I Found It At the Movies: 1981—Blow Out (Brian De Palma)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1981: Blow Out (Brian De Palma)

I absolutely love the work of Brian De Palma, and Blow Out is my favorite of all his films. There are three main reasons for this:

Form
I’ve said numerous times during this countdown that I consider myself a formalist. As I watch a film, the first thing I do is deconstruct it and judge the way it’s formed. This is definitely something that comes from all the time I spent in France; it’s the way Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, encouraged the Young Turks to think about film, and it’s still the way that most French film critics approach the medium. When it comes to being a pure master of the cinematic form—moving the camera, using music and sound, editing to maximum effect—I consider De Palma, along with Scorsese, to be the greatest of all American directors still working today. There’s a sensuality and complexity to De Palma’s approach to film, and this is as clear as ever in Blow Out. Just watch the first five minutes.  

Emotion
Some have labeled De Palma a cold and callous director, but I’ve always found him to be a deeply wounded romantic. Of all the ways I connect to his work, this is the most powerful. John Travolta’s character in this seems to me the most personal of all of De Palma’s creations. In other words, he’s the one who most closely resembles De Palma on an emotional level. It’s devastating to consider, and it’s devastating to experience.    

Playfulness
De Palma likes to provide thrills. There’s a part of him that thinks the experience of watching a movie should be fun and unexpected, and he’s very playful in his work. Without spoiling the movie… just look at the way he ends this one.

Historically, I like to think of Blow Out as the final film of the American New Wave. Though the moviemakers from this period would go on to make more great work, Blow Out seems to mark the end of a certain era. And personally, well, it’s my favorite film of the eighties.  

What moviemakers can learn: In my opinion, no one can make the camera talk as much as Brian De Palma. Study this visual master and learn how to make the camera expressive.  

Other contenders for 1981: I still have some films to see from this year. These include: Abbas Kiarostami’s Orderly or Disorderly, Eric Rohmer’s The Aviator’s Wife, Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way, Jacques Rivette’s Le pont du Nord and Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Iron. I need to revisit Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva and Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen any of them to know where they’d place on this list. And my closest runner-up from this year is Michael Mann’s Thief.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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