The Pitch: John Travolta plays a movie sound effects designer who takes a microphone out into a nearby park in order to capture more authentic wind effects. But while recording, he ends up accidentally capturing audio of the assassination of a presidential candidate, and he finds himself embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: If you didn’t get enough Fourth of July hijinks last night and are looking for one more jolt of red, white, and blue until this time next year, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is an unconventional but effective way to scratch that itch. It’s set around the time of the fictional Liberty Day, and there’s a fireworks scene near the end that you will never forget – trust me.
Blow Out is De Palma doing a riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie Blowup – he swiped the same basic structure, but changed the focus to the world of audio instead of photography. (Antonioni’s film centers on a photographer who realizes he’s captured something he wasn’t supposed to see in one of his photos.) And even though Francis Ford Coppola had already done something very similar years before with his 1974 classic The Conversation, De Palma’s movie is the slickest and most stylized version of this type of voyeur noir story.
Travolta is fantastic in the lead role, and his old Carrie co-star Nancy Allen delivers a strong performance given the fact that she’s being asked to play a comparatively empty character. Dennis Franz plays a skeezy photographer with gusto, and John Lithgow plays a genuinely disturbing villain, a precursor to his excellent role in the Showtime original series Dexter years later. And the funky, jazzy score is terrific, too – check out this video for an example of one of the more upbeat more upbeat tracks, but the movie’s theme song is a stunner as well.
For me, though, Blow Out‘s legacy was secured with its color-drenched gut-punch of an ending, which affected me in a way I didn’t see coming. It’s burrowed its way into my mind and stayed there since my first viewing, and what De Palma does in the denouement – his commentary about a person pouring his own worst memories into the making of a film for the enjoyment of others – is a bittersweet, devastating, haunting, and perfect way for movie film to conclude.