I only became aware of Dennis Hopper’s 1980 drama Out of the Blue a few years ago, at which point it had long since become a semi-expensive collectible on DVD and was all but impossible to see. Happily, it’s now been been fully restored and will screen at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater; if you’re unable to make it to the Parkway, Severin Films is re-issuing Out of the Blue on Blu-ray at the end of the month.
Hopper’s directorial career was incontestably a checkered one. After the phenomenal success of his debut feature Easy Rider (1969), Universal gave Hopper carte blanche for his next film; he promptly traveled to Peru to shoot The Last Movie, one of the most famous movie-making fiascos of all time. By the time that film was released in 1971, any bridges between the uncompromising filmmaker and Hollywood’s money men had been well and truly burned.
Hopper had to wait almost a decade to shoot another film, and he had to go to Canada to do it. Filmed in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, Out of the Blue provided proof that Hopper was capable of making a coherent movie without compromising his vision, but it flopped at the box office and went missing for decades.
The remarkable Linda Manz plays Cebe, daughter of alcoholic trucker Don (Hopper) and junkie waitress Kathy (Sharon Farrell). After the inebriated Don T-bones a school bus and is sent to prison for three years, Cebe and her mother scrape by with the help of straight arrow diner owner Paul (Eric Allen) and Don’s best pal Charlie (Don Gordon), a sleazeball who supplies Kathy with smack.
Traumatized by the accident, Cebe has developed a hard adolescent exterior to protect herself from cruel classmates and help conceal her emotional turmoil. Devoted to Elvis Presley as a child, she’s since fallen in love with the aggression and asexuality of punk rock; her bedroom shrine to the King is supplemented by posters for prominent north-of-the-border bands such as Teenage Head, The Subhumans, and The Dishrags.
As Cebe struggles through high school with the not terribly helpful guidance of child psychologist Dr. Brean (Raymond Burr!), Don returns home from prison. Happy reunions are soon eclipsed by threats from the still grieving father of one of the collision’s victims, and things come to a head after Don loses his job at the local dump, setting up the film’s disturbing final revelations.
Taking its title from Neil Young’s song ‘My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),’ Hopper’s film reflects the big changes afoot in cinema as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. Clearly the singular vision of an artist, Out of the Blue is completely at odds with the nascent tent-pole strategy just beginning to take shape in Tinsel Town. Films like this became increasingly difficult to fund, and by the time Hopper got behind the camera again for 1988’s cop drama Colors, the era of the renegade indie filmmaker was well and truly over.
Featuring great live footage of Vancouver pop-punk favorites Pointed Sticks, Out of the Blue should have been a star-making showcase for the teenage Manz, who’d already delivered a memorable performance in Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers (1979). Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and her screen career never took off: Manz died in 2020, but this unforgettable performance is a more than worthy memorial to her considerable and largely untapped talent.
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