Patron Request: ‘Blow Out’

I first watched Blow Out only a day or two after Elliot Rodger murdered 6 people and injured 14 more in the name of misogynist aggrievement. His manifesto and YouTube channel contained lengthy screeds against, among other things, women as a whole. He blamed women for his loneliness and isolation, citing his inability to enter or maintain romantic relationships. His ideas about gender, sexuality, and society were consistent with what, in 2019, we define as “incel” ideology. Straight, mostly white, young men whose alienation and depression are deliberately aggravated by internet cults and personalities.

Watching Blow Out with these killings swirling around in my mind, I couldn’t help but take away mainly a sense of disappointment in the film’s treatment of women. I was frustrated by what I felt was an unnecessary turn towards sex crime villainy in a film that introduces itself as a political conspiracy thriller. I was especially upset by the fate of Nancy Allen’s character in this context. Why, I wondered, did Blow Out have to be about a killer of women? To what end, beyond typically De Palma-esque salaciousness?

I expected to have a much different reaction to the film now, five years later. Beyond just having distance from that particular event, I’ve grown a lot since then in terms of my understanding of myself and my relationship with “problematic” media. I thought I’d be able to appreciate De Palma’s formal strengths more. I wish that was the case, but Blow Out still doesn’t really do it for me.

To be clear, I’m not as distraught by the film’s violence anymore. I think the notion of a government agent callously becoming a serial killer of women in order to cover up a single political assassination is intriguing in concept. De Palma clearly has a distaste for politics and politicians, and the John Lithgow character embodies it. The ease with which he plots to commit a series of rapes and murders merely to disguise the removal of a key witness in a previous killing is chilling. It speaks to the filmmaker’s obvious hatred for political institutions, a necessary trait in anyone making a conspiracy thriller.

Still, I found myself less than interested in De Palma’s style. While I certainly respect his idiosyncrasies and specific flourishes, he just doesn’t really excite me personally as a film artist. That’s not to say that I think he’s untalented, or even that Blow Out is a poorly directed movie. I just don’t really vibe with what he’s doing with, for instance, lens use or editing. As I’ve gotten older, I think my tastes have narrowed down past my ability to fully appreciate De Palma. Maybe that’s me being unfair. It’s just the way I look at him. I want to see in De Palma what so many other people do. Maybe someday I’ll see a film of his and he’ll finally click with me. Blow Out is still not that film.

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