After CARRIE and DRESSED TO KILL, DePalma and Donaggio were at the top of their ersatz Hitchcock-Herrmann game when they took a nihilistic detour into the paranoia-conspiracy territory that fueled such similarly bleak classics as THE PARALLAX VIEW and THE CONVERSATION. But while there was nothing remotely “meta” about those movies’ dark approach, the thrill of any collaboration between this director and composer was in seeing, and hearing just how close their homages could get to the originals and survive, while still being dazzlingly stylish in their own right. On that count, BLOW OUT is a terrific example of being on that knife’s edge, or rather the exactor knife that a sound editor used to cut audiotape in the pre-digital 1981 age. For DePalma’s bravura direction that mixed a fascination with the perception of narrative film with woman-in jeopardy suspense, Donaggio created a grippingly thematic score that mixed alarmed action with richly melodic string and bell builds, creating an ever-tightening spider’s web of military-industrial complex villains unraveling our heroes’ lives, silken orchestrations mixing vulnerability with snare-drum danger and piano percussion menace.
The music’s sad destination is exceptionally well constructed with a shivering, anticipatory approach that also manages to have some humor about it (complete with cheesy synth horror music and a snatch of an Italian tarantella). But if BLOW OUT is more emotionally affecting than this duo’s other collaborations, it’s due to the ill-fated romance that suffuses the score, as embodied by a beautiful, ultimately mournful theme. Where Nancy Allen is great as a hooker with a heart of gold who ends up in the wrong politician’s car, its Donaggio’s music that gives her an extra depth of wind instrument empathy, especially in the white-knuckled, heart-pounding race that builds to the big, Hitchcock hero rescue moment, only to have the thrill tragically be ripped away, as the score is reduced to a tender piano melody. It’s arguably the most gut-wrenching moment in these collaborator’s repertoire, and key to the heart that rises BLOW OUT above the level of brilliantly made recreation, ultimately melancholy music that sinks in the realization that the greater, villainous forces at play will always come out the winner. It was a message that audiences at the time didn’t want to hear, but one that’s been increasingly venerated by fans, who will no doubt appreciate that Intrada’s beautiful-sounding BLOW OUT.
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