Blow Out



Directed by

Brian DePalma




Written by

Brian DePalma




Release Date

July 24, 1981 (USA)










John Travolta

Nancy Allen

John Lithgow

A critique by Andrew Abraido



So, to my delight, Brian De Palma's 1981 film Blow Out (a quasi-remake which I will get into later) was recently given the royal Criterion treatment and released on DVD (FINALLY!!). For years, I was unable to see this film due to the discontinuation of the original DVD print. I was not about to fork over 2 Andrew Jackson's (plus tax and shipping) to Amazon to purchase a film I have never seen, so the film and my desire to view it progressively faded from my mind. A shame, indeed, but atoned for with the Criterion release just a few short weeks ago (at the time of this written account).


Blow Out is not so much a remake as it is a reinvention of Michelangelo Antonioni's painstakingly brilliant classic Blow-Up, which is forever seared in my memory as one of the most utterly magnificent and poignant features I've ever seen committed to celluloid (I would also be quite näive here if I neglected to mention that Franis Ford Coppola's understated masterpiece The Conversation also influenced Blow Out quite a bit). A big fan of the Italian neo-realistic movement (thanks in part to an undergraduate course I took devoted exclusively to the subject), Antonioni's work became a constant in my viewing habits. Upon seeing Blow-Up, my cinematic world was opened to new ideas of storytelling and story progression, and taught me that sometimes the best conclusion is the empty realization of "all that could have been". No glory, no celebration, just an everyman who unintentionally stumbles upon a life-changing discovery and ultimately fails (perhaps not even by his own doing) to achieve the notoriety he believes he's earned.


Proof, disappearing. A discovery, turned back into nothing. These tragedies are what made Blow-Up so invigorating, so fresh, so heartbreaking. Luckily, De Palma channels his source material, though the journey is entirely different.


Keeping the superior (sorry Brian, but we're talking Antonioni here) Blow-Up at bay, Blow Out is a fine film in and of itself. The story follows Jack Terry (played by a young, pre-plastic version of John Travolta), a B-movie sound recordist, as he inadvertently records the assassination (?) of presidential campaign frontrunner Governor McRyan. The future John Gotti attempts to show his findings to the authorities but events seem to be conspiring against him, suggesting the puppeteers-that-be are involved in a massive cover-up. Nevertheless, as he acquires more tools to further aid his quest for the truth, our protagonist pushes on and therein lays the story of Blow Out.


The premise is more grandiose than the comparatively minimalistic Blow-Up, and Travolta's character winds up having a lot more at stake and to lose by the film's conclusion. There is also a glaringly obvious "American" vibe (the film is set during the preparation for "Liberty Day" in Philly) that runs through the picture. I don't believe this was a coincidence and could perhaps even be a reflexive technique, drawing attention to itself being a product inspired by foreign-produced host material by adopting an overly-American backdrop, brightly bleeding with patriotism.


Thrown in the mix is a call girl with a conscience (Nancy Allen), her pimp (?) (that guy from NYPD Blue), and a very young Arthur "Trinity" Mitchell (aka John Lithgow) cutting his serial killing teeth as a Bell Atlantic phone-man from hell.


The serial killer side story is entirely incidental here, which is one of my favorite aspects of the film. This lunatic certainly has his own motives for his pursuit to silence the lone survivor of the crash that claimed the governor's life, a fact unbeknownst to the viewer at first. As great as this side quest is, there are others in the film that end up keeping it from rising to the level of its source material. Though a technical marvel (thanks to stunning cinematography and sound editing), there seem to be gaping plot holes throughout the narrative and chasms in basic logic as well. According to this film, Lithgow's character is a master of space and time...conquering feats that would seemingly take days in just several minutes, all the while never arousing the least bit of suspicion (but hey, it was the '80s). I am willing to forgive these gaffes, however, because Lithgow is the man and has a BADASS modded-out timepiece in the film, a trinket I feel as though my life will be incomplete without until I acquire it.


Without giving too much more away, Blow Out ultimately succeeds in the same place as its Italian predecessor, in the concreting of the "all that could have been" aura when the credits begin to roll. If you need a resolute, happy ending to your films, then neither Blows are for you. But for those of you seeking more substance and realism from your motion pictures, pop these films in immediately.


The journeys are what set them apart, and both are worthy of your time.



Bottom Line: 4.0/5.0