In 1981 Brian DePalma produced arguably his greatest piece of work – Blow Out. Already a seasoned vet within the industry (due to previous work like Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie), DePalma was putting together an excellent cinematic oeuvre and by 1981 was at the peak of his filmmaking powers. Blow Out, therefore, acts as a culmination of everything he experimented with throughout these previous years, something which possibly explains why the actual filmmaking process is a predominant theme in this film. As well as this meta preoccupation with making movies, Blow Out also pays homage to other conspiracy thrillers such as Blow Up and The Conversation, echoing their belief that behind the sheen of perfection that politicians hide themselves with, there’s always something horrible rotting away. Lastly, its Hitchkockian overtones are also a key trait of this and many of his other films, with his penchant for suspense as well as crazed male killers inflicting misery featuring heavily here.
Set in Philadelphia, Jack Terry (played by John Travolta in a complete sea change from his earlier roles in Grease and Saturday Night Fever) plays a talented sound technician. It is suggested, however, that he is wasting his skills working for a production company which specialises in trashy cinema such as slasher films (one of which we are introduced to in an utterly audacious opening scene) amongst other exploitation movies. In order to capture the sounds due to miniscule budgets, Travolta often walks around parks at night with his recording equipment. On the night we meet his character, he witnesses and records the crash of a car belonging to Governor McRyan (who is a presidential hopeful) into a river. Jack manages to save a woman in the car named Sally (played by Nancy Allen) but cannot do the same for McRyan. A media storm then ensues, with the press concluding that this was just an unfortaunte event as the tyre of his car had obviously just suffered a blow out.
Jack believes otherwise though, finding through the usage of his editing skills and pictures taken by somebody else at the scene (Dennis Franz as the slimy Manny Karp), that before the sound of the blow out there was a gun shot. We soon learn that the shot was fired by Burke (John Lithgow) who was originally hired by a rival of McRyan’s to take incriminating pictures of him with Sally (who, it turns out, is a prostitute), but has decided to deal with this in his own manner and kill McRyan. Terry and Sally then team up in order to try to reveal the truth but are then stalked by this killer whilst attempting to shed light on the truth, leading to a symbolic finale during the liberty day parade.
It’s clear from this film that DePalma has an insatiable obsession with conspiracy theories, with Travolta’s recording echoing that of Zapruder’s footage of the assassination of JFK. Despite it actively embracing conspiracies (which a lot of US citizens enjoy doing) this film did not make a huge amount at the box office. However, I feel that the parallels which can be drawn between this movie and the current political climate could raise its profile. This is due to the recent rise of “fake news” and “alternative facts” helping to incubate an enivironment filled with uncertainty where the lines between fact and fiction seem to be becoming blurred. As such, I feel that the movie will always feel relevant as no matter how much influence over government we are told we have, there’s always somebody in the upper echelons of society undermining it.