Friday Editor’s Pick: “Out of the Blue” (1980)

by on June 2, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Opens Fri June 3 and continues through Thurs June 9, screening at 7:15, 9:15 daily (plus 5:15 shows Sat June 4 & Sun June 5) at Anthology Film Archives [Program & Tix]

 

Anthology runs a new 35mm print of the late Dennis Hopper’s neglected followup to The Last Movie, beginning this Friday June 3.

 

Richard Brody for The New Yorker:

In this raw and vehement melodrama from 1980, Dennis Hopper, as director, gives himself the lead role of Don, a truck driver who is about to be released from prison, where he served time after drunkenly smashing his rig into a school bus. But Hopper yields the spotlight to Linda Manz, who plays Cebe, Don’s teen-age daughter, a punk rocker, a social outcast, and an heir to his wild ways. While Don is locked up, his wife (Sharon Farrell) takes up with her boss (Eric Allen) at the diner where she works and, in the company of Don’s best friend (Don Gordon), starts shooting up. Cebe, in despair, runs away from home and ends up on probation under the tutelage of a sympathetic psychiatrist (Raymond Burr), who can do little in the face of her open revolt. And, upon her father’s return, she joins in the family’s endless degradation, torment, and guilt in scenes of derelict exaltation and proud insolence. Hopper’s characters are in the realm of the irreparable; if the fervent acting occasionally overheats, the reckless emotions nonetheless convey the authentic struggle of personal experience.

 

 

 

J. Hoberman for the Village Voice:

A genuinely alarming miasma of misplaced sexuality and rock ’n’ roll fetishism—Dead Elvis lives! Neil Young mourns!—Out of the Blue is basically a family drama with Dennis the Menace directing himself as the world’s supreme fuckup. In this incarnation, Hopper is a truck driver who plowed his rig into a schoolbus because he was drunkenly fooling around with his prepubescent daughter, professional urchin Linda Manz. After six years in prison, this monster of irresponsibility returns to his wife (Sharon Farrell), a smack-shooting floozy, and to his extravagantly disturbed child, an aspiring punk rocker (“Disco sucks, kill all hippies”), with near-apocalyptic results.

 

With its skid-row lyricism (Hopper piloting a bulldozer around a seagull-infested garbage dump while Young sings the title tune) and degenerate counterculture ambience, Out of the Blue caps the BBS Productions era that Easy Rider more or less initiated scarcely more than a decade before. Indeed, the movie seems a miserablist sequel to BBS’s great critical hit Five Easy Pieces with hardhat Hopper and waitress Farrell as travesties of Jack Nicholson and Karen Black, and Manz as the mutant child whom Nicholson lights off for Alaska to escape.

 

Michael Tully for Hammer to Nail:

American cinema has spoken quite well for itself in the first half of 2011, but watching a new 35mm print of Out of the Blue makes even the most graphic new releases seem so utterly tame. As disturbing today as Dennis Hopper’s 1980 drama presumably was back then, Hopper’s long-overdue directorial follow-up to his grand folly The Last Movie unflinchingly depicts the loss of one young girl’s innocence while simultaneously existing as an explosive time capsule of the burgeoning punk rock scene of that very moment. While it’s admittedly silly to bitch about the “glory days” and whine about how they “don’t make ‘em like they used to,” in the case of Out of the Blue, they really don’t.

 

In a performance as iconic as — and perhaps even more unforgettable than — her big-screen debut in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, Linda Manz plays Cebe, a brash adolescent who’s got a serious Elvis obsession. In a balls-to-the-wall sideswipe of an opening scene, we learn why Cebe currently lives alone with her mother. However long ago — this sequence is a dream, though it’s likely it went down this way — a clown-faced Cebe is riding in the passenger seat of her father’s big rig as he barrels forward, taking swigs of liquor, laughing, and kissing her on the lips. Cebe seems to be in her glory. While it’s obvious that this isn’t going to end well, it ends way worse than that. Mind you, this all happens before the opening credits have even begun to scroll.

 

 

Keith Uhlich for Time Out New York:

Dennis Hopper stepped in at the last minute to helm this often overwrought family drama (he’d been away from the director’s chair since the 1971 debacle The Last Movie), but his punch-drunk spontaneity is a good fit for material that, in other hands, could have been lurid and insufferable. Cebe (Manz, taking her hard-ass Days of Heaven persona into adolescence) is an emotionally damaged, punk-loving tomboy who spends her days railing against all manner of authority. Her mother (Farrell) is a nympho drug addict, and her father (Hopper) is a deadbeat who’s just finished up a jail term for crashing his truck into a school bus full of children (we see truly frightening flashes of the accident throughout). And the tragedies don’t stop there.

 

Hopper keeps things light and off-the-cuff, allowing his performers free rein—sometimes too much, as in the case of the screechy and shrill Farrell—to explore grim territory without falling into heavy-handedness. It’s clear our young protagonist is on a predetermined path to self-destruction. The conceptually interesting climax aims to be an incendiary, ’60s-hangover complement to the abrupt finale of Easy Rider, though—since the sequence hinges on a sloppy contrivance involving Wile E. Coyote’s weapon of choice—it plays a bit too Looney Tunes. But there are still plenty of peripheral pleasures, especially a surreal interlude where Cebe runs off to the big city for an Alice in Wonderland–like adventure that includes a stolen car, a fourth-wall-breaking street performer and the Canadian punk-rock band the Pointed Sticks.

 

Nick Pinkerton interviews the film’s former ingenue Linda Manz  (PLUS her clam bread recipe!) for the Voice:

Manz was discovered during casting calls for Days of Heaven (1978), eventually playing Richard Gere’s little sister, “Linda,” in Terrence Malick’s Texas Panhandle–set period piece. When Malick couldn’t find his 70mm epic in the editing room, he had the crazy-brilliant idea to let his 15-year-old starlet lead the way: “This was later on: They took me into a voice recording studio,” remembers Manz. “No script, nothing, I just watched the movie and rambled on . . . I dunno, they took whatever dialogue they liked.” Laid over the images, these extemporaneous monologues abut God, the Devil, and some kid named Ding Dong (“I just made that up”) gave the movie its perspective—and a surreal humor Malick never matched.

 

Days led to roles in the cartoon Bronx of Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers, as a boxcar kid in TV’s Orphan Train, and then Out of the Blue, Hopper’s head-on collision with the brick wall of nihilist rebellion he’d been staring at his whole career. “I think I was Cebe,” says Manz of relating to her character, a punkette growing up in the blue-collar Northwest who goes out with a bang. Manz, however, faded away, never graduating from juvenile to ingénue—though the scene in Out of the Blue in which she confronts her father (played by Hopper) looking like a Balthus model makes you wonder, “What if?”

 

 

 

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