Blow Out (1981)

Blow Out (1981), written and directed by Brian De Palma.

A movie sound-man records evidence of a political murder. Would you believe it: he plays amateur sleuth, a dangerous game for an audio voyeur.

I remember not liking this much in the theater, but I was probably punishing John Travolta for being a recent teen idol. The "Liberty Bell" murders seemed a too casual plot gimmick for such brutal crimes, although the violence in this film is much less explicit than in others from De Palma. And no nudity, apart from the slasher film spoof in the opening: Coed Frenzy, fifth film in two years from offices above a porno theater. In Philadelphia

It is a dark plot, despairing in the end. No one is saved, there is no justice. Nancy Allen's character is made immortal (well... Coed Frenzy...) in her terror.

As a mashup of Blow-Up (1966) and The Conversation (1974) it is very clever: a thriller for film editors and sound-men. Like the other movies, the more we see and listen, the more we discover. He uses many split screen shots, sometimes with lenses but often just with composition.

And yet: it develops slowly for a thriller, taking time to show that we have a crime, that it is a conspiracy, and that everyone who knows about it will be cleaned up. We never get to know our characters very well. The excitement picks up quite a bit in the last segment.

I think the score is way too much, sounding sometimes like a spoof of the genre.

Criterion Blu-ray, grainy and often very dark. Extras include extended bits by the director, Nancy Allen, and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown, who was brought in to do the Coed Frenzy bit.

The best extra is a complete early De Palma feature film once thought lost: Murder a la Mod (1968).

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