Blast of Silence

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Synopsis

Swift, brutal, and blackhearted, Allen Baron’s New York City noir Blast of Silence is a sensational surprise. This low-budget, carefully crafted portrait of a hit man on assignment in Manhattan during Christmastime follows its stripped-down narrative with mechanical precision, yet also with an eye and ear for the oddball details of urban living and the imposing beauty of the city. At once visually ragged and artfully composed, and featuring rough, poetic narration performed by Lionel Stander and written by Waldo Salt (both uncredited), Blast of Silence is a stylish triumph.

Picture 8/10

The Criterion Collection upgrades Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence to Blu-ray, offering the film on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode and the choice between two aspect ratios: 1.33:1 and 1.85:1. The film has been restored in 4K and sourced from a scan of the 35mm original camera negatives.

The new Blu-ray represents a sharp and substantial improvement over Criterion's prior DVD release, which was acceptable for the time. The picture is notably crisper and more pristine, with the restoration effectively eliminating nearly all damage and improving stability. Grayscale is significantly wider with deeper blacks and increased shadow definition, at least where the original film elements permit. However, darker exterior scenes can exhibit a dupey appearance with reduced contrast. Despite this, most of the film features a beautiful polish and film-like texture.

Thankfully, this all holds for both presentations. I initially had concerns that the 1.85:1 version—likely a reframed blow-up of the open-matte image—might feature a more noticeable digital appearance. However, that isn't the case. It preserves the same film-like aesthetic found in the open-matte presentation, with the encode looking reasonably good. On occasion, there are moments where the grain might appear slightly buzzy in brighter areas, but overall, it’s rendered cleanly.

Ultimately, the decision between which version to watch will likely boil down to personal preference, one opting for either the original theatrical widescreen ratio or the full-frame ratio used in screenings during the late 90s and early 2000s (I found the tighter framing of the widescreen ratio preferable). Either way, both presentations look terrific.

[Please note that comparisons between the two aspect ratios provided for Blast of Silence may not have been captured from the exact same frame of the film.]

Audio 6/10

The film’s audio also sounds to have been further restored. The new lossless single-channel monaural PCM soundtrack can still sound a bit edgy and harsh regarding the jazzy score, but I found it cleaner overall compared to the DVD. Voices are sharper with improved range and depth (Lionel Stander’s narration sounds excellent), and no heavy damage is present.

Extras 6/10

Criterion's Blu-ray release replicates their previous DVD’s modest yet commendable array of supplements. Still notably absent is an audio commentary by Allen Baron, recorded originally for a German DVD release. However, Criterion offsets its absence (ever so slightly) with the one-hour documentary Requiem for a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence. This documentary stitches together footage from a 1990 interview with director/star Allen Baron with a newer interview conducted in 2006. The 1990 footage chronicles Baron's exploration of various New York locations used in the film, interweaving reflections on the shoot and personal childhood memories associated with these settings. He also delves into the film’s story, reviewing the movie's character motivations and thematic elements. It remains a relatively solid documentary on the making of the film.

Criterion also ports over the two galleries from the DVD, though they upgrade them to high-definition video slideshows. Locations Revisited, 2008 showcases photographs Criterion took during a revisit to New York with Allen Baron, juxtaposing scenes from the film with current images and offering insights into the city's history and changes. The On-set Polaroids collection presents snapshots taken during filming, with some text notes accompanying them.

The disc then closes with the film’s trailer. Criterion also ports over all of the printed materials from the DVD, though they relegate the booklet to a simple fold-out insert. That insert contains the same essay by Terrence Rafferty, delving into the film's positioning within the crime genre and exploring its significance in independent cinema. Another insert, a four-page “graphic novel” like adaptation by Sean Phillips, covers fragments from the film's beginning and midway section. It’s still a fun inclusion.

Disappointingly, Criterion doesn’t take the time to add a new scholarly supplement (I hoped they would have brought on someone like Imogen Sara Smith to talk about the film). As it is, the disc presents a decent but unspectacular set of extras.

Closing

There are no new supplements, but the new restoration (presented in two aspect ratios) delivers an impressive improvement over Criterion’s previous DVD edition.

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Directed by: Allen Baron
Year: 1961
Time: 77 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 428
Licensor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 05 2023
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.33:1 ratio
1.85:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 Presented in two aspect ratios: 1.85:1 (widescreen) and 1.33:1 (full-screen)   Requiem for a Killer: The Making of “Blast of Silence”   Rare on-set Polaroids   Photos of locations from the film in 2008   Trailer   An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty   Graphic-novel adaptation of the film by acclaimed artist Sean Phillips (Criminal, Reckless, Fatale