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"Blow Out" - {Blu-ray}
Wayne Klein
Studio: Criterion
Release Date:
Special Features:

Interviews, "Murder a la Mode" feature film by Brian DePalma, still gallery, trailer, essay booklet, Pauline Kael interview from "The New Yorker"

Rated: R


Brian DePalma--you either love him or hate him it seems with one group always attacking him for "borrowing" from other directors and still others praising him for vividly echoing others work while creating something memorable of his own. I come here not to "blow out" DePalma but to praise him. "Blow Out" was one of the first films to use the Steadicam extensively for long tracking shots and DePalma used the device wisely throughout the film. There are many critics that want to focus so exclusively on DePalma wearing his influences on his sleeve that they often miss what the man has to say. For example "Obsession" may be inspired by Hitchcock's "Vertigo" but it is very much a blending of DePalma's concerns along with those of writer Paul Schrader and Hitchcockian themes in a unique presentation that throws an entirely new element into the mix missing from Hitchcock's original film. I wouldn't say that "Obsession" is somehow inferior because it wants to examine a type of story that echoes Hitch's; I think that's an unfair assessment that does a disservice to the quality of the film, Cliff Robertson's marvelous lead performance and the themes (some of which are unique to DePalma) at work in "Obsession". ***

Likewise "Blow Out" may dig at the same site where the riches of Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" but DePalma pulls a very different diamond from the same mine. Yes, some of the details may be the same but those are superficial details; DePalma's film is as rich in its own way and reaches the audience in a way that Antonioni's metaphysical thriller can't because the central event in "Blow Up" is called into doubt. The events that drive "Blow Out" are never truly in doubt but the characters are forced to reassess whether or not they really occurred or if they just WANT to believe they occurred because it would justify their own sense of paranoia in the post Watergate era. My advice is to give DePalma's film a fair assessment on your own independent of the film that inspired it. ***

With "Blow Out" DePalma managed to elicit one of John Travolta's finest performances of his career reaching beneath the surface performance that Travolta often presents to get a sense of genuine emotion. A skewed paranoid thriller that uses the classic film "Blow Up" as its touch point, "Blow Out" focuses on a sound engineer named Jack (Travolta) who believes he has accidently recorded the sound of a political assassination. Jack is determined to find out the truth but puts himself and Sally (Nancy Allen) a hooker who may have witnessed the event at risk and in the path of an assassin (John Lithgow). ---

Image & Sound:

The Criterion Blu-ray personally supervised by director DePalma is a huge improvement over the previous regular DVD edition. Fine detail is a huge improvement while clarity and contrast look terrific throughout. Grain management has been used here as it should be used--to even out the overall texture, grain and presentation of the film making it look consistent. The film also went an extensive clean up and some restoration which is most notable in the lack of scratches that were evident in the previous DVD presentation. ***

Audio sounds quite strong but keep in mind that this is presented in its original 2.0 NOT in a remixed or repurposed 5.1 mix. We get optional English subtitles. Dialogue and the marvelous music score by Pino Donaggio sound exceptionally crisp and clear. While it would have been nice to have a new 5.1 mix for the film, the original 2.0 mix is more than adequate for this presentation. One special feature that IS missing is an isolated score. ---

Special Features:

Criterion rolls out some nice extras for this edition as well. We get DePalma's 1967 feature film "Murder a la Mode" which provided part of the inspiration for "Blow Out". Viewers should keep in mind that DePalma's film is experimental in technique at times and some of the visual choices, motifs, etc. that show up in "Blow Out" were first put on display in DePalma's earlier film. ***

We get an interview with Garrett Brown who created the Steadicam (and a demonstration for those who don't know how or what it is used for). Garrett also discusses the use of the Steadicam for the film within a film that we see at the beginning of "Blow Out". ***

We also get an interview with DePalma conducted by director Noah Baumbach which is enlightening allowing DePalma to discuss the thought process behind shooting the film the way he did. ***

Nancy Allen appears in a new interview as well discussing her first impressions of Travolta (with whom she had worked on "Carrie"), her preparation for the role, etc. ***

Finally we get the original theatrical trailer (my how times have changed when it comes to theatrical trailers, (theatrical trailers should play like a mysterious seduction NOT quickie in the backseat of a car which is how most are presented today), production stills and, of course, a booklet with an essay by critic Michael Sragow as well as Pauline Kael's original interview with DePalma from the New Yorker.

Final Words:

DePalma often borrowed from other directors--so did Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Spielberg and Scorsese. Like all of these directors DePalma sometimes managed to make what he borrowed into something uniquely his own while other times you could see the inspiration peeking out from under the covers almost like a child playing peek-a-boo. Regardless of whether DePalma was always successful at disguising his influences or hiding them, at his best, DePalma made intelligent, interesting and sometimes thought provoking thrillers. ***

With "Blow Out" the audience was pulled into a conspiracy and BELIEVED the main characters. Whether or not you believe DePalma's film is something other than a well made, slick knock off of another film will depend on whether or not you approach "Blow Out" with an open mind and disregard some of the critical remarks made about the film over the years. ***

Highly recommended.


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