A Few Thoughts About “The Blackout” (1997)

Addiction is a tricky thing, seductive and destructive in equal doses. The addict has no qualms about what they do or who they hurt in order to get their fix – once the brain gets back into Reptilian Mode, all bets are off. Your garden-variety addict will lie, cheat, and steal to get exactly what they want. Once it’s gone, what’s left but the endless need to get more and more?
Abel Ferrara’s career is a trajectory not unlike that of the addicts he depicts in his work. The average Ferrara protagonist is usually a doppelganger for the director, a man driven solely on pure instinct and savage want. Even from the humble beginnings of The Driller Killer, Ms. 45 and Fear City we get introduced to brooding loners who shoot from the hip. During the late-90’s, Ferrara clearly saw a vision of his own demise and chose to document this mad descent into a living Hell in 1997’s The Blackout, which got little to no press yet deserves to stand next to Bad Lieutenant and King of New York as one of his finest moments.

Matty (Hollywood golden boy Matthew Modine, sleazing it up perfectly) seems to be on top of the world. His face in the magazines, a bank account full with cash, famous friends and a beautiful fiancée (Beatrice Dalle of Betty Blue infamy) who loves him dearly. His only problem seems to be a worsening addiction to cocaine and alcohol. After a drunken blow-up, Annie leaves him for parts unknown. Enter Mickey Ray (Dennis Hopper), a high-class pornographer attempting to remake Nana in Miami as a Caligula-style orgy for the upper class who mill around his sets. What follows is a long descent into the chemical abyss which culminates in a complete lapse of all logic and reason.


While the plot of The Blackout is slightly convoluted, the film works as both a mood piece and a genuine expression of rage directed at the demons that haunt both the character and the creator. The Blackout works best at those moments of naked sadness and humiliation, as we feel the tension Matty has within himself to fight his psychological war and the ultimate sadness of realization when we as a viewer know that sobriety will be short-lived.



Sadly, it looks as if The Blackout is very much a buried film. Copies are difficult to track down, and its long-deserved digital release seems to be vaporware. However, anyone with a taste for Ferrara is bound to take another walk on the dark side of the streets for another whirling phantasmagoria of a literal Heroin Hell. In recovery groups, it’s speculated that 9 out of the 10 addicts will eventually relapse. Most films are about that one person who doesn’t. The Blackout is about those 9 who do.


Written by David Austin

The Blackout
Direct by Abel Ferrara
5 / 5