Brian De Palma’s ‘Blow Out’ is one of the finest films about the process of filmmaking

A stylish American thriller knee-deep in paranoia, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is a neatly packed, thrill-ridden film executed on a level far beyond average filmmaking. The story of a sound man working on a sleazy exploitation horror, who accidentally catches a recording of what his gut is telling him is a covered-up murder, offers the star of Pulp Fiction and Grease an opportunity to shine in all his talent. And what talent it is. Not only does Travolta give what is probably his finest performance, he does it in a film that we remember as solid proof of De Palma’s utter brilliance. Patiently building the tension, relying on a truly wonderful script, on the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond‘s phenomenal photography, on impressive acting by the protagonist as well as John Lithgow and Nancy Allen, wisely steering clear from underestimating the audience at any point, De Palma creates an ambiance so nerve-shattering, a ride so downright exciting that, as we observe how the plot develops on the screen, we can’t help feeling a part of the conspiracy ourselves, terrified and adrenaline-pumped at the same time. We’re talking about a classic of the eighties, a film Travolta himself called one of his top three favorites, a thriller that stands among the very best conspiracy movies Hollywood has ever produced.

Some of my most controversial movies, or even my most unsuccessful at the box office, are some of my best. Blow Out was a catastrophe when it opened, but everybody constantly talks about it as one of my best movies, and I find it a movie that I am really very proud of. Did it get decent reviews? A couple. Pauline liked it, and a few other people, but that was about it, and it died. You’ve got to remind yourself all the time that you’re being measured against the fashions of the day, and if your work truly has any kind of staying power, well, people will be talking about it in 20, 30 years. —Brian De Palma

Moreover, Blow Out can be seen as a genius meta-film about the process of filmmaking. As we watch the main character studiously examining the sound and trying to connect it to the photographs of the crime scene, he engages in a process of creating a narrative in a way that echoes the very production of films. De Palma is obviously a huge fan of Hitchcock, as the old master’s spirit undeniably floats around all throughout the film, but little homages like this don’t seem pretentious at all because Blow Out has the required cinematic power, and is made by a pair of hands so talented and self-confident, that it would be far from crazy to compare it to Hitchcock’s work. Addictively engaging, intelligently conceived and very passionately brought to life, Blow Out is, according to all relevant criteria, the best conspiracy film we’ve seen. Please make the most of this opportunity to check out the extremely rare copy of Brian De Palma’s screenplay we’ve chosen to share with you.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Brian De Palma’s screenplay for Blow Out [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available from the Criterion Collection in new, restored digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Brian De Palma, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

“De Palma has been learning how to make every move of the camera signify just what he wants it to, and now he has that knowledge at his fingertips. The pyrotechnics and the whirlybird camera are no longer saying ‘Look at me;’ they give the film authority.” First published in the July 27, 1981, issue of The New Yorker, long-time Brian De Palma supporter Pauline Kael’s review of Blow Out, praised the director and his cast—“Travolta finally has a role that allows him to discard his teenage strutting and his slobby accents”—for at long last finding his and their sweet spots. The review is available in Criterion’s packaging of the genre-bending thriller-cum-melodrama, and is worth reading for no other reason than to re-experience Kael’s capacity to pair snarky jabs with eulogizing hurrahs. —The Sound and the Fury: Blow Out is Back

Nancy Allen shared three pics from the set of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out on her Facebook page. Allen then added a comment to her post, writing, “Wonderful reunion yesterday with John Travolta, Vilmos Zsigmond and Paul Hirsch. We were filming part of a documentary about the extraordinary talent and career of Vilmos Zsigmond.”

The Projection Booth’s three-hour podcast centered around De Palma’s Blow Out, including new interviews with Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, producer Fred C. Caruso, and Bill Mesce Jr.

A Split Focus Diopter is half convex glass that attaches in front of the camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. The lens can focus on a plane in the background and the diopter on a foreground element. In the 1970′s and 1980′s, Brian De Palma championed the use of this tool to enhance the visual and emotional experience of his films. The Split Diopter allows for Deep Focus cinematography but requires much less light. It also delivers a distinctive look that blends sharp and out-of-focus imagery all in one frame. Subjects in both foreground and background can be kept in focus. In the video below are all 15 Split Diopter shots from Brian De Palma’s film Blow Out, courtesy of Vashi Nedomansky.

Award-winning Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown talks about his experience on Brian De Palma’s Blow Out.

At the 2012 New York Film Festival, Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach appeared on stage together, along with moderator Scott Foundas, to discuss their films.

Brian De Palma with writer Jay Cocks visit Martin Scorsese, New York, 1988.

Director Brian De Palma, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and DP Vilmos Zsigmond during filming of Blow Out. Still photographers: Louis Goldman & Chuck Nolen.

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