Out of the Blue
1980, R, 94 min. Directed by Dennis Hopper. Starring Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Don Gordon, Sharon Farrell, Leon Ericksen, Raymond Burr.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., March 25, 2022
For sheer what-the-fuckery, it’s hard to beat Out of the Blue’s opening scene: A drunk Dennis Hopper, Linda Manz in clown makeup riding shotgun, plows his 18-wheeler into the side of a school bus filled with children. The film gets darker and weirder from there. As Hopper’s directorial debut, 1969’s Easy Rider put the nail in the coffin of Sixties idealism, so his (until now) rarely available 1980 film tracked the decline of Seventies excess into no-future nihilism. At least, that’s what everyone says, anyway. Hopper the seer, once again reading the entrails of the zeitgeist. For this 4K restoration, there’s even a nice bit of opening text providing that very context. History loves a comfortable trajectory. But even if you take the wild production stories from Out of the Blue with a grain of salt, there’s no denying that, like the punk movement depicted in the film, there was a wholly unique convergence of forces that slammed together at just the right moment, and captured lightning on celluloid.
Most of that power comes from Linda Manz: the once-muse of Terrence Malick, forever the archetype of the Seventies tomboy, her wiseass, street urchin bravado often imitated but never duplicated. There is not an inauthentic bone in her body. Manz plays CeBe, a wayward 15-year-old obsessed with Elvis and punk rock, who lives with her mom Kathy (Farrell) in the outskirts of Vancouver. They both await the impending prison release of Don (Hopper), family patriarch, perpetual ne’er-do-well, inadvertent mass murderer. The restoration of the nuclear family brings no joy, however. Don is relegated to working a bulldozer at the town dump, a pint of cheap whiskey as co-pilot while Kathy continues her self-medication of intravenous drugs. This leaves CeBe to her own devices, which mostly involve wandering around town having conversations with her portable tape recorder or hitching a ride into the city for a run-in with a couple of sexual predators before the punk rock show.
There is a bleakness that permeates just about every frame of Out of the Blue. From the shithole diner Kathy works at to the spaces and street fronts CeBe wanders through, these environments don’t just look lived in, they look lived in, torn up, and left for dead. Hopper is smart enough to point the camera at Manz and follow her with wonderful, extended tracking shots (the early days of the Steadicam were the best), as she weaves in and out of this wasteland. In this, it’s reminiscent of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, with an added undercurrent of dread and violence. The film wildly flails on a precipice that constantly threatens to collapse, yet it never does. There’s a scene in the punk club where this guy is running around with a film camera, shoving it into people’s faces. “Say something legible!” he screams. Those days are over, kid. As anthropology, Out of the Blue is engrossing; as a social document, it is essential; but as undiluted raw power, it is absolute. No filter.
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Josh Kupecki, Nov. 20, 2015
Louis Black, June 4, 2010
Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 22, 2000
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Out of the Blue, Dennis Hopper, Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Don Gordon, Sharon Farrell, Leon Ericksen, Raymond Burr