An early landmark in New York City’s storied history of low-budget indie filmmaking, Blast of Silence may be most famous for its wall-to-wall second person voiceover narration (“You can depend on yourself, no one else. You learned the hard way… When people look at you, Baby Boy Frankie Bono, they see death.” ). It’s a neat trick that sets an otherwise mundane hitman plot over a dense interior landscape of self-loathing, paranoia and motivational self-talk. But it barely makes the top five things I love most about this film.
For one thing, Meyer Kupferman’s multifaceted jazz score, moving deftly from vibraphone cool to trumpeting distress, does as much to express Frankie Bono’s inner state. Mixing hard bop discord with symphonic lyricism, it foretells what Bernard Herrmann would do in Taxi Driver. The numerous authentic locations, from the storefronts on Fifth Avenue to the beatnik streets of the West Village, set the voiceover’s raging sociopathy against a documentary sense of the real world, making its unease all the more pervasive (yet another of several cues Scorsese took from this film).
All of these elements come together less than 20 minutes into the film, in a stunning five minute sequence that has the anti-hero simply walking through an iconic Christmas-in-Rockefeller Center setting. The voiceover gets softer and more taciturn; the music settles into a Christmas choir followed by a pensive flute melody. Shadows grow long as day turns to night; the warm glow of toy store windows ironically cast him into a stark silhouette as he walks past, trying to recapture the seminal sensations of his childhood. The real-but-unreal storefront utopia of Fifth Avenue is transformed into a dreamscape of lostness. It’s nothing less than the ultimate cinematic depiction of the Christmas blues.
Another innovative sequence follows: the hitman accidentally runs into childhood friend who invites him to a Christmas party that eventually has him pushing a peanut with his nose across the floor as a roomful of strangers laugh and cheer. It’s a stunning moment of debasement for such an iconic figure, at once mocking the lone gunman myth while also unmasking him to be a lonely, desperate figure terminally unable to relate to others. This leads to another genre stunner, when he manages to take a girl home, only for his awkwardness to lead to an attempted rape.
Having done so much to overturn the criminal anti-hero’s swagger in its first half hour, it’s a shame that the film doesn’t know quite where to go from there. Like its character, it reels from having gone so far into the uncomfortableness of the real world, and withdraws into its hired killer plot for the rest of its fairly predictable arc. But these breakthroughs are more than enough to seal the film’s status as an ur-text of urban alienation cinema.
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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Blast of Silence among the 1000 greatest films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?
Christoph Huber, Senses of Cinema (2000)
Norbert Jochum, Steadycam (2007)
Robert Fischer, Steadycam (2007)
Wilfried Reichart, Steadycam (2007)
They Shoot Pictures Highly Recommended Films
AN ambitious young writer-director-actor named Allen Baron has given himself a large but unpleasant role in his first film effort, “Blast of Silence.” In the low-budget melodrama, which arrived yesterday at neighborhood theatres, Mr. Baron enacts a lonely professional killer, bothered by the festive Christmas crowds that jostle him as he ruthlessly stalks his prey.
Much of the confusion in this curious little film seems implicit in the mixed intentions of its stubbornly independent creators, Mr. Baron and his Brooklyn-born producer, Merrill Brody. Operating on a minute budget with unknown actors, a hand-held camera and a minimum of technicians, this do-it-yourself team obviously wanted to be offbeat and “arty” while still conforming to Hollywood’s tested commercial formulas.
The result is simultaneously awkward and pretentious.
Even so, Mr. Baron has some interesting ideas about New York locations, and aided by the expert photography of Erich Kollmar he has made effective use of such settings as the Staten Island ferry, Rockefeller Plaza and the Village Barn night club. The outdoor scenes have a spontaneous vigor that augurs well for the director’s future.
- Eugene Archer, The New York Times, December 30, 1961
EXCERPTS FROM THE BEST REVIEW OF BLAST OF SILENCE:
Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence was dumped like a corpse into a handful of theaters by Universal-International in April 1961 and rapidly vanished without a trace, only to be revived with no real frequency over the ensuing decades. Looking at it from the studio’s point of view, it’s not difficult to see why the film was barely a priority at the time of its release, being a cheap distribution pick-up from a couple of executive producers in New York (one of whom, Dan Enright, had distinguished himself as an especially mendacious figure in the Quiz Show scandals that consumed America for several months in 1958). In fact,Blast of Silence must have seemed downright perverse to executives at U-I, given that its protagonist wasn’t played by a Star, or anyone well-known to the public from either film or television, but by its writer/director; a pudgy, 26 year old non-actor whose prior directing credits had been a couple of Hawaiian Eye episodes and an assistant director gig on that piece of dreck, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959) — a picture that, had it not been for the allure of seeing Errol Flynn hitting the skids on celluloid, probably wouldn’t have been screened anywhere outside a couple of mangy drive-ins in Alabama and Kentucky. But Blast of Silence was a fast, cheap thriller with the requisite amounts of violence and gunplay, and those things could always make a couple of bucks for a studio in the end if the deal was right.
Of course, nobody was thinking in terms of “film noir,” certainly nobody in Hollywood in 1961. By the time cinephiles were busily compiling the noir canon like a pack of faith-crazed monks later in that decade, Baron’s film had already disappeared into the ether without them noticing; a film born obscure that soon passed into the endless night of a still greater obscurity. Which is as unfortunate as it is typical of the mass-market cinephile’s perpetually distracted mindset, for Blast of Silence is possibly the great lost masterpiece of film noir; a twilit, deathward emanation of everything that had underlain the form from its beginnings. No American film before it, made in Hollywood or anywhere else, had trafficked so promiscuously in unadulterated nihilism, or so used the condition of Hate — constant, irritated Hate, with no coherent Other to direct it toward — as its emotional motif. The loneliness and doom and spiritual unease that operated at noir’s core and became more pronounced as the form slowly began shedding its visual trappings in the 1950s, here became its dominant emotional surface, infecting everything, consuming every character in the film rather than simply its protagonist.
In earlier, more celebrated noirs, for instance, no matter how twisted the nominal hero or his adversaries might have been from within, screenwriters always managed to balance out their human landscape with so-called “normal” people, usually in the form of cops, sweethearts, and other assorted bystanders to the gathering darkness of these scenarios. That these characters were usually the least believable of all made them no less necessary to a Hollywood storytelling model that had long ago steadfastly rejected nuance. But in Blast of Silence, Allen Baron ignored the rules and brought forth a dissociated, ugly vision of his fellow man that, unlike its closest spiritual predecessors in noir, Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Irving Lerner’s Murder By Contract (1958), never resorts to either grotesquerie or easy symbology.
Blast of Silence goes further than any previous noir in eschewing a lumbering chiaroscuro in favor of a naturalism closer to something like Cassavetes’ Shadows, further than even a later, comparatively sun-drenched noir such as Gerd Oswald’s Crime of Passion (1957). Having to work within the thinnest of shoestring budgets, Baron elected to use, as few filmmakers had before, the expressive potential of New York City; bringing his camera into the streets of midtown Manhattan at Christmastime, to Rockefeller Center, Harlem, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Whether it was a conscious strategy or the result of having no resources to create a setting for his tale from scratch, this unglamorous, rather desolate photography of the city by Merrill S. Brody (who also acted as the film’s producer) worked immeasurably to Baron’s advantage. Indeed, as a directorial debut, Blast of Silence is an altogether prodigious achievement. A model thriller and character study, it takes us step by step through Frankie Bono’s process in setting up his prey for the eventual kill. And at every turn, Baron’s control of his mise-en-scene remains assured and proficient, with few if any missteps. If the film can be said to have a diminishing flaw, it’s that the wall-to-wall narration at times goes beyond underscoring the action on-screen and becomes simply redundant. There are moments when it tells us nothing that the film’s bleakest images could not have handled on their own. But where one might expect a certain amount of clumsiness in a no-budget film from a first-time film director, Blast of Silence is an unusually expert piece of film craftsmanship, coming as it did from a filmmaker who had no track record at all and, as the years passed, would never really succeed in making a name for himself in his chosen field.
- Tom Sutpen, Bright Lights Film Journal
OTHER EXCEPTIONAL REVIEWS
Blast of Silence, despite its graphic vigor and its documentary-like immediacy, shares some of its hero’s radical isolation from his surroundings: a stubborn neither-here-nor-thereness and—especially now, nearly half a century later—a haunting sense of being somehow suspended in time. When the picture was released, film noir was effectively over, and the era of hit-man chic ushered in by Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was still more than three decades in the future. It’s commercially dangerous for any work of popular art to be either behind the times or too far ahead of them. Blast of Silence—yet another strange distinction—is both.
- Terrence Rafferty, from essay for The Criterion DVD
Mr. Baron’s stripped-down visuals are complemented by an almost continuous voice-over narration, composed under a pseudonym (“Mel Davenport”) by the blacklisted writer Waldo Salt (“Midnight Cowboy”) and read (with no credit at all) by the blacklisted actor Lionel Stander: “You were born with hate, and anger built it. Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream. And then you knew you were alive.”
This curious mode of address — the second person accusative? — places the viewer in Frankie’s uncomfortable skin, cornering us into taking the side of this faceless, largely passive psychopath as he drifts along to his noir-mandated doom.
But for all of its pulp poetry — the picture begins in a railroad tunnel, transformed by the narration into a birth canal that will blast the silently screaming Frankie into the harsh reality of Penn Station — the film retains a down-and-dirty, documentary aspect. The studiously gray, unglamorous views of 1961 Manhattan — St. Marks Place, where Frankie takes a room at the Valencia Hotel; the blanked-out East 30s, where Frankie’s mark has a girlfriend stashed in a walk-up apartment — are worth the price of admission alone. Here’s what was being left out of those Madison Avenue melodramas and Park Avenue romances of the period.
- Dave Kehr, The New York Times review of Criterion DVD
Baron’s crumpled, shoestring noir boasts the authentic seediness and soul-sickness of a Weegee photograph, with vérité views of Harlem pinpointed next to a storefront Santa’s inane ho-ho-hoing and the drum-smacking and smoke of a squalid nightclub. Others in the urban nocturne include a rotund underworld hanger-on (Larry Tucker) with soft voice, fungus-like beard and caged pet rats, and a targeted mobster (Peter H. Clune) who brings his mistress a huge panda plush doll. If rejection from an old friend’s sister (Molly McCarthy) doesn’t seal the protagonist’s loneliness, then the Lionel Stander voiceover rasping in his ears surely does: “You don’t have to know a man to live with him, but you have to know a man like a brother to kill him.” Or: “He thinks he looks like a gentleman if his shoes are shinned. You could kill him right now with pleasure.” Paddy Chayefsky, Cassavetes’s Shadows (and Johnny Staccato), Melville. Baron’s New York finds its completion in Taxi Driver: if the city is a dusky valley, then the man is a speck trying to grow larger by ambling down the sidewalk toward the stationary camera. The assassin labors to see himself as the hand of fate but is shown up as a greasy hood in fedora and trench coat, alone with delusions — you’d have to wait until The Killing of a Chinese Bookie for a deeper autopsy of the gangland macho ethos. With Danny Meehan, Dean Sheldon, and Charles Creasap.
- Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion
Either the last film noir or the bridge between the genre and the American independent movement to follow, Allen Baron’s megalomaniacal 1961 low-budget hitman saga is a fine member of any of its multiple categorizations. Baron wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, which relates a gutter-noir tale of an assassin whiling away time in New York City over X-Mas as he plans a hit. Its influence on everything from young Scorsese to, in one subplot, Grosse Pointe Blank is undeniable. And if Baron’s a bit of an inexpressive lump on-screen he was at least smart enough to cast Shock Corridor’s Larry Tucker (see picture) as a terminally distracted gunsalesman. But what really sets it apart from the pack – along with its amazing location photography, often shot with natural lighting – is what’s on the soundtrack. Let’s not mince words: Blast of Silence features the greatest voiceover in film history. This isn’t the first-person confessional of Double Indemnity, or even the third-person of Band of Outsiders. It’s second-person – a perspective I don’t think any other film has ever adopted. Written by Waldo Salt and delivered with great relish by Lionel Stander (neither of whom were credited), it alternates between offering a snarling evocation of his nihilistic thoughts (“You’re feeling better now that you’ve got that Christmas out of your system”) and mocking his self-enforced isolation from the world. Oddly, the very rottenness of the narration gives the film a poignancy, particularly when this miserable bastard makes a fumbling attempt at relating to some old friends.
- Matt Prigge, Fest Phanatic
By the time of Blast of Silence, Walter Benjamin, if not Edgar Allan Poe himself, had long ago laid the connection between detective fiction and flâneurs, and a new type of consciousness (emblematized specially by the modern phenomenon of movie-going), in which the crux of identity lies in nothing innate and little lasting, but in the act of perceiving, and, perceiving, in particular, the city: detective’s work. Yet neorealism would seem to be a necessary condition for flâneur movies, which, despite Night and the City’s influence, may be why relatively few major noirs followed in Benjamin’s tradition, devoted entirely to cutting through swaths of city spaces and social milieus, to exploring parties and restaurants and businesses around town in an ostensible search for clues, and to depicting a man as he finds or loses himself—perhaps the same thing—in urban phantasmagoria.
Filming perceptions, Resnais and Antonioni pose the old phenomenological quandary of what’s subjective and what’s objective; so too Baron, if a bit more crudely. Stander, the soundtrack, is subjectivity, and the images, straight-up documentary footage straight from the streets, are objectivity. Yet Blast suggests the Dostoevskian possibility—or rather, preaches it—that all civilization’s pretty Christmas lights are glitzy decorations over the truth of one man’s private hell (all men, perhaps, but loneliness is essential to Baron’s neorealist conception of hell). For most of the film, the bright lights of consumer culture seem to be about all that emerge from the dark.
This is more or less the sentimental romance of Raymond Chandler; it is Baron’s contribution to blame the doomed love not on a flea-bitten idealist run out of dreams, but (as Robert Altman would later do with his The Long Goodbye) on a swinging culture that will make you push peanuts on the floor with your chin for the entertainment of the crowd. There are loners and there are the masses, as there are in La Notte and L’Eclisse, and both are guarantees of anonymity; there are also, in Silence, the dead, the most anonymous of all. And for Bono, trying hard to keep quiet and repress his worst instincts and get a job done, anonymity is always the goal.
- David Phelps, The Auteurs Notebook
“You were born in pain,” a voiceover announces over the black screen that opens writer-director-star Allen Baron’s 1961 film Blast Of Silence. “You were born with hate and anger built in,” it continues as it becomes clear that this ugly telling of the film’s protagonist’s birth accompanies a point-of-view shot of a train emerging from a tunnel. “Took a slap on the backside to blast out the scream and then you knew you were alive.” That won’t be the last time Blast Of Silence draws symbolic power from images shot on the fly, or finds violence embedded in everyday life.
Working with a miniscule budget, Baron creates charged compositions out of found locations and makes a virtue out of the film’s cheapness. The soot and litter almost seem summoned by his character’s mental state. Established admirer Martin Scorsese could easily have had it in mind when he made Taxi Driver; Blast Of Silence shares that film’s tortured philosophizing. Working under a pseudonym, blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt provides the beautifully purple second-person narration that puts viewers in the position of the film’s protagonist as he makes his way through a city where death waits at the first sign of weakness. Or tenderness.
- Keith Phipps, The Onion A/V Club
Indeed, the cinematography of Blast of Silence is so outstanding that it turns New York City into a character rather than a mere location. Even though Blast of Silence was Baron’s first movie, his professional background as a comic book illustrator gave him a firm understanding of visual concepts such as framing and composition. The result was a series of truly breathtaking shots. Consider, for instance, the long shot of Frankie walking down the street towards the camera with the skyline of the buildings off to the sides, which feels as menacing as it does inspiring.
- Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters
With one foot planted firmly on the Kiss Me Deadly era of film noir and the other closer to The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Blast of Silence begins with a brutal, uncompromising invocation of birth and ends with an almost mystically sensitive death. The story of socially isolated hit man Frankie (Allen Baron) who comes to terms with his deferred need for human connection just in time for a) Christmas, and b) a job that will require him to be especially cold-hearted, Blast of Silence is less a manifestation of the labrynthine plot trajectories of great noir than a early harbinger to the DIY moxie of the American independent movement.
Shot on a shoestring, director/writer/lead actor Baron’s blunt, almost perfunctory story doesn’t reveal much about the inner workings of its central character but instead takes advantage of the downright dull aspects of New York City, a city films (especially films noir) often depict with mythic reverence as a succession of places you’d want to visit but aren’t even sure you could live therein. So far as the movies are concerned, New York is as artificially engineered an environment as Disneyland or Stepford, Connecticut (or Hollywood). What Blast of Silence gets and gets right is the sense that New York, for all its “top of the world” potential, is also a working metropolis with accompanying concessions, mediocrities, and isolations.
For all the narrator’s insistence on stressing the dangers around every corner, the film’s bland images suggest the world truly couldn’t care less about Frankie’s dogged pursuit of a gun with a silencer; at one point a headline screams one of his crimes, but he’s the only character shown actually reading the article. Haunting, remote, and workmanlike, Blast of Silence may be the only film I’ve ever seen with a trip on the Station Island Ferry in which I expected a tumbleweed to flit across the deck.
- Eric Henderson, Slant
Although done on the hustle — Brody also produced and edited; Carol, his wife, was assistant director; Kollmar plays a bit part as the Bellhop; part of the picture was shot using free test stock from Kodak, etc — Blast of Silence is a first-rate technical achievement. Meyer Kupferman’s modern jazz and classical score deserves special mention. While a soundtrack album was never released — not a huge surprise, as the film itself was given zero promotion by Universal, who picked it up for distribution as a second feature — one would be welcome even today as the perfect entree to Kuperfman’s vast and original sound world.
- Brian Berger, Stop Smiling
There’s a kind of existential dread at the heart of every film noir—they all take place in that dark and brooding world in which no good deed goes unpunished, and you’re thankful that there’s style to burn, because it and everything else are going to go up in flames by the time we get to the final fadeout. But Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence may be the most self-conscious of the sort, playing out almost like a mob version of Camus’s The Stranger. It’s a strange and energetic movie that runs like the wind, and you just wish that it would trust itself a little bit more.
What gets rather too distracting is that the movie is wallpapered with voice-over, either Frankie’s interior monologue or the dime-store novel that the character imagines himself starring in. It’s delivered by Lionel Stander, whose gravelly voice matches the hardened exterior of the protagonist—but it’s just so relentless and overwrought, tarting up just about every scene (“The conga drum beating your head until you taste the hate on your tongue,” and so on), that it starts to leech the drama out of Frankie’s story. You can understand the inclination—the lead character is so fierce about keeping his own counsel, and you almost sense that Baron trusts himself more behind the camera than in front of it. But at some point you want to holler back—enough already! Baron actually figures that out by the end of the run of the picture, which is a blessing, even if a bit too late.
- Jon Danziger, Digitally Obsessed
Arriving three years after Orson Welles´ “Touch of Evil,” Baron´s film is either a straggler at the end of the classic film noir period, or one of the earlier neo-noirs. Film noir was a term applied many years after the noir cycle began, so it´s unsurprising that critics can´t agree on the precise timing of each of the noir cycles or even how to define the genre. Many films have noir qualities but aren´t really film noirs. That´s not the case with “Blast of Silence,” a noir by any definition. Like most noirs, the film´s universe is one that is severed from any sense of a higher being, a world covered by only a thin veneer of civilization where even the slightest mistake, a stumble or a wrong turn, leads inevitably to tragedy. Frankie was “born in pain,” and he lives in pain, always trying to drown out the scream that heralded his entry into this cruel world.
- Christopher Long, DVD Town
The film plays like an unholy marriage between the realist films noir of the ’40s like “The Naked City” and the early independent dramas of John Cassavetes, with a narrator (uncredited Lional Stander) speaking in second person like the twisted inner voice of a soul that has been basting in antipathy and spite for years. The hard-boiled riffs play like pulp beat poetry distilled into pure misanthropic cynicism.
- Sean Axmaker, MSN Movies
The story is standard issue, but what Baron does with it is amazing; his graphic sense is on view from the first image, a cosmic abstraction that bursts stunningly into grim reality, and his conception of the character, blending the heat of hatred and the chill of method, is unusual and fascinating.
- Richard Brody, The New Yorker
You know you’re a part of something when it feels like both the last “real” noir, a kiss of death to that movement as we knew it, while also one of the first true neo-realist American independents.
- Craig Phillips, GreenCine
I can’t think about Allan Baron’s 1961 Blast of Silence without thinking of Cleveland, even though not a frame of the film takes place or was shot there. But the film’s hitman anti-hero, “Baby Boy” Frankie Bono (played with note-perfect inarticulate inexpressiveness by Baron himself), is, as Lionel Stander’s narrator notes, “out of Cleveland,” and this bit of info was sufficient to compel a small coterie of film freaks from that burg to even-more-fanatically embrace a film they would have loved anyway.
If one looks at Blast of Silence as a straightforward film noir, it can come across as a little irritating and repetitive. The narration, an old noir standby, is virtually omnipresent, to the point that it almost feels overdone and way too intrusive at times. But it’s important to realize that the narration (written by Waldo Salt, under the pseudonym “Mel Davenport”) isn’t just there because other movies of its kind have included it too; rather, you can almost see it as a way to poke fun at such genre conventions.
- A. J. Hakari, Classic Movie Guide
But you’re not watching this one for the story. No. You’re watching it for the mood. The feeling. The energy that Baron finds on the streets of your hometown and channels into every frame. In Harlem. In Greenwich Village, beatniks pounding their drums and their libidos ‘til everything’s raw.
The second-person narration not only helps fill in for professional assassin Frankie Bono’s trademark taciturnity, but it forces us to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a methodical killer. The film may have influenced the silent-cool antiheroes of Jean-Pierre Melville’s later noirs (like “Le Samurai”), but while Melville’s reserve promoted existential alienation, Baron’s narration asks us to empathize with a monster on the brink of reform.
- Sean Howe, Entertainment Weekly
- Todd Konrad, Independent Film Quarterly
- Mike White, Noir of the Week
- Don Wilmott, Film Critic.com
- Jeff Duncanson, Film Screed
- Brian Tallerico, The Dead Bolt
- Conrad Rothbaum, Film School Rejects
- Steve Puchalski, Shock Cinema
This Criterion is touted as a ‘DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION’ although the most appealing aspect for many Criterion fans will be that the 4:3 ratio film is NOT pictureboxed (see our description of ‘pictureboxing’ in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). The Criterion is progressive and dual-layered, and hence the image quality towers above the frugal Alive Film single-layered edition from Germany. The Criterion still shows some infrequent noise but it is easy to state that this is the best digital image of the film to date… and possibly ever. As usual the Criterion has clear mono audio (weak in spots) and optional English subtitles.
So nice to have this Noir gem in a competent, complete package and it is wonderful news indeed that Criterion appears to have abandoned pictureboxing.
- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver
Blast of Silence is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layered disc. The image has thankfully not been picture-boxed. Criterion presents a very strong digital transfer, though the source material has a few issues here and there. The film’s sharpness varies throughout, looking sharp and crisp most of the time but murky and soft at others. There’s no consistency to it so my guess is it just has to do with the source. The film is in black and white and during the film’s sharper, cleaner moments the blacks are very deep and dark. It also presents strong whites and grays with excellent contrast. During the murkier moments the blacks come off more on the grayish side. Considering the film’s very indy roots I’m not too shocked at the inconsistencies presented throughout, but I am quite surprised by how clean the image looks in terms of dirt and debris. While there is the occasional mark (the opening has a vertical line somewhat noticeable to the right) the print used has been cleaned up substantially. Despite its few issues, this is still a very solid transfer.
The film is presented in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track, audio coming out of the center. This is actually a surprisingly strong track, though not without its own flaws. The opening bit presents very harsh sound effects and some of the music can sound like it’s been cranked a little too much, almost distorting. But it’s still very clean. I didn’t notice any hiss or any background noise. Dialogue is also very strong. The film has a voice over narration by Lionel Stander, whose voice is deep and gravely, and there’s no issue whatsoever in understanding anything said. Despite some moments where I felt the music, sound effects, and/or background noise were probably a little too loud, it’s an nicely cleaned up track.
- Chris Galloway, The Criterion Forum
Blast of Silence – Criterion Collection is packaged in a clear plastic case with printing on all sides of the cover. The front image, menu design, and all of the interior images were done by comics artist Sean Phillips, whose own Criminal series with Ed Brubaker tells tough-minded crime tales in the tradition of Blast of Silence. Having Phillips’ art throughout gives the packaging a wonderful design unity. In addition to the regular Criterion booklet, which has an essay by critic Terrence Rafferty, an extra four-page insert by Phillips adapts some of the Waldo Salt voiceover from the film into a brand-new promotional comic. It’s a very cool extra.
Beyond the packaging bonuses, there are four features on the DVD itself. Two are photo galleries, including one of Polaroids from Allen Baron’s set and a new collection showing the Blast of Silencelocations today. The new photos are juxtaposed with images from the movie, and some of the new ones even feature Baron. There are title cards in between explaining what you are seeing.
The original theatrical trailer is like a mini film unto itself, lurid and intriguing all on its own. It makes the audience’s pact with the killer implicit. “You will walk side-by-side with Frankie Bono!”
The final extra is a brand-new, hour-long documentary called Requiem for a Killer: The Making ofBlast of Silence. It’s both a biography of the film and of Allen Baron, of his love affair with the city he grew up in, how he got into cinema, and how he made this impressive debut. Culled from an older German TV program, it’s built around Baron taking us on a walking tour of Manhattan, telling us a ton of great stories of the time when Blast of Silence was made. The revelation that he had been a cartoonist makes the comic book stuff even more apropos.
- Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk
OTHER DVD REVIEWS:
- Eric Somer, Matchflick
- Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Talk
ABOUT ALLEN BARON
Born in 1935 (and currently still living), Allen Baron had a steady, relatively prosaic career after writing and directing Blast of Silence. He followed it up in 1964 with Terror in the City, another thriller of his own script that also went nowhere, only this time for Allied Artists. In 1972 he co-directed (with actor G. D. Spradlin) a draft-dodger melodrama, Outside In; and ten years later directed his fourth and final feature, a species of Ozark romance entitled Foxfire Light (these films remain, like their predecessor, trapped in the cinema rabbit hole). During this period Baron directed episodic television. A lot of it. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s his name could be found on everything from The Night Stalker and Barnaby Jones, to The Love Boat and the show he directed more episodes of than all others, Charlie’s Angels. If he was known for anything, it was television. And he stopped directing it for good in 1986.
- Tom Sutpen, Bright Lights Film Journal
At the time Blast of Silence was shot (in 1959 and 1960), Baron was an occasional actor and a former comic-book illustrator who thought he could make a movie and had managed to raise the twenty grand or so he needed to turn out something that would look reasonably professional. Although Baron was a native New Yorker, Brooklyn bred, he chose to film a story about a man who is not: a tense, wary out-of-towner who, like so many who come to Manhattan from smaller, less daunting places, responds to the perceived hostility of the city with some pretty serious hostility of his own. In those days, of course, making a movie in New York—three thousand miles from Hollywood and on a budget even a studio B movie would be ashamed of—was an uncommon and risky venture, and at least a trace of chip-on-the-shoulder attitude is discernible in every Gotham indie of that era: a sense of alienation was, as this movie’s narrator might say, built in.
And Baron has the wit (or the instinct) to turn that uncomfortable feeling to the movie’s advantage. Maybe the most impressive thing about this debut feature is how rigorously its inexperienced director sustains a mood of endemic existential anxiety, of a pervasive wrongness in the world. In a way, it’s fortunate that Peter Falk, whom Baron had cast as Frankie Bono, was unable to play the part. (Falk opted to take the role of a different hit man, in Burt Balaban’s 1960 Murder, Inc.) Baron’s a lesser actor, obviously, but his relative lack of ease before the camera lends a little extra edge of tension to this already tightly wound character. There’s a weird poignancy in his stiffness. As Baron plays the character, Frankie looks like a man who’d be an out-of-towner anywhere on earth. He’s a stranger in his own skin.
But Allen Baron, unlike his luckless hero, has survived. He hasn’t directed a TV show in better than twenty years. He has begun painting again, and is preparing a series of abstract canvases for a gallery show, his first, in Los Angeles. He still sounds like a New Yorker. New Yorkers feel noirish a lot of the time, but not always. Sometimes they even manage to remember the truth uttered by one of the city’s great sages, a contemporary of Baron’s named Lawrence Peter Berra. It ain’t over till it’s over, he said, and New Yorkers never argue with Yogi.
- Terrence Rafferty, from essay for The Criterion DVD