Linking up quite nicely with yesterday’s post on Rocky, here Steadicam inventor and camera operator on that landmark film Garrett Brown offers some fascinating insight on his collaboration with director Brian De Palma on the 1981 film Blow Out which starred John Travolta as a movie sound effects man for low-budget horror films who accidentally stumbles upon a political assassination conspiracy when he unwittingly records evidence of the event.
The film is one of De Palma’s best and somewhat undervalued featuring some breathtaking command of the cinematic form particularly in its use of steadicam to create a sense of continuity, flow and immersion.
Brown invented the Steadicam system in 1976 so film-makers could attain ease of movement and steady image free of the shakiness and ragged visual style associated with handheld camerawork up until that time in provocative, ground breaking styles John Cassavetes and Jean Luc Godard. It also eliminated the need for laying down of dolly tracks for elaborate shots and long takes.
The camera was initially used on Hal Ashby’s 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic in collaboration with Haskell Wexler who was a practitioner of the cineverite style with his innovative 1969 docufilm Medium Cool and then improved upon by Brown for use in Rocky’s now iconic training sequence.
In Blow Out, he describes how De Palma wanted Brown working side by side with the great Vilmos Zsigmond to imitate the visual signature of a low rent horror movie. John Carpenter’s Halloween which had been released just three years before De Palma’s film had ushered in a flood of imitations who adopted Halloween POV camera style and the opening scene in Blow Out is a perfect parody of the slasher films from that period.
In the near four decades since it’s creation, The Steadicam has contributed to some of the most transcendent moments in recent cinematic history. In the weeks ahead, I hope to share with you some of my favourite scenes which deploy Brown’s invention in exciting and spectacular ways as this new series progresses.