“Blow Out” from Brian De Palma, released in 1981. In this film we see Jack, played by John Travolta, the sound guy for B – grade movies, get caught in web of conspiracies, deceit, and death, all due to a simple sound recording he captured while he was in the right place at the wrong time. Sally, played by Nancy Allen (and married to Brian De Palma at the time), is the young mistress and eye witness to the crime that helps Jack who is trying to deliver the truth. A clever selection for the class film because it not only provides us a film to analyze sound, but it gives us a glimpse of how sound is created, recorded, and presented in the movies.
At about 40 minutes in the movie, we see Jack and Sally in the railway station bar getting to know each other a little. At this moment, Jack begins to tell Sally the story of his involvement with the police department. This analysis starts with Jack and Sally sitting in a booth in the bar having a conversation over drinks and smokes. There is music playing in the background, supposedly coming from the bar jukebox. Sally askes Jack “What did you do?” The music in the background is diegetic, since it is part of the world of the railway station bar. We also hear the murmuring of the bar crowd in the background giving us the feel of a busy place, but Jack and Sally don’t see or hear the crowd. They are deeply engaged in their conversation. Jack begins to tell his story of his police force involvement.
At 40:34, the scene cuts to a flashback of Jack explaining what “a wire” is to Sally. The music instantly changes and is now non-diegetic as it is not part of the world of the scene. Jack transitions from a foreground character in the bar to the narrator of the flashback. Jack’s dialog becomes non-diegetic. We know that this is a piece of Jack’s history that he is relaying based on the use of narration. We hear little details from the scene, like the sound of the tape being applied to the chest of Freddie Corso. We hear Jack’s fingers slide down the cable as he dresses it in place and prepares Freddie and the wire. The scene cuts to the outdoor night scene with Freddie’s voice counting to 10 as the bridge to this cut. The music changes again to a curious melody and we hear the car with Freddie and his mob connection drive up. Jack’s narration of the flashback continues. We see Jack in the surveillance car and we hear what Jack hears via the wire. We know that because the fidelity of the spoken word shifts to that of a low fidelity radio broadcast. We also continue to hear the faint background noise of the night time traffic in the area.
At 41:36, we cut to the next scene where Jack’s car is now moving and Jack’s narration continues. We hear the purring of the car’s motor in the background, reinforcing that the car is in motion. We hear the conversation within the car with Mr. Corso and we see the POV of Jack from his car. Again, the low fidelity of the conversation reinforces that we are hearing what Jack is hearing. The scene cuts to inside the vehicle where Corso and the mob boss are talking. The fidelity of the speaking sound improves so now we, the viewers, are in the car eavesdropping on the conversation. The scene cuts back and forth between Jacks car and the car with Corso and the sound fidelity of the conversation shifts between low and high with each cut reinforcing what we are seeing in the scene.
At 42:11, we are back in the car with Jack and his non-diegetic narration continues. We begin to hear static from the wire feed and ominous background music re-enters the scene helping to build the suspense. The static continues…
At 42:11, we are back in the car with Jack and his non-diegetic narration continues. We begin to hear static from the wire feed and ominous background music re-enters the scene helping to build the suspense. The static continues as Jack fumbles with the cables to try to fix the issue with no luck. We return to the interior of the car with Corso as the conversation continues with Jack’s narration continuing to build the story to Sally. Corso finally says to “pullover to the gas station. I got to take a piss.” The ominous music builds and that is all we hear as we watch the car pull over and Corso rushes out to an old building to take care of the wire that is shorting out on his body. We hear Corso struggling with the wire apparatus to try to strip it from his body. Now suspicious, the mobster follows Corso into the building and we hear the mobster’s steps. Jack becomes alarmed now that his plan has unraveled and moves to try to save Corso. Jack and his car mate have a brief argument as we see the mobster rush out of the building to his awaiting car and we hear the engine start. The mobster’s car speeds away because we hear the tires squeal as the car departs the scene. Jack rushes into the building but all we hear is the building background music. The music reaches a crescendo as Jack throws open the bathroom door only to find Corso hanging with Jack’s wire around his neck. Corso is dead. He is dead due to Jack’s equipment that failed. We hear the creaks of the wire as Corso swings with his feet off the ground. The music’s volume lowers a little and the tone and pace changes to match Jack’s newly realized despair. The melancholy music continues as a bridge as we cut back to the present time with Jack finalizing his story to Sally in the bar.
This is a perfect example for the sound of a movie. There are a lot of details and technical terms as well. I really enjoyed to see all those details and discover word of the sound. I tried to pull apart every detail about sound in this movie. I hope you enjoy it.