Blow Out (1981) has several clear historical reference points, political and cinematic.
Two events that profoundly shaped US politics are referred to conspicuously: the assassination of president John F Kennedy, and the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of president Richard Nixon. The lasting impact of both has been referred to directly or indirectly in countless films, particularly their effects on the public’s relationship with official records, and widespread fears about the transparency of those in power. Significantly, the two events were recorded, and those recordings became part of the mainstream media and popular culture. Of crucial interest, however, to both Blow Out and this audiovisual work, is the fact that each of the well-known recordings associated with these two events lacks either its audio or its image element. The Zapruder film, shot in 8mm format, is silent. The Watergate tapes have no visual accompaniment.
The film’s central character, Jack Terry, works in the film production industry as a foley artist. While sourcing sound effects for his library, he witnesses a car crash and finds himself caught up in the assassination of a presidential hopeful. While the governor is killed in the crash, Jack rescues his passenger, a hired escort girl named Sally. In possession of audiovisual material that confirms to him an intent to murder and a conspiracy to cover up this politically motivated crime, Jack must protect Sally and prove to the media and the public at large that the incident was no accident.
Jack Terry’s desire to prove beyond question that Governor McRyan was murdered depends on his ability to reconcile image and sound; to succeed where the Zapruder film and the Watergate tapes failed; to provide as full an account of the event as possible, to resolve as many unanswered questions as he can. But does truth really exist at the point of sychronisation? The irony is that Jack himself makes his living by fabricating reality, dubbing heterogenous audio onto low budget exploitation films. This paradox is what structures That Synching Feeling. The eyes and ears must strive to put things into place.
It draws upon two key cinematic influences, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up (1966) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder (1954) and source materials relating to the political events described. It handles these different materials in a way that reflects the techniques of Jack’s own working practice. Sound is aligned precariously with image and at times it will fool the viewer. We are displaced from one reality to another, as we are in the opening moments of Blow Out when the slasher pic we are immersed in is suddenly revealed to be the film that Jack is currently foleying for.
The essay calls for the viewer to question what they are seeing and what they are hearing, to notice a detail that might stick out – a punctum, in Barthes’s term – a sudden puncture, that impacts on our senses and creates meaningful engagement with the matter at hand. All the while it aims to put all the pieces together into a meaningful whole; to create a pattern; to create resonances; to reconstitute a stable order amidst the violence and lies, with attention to shot composition, camera movement and gesture, aural echoes.
Surprising connections are also presented, of a sort that might thrill a conspiracy theorist – or an auteurist, seeing links, intentional or not, among the works of their favourite directors in an attempt to root out some sort of consistent voice: There’s the fact that Jack is an audio specialist who finds himself in the middle of a political murder; that a professional drummer named Steve Barber heard police radio frequency recordings from Dealey Plaza, released on a ‘paper record’ with an issue of Gallery magazine in 1979, and was prompted to develop his own view on the assassination of JFK; that a drummer, too, is at the centre of another murder mystery, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – directed by Dario Argento, whose style bears intriguing similarities with some of De Palma’s best work – moments of which echo Blow Out; that Jackie Kennedy’s last words to her husband were “Jack, can you hear me?” a line of dialogue which also appears in Blow Out.
That Synching Feeling is intended to enter the world of the film and to immerse the viewer in the shifting realities, the doubts, the history, the fabrications, secrets and the melancholy that it evokes.
For CAL and AM.