If you are not me as you are reading this page, then I say "How the hell did you get here?"

Nov 30, 2010

Burke and Terry in Blow Out


In the bottom of the frame grabs just above we see on the left the interior of the ladies room at 30th Street Station, and on the right the exterior location of the Liberty Day celebration at night.

These frames are a nice example of De Palma's artistry in the manipulation of a shape which reinforces the telling of the story.  

One aspect of the visual throughline in the production design of Blow Out are the colors red, white and blue and naturally the American flag. We see patriotic bunting in the hotel celebration with Gov. McRyan on the local news, and we see the flag in public and being offered as mementos for sale during the evening portion of the Liberty Day event. To my eye the design of the lines and shapes in the framing of the ladies room suggests a variation on a theme. This is an abstraction which blends into the scene but it also stands out as being an odd interpretation of the US flag.

When you see the film and observe the continuity of meaning, these two frame grabs are an instance of how De Palma can visually stimulate the viewer graphically with the immediacy of the story line as it occurs in real time, and simultaneously he is providing another building block for the viewer to reach an understanding of a character and allow the audience to experience a more satisfying emotional climax of the film.

The Burke murder of the hooker takes place in a public setting. This rendering of the American flag with a blood red upper left grid (which replaces the 50 stars on a blue square), and a wall of cold-looking closed aluminum doors with vertical lines being emphasized (as opposed to the horizontal alternating white and red stripes) are not just visual details of the location of a murder, it is also an indication of how Burke, in his delusional state, has confused his psychopathic murderous substitution of violence as sex with a paranoid vision of being a patriot. He performs his undercover tasks in the open and in the dead of night.
He is cloaked within his misguided sense of what is right. He believes he is serving to protect our flag and our country. Burke is a lethal, real-life embodiment of the goofy slasher who wears a satin red, white and blue jacket as seen in Co-Ed Frenzy, the film-within-a-film in the first reel of Blow Out.

The vertical lines in the ladies room scene, along with the framing used in the exterior of 30th street station scenes are links to Burke and his dominance, his active role as an obstruction to progress and healing, his ability to operate freely and impede others and control the flow of the film.


Jack Terry will become the true patriot that Burke pretends to be, and with Terry surging forward towards the audience with the American flag so boldly pulsing in the background, we see a triumph of the horizontal over the vertical in Terry's struggle with Burke.

In order for the viewer to feel the ultimate impact of the climax and final reel of Blow Out, De Palma has to create a chain of events that will prepare us for that moment. De Palma creates an initial link between the shower scene in Co-Ed Frenzy and Sally's scream and the verticality associated with Burke as the film moves forward from this shot of the mixing board in the first minutes of the film. These types of visuals are also an indication of the relationship between a beginning and an end, a story moving full circle, and a story line that will progress from stasis to a new location of a bottom to a new vista at a top; this is a movement through aspects of mood and structure presented dramatically, architecturally and emotionally. In order for that to occur for the viewer with the understanding of hindsight, which is a quality of introspection that is often not available to a main character like Jack Terry, the audience needs to "see" the film repeatedly or certainly more than once or twice.


updated 12 10 2010

Nov 27, 2010

I miss Stanley Kubrick


Nov 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving 2010!


There's been an uprising over at the children's table.

They've taken grandma hostage. No, I can't speak any louder. I can't speak any louder because they'll find me. My cell battery is getting low. LISTEN TO ME! Send the cops over soon. They started eating the coconut custard pie and the pumpkin pie and now there’s no more pie and the biggest mess that you could ever imagine. Everybody's kinda’ bummed out, at least the few who aren’t sleeping it off, because the dessert is all gone and we're so freakin’ full we couldn't get up to stop the little bastards.

They also grabbed the stereo and said that we were gonna’ listen to their requests or else. What a happy thanksgiving this has turned out to be..........


My wife Amanda kept shaking her head as she asked me again “What happened?”

I left the front door open; the train wreck was over but the aftermath of the crisis brought a nasal aftertaste that was pleasant. There was an aroma of burnt turkey with a spicy hint of charcoal and leaves in the air. If they could bottle a wine with that combination of grace notes and aroma, I can imagine that it might be called Estate Winery Reserve Fall Down Burgundy Emberzass. And that my friend would be truth in advertising.

My wife’s eyes were tired as her lids tried to restrain the wide open gaze that was awaiting an answer. I turned to take one last look at the cops talking on the sidewalk. “That cop on the left told the other cop that it all came down to Gladys."

When we moved into the neighborhood, we had been warned about Gladys - the snitch, the voyeur who is always on her “watch”. Her real name is Sharon Gladola and she got tagged with her nickname of Gladys because she is just like the nosy character on Bewitched.

“The parents were passed out and after eating dessert, the Farklewadd kids got into a sugar frenzy. One relative who wasn’t sleeping was scared and hiding under a tablecloth as he tried to call a friend for help. Before his cell battery died, he was able to make his next call to a security company, but the operator thought he was drunk and hung up. The kids began screaming and their restlessness exploded. There was an eruption of energy as they upended the card table in the den.  As they ran a jogging pattern repeatedly through the first floor like a NASCAR event, with each pass they upped the ante. First they grabbed the remote control for the stereo and started blasting rock music, and then one of them threw some lighter fluid into the lit fireplace, and then they ran upstairs to the second floor. Once they raised the windows, that’s when you began to smell the smoke and hear the music; it was so loud that everybody heard the music. The parents started to wake up and stagger out of the front door and they began motioning for the kids to get out of the house.”
I walked over to our living room windows to close the drapes and turn on a lamp.
“People were saying that they started making faces and doing dance moves in front of a vanity mirror and then they ran back to the windows and  they were sticking their tongues out and mouthing the words to Gladys “Hey baby – you’re next!” and then they started giving her the finger. And they weren’t just flipping her the bird, they were doing it in time to the music. That might have been when the music segued from the Ohio Players “Fire” into AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the sirens were ringing out. You really missed it, and I can understand why you were taking a nap. You must be exhausted after making all of that great chow! It was delicious.”
Mandy looked a little disappointed. I continued my play-by-play.
“Gladys called 911 and said she was having a heart attack and that they should send the cops, the rescue squad and the fire department because a bonfire across the street had gotten out of hand. So that’s where we are now. They arrived in time to rescue the family. Gladys got a free ride to the emergency room. No one got hurt. The blaze was brought under control, and it looks like their house can be saved, and the neighborhood can survive. Everybody wins."
I slammed the front door closed and turned back to Mandy and I started mugging and rolling my eyes. I began to rub my stomach in a circular motion suggesting a great hunger for food and love. “OHHHHHHHHHHH……..Honey, do we have any-more stuffing?” I smiled at her with the biggest, oversized, vaudeville-goofy, second banana grin I could summon.
She looked at me and said “Stuffing?” After she slugged me in the stomach, I staggered a bit and took a few small steps and then sat down in the Barcalounger. I tried to discover where all of the oxygen had gone into hiding as I struggled to breathe.
Then I decided I might need to take a nap, too.



Nov 25, 2010

Bikini Atoll (red)


Nov 24, 2010

Beatles Revolver tribute RRA 2010

The Beatles Revolver album is my favorite release among the many favorites I have within their catalog.
I made a collage which allows me to share my love of the record via shapes and words and I referenced a circular photo collage concept by Robert Freeman which was not chosen to be the album cover, as well as the album title type face used on the album cover. This record was incredibly important to me as a child.

I used to invite some friends over to the house and we would practice singing along to it. In this childlike way, I was emulating my father's work as a music teacher and director in Baltimore public schools, and I was
trying to glean understanding by mimicry and recreating and bonding with the music on this release from 1966 when I was 9 years old.


My prose goes as follows:

I love Revolver
revolver evolve
evolver revolve
eve ever role lover
rev lover volver
re rover re over
revolver revolve
leo le oleo oleo lo
love 4 ever
almost a palindrome I played it to death
nothing left to say when everything has been said
everything was right
nothing left to be said
what it's like to be dead
what it is to be sad
and she's makin'me feel like
I've never been born
leo oleo lo
lover o lover
veer over
eve rover
leo oleo oleo oleo lo
O revolve o Revolver
Evolver evolve
le oleo lo leo
nothing to say
Revolver ole!

Three Hitchcock collage pieces by RRA 2010

I made three Hitchcock collage tributes using a single frame of the faces of Henry Fonda from The Wrong Man and Tony Perkins from Psycho as building blocks to make these pieces. Both films were shot in black and white and the release dates of 1957 and 1960 act as bookends within which we find the Hitchcock triple crown of Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

Hitch 1


Hitch 2 


Hitch 3

Zappa dedication art collages by RRA 2010

RRA Zappa dedication collage tribute

Below is my inverted colors altered version of the Zappa dedication tribute collage.


Nov 7, 2010

Deciphering the code - will we see the majestic return of Blow Out on Criterion dvd?

Two amazing pop culture occurrences have come to my attention in the past week.

One event was real, the other event signaled the tantalizing possibility that a classic film may be reissued on dvd to be newly adored by a patient and faithful fan base.

On Friday November 5th as I watched the conclusion of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the unthinkable was in evidence.  My favorite jazz guitarist and personal musical hero John McLaughlin was sitting in with the house band The Roots as they played between commercial breaks and guest intros. The featured musical guest was Elvis Costello who is another favorite of mine. I could only shake my head in disbelief when the closing of the show had Elvis performing a new tune with the backing of the Roots and special guest John McLaughlin!

The other occurrence which I happened upon is a strong signal of an event yet to be confirmed. As a film fan, a cinematic dream is on the verge of becoming a reality – the release of Blow Out (which is my favorite Brian De Palma film) as a part of the Criterion Collection. Yes Randy, there is a Santa Claus.

After I made my daily online visit to the De Palma A La Mod website, I saw the post for the day regarding this dvd news. Geoff had posted a copy of the owl graphic that can be found in the latest Criterion Newsletter for November. This owl is the signifier of the coded news message.

Now I had to go back and look at the CC Newsletter e-mail a second time. I pride myself on being a person with a discriminating eye for detail and I realized that when the latest Criterion Collection newsletter for November 2010 had arrived in my e-mail, I had neglected to read everything and “see” the entire piece.  Near the bottom right of the e-mail is a cryptic graphic that holds meaning for people like me who love film and Brian De Palma and I had missed it.

At the top of the November e-mail is a banner which shows the American flag with the Criterion “C” logo to the left.

This choice for a masthead is thematically and visually consistent with the subject of the first topic for the reader which is the upcoming release of a dvd box set called America Lost and Found: The BBS story, which is a collection of seven independent American films produced by BBS Productions. They include several Jack Nicholson vehicles either as an actor in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, or as a writer for the Monkees movie Head. The other films included are Drive, He Said; A Safe Place, and The Last Picture Show.

One of the other tidbits listed midway in this newsletter is a mention of the release of Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter on dvd and blu-ray.

Although the American flag masthead and the Laughton information should be nothing more or less than elements of information about available Criterion dvd releases, I suggest that coincidentally, inadvertently or deliberately, these items of interest to me also has relevance to the visual hint of Blow Out being released.


Early on as the story for Blow Out is developed, we see exterior scenes in a mysterious night time location. John Travolta as soundman Jack Terry is recording wild sound – “new wind” - from upon a footbridge overseeing a creek near the Wissahickon Walk in Philadelphia for a low budget horror film entitled Co-Ed Frenzy.


As we watch his actions and listen along with Terry, we hear several animal sounds and we see most of the animals that make these sounds in their nocturnal environment. Among these creatures, we also see a mostly silent owl whose movements become audibly louder as it flies away from the imminent danger of the action that is about to occur.  The framing of shots allows us to link Jack Terry with the wise owl, and we can see the owl’s choice to leave. At the same time Terry’s link to the owl remains for us to consider as a dilemma continually unfolds that provides choices for Terry in his story: to choose to flee or to fight the obstacles before him.

As a film fan, when you see this nature sequence in Blow Out it is easy to draw a parallel to Laughton’s Night of the Hunter which features a night time scene with some animals and their noises observed in nature along a riverbank. The Laughton picture is just a minor reference point for film fans. There are more obvious attraction/distractions/infractions of film scene parallels or references on display in Blow OutBrian De Palma offers this unique work of art as a powerful synthesis of elements of the components of Antonioni’s Blow Up and Coppola’s The Conversation. We can also see Welles’ Touch of Evil in the bridge sequence as well.

Although I am unable at this time in this particular post to offer up a fully rendered appreciation of my personal impressions of the wonder that awaits a viewer in watching Blow Out, let me say to the reader who has seen the film the following generalizations.

If we look at the overall changes in architectural locations and existential perspectives of the film visuals within Blow Out we will see a totality that includes these ideas: the slaughter of innocence, the hollowness of becoming victorious in slaying an enemy or overcoming an obstacle, the illusory nature of feeling safe, the ability of paranoia to dominate the psyche as it moves from the outside of the body and proceeds to the inside of the brain, and the nature of a world that has been inverted or turned inside-out. We will see Jack Terry and Burke as two different people who suffer through a battle to become the mirror image of what they see, when an exchange of behaviors allows ethics to be replaced by anger, rage, insanity and depravity.

One way of seeing the film is to consider the idea of  "just how screwed up can you become, when you try to do the right thing?" And this would apply to both Burke and to Jack Terry.

Blow Out begins and ends with an interior scene in a screening room, and as we reframe our perception of what we see on screen, as we make our path with Jack and journey through the scenes between these bookends, before we go full circle to the ending, we are making a progression from the absurd to reality and then ultimately to a final mixture of both as a concoction, a modern day sickness that has permeated Terry and the viewer into an undesirable unity of meaning and the meaningless.

Blow Out is a cinematic container with great ideas that transcend history and time – it is an existential nightmare that deals with the horrific sense of life and loss that can exist and lie beneath the surface of a work of b-movie trash art, within a high-gloss big-budget picture, or a reconfiguration of how to use spin control to offer up “the truth” in different forms of media.The film shows us the mechanics involved with creating a film and creating meaning and the solitude and commitment of the artist at work. 

After we start watching Blow Out and then take a step back and realize that the shower scene that we are watching is a film- within-a-film, after we reframe and regain our footing, we can then go forward. We can see a progression in Blow Out from establishing an initial balance to a movement below to the “bottom” in the Wissahickon scenes, and then like the best films that take you on a ride that repeatedly spirals down and up and down again, it successively takes you to different strata. This story continually ascends, until ultimately the emotion of the story conflicts between Terry and his adversary Burke reaches the film climax at the Port of History which is at “the top” and truly is “over the top” as only Brian De Palma can fashion a film.  This can be seen when Burke attacks his victim in the safety of the ladies room at 30th street station as well as the fireworks climax. 


When we finally get there at the foot of the flag, we share a new way to experience the feeling of nausea, of feeling exhausted and exalted by that trade off that occurs when a task that has finally been accomplished comes at the expense of some other linked event. We are now feeling and sensing that gloom of “being at the bottom” at the highest point of the story.  So as a film lover of Blow Out and as a BDP fan, the rumor of a Criterion Collection dvd release is welcome. And the manner in which this cryptic release is secretly being “announced” is right in line with the story arc of Blow Out.

At the top of the layout for the e-mail is the flag banner and below it is the cover art for The BBS Story. Farther down below and to the side is another smaller cover art graphic for the BBS release and below it is the owl graphic. 

Please look at this layout from my perspective. If you take the two specific and different visual links that I am pointing out in this e-mail and add them together, and toss in the reference to Night of the Hunter, I suggest that you might see this as an invisible link between the owl graphic at the bottom, and The BBS Story cover art above at the very top which to me suggests an alternative, a new meaning. For the viewer who is familiar with the film we can make an inference of seeing and perceiving Blow Out as a parallel connection to a play on the words America Lost and Found. This speaks volumes with brevity and De Palma should be proud to see some visual shorthand being employed in the writing and layout of this newsletter! This will be a great gift to the De Palma fans who have been awaiting this dvd release by Criterion as a well-deserved confirmation of his artistic achievements. 


In reading the copy contained in the newsletter promo for Criterion's BBS Story, it seems fair to make a link between De Palma's late-60's early countercultural films like Greetings and Hi Mom! and his later day American portrait of misdirected political intentions, commercial merchandising, nefarious power struggles, media manipulation, and commitment to patriotic acts that he offers the viewer in Blow Out. This 1981 film is a natural outgrowth of the independent American filmmaking that he was doing in the 60's just like the indy works collected in the BBS Story.

As I had suggested in my blog post from September of last year about De Palma's use of shapes and numbering in production design in The Untouchables

"This idea of a making a connection between a straight line and a circle attached to it literally or through implication can be seen in the climax of the basement in Psycho, as well as Burke's activities in Blow Out."


Low budget independent films, Independence Day, paranoia and disorientation abound. The artist in his studio seeking solitude in his creative habitat trying to make sense of the commotion and find the truth that lies beneath, the truth obscured by lies, all of these elements come together through the swirling power plays inside and outside the circles conveyed in Blow Out.
Seen just below is a collage of frame grabs from Blow Out with an American flag behind them which I assembled to post as a tribute on one of the De Palma Facebook pages about five or six months ago. 

We see on the left a grab of Jack Terry on the footbridge in the background and the owl in the foreground which will be visually similar to the rollers on the Nagra during playback in Sally's hotel room. On the right, the frame grab shows the intrinsic design of the tape recorder (which we see upside down) and the path of the magnetic tape moving against the heads and the rollers which suggests an owl, and it is also an example of circles dominating a straight line. Circles and triangles dominate the telling of the film. 

From this collage you can see where my understanding and appreciation of the film would find a focus in the layout of the Criterion Newsletter.


What else can  I say other than I am ecstatic about Blow Out being released as a Criterion dvd.

revised 11 8 2010

updated 11 30 2010

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