Lowdown: John Travolta reconstructs reality from a sound recording.
They don't make them like that anymore: thrillers that have something to say; films that are designed to make you think while being thrilled; films without much if any in the way of special effects; films that try to be innovative in the art of filming, as in through unusual camera angles and clever compositions; films that don't attempt to have a go at providing a happy ending [oops, there goes the spoiler].
Blow Out qualifies for all of the above. Not that it's a particularly good film, but Brian De Palma's effort from 1981 certainly qualifies at being unique and original even if it does borrow heavily from the likes of Antonioni's Blowup and Coppola's The Conversation.
The story is about a porn films' sound technician, John Travolta. We start the film watching a scene from a horror/porn flick and you might as well think that you're already watching the real Blow Out film when suddenly you realize that you're actually at a sound stage, assembling the sound for the film. This is pretty much Blow Out's way of telling you that things are not always what they seem to be and that what we perceive as real is not necessarily so - a very Brian De Palma motif. Anyway, John Travolta is set on a quest to find proper sounds to use for the film, including the scream sound to be used in the flick's key scene given that the actress there was hired for her tits and not for her acting. Tits, by the way, are yet another very Brian De Palma motif - after all, he is famous for doing Dressed to Kill (or the much more proper way Mad Magazine has coined it, Undressed to Kill).
Travolta goes out to record wind sounds in the woods, when suddenly a car shows up, loses control, and falls into the river. He dives and saves a woman's life, but the guy that was with her is dead; yet it turns out that this guy was the likely candidate to become the next president of the USA, and despite everyone not believing him the sound recording taken by Travolta "shows" that the car didn't just lose control on its own - someone has had a shot at it.
From that point on Travolta sets out to find what has really happened that night. He chases people up, he tries to match pictures to the sounds, and slowly he figures out what has really happened that night. Alas, he is on his own, no one believes him, and the reality he has unveiled is not that pleasant for people to believe in; no one really wants to believe him. Eventually, though, he find just the right scream sound effect for his film.
This was the second time I got to watch Blow Out. The first time around was around high school time on a Friday night. I was all alone at home, and I remember being really thrilled by Blow Out. This time around I was expecting much more out of it as my appreciation for the art of film making and for Brian De Palma has grown exponentially; I no longer watch films just for the thrill effect. However, I was more than a bit disappointed: the film is interesting and there is definitely a thrilling element to it, but it is not even close to being as high octane as I remembered it to be. The main attraction is, indeed, the wise way in which the film is made, and the general "no mocking around" attitude that is so missing from most contemporary films and is evident here is the redundant use of nudity - something that just wouldn't happen today with the studios anxious to earn a softer rating and guarantee wider audience appeal. Then there is also the thinking aspect of the film, which is not exactly flattering towards American ideals.
Best scene: Travolta matches newspaper photos to the soundtrack he has recorded in an attempt to reconstruct reality. Did I mention the heavy borrowing from Blow Up and The Conversation?
Overall: I would say this is a must watch for any film buff, even if it's not the best film ever. 3.5 stars.