Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Driving through City Hall in Blow Out

As the post title states, I will watch anything shot in Philadelphia. To my surprise, I had no idea that Brian DePalma's Blow Out was made in the 'Devil Town.'

Being OK with the filmmaker's works-Redacted, Carrie, Greetings, Sisters, Hi, Mom! and Scarface-DePalma (well not in Redacted) evokes Hitchcock with less of an auteurial stamp. Sure, the guy has his signature split screen shots, long takes (generally utilizing cranes), etc., but his films more times than not are style over substance. Themes of religion and capitalism sometimes connect throughout his films, but he seems more concerned with just making a decent film (or fun film in the case of his more campy works like The Fury or Dressed to Kill) than making high art. Now, many say that has its place, but should he be patted on the back for that? I think not.

Why? He has just as many flops as viewable films: Dressed To Kill, Body Double, The Fury, The UntouchablesThe Bonfire of The Vanities, Raising Cain, and Mission To Mars. This shows that he lacks what it takes to be an Auteur or a filmmaker who demands a certain amount of quality in his or her own films.

And this is where I think it is key to understand that Pauline Kael (former critic for The New Yorker) was one of the chief proponents of DePalma's cinema (found this out in the Criterion DVD supplemental book). A connection that links him to the adulation thrown at him by Quentin Tarantino, who was connected to Kael's complacency. Tarantino, a very talented filmmaker-a definite Auteur-must have subconsciously connected with Kael's assault on Auteur theory that allowed her to like films that lacked the rigor of cinephilic Auteurism. Tarantino, a lover of most cinema, good and bad, found affinity I'm sure in Kael's sometimes nonsensical choices of what was good film. Other critics at the time, influenced by 1960's intellectualism-Marxism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis-couldn't jump on to Hollywood cinema as easy as Kael who lacked the intellectualism. Being that she was fully opposed to Auteur theory due to some theorists and critics deeming certain filmmakers poor works as great simply because they liked the filmmaker so much (her main issue was with people loving Ingmar Bergman no matter what he did), she criticized this blind adherence of many auteur theorists. This is an understandable criticism, but instead of re-assessing Auteur theory, in an infantile fashion, she denounced all of it.

The height of Kael's assault was her war against Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, a battle that awarded her press coverage during the late 70's and early 80's when the economic decline of the post-WWII Keynesian war economy lead to a rollercoaster ride of recessions. Film, being a immensely capitalistic art, was targeted along with the billionaires for allowing "Auteurs" to go wild with their budgets, simply to see their "vision made," when some of those millions could have gone to people starving. Yet, it was a poor approach by Kael,  fueled by her desire for personal fame. She never proposed, say, an economic program of how the millions spent on films that she attacked like Heaven's Gate or Apocalypse Now could get to the starving people. No, she just had to get her opinion out there, helping lead to the decline of viable film criticism in America.

Saying this, Cimino isn't an amazing director. His best work, the so-so The Deer Hunter, a film that owes more to Vilmos Zsigmond-who was also cinematographer on Blow Out-and the actors rather than to the director, is a slow moving film that is generally hollowly contrasted with moments of greatness.

Blow Out is like The Deer Hunter in this regard, as it looks great consistently throughout-not all DePalma's films do, so Zsigmond's stamp then can be seen. One of DePalama's best also because the story is basic and the film is solely based on tension, obviously hearkening back to films like Conversation and Blow Up, which are much deeper and layered films. This film is wrought with tension and has some cool long takes. The best LT is found here (at 4:26) and shows that a simple scene on paper, Travolta's character learning all his audio has been wiped, can be made more effective by some creative formalist techniques. Then there is this LT (at 0:44) which shows what one can do with a large budget. I was amused by the non-motivational lighting throughout and especially in the final scene (see image below), where blue and red lights, which are supposed to be from the fireworks in the scene, flashed during a murder scene. This added to the tension, with an interesting cinematic device that only had a causal connection to "the world" around it. Modern filmmakers can take something from this, as it is lacking in most films and film-schools, where you are taught how to make things "look like movies," "professional," and/or "look real."

Overall, the film has technique, but lacks everything else. It works because the story is simple and to the point. I felt about this film what I felt about Tree of Life: to me this is what all Hollywood films should be. Well done, but not that challenging, just get the job done. Then there should be filmmakers who can do what DePalma does or what Tree of Life did, but go above and beyond that. In the era that was New Hollywood, which DePalma was apart of, I tend to favor Francis Ford Coppolla. He can do what DePalma does, but his films are so layered, so concise and poignant, you get the story line, the technical craftsmanship/high aesthetics, but you also get a immensely layered film that allows for hundreds of viewings. Modern film lacks this as a result of several factors, some due to the mainstream assault lead by Kael against Auteur theory, others on the account of the full take over of Hollywood by corporations in the 70's and 80's-whose logic became immensely financial in the 80's. Those who lead the corporations saw themselves as the smartest guys in the room (in the 1980's these tended to be ex-Wall Street players, ex-CEO's of corporations) and felt the directors should give up their "vision" for the producers genius input. This is now, after 30 years of corporate rule, a steel boot with its consolidated power forces everyone below to tighten their belts/relegate their power even more now "due to piracy." Goodbye cinephila, hello corporate-capitalist Big Brother a la big event Blockbuster cinema or what a producer in Hollywood-during my time in the nightmare city-called "producer films."

Putting all the analysis that really calls for something like Shooting Wall aside, if you live in Philadelphia, it's fun to watch Blow Out to see Philly back in the day. If you like Hitchcock and have already seen his films, skip Argento and check out Blow Out or preferably films like The Butcher and Les Biches by Claude Chabrol. Otherwise, there are better films that you could check out before Blow Out. Or check out our 2nd zine pg. 13, most of the best films of last year barely got distribution in the US. See them, using whatever means required, instead.


  1. Fyi, you forgot to mention De Palma's 2006 commercial flop "The Black Dahlia"...unfortunately that's two hours of my life I'm never going to get back. :(

    In regards to the cultural hegemonic stranglehold imposed by corporate rule, Big Brother and his Hollywood cronies take pleasure in squeezing out "producer films" (ugh) like "Crazy Stupid Love" for the ignorant to lap up. It temporarily placates their misery as the studios eagerly pocket the profits. But in terms of cinematic value, it has no intellectual merit whatsoever. Cronenberg's "The Fly" has more social significance than frivolous romcom bullshit. I mean, come on, if you ACTUALLY find films like that interesting you've got to be fucking brain dead. Period.

    And btw, the majority of American film critics nowadays are mere tools promoting the status quo.

  2. I've never seen this movie, but that first long take it amazing. The perspective is completely fucked, the camera is just mechanical or something. Thanks, I'll def check this out.