When we go to the movies we usually go for reasons such as seeing movie stars on the big screen, or for some cool and memorable action sequences, or maybe to just have a good time with friends who decide to tag along; with Blow Out, our ears are put to the test instead of our eyes in a very unique way. John Travolta shined in such films as Carrie, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever and for that he became a movie star in the late 1970s. Blow Out is often considered his first adult role and it’s sad to say that the film didn’t return a generous enough profit in the box office, but over the years has become a cult classic to some and a film worthy of close study and analysis.
John Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound effects man for cheesy slasher films that he himself describes as, “bad movies,” when asked what kind of movies he makes. The film opens in a very interesting way – someone lurking around what seems to be a college dormitory filled with kids partying, engaging in some adult behavior before entering the shower of a young girl raising a knife and hearing a god awful scream. The film then cuts to Jack who is watching the film that is being edited and laughs, “God, the scream is terrible.”
Jack spends most of his time in his studio splicing together sounds that are later put into film prior to them being released to the public. His director is frustrated because he can’t find the right girls for the nude scenes but as for the screams, no winner has yet to be produced. One night Jack is out recording sounds on a bridge over a river bank. We hear owls, people in conversation and the wind in the background. It seems almost soothing and relaxing until a car comes barreling down the road and crashes into the lake. Jack throws everything down and dives in to see if he can save anybody. Down in the water, Jack pulls out a pretty young woman who is the only survivor.
He takes her to the hospital and later learns that a man who was one the Governor was also in the vehicle. Terry talks to the cops and informs them that he thinks he heard a gunshot prior to the blow out of the tire. The cops, the detectives and everyone else just brush him off. While I won’t reveal what else happens throughout the film, one thing is certain. Our eyes are not the important part of viewing this film, we need our ears too. Jack spends a great deal of time listening to the sounds that he was recording that fateful night. We are confused and are wanting to know if the sound he thinks he heard is actually a gunshot.
Director Brian De Palma keeps our attention in the forefront by not relying on car chases or wild shootouts, it’s in this subtlety, of taking one scene and leading towards the other that makes Blow Out such a trimph. Nancy Allen and John Travolta are spot on as well as John Lithgow in a role that is worth mentioning but better for you to see for yourself. Many things happen throughout this film, but the one thing to keep strong note of is listening. Brian De Palma uses the same technique that Alfred Hitchcock was known for, “playing the audience like a piano.” The suspense is killer and by the time the film closes we are mesmerized and horrified.
Don’t let anything fool you, sure the film was a box office bomb mainly due to people talking about it’s ending, which should not be discussed until one views the film entirely. Blow Out is one suspense/thriller film that demands at least one viewing just for it’s clever concept, deft direction, fine work from the actors, and an ending that will stick with you for a good while. For chills, scares, and something that is unforgettable and quite fun to talk about, seek out a copy of Blow Out, I’m sure it will be one film that just could get under your skin, or stay in the memories of what you heard.