THE REEL BINGE with Lee Ostler: BLOW OUT (1981)

“Blow Out” (1981) is one of several of Brian De Palma’s movies to be compared to Hitchcock’s work, and for my money, the best.  De Palma tends to steal from the best and do it well. Cool by me. Jack Terry (John Travolta) is a sound technician for low rent exploitation and B-movies in Philadelphia. He needs some better ambient wind sounds and particularly, a better female 1981-blow-out-poster1scream. He goes out one night to do some recording and happens to see and record a car accident. The car ends up in the water, Jack saves the girl but the guy driving dies. It turns out he’s a big deal politically. Jack becomes convinced that it was no accident and can’t give up on finding out what really happened. His motivation is the best part of flick for me. He doesn’t seem to give a shit about the guy dying but the fact that the cops and everyone else tell him that he’s crazy really grinds his gears. His investigation essentially begins as a giant fuck you to everyone. There is no doubt that this is hands down Travolta’s best role before “Pulp Fiction” (1994).
Nancy Allen plays “Sally”, the girl pulled from the car. Hitchcock was notorious for torturing his blondes. De Palma seems to have taken that shit to heart with Nancy Allen (she and De Palma were married at the time). Starting with“Carrie” (1976), then “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and finally, “Blow Out” (1981) she always plays characters that have a pretty rough ride.  Jack ropes Nancy into his dangerous investigation. The danger comes from Burke (John Lithgow), a psychopath for hire who’s
blow-out-1981-08-gtasked with cleaning up the whole mess. Psycho-killer Lithgow is always the best Lithgow. The whole thing culminates in one the more memorable and disturbing endings.
It’s impossible not to see the similarities of this movie and real life events. It’s kind of like a mash-up of Chappaquiddick and the JFK assassination (especially the Zapruder film).This is, above all, a movie about movies and the process of movie making. De Palma plays with the idea that Jack essentially pieces the mystery together by hunting down and assembling the various elements of film itself. There are some clear nods to Antonioni’s “Blowup” (1966) and Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974). Real film nerd shit. So yeah, I love it. De Palma, Travolta, and Lithgow, all at the top of their games. A fast paced thriller with a great ending. Hard to go wrong with this classic flick. – LEE


Related Recommendations:
Brian De Palma: If you want to stay in the Hitchcock style, “Dressed to Kill” (1980) or “Body Double” (1984). You always go with his gangster classics, “Scarface” (1984), “The Untouchables” (1997), “Carlito’s Way” (1993)
John Travolta: As Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction” (1994), Chili Palmer in “Get Shorty” (1995) and Sean Archer/Castor Troy in “Face/Off” (1997). Seriously, that might be it. I wish he had some great forgotten roles but this is it.
Nancy Allen:  As Robocop’s partner, Officer Anne Lewis in “Robocop” (1987),”Robocop 2” (1990) and, if you feel so inclined, “Robocop3” (1993)
John Lithgow: If you want to stick with psycho Lithgow check him out as Eric Qualen in “Cliffhanger” (1993), Earl Talbot Blake in “Ricochet” (1991) (in which he gives Denzel Washington gonorrhea), or as Dr. Carter Nix in “Raising Cain” (1992). As for good guy Lithgow, you’ve gotta go with him as George Henderson in “Harry and the Hendersons” (1997).
(Side Note: Kevin Peter Hall, who played Harry in the movie and TV show and The Predator, died from AIDS-related pneumonia. That sucks.)
(Lee Ostler is a musician, avid fight fan, man-of-many-words, and huge fan of fine cinema.  Each Thursday, he will start our minds rolling for the weekend with another gem of a film we can hunt down.  Some will be easier to find than others, but that’s part of the game.  Get the home theatre ready, pop the corn, and prepare to see some friggin’ awesome films)