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Review: Blast of Silence

Having just belatedly watched Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence, I need to reevaluate my perception of an entire subgenre. Although the movie is, in many respects, rather typical of classic noir—featuring voiceover narration that epitomizes purple prose, moody black-and-white cinematography that reduces the visuals to blazingly bright lights and shadowy silhouettes, and a tone boiled so hard that it’ll crack your molars—its comparatively minimalistic, postmodernist approach to the otherwise unapologetically pulpy subject matter (probably necessitated by its evident low budget) shares far more stylistic and thematic DNA in common with Le Samouraï, Branded to Kill, and Taxi Driver—all of which it predates.

Please note that in this case, “minimalism” is not synonymous with “subtlety.” There is, for instance, nothing understated about the score, which blends bongo drums, jazzy trumpets, glockenspiels, and choral hymns into a cacophonous symphony that mirrors the protagonist’s fractured, chaotic psyche. Such blatant “symbolism” permeates the whole narrative. Setting the story in New York City during Christmastime, for example, is as inspired as it is obvious; the cold, brutal urban decay reflects our rugged antihero’s emotional isolation, while the rampant commercialism of the holiday season perfectly complements his mercenary motives. Indeed, the first image that we see is an evocative POV shot of a train speeding through a dark tunnel—a metaphorical “birth” that fires the audience into the film’s violent, morally corrupt world like a bullet erupting from the barrel of a gun.

Bearing these apparent aesthetic contradictions in mind, where does Blast of Silence “belong” in terms of its historical relevance—to the Old School or the New Wave? Should it be ranked alongside the seminal works of such Golden Age Hollywood masters as John Huston, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder? Or does it share a closer kinship with the deconstructionist efforts of indie luminaries like Godard, Schrader, and Scorsese (hell, there’s a valid argument to be made that it is, at the very least, a distant cousin to Chantal Akerman’s News from Home)? Ultimately, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that these distinctions aren’t truly important. Art is, of course, a cultural conversation—but confining it to rigid, inflexible “categories” is counterproductive, diminishing the value of individual pieces by arbitrarily attaching them to broader “movements.” Blast of Silence succeeds on its own merits; that it clearly anticipated The American and David Fincher’s The Killer is simply an amusing bit of trivia.

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