Few may remember this, but Blow Out was originally promoted — before it was made or even had a title — with a writing contest De Palma held in conjunction with the now long defunct Canadian film magazine Take One. Judging by the final year of the magazine’s publication, it may well have been the last thing they did. It wasn’t long after the contest issue that I received a notice the magazine had folded — with an offer of magazines to choose from the fulfill my subscription. My memory may not be quite accurate — come on, this was 36 years ago — but the idea was that readers could submit a scene based on information given about the assassination scene. (Yes, I tried my hand at it, but never finished it, which was perhaps just as well.) No winner was announced as far as I know. Certainly no one’s name other than De Palma’s appears on the screen, and the film that made — apart from Antonioni aspect — seems like pure De Palma. In fact, it plays like a less playful — a lot less playful — dry-run for Body Double (1984).
For what is such a relatively serious film — well, seriously for a De Palma picture — the story is a singularly bizarre mix of exploitation filmmaking, a hooker, her pimp, a beloved politician with dubious morals, a political machine in cahoots with a serial killer involved in an assassination cover-up, and some serious lampooning of empty patriotic posturing. Somehow or other it almost makes sense — or at least it moves in such a way that it doesn’t matter. Travolta gives one of his better performances as the hapless sound engineer — with a troubled past — who finds himself mired in this situation while out recording wind noises for the crummy horror movie he’s working on. Nancy Allen (in her third and final hooker role for her husband — no comment) is fine as the loose lady in distress, but by this time it was a role she could play in her sleep. The movie is filled with the usual delightful bag of DePalma tricks, but the tone is finally uncharacteristically grim. It’s not so much the actual ending of the drama that sticks with you as such a downer, but the final scene where Travolta finally gets the perfect embellisment for the lousy slasher movie he’s been working on throughout the film. Whether not it’s one of the filmmaker’s best films is debatable, but it’s certainly one of his most memorable.