Check This Out: "Blow Out"

Filmmaker Christopher Wood reviews movies from the Tacoma Public Library

By Christopher Wood on December 3, 2013

Some days you just don't feel like paying for another Redbox rental, and the next movie on your Netflix queue takes FOREVER to arrive in your mailbox. And recession or no, who can pass up free, convenient entertainment? Every Tuesday, "Check This Out" recommends movies available at any of the eight branches of your friendly Tacoma Public Library. So you can satisfy your next film fix at the place with the books.

One can't venture too far without running into another Hollywood remake/reboot/ revamp/refusal to leave any popular film alone for too long. Most end up as bland imitations of the source material; rarely will the copy surpass the original. But sometimes, everything clicks.

While writer-director Brian De Palma's 1981 Blow Out doesn't classify as a shot-for-shot reconstruction of Blow-Up, the 1966 film from renowned Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni, both share a good deal in terms of plot (and titles). Up's murder cover-upreveals itself in the photographs its hero takes one day in a park; in Out, Jack Terry (John Travolta) doesn't see the crime, he hears it.

But where Antonioni opts for a slower-paced, meditative story in which the truth outs one developed picture at a time, De Palma, the man behind Carrie (anyone see this year's remake?), Scarface and The Untouchables, weaves some action into his yarn of suspense, making for an ultimately more entertaining and exciting popcorn flick. The American director known (and at times criticized) for his indulgence in film genre stereotypes, has nonetheless crafted with Blow Out one of his most enjoyable movies.

And I do mean crafted. His God's-eye views of scenes have all the grace of anything from Hitchcock (he cites Vertigo as one of his all-time faves), and even his "tawdrier" sequences, like the killer's POV of nonstop sex and nudity in the film-within-a-film horror parody, shows a self-reflexive moviemaker as master of his medium.

De Palma may concern himself just a little too much with form, however. His characters come across as either uninteresting (Jack) or just plain caricatures (Nancy Allen's slightly ditzy escort). But in a way this makes sense in a story where a single sound - a car tire blowing out on a bridge at night  - means everything. Blow Out's two standout scenes - Jack's accidental recording of the accident, and his subsequent reexamination of the evidence now in his possession (the latter essentially a remake of the first) - both display exquisite direction and editing. Add to the mix a thrilling score by composer Pino Donaggio and you have a film that begs not only to be seen more than once, but heard as well.

And if I can't convince you to check out Blow Out, maybe the Criterion Collection can:

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