Tuesday, January 26, 2010

De Palma A la Mode - Part Four: A Day for Blow Outs

Today has just been a fabulous day for the start of the quarter.  Schedule wise, it couldn't have been better because we had a two-hour delay which meant shorter periods, and I had a great first day with Speech, but everything else has seemed to go wrong.  When I got here, I fell down on the sidewalk and blew out the knee in my pants (my favorite pair) so I had to go home and change into un-ripped bottoms during second period (my knee only suffered a light scrape).  I arrived back at school with only minutes to spare before 3rd period.  I also had a blow out with my seventh period today when they continually would not pay attention.  I finally just screamed at them and gave them an angry speech (which unfortunately contained the word 'fuck' I'm ashamed to say) and gave up on them.  Hopefully, tomorrow things will be better...but the idea of blow outs in my pants (no dirty jokes thank you) and in my classroom kinda works as a theme to write towards when discussing my next De Palma film...Blow Out.

Blow Out has a spotty reputation with De Palma fans because it is a great movie and is often called "the good De Palma movie"...which makes fans resentful of it because, we of course think there's more than one good one.  I know I avoided it for a long time, because it had such universal praise and because I thought it seemed unfair that it should get all the glory next to other favorites of mine like Dressed to Kill and Femme Fatale...but I can see where people get their ideas on it being 'the good one'.  It is one of De Palma's most well rounded tales with great characters and a tense plot that builds to a natural conclusion (if not the most satisfying...I'll explain later)...and it also doesn't crib as much from Hitchcock plots.  There are some who insist he stole it from BlowUp instead.  I think we, as fans, have grudgingly come to accept that the critics have a point...but that doesn't mean we have to love the other films any less.

The plot is complex yet simple, and all hinges on the journey to find a scream.  Jack Terry (John Travolta) is a sound effects man who does effects work for a small film company that produces B or C level horror films and the film opens with himself and his director viewing their latest work (Co-Ed Frenzy) and being embarrassed over the terrible scream let loose by a naked actress in a shower.  The director demands that Jack go find him a better scream to dub and to get new background effects as well.  So Jack heads out that evening and starts recording wind, an owl, and a couple talking from a bridge over a river.  Suddenly, he hears a car approaching and the tire explodes, sending the car into the river.  He dives in an saves a girl named Sally (Nancy Allen) from within, while also seeing that the man in front is dead.  In the aftermath he discovers that the man was an important political official and his involvement with the girl is being covered up...to protect his image.  Later, when re-examining the tape, Jack is certain that he hears a gun shot before the tire blow out...suggesting that the tire was shot out and that this was not an accident.  At the same time, a hit-man named Burke (John Lithgow) who was responsible for the accident is changing evidence to cover up the crime and slowly closing in on Sally, who is one of the last loose ends of the ordeal.

The film is incredibly tense and well plotted, each event leading you to wonder what will happen next.  The characters are wonderful as well, with Travolta adding a 'Jimmy Stewart'-like everyman quality to Jack and Nancy Allen being delightfully naive as Sally.  Allen's portrayal of Sally may perhaps be what makes the film's ending so harrowing and emotional (I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it) and that ending is partially why audiences stayed away from Blow Out during its initial release...stating that it was far too bleak.  I would agree that the story is bleak, but that very far from the truth about life?  I find it difficult to talk about and analyze the film without giving the good details and surprises away...but I can say that for De Palma beginners, this is the one do watch.  Everything about it works, and it features the standard De Palma camera wizardry that those of us who love him have become accustomed to.  See it, I beg you.

1 comment:

Jess @ Frugal with a Flourish said...

Sorry about your pants! :( Some day you and I need to sit down and watch all these De Palma's!