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Blow Out

Blow Out (1981)

Director: Brian De Palma
Cast overview: John Travolta, Nancy Allen
Running time: 107 minutes

As part of my recent De Palma-watching period, I checked out this highly rated 1981 thriller of his. It's a very good film, based on the likes of Blow-Up and The Conversation. This probably won't be a commonly held view, but I certainly think this is as good as the latter, though I've never seen the former. It stars John Travolta in an early role as Jack Terry, a film sound-effects man who hears and sees a car crash one evening - involving a US presidential candidate - when recording sounds for a low-budget slasher film. Sounds simple, except a web of intrigue opens wherein others with ulterior motives begin wanting the tape Terry has recorded which shows a gunshot prior to the crash, previously thought to be a tragic accident.

Nancy Allen is OK as Sally - her first couple of scenes were dreadful, but she grows well into the film and ends up being a reasonably decent character. John Lithgow steals the show, however, as a terrific villain, Burke, who really provides a menacing side to the film. Denniz Franz and others also star.

The plot is basic enough but is possessed of enough twists to stop it from being dull, and will probably surprise you at a few junctures. De Palma was clearly influenced by Hitchcock, and there are several Hitchcockian influences notable here, not least the overriding suspense that the director manages to sustain over the film's running time, culminating in a tense and unpredictable conclusion. His cinematography is very good also - the 360-degree pan when Travolta realises his tapes have been wiped was particularly effective.

Philadelphia is a cracking setting as well, with the city's grimy streets and street-lights giving a gritty backdrop to the thriller, and the final chase along the city's streets during the Liberty Parade is an entertaining moment of the film. Pino Donaggio's score is also a

This is a film packed with suspense, thrilling moments, and has a well-written story to back it up. One of the most underrated thrillers of the 1980s, certainly, and I actually think I've underrated it. I think I preferred Body Double as a film, but I suspect this is slightly better. Still, highly recommended.

Jack Terry: I'm trying to save our asses!
Sally: I'll look after my *own* ass, thank you.

Jack Terry: Jesus, that's terrible.
Mixer: That's a terrible scream. Jack, what cat did you have to strangle to get that?
Jack Terry: The one you hired. That's her scream.
Mixer: You mean you didn't dub that?

Sally: Are yuh leavin'?
Jack Terry: Yeah, I gotta go, but, um, whatta yuh say when you get outta here, we have a drink sometime... hmmm - in a glass?

Quentin Tarantino stated in an interview that this film is his favorite Brian De Palma movie. In fact, Tarantino cast John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994) because he liked his performance in this movie so much.

The use of a split-focus diopter lens is evident in several scenes, in particular the sound recording scene and the hospital scene. The split-focus lens is attached to the main lens, and it affects only the left or right portion of the main lens' view. This changes the focal distance of part of the image, allowing objects at two distances (in the foreground and background) to be in sharp focus.

John Travolta suffered from insomnia during the shoot. His lack of sleep helped him create a very moody performance and is why his character seems so downtrodden throughout the movie.