great political and cultural transition; post-Trump, major income inequalities, active climate disasters, post-vaccination resettlements, and a looming threat of inflation. The early ‘80s eerily resonate, and alarmingly so! I’m hoping our bleak news environment, and (hopefully) evolved population can appreciate a film of this nature. Violent fare tinged with a liberal morality is much more popular these days, so perhaps it’s finally BLOW OUT’s time in the sun. There are few happy endings in De Palma’s universe, but they are no less satisfying. Even if it’s impossible to win, we root for those with good intentions. I hate that I’m so fascinated by what these men have to say, but I’m here for it.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 21, 2021
'DE PALMA LETS US IN ON THE MOVIEMAKING PROCESS'
CHRIS HEWITT LOOKS AT 'BLOW OUT' UPON 40TH, INCLUDES 'BLACK DAHLIA' IN HIS TOP 7 DE PALMA PICKS
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Chris Hewitt at the Star Tribune picks his seven best Brian De Palma films (a list that includes The Black Dahlia), upon the 40th anniversary of what he calls his "favorite movie", De Palma's Blow Out:
This week marks the 40th anniversary of my favorite movie, so of course I'm taking the opportunity to write about its director, Brian De Palma.

"Blow Out" earned decent reviews when it was released on July 24, 1981, but wasn't a hit, particularly when you consider that leading man John Travolta was just about the biggest movie star on the planet. His "Grease" audience apparently didn't want to see him in an adult drama with a bummer of an ending. Also, the movie's borrowings from "Blow-Up," the Watergate and Chappaquiddick scandals and the Zapruder film didn't sit well with 1981 audiences, who were ready to move on from all that stuff. But De Palma's thriller is now seen as one of the underrated films of the time.

Still, there's the Alfred Hitchcock thing.

Throughout his career, De Palma has been knocked as a Hitchcock imitator and it's true that he echoes Hitch tropes: icy blondes, protagonists wrongly accused of murder, characters who double each other, loners who can't convince anyone they witnessed a crime, Freudian explanations for aberrant behavior (although De Palma usually lampoons those explanations).

That knock has faded. Decades of hip-hop sampling and remixes may have made us more comfortable with the idea that all artists draw on previous artists, even Shakespeare. But what's interesting about De Palma is that, while the plot similarities to Hitchcock are legit, he's a much different filmmaker. Even when he's obsessing over the same themes — as in "Obsession," practically a "Vertigo" remake — De Palma explores them with fresh eyes.

Consider his love of extremely long takes, such as the one that opens "Snake Eyes" or another that encapsulates an entire relationship between strangers in "Dressed to Kill." They owe nothing to Hitchcock, who was more interested in building sequences in the editing room than the camera. Those scenes — there's one in practically every De Palma work — are a key to how he sees movies. De Palma uses long, edit-less sequences to persuade us to follow him on the ride he's planning. "I'm not hiding anything," he seems to be saying. "You can trust me."

We can't, of course — there are always twists — but the idea is that De Palma lets us in on the moviemaking process. That's also true of the movies-within-movies he often includes and of his fondness for splitting the screen in half, to show two scenes at once. Reminding us that we're watching a movie also reminds us that he has us exactly where he wants us; there's extra joy in a De Palma thriller because he reveals his tricks. He has such control of movie mechanics that how he tells a story is as interesting as the story itself.

That can fall flat. No amount of formal brilliance can make a bad script like "Mission to Mars" or "Redacted" good, but he has made a bunch of terrific movies that didn't make my top seven: "Femme Fatale," "Snake Eyes," "Mission: Impossible" and more. When everything comes together for De Palma, it's like a guy who loves the movies more than anything is helping us see why he loves them.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 22, 2021 9:35 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 20, 2021
WIRE WITHOUT A NET - EP.4 OF TCM 'BONFIRE' PODCAST
FROM SALAMON'S TAPES - VOICES OF BRUCE WILLIS, MORGAN FREEMAN, MELANIE GRIFFITH, LARRY McCONKEY, MORE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/depalmacomputerstoryboard.jpg

Brian De Palma "makes his own storyboards on computer, and they’re fascinating to look at," states the blogger at VHISTORY about the image above. It was captured from one of about 3000 VHS tapes the blogger has been archiving on the blog. The tapes were sitting in his garage. This storyboard image above comes from an early 1991 episode of The South Bank Show. "It starts with director Brian De Palma talking through the opening steadicam shot. He reveals the points where he himself is in the shot, as the only way to observe the shot as it was happening was to be in it." The episode also includes interviews with screenwriter Michael Cristofer, production designer Richard Sylbert, and author Tom Wolfe, among others.

The new episode of TCM's The Plot Thickens: The Devil's Candy delves into that opening steadicam shot of The Bonfire Of The Vanities. The episode is titled "Wire Without a Net," after a chapter in Julie Salamon's book, and features new interviews with Larry McConkey, Aimee Morris (DeBaun), and Chris Soldo, as well as voices from Salamon's original tapes: Melanie Griffith, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Tom Wolfe.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 21, 2021 12:26 AM CDT
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Monday, July 19, 2021
DONAGGIO'S TELESCOPE REMIXED & MASHED WITH 'MAGIC'
MASH-UP REMIX W/THE 1974 HIT BY PILOT INCLUDED ON NEW ALBUM BY FRENCH DUO POLO & PAN

The new DJ mash-up remix "Magic" by French duo Polo & Pan begins with the recognizable "Telescope" theme that Pino Donaggio wrote for Brian De Palma's Body Double. The track is named for the other song included in the remix: "Magic", a 1974 hit for the Scottish band Pilot. Jordi Bardají at Jenesaispop has more details about the track, translated here from Spanish with the assistance of Google Translate:
Polo & Pan, the French duo of producers made up of Paul Armand-Delille (Polocorp) and Alexandre Grynszpan (Peter Pan), today publishes their new album 'Cyclorama', which has been conceived as «a musical odyssey through the phases from human existence, from birth to adult life until death ... and transcendence ». The group is much loved for its tropical and summer dance electronic sound, featured on their first album 'Caravelle' and on their two biggest hits, 'Nanã' or 'Canopée', and 'Cyclorama' continues the trend with more good songs like this 'Magic' that today is the Song of the Day.

Festivalera to no end, perfect for dancing when the sun goes down, 'Magic' is also the longest track on 'Cyclorama' but it may be the best, although it is not very representative of the album since its composition is the one that is mostly based on samples. In an interview with Polo & Pan that we will publish soon, Alexandre remembers that in fact 'Magic' was not going to be part of the album but that, when in 2019 they played it at the Chambord x Cercle Festival, when it was still a simple “DJ edit” With which to fill in his setlist and not a studio recording as such, people went crazy and his label began to ask him about that unknown song that they had presented live.

‘Magic’ was born from two songs that Alexandre is a fan of. On the one hand, the intriguing 'Telescope' by Pino Donaggio, one of the songs that is part of the soundtrack of the 1984 neo-noir film 'Body Double' by Brian De Palma, but the version that fascinates Alexandre actually is the remix of the Dutch DJ Young Marco released in 2013. On the other, 'Magic', one of the biggest hits of the Scottish rock band of the 70s Pilot, which Alexandre fell in love with when he heard it on the soundtrack of the 1996 film "Happy Gilmore," starring Adam Sandler.

If it seemed absolutely impossible for a soft-rock group like Pilot to sound well integrated into a synth-noir production of Pino Donaggio, Polo & Pan manage to make these worlds marry perfectly in a dreamy song that is already postulated as one of the best of its short career.



(Thanks to Julien!)

Posted by Geoff at 6:02 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 17, 2021
THE CONCEPT WAS 'THIS IS LIKE THE GREAT FLOOD'
"BUT WE DISCOVERED THAT AUDIENCES DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD COMING DOWN AND CREATING THE FLOOD"
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In a post headlined "Nicolas Cage’s 15 Wildest Film Roles", IndieWire's Ryan Lattanzio includes Cage's role as Rick Santoro in Brian De Palma and David Koepp's Snake Eyes. I don't know if I agree when Lattanzio describes the film as "a relentless gush of style over substance." The substance is there, and if the style calls attention to itself, well, the substance is still there. I suppose if the style and the substance can be said to be working in tandem, then maybe -- maybe -- the style is in the front seat, so maybe in that way Lattanzio has it right, but to me, everything in the movie feels of a cohesive piece, even if the ending of the film has been somewhat compromised.

"Nicolas Cage is aptly matched to the material," Lattanzio continues, "as a flamboyant and (natch) corrupt Atlantic City detective who witnesses an assassination during an epic boxing match. Cage’s bugged-out outsized performance veers toward exhausting, but that’s precisely the point as De Palma assaults the senses with his characteristic cinematic feints, where everything is larger than life."

On Part 2 of the Brian De Palma/Susan Lehman Light The Fuse interview, hosts Drew Taylor and Charles Hood dipped into the ending of Snake Eyes after mentioning John Knoll's work on Mission: Impossible:

Drew: John Knoll told us a story that you said that he could have a credit -- I believe it was Visual Effects Supervisor -- only if he did an extra shot for you of Jon Voight in the plane at the beginning of the movie. Do you remember this at all?

De Palma: No.

Drew: Okay.

De Palma: But I would believe John.

[Laughter] Drew: Okay.

Lehman: Is that something you would do?

De Palma: Are you kidding? [Laughter] Why not? [More laughter] You need the shot...

Drew: Did he work on Snake Eyes, on the...

De Palma: Yes.

Drew: Okay. I've always been fascinated about that ending, and I'm so glad that you put some footage of it in the documentary. But, yeah, do you think the lack of that ending hurt the movie, or... what's your sort of feeling on it?

De Palma: My concept and David's concept was, this is like the great flood. I mean, when you're dealing with such a corrupt universe, the only way to deal with it is a flood. You've gotta kill everybody. And that was always the concept. But, we discovered that audiences don't believe in God coming down and creating the flood. When there's such rampant evil around. So then we had to come up with a different ending, which I don't think is as effective. But that's basically because our conception of how it should have ended, we were never able to do. And the audience would never accept, basically.

Drew: Well, how dependent are you on those test audience responses? I mean, did you have anything like that on Mission? And was it sort of freeing writing this book, because you didn't have to... I mean you had to show it... you and Susan talked about it, but...

De Palma: Well, yes, you're always dealing with that research group. And believe me, my history, I had all the movies, you know, that had all the language, all the eroticism in them, and I'd be constantly fighting with these people that would, you know, poll the audiences. Because anything really excessive, an audience reacts very strongly to. And the studio, always when the studio, when they would get kind of negative cards after a screening.

Lehman: One reason that we started working on this book is because Brian had been involved in an HBO production of Paterno. And then he'd get, you know, a million notes, and he said, "Let's just write a book. It's much easier. I don't have to take these phone calls or read these crazy notes."

De Palma: Yeah, thousands of notes about Paterno.

Charles: And so was that more notes than you'd ever had before? Was it getting worse?

De Palma: Absolutely. You'd get piles of notes. You know, and I said, "Well, I've had it." Basically, you know, and I just walked away. Thank you, HBO.

Drew: Do you feel like the medium of fiction is sort of going to be your outlet for the next little while, or are you itching to get back...?

De Palma: Well, until I become senile, one's mind tends to be working all the time, and I'm, you know, trying to make maybe one more movie. If possible, maybe another. And of course writing books is, you know, a lot of fun, what Susan and I do together.



Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, July 18, 2021 11:20 AM CDT
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Friday, July 16, 2021
'PHANTOM' IN THE MUSIC BOX GARDEN, CHICAGO
8:45PM MON-THU OF NEXT WEEK (JULY 19-22), EXTREMELY LIMITED SEATING AVAILABLE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/phantominthegarden.jpg

Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise will screen in the Music Box Garden of Chicago's Music Box Theatre next week. Showtimes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights (July 19-22) begin at 8:45pm. The listing on the website adds that "extremely limited seating" is available. Each week, the Music Box Garden Movies has a theme, and this week's theme is "Maniacal Misfits." The other movie included in the theme, screening in the Garden this weekend, if Paul Flaherty's 1994 film Clifford, starring Martin Short and Charles Grodin.

Chicago Reader's Salem Collo-Julin and Kerry Reid saw fit to include the Phantom Of The Paradise screenings in their weekly listings today:

The Music Box screens the unusually ridiculous 1974 cult film Phantom of the Paradise, a collaboration between director Brian De Palma and composer/actor Paul Williams. It’s a horror/comedy/musical set in the competitive music industry with drug dealers, record producers, and actor Gerrit Graham as a character named “Beef.” Shown outside as part of the theater’s Garden Movies series. Tickets $9.

Posted by Geoff at 6:20 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 16, 2021 6:25 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 15, 2021
'AN ACUTE SENSE OF IMMEDIACY', 'A RARE AUTHENTICITY'
"I'M ACTUALLY SURPRISED HOW GOOD REDACTED IS,
CONSIDERING THE GENERAL CRITICAL DISDAIN" IN 2007

https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/redactedvan.jpg

Eternality Tan posted a review of Redacted a few days ago:
I’m actually surprised how good Redacted is, considering the general critical disdain accorded to it back in 2007. It, however, won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival and was listed as the best film of the year by the respected Cahiers du Cinema. Well, it seems like they were right on the money.

Seeing the film now, it almost feels like a relic of a distant past—the burgeoning digital era as it were, with shoddy aesthetics, gimmicky transitions and DIY-style content creation.

To think that director Brian De Palma was shrewd enough to capture not just a snapshot of America’s controversial involvement in the Iraq War but also using the tools of the trade of the time that reflect the medium’s affordances and audience-implicating effects.

As such, Redacted, a satirical ‘found footage’-style fiction feels like the last word on the failed war. Based on the true incident of a young Iraqi girl raped and murdered by US soldiers, Redacted investigates the notion of truth by blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

Because De Palma’s mode of address is in the form of a constructed documentary (that, at the same time, is meant to be deconstructed by the viewer’s active engagement with a variety of visual stimuli, including websites with disturbing embedded videos, and footage of a French woman engaging in reportage), it gives us an acute sense of immediacy that while staged produces a rare authenticity that puts us right there in the chaos.

Yet, because of the distance provided by its staging, we aren’t necessarily conditioned to be emotionally involved… until we are by the end of the whole experiment.

Redacted is not an easy watch, but it tells us how America lost the war without telling us how America lost the war. In that sense, De Palma was far ahead of his time.

Grade: A


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 14, 2021
'THE BIG PICTURE' - DEEP DIVE INTO DE PALMA'S CAREER
SEAN FENNESSEY & ADAM NAYMAN DISCUSS WHY DE PALMA IS "A CINEPHILE'S FAVORITE" ON NEW PODCAST EPISODE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/fennessydepalmadecades.jpg

The above meme was tweeted by Sean Fennessey yesterday to help promote this week's new episode of The Big Picture podcast, in which Fennessey is joined by Adam Nayman to "deep dive" into the career of Brian De Palma. The final portion of the episode is focused on De Palma's Blow Out, in celebration of that film's 40th anniversary this month. Along the way, on more than one occasion, Nayman refers to Chris Dumas' great book, Un-American Psycho: Brian De Palma And The Political Invisible.

Posted by Geoff at 8:19 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2021 8:20 PM CDT
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