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.
Much like Val Lewton’s unnerving The Seventh Victim, the tension of Blast of Silence doesn’t so much revolve around the antihero’s job, redemption, or ultimate fate but rather the disconnect between its mundane milieu and the grandiose flourishes they’re meant to convey. Frankie spends the entire film looking schlubbish and constipated, far from the suave operator the film’s narrator coolly informs us is in the top five percentile earnings-wise. (The film’s narration, incidentally, is often cited for its use of the rare second-person address, but my take on it is that it’s really transposed first-person from within the protagonist’s overstressed psyche, that the instructions Frankie takes his cues from are actually coming from inside the house, so to speak.)
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.
The film looks like it may have been shot, in part, using short ends. The quality of the film stock varies pretty radically from shot to shot. For every carefully filmed study in high contrast (the silhouettes of caged rats that serve as prelude to a murder) comes another hand-held exterior with hazy, gray black levels and bland whites. Don't expect much better from the sound; gunshots sound more like rubber bands.
Just as Allen Baron is pretty much the whole show in the feature film, he's given the Criterion disc's meatiest bonus feature: a one-hour retrospective in which the renaissance man is filmed returning to the film's locations to reminisce (though one gets the sense that he's spent many of his days there, even though a title indicates he's relocated to Beverly Hills). Baron is good-spirited and offers plenty of insight, and at times seems almost bemused that his film even has any reputation to speak of. He also looks, sounds, and acts like a second cousin of Martin Scorsese. A collection of photos juxtaposing Baron in the film and, over 45 years later, revisiting the same locations seems a tad beside the point, but offers some text background information. A collection of old Polaroids from the shoot has the gratuitously mottled look absent from the actual film.
The neglected standing of Blast of Silence is the film's own best proof of its uniquely wallflowerish take on film noir tropes.