I’ve been curious about Blow Out (1981) for a while now upon learning that is was Brian De Palma response and remake of Michelangelo Antonioni‘s seminal film Blow Up (1966) which I reviewed a few years ago, finding it quite profound and left me contemplating how we deconstruct images that we capture on a daily basis, what lies under the surface of them. If we delve further are we prepared for what we find once we explore. Do we want to see and accept the hidden truth. Questions I hope to revisit and maybe find some answers in my join revisit review.
Moving forward 15 years to De Palma’s remake, a really clever reworking even on the surface level, a film in its own right away from the more obvious connections in terms of title and the protagonists discovery, audio or photo-chemical, it plunges them into a world they never wish they intended to enter. Jack (John Travolta) a sound-recordist for low-budget Hitchcockesque slasher knock-offs is working on his latest collaboration with Sam (Peter Boyden) whose advised that the scream of his shower victim is pathetic to say the least, leaving his film without the impact that he wants or really needs to sell the shower murder which opened up the film. Leading to Jack going out on a late-night sound recording session for the long list he’s been given.
The recording scene has strong links to The Conversation (1974) which saw reclusive anorak Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) on an intensely observed and documented recording of a couples seemingly innocent conversation. Carefully positioned kit from high above and around the square, picks up all the said conversation. Jack again is on a job, more isolated on a bridge with his exposed recording equipment, no need to hide as he points to what he wants to capture on tape. He’s a pro and takes a joy in the process, even getting a thrill out of catching a lovers conversation, carrying on even when they know he’s there. An audio peeping tom you could say, capturing what he wants for his own pleasure. It’s here we see the even that the rest of the film hinges on, a car-crash that carried presidential candidate Governor McRyan (John Hoffmeister) plunges to his death. On the surface it’s a straight-forward incident, until Jack jumps in to save them, finding a woman Sally (Nancy Allen) fighting to stay above the rising water level.
It all starts to get murky when we get the hospital, not yet knowing the identity and position of those involved in the car that careened off the road into the river. There’s a sense of urgency as a cover-ups suggested, for the Governor to be known to be in a car with a woman, a prostitute that could have jeopardized his political chances. The plot literally thickens with Sally being involved, her part is hushed up, and hopefully Jacks too. The role of the women is questionably changed from Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) wanting the film from snooping photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) who very easily fobs her off with a blank roll. Sally is more submissive, more agreeable to be told to get out of town for a while, let the situation blow over. Jack unlike David is more proactive, wanting to understand what’s going on.
Technology plays a bigger role in the remake, sound being the main evidence to explore, Not only has he got to be sure of what he’s hearing, he has to prove that to the Police who want to close the case as an accident. I was fascinated how he synchronised photographs that were taken (by peeping tom Manny Karp (Dennis Franz)) which brings the evidence to life. There’s more immediacy to not just prove his theory right but also act on it, inform the police, or even the press who will make even more noise. The sense of urgency is palpable here, where as Blow Up is more secretive, more investigative, wanting to know for sure himself before doing anything, or nothing, instead changing his perception.
Jack’s perception of the worlds more open, aware of the corruption in the world thanks to his past job working with undercover police to fight corruption. This discovery has to be acted on, hoping if he does it right he can redeem himself and save himself from more guilt. I’ve not even mentioned Burke (John Lithgow) a rogue element whose acts on his own for the corrupt opposition, creating his own trail of bloody murder to cover his tracks. An extra element that was only suggested in the original that creates real tension, an unknown element to Jack for the majority of the film.
Blow Out is a near perfect thriller that goes a bit too far at times, the 360 degree camera moves really should have been more restrained at times, becoming too literal, yes we get it, everything is out his his control. I found the addition of Burke’s murders of women who looked like Sally being killed, manipulating the audience to the point of pushing us over the edge, always seeing the victims from the back before he goes ahead. Now I look forward to revisiting the original, how will my memories hold up and else will I discover. It was a sparse and shocking film even then, next time I’ll be looking at the relationship between the two.
It’s been over two months since I sat down for Blow Out, before returning for the original Blow Up (1966) inspiring De Palma to remake it, which on reflection is a fitting tribute and really has built on this almost silent thriller. I remember being fired up by the film, going off the recommendation at Art school to seek this one out. I was very pleased with the end result. I had forgotten the begging as our photographer Thomas exits a factory at the end of what appears to be the working day. However his is just getting started. We’re given the wrong impression about him, he’s not just another worker, the Rolls Royce is a clear indicator that he’s a successful man who is able to support himself. Yet is self-conscious enough to hide his car, from the workers or just the his in. Back at his studio he becomes what could be Weinstien-esque artist, working with his latest model, wanting to get the best out of her, showing little respect for the woman herself. As the poster misleads me this time, she’s the model he’s enjoying through his camera, reaching an almost sexual climax.
He treats his models much like he does his staff, with little respect, they are just glad to be there, and little attention is given to them in the film. Just supporting him in the studio and his whims, allowing him to live the life of luxury and creative freedom. Coming and going as he pleases, during his next shoot he asks his 5 models to close their eyes, whilst he leaves the studio to chat with his painter friend Bill (John Castle) whose enjoying his own creativity and the attention of his lover/muse Patricia (Sarah Miles). They are all enjoying the bubble that is the swinging sixties. Creatively it looks amazing to been a part of that moment that’s depicted here as something that then takes a horrible turn to the darkness of reality.
On his comings and goings, after buying a wooden propeller he ventures to the local park, just see whats there, getting carried away he becomes a member of the paparazzi, or a peeping tom documenting what looks like an affair between an older man (Ronan O’Casey) who we always see from a distance. The first of a number of scenes films dialogue free, only the wind interrupts this intimate intrusion into the private lives of these lovers. The minimalism of the scene allows us to really get lost in what is happening in this section of the park, we are now as bad as Thomas who happily captures this private moment. We are complicit in this voyeuristic act and we’ll have to pay for that later on. Until Thomas’s spotted, causing Jane (Redgrave) to chase after him, rightfully wanting the film that has caught them in the act of something quite private.
On his return to the studio, we are as surprised he is to found Jane’s found him, out of nowhere, everything is a surprise in this film. Antonio has layered with characters throughout his film that keep appearing out of nowhere, unexpected visitors that come in and out of the photographers day slowing him down, or should I say wearing him down the images in the park begin to unveil a dark secret that he wished he never discovered. The mime artist who he meets on the road, happily given them money, creatives support or sponsorship, it’s very vague. Two young girls who will do anything to model for him reappear, whose innocence’s taken advantage off. Jane’s time however is most compelling, Redgrave’s treated with more respect, yes she undresses, in hopes of securing the roll of film. Yet we never see her breasts, I thought I had from memory, however she’s photographed more respectfully than the other actresses who’re treated like models. She indulges as best she can, clearly out of her depth with the photographer whose not about to give up on his latest roll.
Now the fun really begins, I say fun, the darkness of his latest photographs make themselves known to him. Again we go near silence as he develops and investigates the work, getting deeper, more curious to what is going on in the images. What at first could be a couple uncomfortable at a peeping tom becomes more sinister. He can’t give up, instead he continues to investigate, blowing up sections of the stills to understand the hidden landscape that he was capturing. It’s haunting to see the reveal in near silence, as he learns we learn to. A discovery that can no longer be hidden away, they can’t become part of a body of work, as they document a crime, the photographer an unwitting witness to something he wasn’t expecting.
Where Thomas is alone in his world, Jack is more vocal in Blow Out, the film allows more time to investigate and reach out to others. The original is built upon, allow is to move away from the initial shock of the discovery to look at the wider consequences, how they can affect others. We don’t really know what happens to Jane after she leaves, does she know her lovers dead or is she just relieved to know that her little secret won’t get out. Instead see just the beginning and the effect is has on someone who really shouldn’t have been there.
The end of the film has left me feeling pretty much the same, the mime artists playing tennis, lost in their own world, their craft. Thomas looks on wondering how he now fits into this world that he believed was part of. It’s just increased, revealing a far darker side, one that he has hoped to escape. Even the middle class trappings of his own have hidden him from life. The world of sex, drugs and rock and roll (courtesy of The Yardirds) he has to reassess his position, his perspective. Does all his work hide something lurking under the surface, He captures what he sees through the lens, ignoring the world around him. Unlike Jack who was more aware of the world around him, but chose to escsape it for the world of low-budget films, creating his own reality. Having seen both films, I can clearly see how De Palma has built on a minimalist film about the truth of our reality, how an artist who can be lost in the world of their work can be brought back to reality through the work they make.
I must confess that I first attempted to watch Mad City (1997) a few years ago, gave it a few minutes and gave up on what I thought was a cheap and stupid hostage film. Then a few months ago I shared Ace in the Hole (1951), which gained a response on Twitter. As I’ve been revisiting films I thought it should only fair to check this film out again when it made itself available to me. I couldn’t see the connection myself between the cynical Billy Wilder classic which I now can see is see is the first of its type of films about driven journalists to get their big story and of course claim all the glory for it too.
And so begins another compare and contrast review between the two films that are almost 50 years apart. The basic ideas of both films are the centre of them. We have a gap in-between with Network (1976) that shows how far the media will go for a story, brought bang up-to-date with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which really show the extremes to which a New channel will go to for ratings.
However it’s not about ratings or readership for either Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) or for Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) who we find at the bottom of the barrel, an unknown little paper and a small local TV station who are in 9th place. It’s a more personal dilemma for these two who have reached personal rock-bottoms after a number events that have lead them almost give up on journalism altogether. It’s only by chance that they hit upon a story that gains more attention then they’ve had before, and not for wanting it. What makes them both stand apart is the men who play them. admittedly I think Douglas has this role nailed, the drive and determination come to the actor far easier than the more sensitive Hoffman who is by far the more versatile actor, so equal for different if that makes any sense.
If I leave Wilder’s original to focus on the latter which has more of an impact even nearly 20 years later if this film was to be made again it would be more like Nightcrawler (2014) , instead of waiting for the story to break you break into the story, capture and sell. Brackett is just a very lucky man in a bad situation, after recording a piece of “fluff” or public interest he unwittingly walks into a hostage situation led by recently fired Sam Baily (John Travolta) who wants to get his job back at the museum which is facing closure. So everyone’s going through bad times at the moments, the journalist stuck in a dead-end station, an unemployed security guard and a curator Blythe Danner is trying to keep her museum open. The next three days are the last thing she wants.
I think what makes this film that much darker than the cynical original is the effect that the journalist has on the public and other journalists who’re drawn to this story, well it’s not a story it’s a crime scene or situation that has developed and been moulded into a new-story that for the length of the film just keeps on giving. Brackett knows all the tricks in the book to ensure that everyone outside, even the police ensure he can carry on inside and out. He manipulates the seemingly innocent (to the attention) Sam who want his job back, he has no real plan, even though he carries a blunderbusses and a bag of dynamite. Caught in all of this are a class of children and a fatal mis-shooting that only makes the hostage situation worse. You could say Mad City is a combination of Ace in the Hole and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which really does go all wrong too fast, played more for laughs than the drama that fuels the black comedy bank robbery.
Going back to Ace in the Hole again the attention that’s generated is only limited by the culture, and the technology. People come from all over the country to hear about the guy trapped in the abandoned hole. The advancement of technology has only blown a small town hostage into something far, far bigger than Tatum could imagine but would still have eaten it all up. Of course in both films all of this build up comes with its own consequences, as much as they believe they have been helping to build and maintain all comes crashing down before them. With the promise of a successful future they both grow a conscience, a shred of morality which they have been lacking, the public caught up in all of this hysteria are blameless in all of this.
Mad City is a clearly an update of Ace in the Hole which is much forgotten like this lesser known film with two strong actors. Why is that though? I think because the media moves so fast that the clunky kit that we see has been long lost. Journalists still run around like vultures for the next hot story, the public caught up in it can’t help but sell their story of the money is right. City is one of the lesser known films that you can still watch and not think what were those actors thinking?
I have decided that during the Ben Wheatley season of films that I am watching, to be aware of very little of their plots before viewing. When turning to Kill List (2011) the formula is working well for me. Having seen a trailer and little else, my expectations were mixed and dark, which is perfect for this thriller that sees two contract killers being called up to take on a new list of victims
The director himself talks of the film being broken up into three smaller films, which maybe so, or just the structure of the film as it unfolds. Either way the action becomes darker and darker. We first meet family man and ex soldier Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) who are constantly at each others throats. The money from the last contract is starting to dry up and the thought of another is hard to swallow. When his old friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his partner Fiona (Emma Fryer) arrive for dinner tensions start to rise. We constantly see period of calm talk before outburst of bloody violence that escalates throughout. Much like that of the standard Tarantino film, yet there is more at stake in this world of Wheatley’s.
Another contract is on the cards for both Neil and Gal who go off to meet their boss for orders. Its all slick and professional at times. The first signs of something else are soon on the surface, becoming ritualistic, there’s more to these killings than meet the eye. The first kill is methodical, thought out and carried out with a professional distance. It’s just a job, that happens to take in the killing of others for money. Neil’s starts to unwind mentally when they get to the second victim, whilst his wife and partner in crime sees this, unable to stop the madness consume him.
Its the last kill that is the most fascinating and ritualistic, that of an M.P. out in the country, moving into The Wicker Man (1973) territory, nicely blended with that of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction (1994) as they close in on what becomes the most brutal of all the killings. As what came before seems to be a test as the violence increases, emotions and characters tested. Nothing is left to chance as a cult group bring the two men to their knees.
As the director mentioned before, he wanted to stay fresh and try something new in his work. There is a clear desire to see violence at the films, it’s the mind-play that is at the forefront of it all. I keep thinking back to Sightseers which feels much more casual in how it goes about the plot, they just happen. Whilst here there is more thought behind the killings, the psychological effects on the killer, and the world they are taken into.
- John’s Horror Corner: Kill List (moviesfilmsandflix.com)
- Kill List (thenewfleshfilm.wordpress.com)
- Ben Wheatley dares to be different with the release of A Field in England (metro.co.uk)
- A Field in England Review (whatnotfilms.wordpress.com)
- Review: A Field in England is a creepy masterpiece (thedailyshift.com)
- Kill List – Spotlight on Ben Wheatley (1) (raspberrymedia.wordpress.com)
- Ben Wheatley- Director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers (rebelliousfilm.wordpress.com)
- 31 Days of Horror: Day 11- Kill List (2011) (thepeoplesmovies.com)