What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate – Episode 9: “Blow Out”

  • Today’s Movie: Blow Out
  • Year of Release: 1981
  • Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
  • Director: Brian De Palma

This movie is not on my list of essential films.

NOTE: This installment of Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate is being done as part of something called The Hitchcockian Blog-A-Thon. This is an event which explores the best movies Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make.  That’s what “Hitchcockian” means; movies reminiscent of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, but not made by him. This event is being hosted by by Blog of the Darned.

To be honest, I might be pushing the envelope a wee bit when I say people “love” this film.  But the work of Alfred Hitchcock was so popular that there are those who will take even the most meager crumbs of imitation.  After all, there’s a reason this blog-a-thon exists.

You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:

Now that you know the premise in play here, let’s discover why I would rather get the “Dr. Jelly-Finger” exam from Andre the Giant than sit through this movie again.

“Guess where these two fingers are going, buddy?!”

1) Roger Ebert loved this movie

Certain days stick in your head; 9/11, the day Challenger exploded, and the time I agreed with either Siskel or Ebert. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those times. Without further adieu…

There are times when “Blow Out” resembles recent American history trapped in the “Twilight Zone.” Episodes are hauntingly familiar, and yet seem slightly askew. What if the “grassy knoll” recordings from the police radio in Dallas had been crossed with Chappaquiddick and linked to Watergate? What if Jack Ruby had been a private eye specializing in divorce cases? What if Abraham Zapruder—the man who took the home movies of President John F. Kennedy’s death—had been a sound-effects man? And what if Judith Exner—remember her?—had been working with Ruby? These are some of the inspirations out of which Brian De Palma constructs “Blow Out,” a movie which continues his practice of making cross-references to other movies, other directors, and actual historical events, and which nevertheless is his best and most original work.

“Cross-referencing” might be the most polite euphemism for theft “since” hip-hop coined “sampling.” Let’s just break that down a bit…

2) There should be a limit as to how much one movie can steal

The movie that convinced me director Brian De Palma wanted to be Alfred Hitchcock was “Dressed to Kill.” I mean, if you don’t start getting heavy whiffs of the “Hitch” from the the “shower scene” alone, you need to back to the junior college where you took “ENG 102: Film As Literature” and demand your money back. Not to mention, all you have to do is look at the movie posters where De Palma starts tagging himself as the “Master of the Macabre.”

But when it comes to cribbing the style of others, “Blow Out” takes things to a whole new level. Not only is this another example of De Palma ripping off Hitchcock, but he gets really blatant about it since this movie was made a year after the “Master of Suspense” died. Don’t believe me? Here’s the checklist for “Blow Out:”

  • Yet another shower scene, albeit this one a bit more farcical than that of “Blow Out” or “Psycho.”
  • Nobody loved a melange of espionage in front of backdrop of patriotic images more than Hitchcock; think “Saboteur” or “North by Northwest.” Would a chase through the street of Philadelphia on the anniversary of the ringing of the Liberty Bell cover that for you? “Blow Out” has you covered.
  • A desperate chase scene through crowds à la “Strangers on a Train” or “Foreign Correspondent.
  • The usual heavy dose of assorted public violence grisly murders in unexpected surroundings.

Even the title of this movie is mostly ripped-off. I refer you to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 thriller “Blow-Up.” In Antonioni’s picture, a photographer saw (or thought he saw) a murder.  He drives himself crazy obsessively analyzing his photographs deepening the never-ending spiral of his own self-doubt.

Exchange the photographer for an electronic surveillance expert played by Gene Hackman, and you get Francis Ford Coppola’s homage to Hitchcock “The Conversation.” Remove the talent of Hitchcock, Coppola, and Hackman…and you get “Blow Out. ”

Because that’s the difference between “homage” and “theft”…talent.

3) More stealing…

I’ve already beaten the “theft” horse pretty hard,, so this will be short and sweet.  Another Hitchcock technique that De Palma attempts to lift in “Blow Out” is the manipulation of sound.  Normally, it would have worked in terms of creating a sense of isolation and paranoia ergo “The Birds.” The approach even makes sense as John Travolta’s character is a sound effects member of a film crew.  The problem is since this movie cribs from so many others, the level of suspense barely registers because after about seven minutes, I know I’ve already seen this film.

4) Did Nancy Allen ever make a movie in which she wasn’t banging the director?

I’m sure she must have, but I don’t know of one.  Well, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t screwing Spielberg when she was cast in “1941,” but there’s a reason she shows up in every De Palma movie made while they were married. Don’t get me wrong, as a red-blooded hetero male, I understand her appeal completely, but her acting ability is somewhere between a kid trying to lie for the first time and a petrified tree stump.

5) Thank you, Quentin Tarantino.

Say what you will about Blow-Out, but this marks the beginning of the of the period when John Travolta’s career might as well have been on a milk carton.  Forget about the movie itself; even those who like “Blow Out” will admit that Travolta delivers a less-than-engaging performance.  The fact is by the time Tarantino rescued him with 1994’s “Pulp Fiction,” Travolta was down to showing up in those awful baby-voicing “Look Who’s Talking” flicks.  Let’s be honest; those were barely a step above doing those 3 A.M. info-mercials for “Juice Looseners.”


6) John “James Dean” Travolta

I’ll be completely honest…this is total “filler;” the bread crumbs in the meat-loaf. This has nothing to do with “Blow Out,” other than the fact that film started the decade-and-a-half “black hole” in the midst of Travolta’s career. But this may be my last chance.

I’ve always had a theory about John Travolta.  If Tarantino hadn’t resurrected his career, the biggest problem Travolta had was he lived too long. Think about it.  If John Travolta had died right after he made “Urban Cowboy,” he very easily could have been the “James Dean” of my generation. It works like this.  The legend of James Dean is all about three movies, and a lot of folklore. It could have worked the same way for Travolta.

In 1980, Travolta not only would have had three hugely popular films under his belt, but one of them was generationally great, one was fair-to-middlin’, and one was downright shitty. Dean’s great movie was “Rebel Without A Cause;” Travolta’s was “Saturday Night Fever.”

Granted, Travolta’s movie didn’t survive the test of time very well; it really doesn’t make sense to anybody who wasn’t alive during that time.  The fair-to-middlin’ movie for Dean is “East of Eden;” for Travolta it’s “Grease”…although personally I hate that one as well. Even the most ardent apologists for both will tell you both Dean’s “Giant” and Travolta’s “Urban Cowboy” are both steaming piles.

The fact that both of those were respectively their last movies was the genesis.  Knowing they were both capable of so much better led to the folklore in Dean’s case…a classic example of “always leave them wanting more.” For Travolta, it meant 15 years wandering the back-waters of Hollywood until Quentin Tarantino threw him a live preserver.

Too bad Travolta whacked his own resurrection by making “Gotti.”

7) The type-casting of Dennis Franz

recurring feature in this series is noting a phenomenon I call “reverse typecasting.” This happens when when you see an actor who played a role in something which became part of this country’s cultural fabric, and even when you see them in something made before their face became associated with an iconic character, that’s all you can see.  Fair or not, my first exposure to Dennis Franz was the 1980s cop drama “Hill Street Blues.”  He actually played a two characters; one a corrupt cop named Benedetto who ends up killing himself. Later, he was a quasi-corrupt cop named “Buntz” who didn’t kill himself.

Most people know him as “Sipowicz” from “NYPD Blue” where he also played a cop.  What does he play in this movie? You guessed it…he’s a cop. Technically, he’s a private detective, but he’s still a bit of a sleazebag. Franz shows up in a bunch of De Palma movies; hell, there might even be one in which he doesn’t play a cop. I would have to watch more of them to know that, and with my luck, I would find out it’s the one in which Nancy Allen isn’t screwing the director.

You can see all the movies I hate here.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

2 comments on “Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate – Episode 9: “Blow Out”

  1. Chris Sturhann
    August 16, 2020

    That is the funniest post I’ve read in a long time. Gotta say I never thought too much about Blow-Out, one way or the other. I know I saw it on home video in the 80s and kinda liked it, but not enough to want to watch it again. I’ve watched it two or three times since, and with each successive viewing I move from I kinda like it to I kinda want to like it but I don’t. I think your post pushed me the rest of the way. By the way, I’ve often thought about what we would think of James Dean now, had he not died. If he had been doomed to career of 1980s Travolta-ism, it’s probably just as well that he wrapped his Porsche around that Ford sedan. Great post and thanks a lot for joining in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J-Dub
      August 16, 2020

      Thanks for letting me participate and for the kind words!


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This entry was posted on August 16, 2020 by in Humor, Movies, Sports and tagged , , .

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