Blow Out ★★★★½

There may not be more than one other director that you could say this about, but Brian De Palma literally never met a practical location that he couldn’t make look like a meticulously dressed stage or studio back lot when he shot it. He had this odd compulsion toward overtly mannered cinematic presentation that was totally at odds with his vérité obsessed era and that was probably never more in evidence that it is here.

Blow Out is overwhelmingly composed of sequences that aren’t quite right, of imagery that doesn’t exactly read as “real” ... There are night lit cityscapes that loom far too large in the views from windows. There’s neon that’s too red - too yellow - too blue. Fireworks that burn and burst in a sky that hovers too low – lingers too near the figures beneath it. A car chase, of sorts, assembled from on location stunts, overtly obvious rear screen projection and overhead shots so overhead, they render Philadelphia’s actual streets like one of Eiji Tsuburaya’s city models. Pictures of pictures that are filmed then attached to an MOS soundtrack ... In short, the layers of remove from an objective representation of reality are intentionally profound. 

Even so, unlike the film that inspired it, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, De Palma’s Blow Out isn’t at all concerned with questioning reality. There is no mystery at its center, the truth of what happened is never for one moment at issue. Even the rolling revelations about precisely how or why its crimes occurred add angles not doubts to the story. Instead it concerns itself with how, piece by piece, the construction of a cinematic narrative overwhelms then supplants “the truth” and with the many ways that process is mirrored in the brutality of civic life. The film begins with Travolta’s bemused defiance at the very idea of such of thing (What cat did you have to strangle to get that? / The one you hired) then ends with his utterly broken acceptance of it as the only way to survive and move on (It's a good scream. It's a good scream).
He’s beaten down on the point throughout over and over again, told multiple times that he’s cruel or paranoid or just a jackass or even the villain for refusing to accept a narrative lie and instead simply telling the truth. He’s disparaged and dismissed while he watches the lies – the narratives – constructed by an antagonist – who even describes murder as a “scenario” – reported on the news and accepted as fact. Yes, Blow Out’s sympathies are with Travolta, but its narrative breaks him into pieces nonetheless.

Now, I don’t know why Brian De Palma decided to weave all of that into the text and subtext of his methodically paced, adrenalin driving thriller masterpiece. If I had to guess, I’d probably cough, say something like: “The dude clearly never recovered from Vertigo and god bless him for that,” cough again then keep it rolling. I mean, people have been describing films Hitchcock did not make as “Hitchcockian” for going on half a century now; and in my humble opinion, the only one of them that deserves that appellation, that’s actually earned the right to be favorably compared to the master’s work, is Blow Out.