Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Blast of Silence (1961)
I first heard about this movie when I read that Sean Phillips (of Criminal, Sleeper, and Marvel Zombies fame) was doing the art work for the DVD cover (up top) and the design work for the menu screens and all that. I should mention that the DVD is distributed by Criterion, if you know what that means then you know that it’s a top of the line quality DVD, and boy is it ever.
Sean Phillips has always been one of my favorite artists, ever since I picked up the first Sleeper trade (Amazing comic book, check it out, highly recommended). His art is dark and very noir and when partnered up with an amazing writer, usually Ed Brubaker, their collaborations are so much better. So when I heard about him doing art for the DVD I wanted to buy it but I always think about buying so much shit that I forgot about it.
Last week I was at work and bored and decided to look up some stuff to request from other libraries, for some reason I remembered Blast of Silence and ordered it. I finally watched it Sunday night. The basic plot of the movie is that this hit man, (Baby Boy) Frankie Bono, is coming into NYC on Christmas for a job to kill this mid-level mafia guy. That’s it, but what makes this movie so great isn’t the anticipation or the suspense, which there is plenty of, of when, how, and where is Frankie going to kill this mobster, it’s what is going through his mind leading up to the whole event.
Frankie Bono is a professional. He’s a perfect hit man because he has no ties to anyone or any place. He can be hired to do any job and fuck the consequences because there are none for him because he’s a professional. But there’s a problem, he is a lonely motherfucker, and that loneliness drives him, I don’t want to say crazy but it makes him a little mentally unstable.
Frankie Bono is a lonely man. He doesn’t want anything to do with anyone. He prepares for the job and then leaves. But while in the city he runs into an old ‘friend’ from the orphanage that he grew up in and is invited to a party. He declines but he gets pushed into going when he sees a girl from his past, Lori. Even then he doesn’t want to go but finally accepts. It isn’t, at least to me, that he’s a pushover as much as it’s a last ditch effort to make contact with another human. Once at the party he doesn’t even try to mingle or talk to anyone. As much of a desire for him to connect with another person the drive isn’t there and he doesn’t try, he waits for someone to come to him, and once that happens he does end up having fun, but we know that it’s not his version of fun.
After the part we see him get invited to a Christmas dinner by Lori. It’s a nice enough affair until he tries to put the moves on her. We’re lead to seem that she’s interested in him, and I’m sure she is but he becomes really aggressive when he puts the moves on her and becomes really angry when she declines him. This isn’t an attack, it shows that he’s been alone for so long that when it comes to interacting with other people he just doesn’t know how. This is repeated many other times in the film, when he buys a gun and gets the job details. All those scenes with people are short and they show his impatience with them.
My favorite parts of the film are the ones where he’s alone and thinking about the job. There’s a voice over narration that describes his process and how he’s feeling. At first I thought the narration was annoying but it serves a purpose, because it’s not Frankie Bono doing the talking. The narration is done by Lionel Stander, who was a black listed actor and did uncredited work, his voice is like sandpaper, rough and tough, and someone you don’t want to fuck with. His words are a constant reminder that Frank is a little unstable.
Frankie goes through the city as the narrator comments on everything from the people to his state of mind, to the city itself. The narrator tells us who Frankie is as a person because we only see what kind of person he is through his actions which aren’t enough to tell us what a person is about.
There are many more things I can discuss about this film. It is such an amazing look into the head of a hit man and I’m glad I finally got to see this film and take it in.
Just a couple of quick hits on the DVD. Sean Philips did a 4 page comic, drawing the first couple of scenes from the film mixed with some of the narration. It looks great, the colors are amazing. There’s an hour long documentary which takes a look back at the film, the rediscovery of the film, and you go along with director, writer, and star of the film Allen Baron, on a trip throughout New York City to revisit the spots that the film was made. There’s even a slide show of the spots from the film and their current appearances, comparing NYC in 1961 and 2008. I recommend the hell out of this movie, it you’re a fan of film noir, or films in general.