So Criterion’s releasing one of the most underappreciated and overlooked great films of the 80s: Blow Out. This is by a landslide John Travolta’s best performance, and a great story to boot. It’s a film that holds up very well, aside from the obviously dated techniques and equipment used in film during that period. Then again, that’s what makes it a great period piece as well. Thoughts? Do you believe it belongs in the collection?
Absolutely, really a masterstroke. No De Palma film succeeds quite like it (and I really love De Palma). It may also be his most emotionally hard-hitting work as well, though Carlito’s Way gives it a run for its money.
While I think it is De Palma’s best film, it does feel it’s age and to my mind suffers some from the performances of Dennis Franz and Nancy Allen who simply aren’t very three dimensional in their roles. All in all I think it’s a pretty solid film with a dark take on the US, but, like most De Palmas, still a little crass or immature around the edges.
I’m really happy about this. De Palma’s best film. Like Jack said, definitely his most emotionally resonant film. Nancy Allen was never a great actress but I think she’s fine here – and not one dimensional at all. I don’t think the film is dated at all (to say a film is dated because it features the technology of its era is just plain silly and considering how the split screen has made a comeback in recent years, the techniques are universal in my mind)
Good film. Not sure I’d really call it underappreciated or overlooked, though. Maybe De Palma’s reputation has waned that much over the course of the past few decades?
Ari: agree. it’s a movie of its time, obviously, but it’s still packs a visual punch and it’s genuinely tense and suspenseful, even to this day. what more can you ask of a thriller than to keep you on the edge of your seat?
i agree with Greg it’s a little crass, like most Depalma, but it’s one of the few movies of his that i still find watchable.
Ari, to be clear, I wasn’t referring to the technology in my statement, just the feel of the film. it reminds me of listening to 80’s music in some ways. It just feels caught in the zietgeist of its era due to De Palma’s style. Allen isn’t awful exactly, but her performance, to me, feels like one where she is imitating an actress imitating a not too bright woman rather than inhabiting her role as someone like Jennifer Jason Leigh did in Miami Blues. Allen looks the part and gets the basic attributes of her character right, which makes her vulnerability more apparent, but I don’t get a feeling of “livedness” to her role. Franz, on the other hand, was harder to take, partly because the role was such a cliche, or maybe not cliche exactly but seemed to exist merely to serve the narrative and not for any more compelling reason, and partly because he played his role in the most obvious ways possible. The two things contributed to the datedness I was talking about, although I accept one could make an argument for the cliched feel working with Jack Terry’s movie within the movie and our viewing of films as being reflective of that, and thus setting up the ending to be more surprising, but the trade off doesn’t entirely work for me given what the movie loses in order to gain that end.
I feel it’s an appropriate edition to the Criterion Collection. One of Brian De Palma’s better films. I enjoy watching Blow Out, and I am not a fan of De Palma, I really don’t like 3/4 of his output. So, in my mind, Blow Out is one of those great films that surpass the people involved who made the film. Just like Casablanca is better than Michael Curtiz’s career, and Point Blank is best remembered as a Lee Marvin film rather than a John Boorman film. You get what I’m saying, right? These films are classics despite the apparent lack of talent in the directors.
isn’t De Palma sort of considered Quentin Tarantino of his generation?
“Maybe De Palma’s reputation has waned that much over the course of the past few decades?”
he kind of deserves it though imo. The only film of his i’ve liked in the last 20 years is ’Carlito’s Way’. ‘Raising Cain’ is entertaining, good for a laugh, thanks mostly to Lithgow’s crazed performance, but i wouldn’t exactly call it a good movie. Mission Impossible was decent, but ultimately forgettable. Snake Eyes had a killer intro, and that was it. Femme Fatale and Black Dahlia were both dull, listless affairs imo. and Redacted was a good idea done badly. I know you like that film though. I wanted to like it. Mission To mars is not worth mentioning and could be the worst film of his entire career.
as far as his 80’s films go, i must admit i do have a soft sot for Wise Guys. heheh
- I know you like that film though. I wanted to like it.-
With reservations (in some cases very strong reservations), I like all of De Palma’s recent work except Mission to Mars and Black Dahlia (and the latter is a more interesting failure than the former).
yeah, have a soft spot for it because i grew up watching it! it’s part of my childhood. My dad loved it and used to watch it all the time ;-)
I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was first released.
A very depressing movie. Maybe more of a 70s film becuse of its ending and the political paranoia theme.
It’s definitely got that seventies vibe to it thematically, but it also kinda looks eighties, so I think of it as a transitional film personally, kind of like Alien in that way.
Regarding De Palma in general, I tend to think of him as a director whose films seem better in hindsight than they do while watching them. They tend to be thematically interesting and have some bold ideas visually, but they are almost all burdened by an equal amount of questionable material and acting. Reflecting on the films its easier to set aside the more problematic aspects and just focus on the good stuff.
And for the record, I didn’t mind Mission to Mars at all, which is more than I can say for some of his other films.
De Palma is one of the most justly neglected filmmakers of the 70s and 80s. BLOW OUT isn’t as bad as the unspeakable DRESSED TO KILL, but Criterion really should have aimed a bit higher.
^^yeah, Dressed To Kill is very overrated imo. never understood the fuss about that! I’d take Carrie or The Fury over it any day of the week!!!
GREG: agree, but at the same time, sometimes the ‘questionable acting’ in Depalma films seems entirely deliberate. Raising Cain, for example, was overly meant to be over the top, and more than a little camp.
Having said that, when he tries to be ‘serious’, that’s when problems arise for me. Casaulties Of war, for example, is not a particularly great film, and deals with the moral conflicts in a shallow and unconvincing way. The death of the innocent girl has incredibly visceral impact though, but that’s to be expected from Depalma, it’s his stock in trade. the rest fell short for me.
You don’t even appreciate the museum sequence in Dressed To Kill, Joks? It’s a thing of beauty. But I guess it’s true of De Palma that it’s easier to remember sequences from his films than the entire package (which, yeah, often feature histrionics and pretty bad plot devices). Blow Out is one of the few that holds together for me. I like it better than Blow Up.
And I generally like De Palma’s approach to actors. He gets very stylized performances that are non-traditional for Hollywood. The excess is necessary for the impact. I like his films when they are rough around the edges.
Everything I touch turns to stone.
I’d rather get a blow out than watch Blow Out. Sorry, I had to say it…
“He gets very stylized performances that are non-traditional for Hollywood.”
are they non-traditional or just old fashioned? i always felt he was using old films as a template.
Maybe non-traditional post 70s is traditional? Although I don’t think he’s just getting classic studio style performances. They have more of an odd blend of hysteria and naturalism.
“Blow Out is one of the few that holds together for me. I like it better than Blow Up.”
settle down there tiger! Blow Up is overrated to me, and nowhere near my favourite Antonioni film, but i’d never put Blow Out ahead of it, not in a million years :-)
Yes the museum sequence in D.T.K was great, but what really kind of surprised me about it was how giallo-ish it felt at times. like a bad imitation.
Ok, I might be overstating my point…
Yeah, I like Dressed to Kill as a very good giallo imitation. Or just one of the better giallos. Check out the elevator sequence again (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvP7jQK02W8) and tell me it’s not as good as anything Argento ever did.
“Maybe non-traditional post 70s is traditional? Although I don’t think he’s just getting classic studio style performances. They have more of an odd blend of hysteria and naturalism.”
i think sometimes the performances feel like an over the top studio style performance ala Hitchcock or those old gangster flicks.
Dressed to Kill elevator sequences is good, but the problem is that it reminded me too much of Argento.
Yeah, I would agree with that.
Well, I guess it’s deliberate in that DePalma chooses the actors for the roles, so when you have Craig Wasson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, or Joe Piscipo as stars you get what you deserve, or when you cast Bonfire of the Vanities with Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith and Kim Catrall go get the box office returns you deserve. DePalma seems to enjoy those who can chew scenery on one hand, Caine, Pacino, Lithgow, Gerrit Graham, or Nicolas Cage, but he’ll mix them with actors like Spacek who builds more three dimensional characters, actors like Travolta who rely a lot on a more personality based style with some concern for character and with TV actors. He basically doesn’t seem to give a shit about performance, hence casting Lou Albano in a movie, and seems to allow the actors to go whichever way suits their fancy. This can give his films an aura of “fun” to some, but for others it feels like an aura of condescension to his own material like in the scene near the end of Dressed to Kill with Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon exchanging some touching(?) dialogue. I got the feeling the movie didn’t really take the moment seriously, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to. I can see why someone like Kael would like that given her attitude of condescension towards movies in general, but for me it was excruciating.
DePalma has a few films I think are all right, he is occasionally inventive, when he isn’t busy being derivative, and once in a while his movies work out seemingly almost despite themselves, but I really don’t take him too seriously. An earlier Tarantino seems more or less right. They both can’t get past their adolescence and make films that work without having an arch moment, or teenage type snicker or two thrown in or without being so damned impressed with their own “genius”.
I just saw it tonight for the first time and it’s honestly making me re-think my top ten of all time, it was perfect to me. De Palma in the 70’s-80’s is why I love film. Definitely picking up the criterion release when it’s out.
“He basically doesn’t seem to give a shit about performance, hence casting Lou Albano in a movie, and seems to allow the actors to go whichever way suits their fancy.”
I’d say Argento is more like that than Depalma, but you are right, Depalma’s standards for acting are not particularly high, and it shows.
“This can give his films an aura of “fun” to some, but for others it feels like an aura of condescension to his own material like in the scene near the end of Dressed to Kill with Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon exchanging some touching(?) dialogue. I got the feeling the movie didn’t really take the moment seriously, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to. I can see why someone like Kael would like that given her attitude of condescension towards movies in general, but for me it was excruciating.”
There is a fine line with Depalma. Sometimes his approach works, other times it doesn’t(e.g Snake Eyes etc). I also think this is the reason so much of his dramatic work fails too, because he is not an actor’s director. Casaulties of War and Redacted are perhaps ideal examples, because they are both intended to be more dramatic works, and his limitations are on full display. The ‘moral conflict’ in the second half of C.O.W is treated like a fart in an elevator.