I first saw the 1980 film Out of the Blue on a grainy VHS tape I rented from Video Fan on Strawberry Street when I was still in high school. I remember feeling a little depressed by it, while also thinking it was a low-budget mess. My how things change.
For most of its life, this somber flick has been hard to find, but after a recent 4K scan restoration championed by actresses Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny, the film looks better than ever on a new Blu-ray and DVD reissue . This time I enjoyed the bold improvisational game and laughed often at the odd writing and editing choices that director and star Dennis Hopper would later say were influenced by Abstract Expressionism and the video work of his artist friend Bruce Conner. Critics called the film a spiritual follow-up to Hopper’s early megahit Easy Rider, which shows how hippie utopianism often tumbled into the addiction and nihilism of the late ’70s. But I can only think of it as a coming-of-age punk cult classic, as well as Tomboy actress Linda Manz’s finest moment, which is reason enough to check out the new restoration.
A bit of backstory: The original project began as an after-school TV special about incest that was filmed in Vancouver with taxpayers’ money. The story featured a runaway teenager, played by spunky child actress Manz (the memorable narrator who improvised her lines in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven) and with Raymond Burr as her therapist. But when the original writer-director was fired two weeks into production, things got really weird. Enter the wild-eyed Hollywood exile Mr. Hopper, who’s still in the clutches of a serious drug and alcohol addiction of Bejeezu’s belt proportions – and hasn’t directed since his underrated “Easy Rider” sequel, which went largely unreleased has led. “The Last Movie” (1971).
If you don’t know much about Hopper, the guy was a talented still photographer with a great eye, had prophetic taste as an art collector and could be a brilliant actor when focused, having invented Brando, Newman and a close mentor. james dean He was also a physically abusive drunk and known in Hollywood by this time as a human train wreck that displayed a wild, almost Charlie Manson-like intensity throughout the ’70s (see ’71 doc The American Dreamer). In the extras included, amused director Richard Linklater tells a wacky tale about attending a screening of “Out of the Blue” in Houston in the early ’80s, after which Hopper took a small group of contestants to a nearby rodeo. There he performed the “Russian Dynamite Death Chair Act” stunt. This essentially involved blowing himself up as he sat in the vacuum created by an explosion of six sticks of dynamite pointed outward in a circle. A correspondent from Rice University memorably described it:
“Hopper, one with the shockwave, was thrown headfirst into a blaze of fire. For a single, timeless moment, he looked like Wile E. Coyote, shredded and spread by his own petard. Then clouds of smoke obscured the scene. We all charged past the police into the expanding plume of smoke, excited, fearful and no less expectant than before the blast. Are we looking for hoppers or pieces to take home as souvenirs? was one of the craziest things he ever did and it was weeks before he could hear again.”
Anyway, Hopper was mesmerized by the natural acting skills of Manz, one of the film’s big tomboys, so he rewrote the script like crazy over the weekend while listening to his friend Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album, where’s it from the title comes from; The song “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” was also quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note years later. By the time Hopper was done, the story morphed into a somber meditation on adolescent alienation and the burgeoning punk rock ethos, with Fuddy-Duddy Burr’s part almost entirely excised. Instead, there were repeated, violent flashback scenes of a drunk Hopper, who as Manz’s father, drives a semi truck into a school bus full of crying children. Somehow Hopper managed to shoot and edit the film in about 10 weeks.
Manz plays CeBe, a smart-ass young girl who acts hard to deal with her insecurity and despair over her alcoholic ex-con father, who has just been released from prison for accidentally killing the school kids, and her junkie mother (Shannon Farrell) to hide. CeBe idolizes the Sex Pistols’ Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious, and late at night chants mantras into the otherworldly CB radio in her father’s mangled truck, saying things like “Subvert normality” and “Kill all the hippies.” A juvenile delinquent, she roams the streets and is approached while finding her sense of family in the thriving punk scene and jamming with real Vancouver punk/new wave band Pointed Sticks, who get a nice cameo. But there are also scenes in the film that are really weird and disturbing; Hopper often seems out of acting when he’s rambling incoherently, keeping his eyelids half-open, or raging like King Lear in too-close scenes with Manz that can feel like revealing Method Actors improvisations.
As a director, Hopper shows his underlying talent not only with the gritty photography, but also by trusting his young actress to fill the role. The real power of “Out of the Blue” comes from Manz’s distanced delivery, which feels utterly authentic. She would later say that the role was very close to her person; She grew up on the streets of New York, her single mother worked as a maid at the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, this was her only leading role (as an adult, she had a supporting role in Harmony Korrine’s Gummo); yet she always displayed great instincts and comedic timing, as well as an uncanny ability to express honest emotion on screen, from anger and grieving loneliness to the dizziness of child’s play. CeBe’s embroidered denim jacket looks like the perfect time capsule; It’s a shame no one back then had made a film starring Manz and Jackie Earle Haley, whose “Bad News Bears” character Kelly feels like CeBe’s spiritual cousin. Retiring from acting and raising a family, Manz died of lung cancer in 2020.
Another thing that really stood out this time around was the film’s controversial ending scene [too explicit to describe here] foreshadows Hopper’s role as Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet. Everything is fine there. No wonder Hopper begged Lynch to cast him as the psychotic killer, reportedly telling the director, “You have to let me play Frank Booth. I’m Frank Booth!” It’s almost as if Hopper has managed to rediscover his acting muse by digging up his dark personal demons on screen, which he seems to be doing already in “Out of the Blue,” which is what got him to it brought about to get sober and rekindle his career as one of the great villains of Hollywood history in “Blue Velvet.”
“Out of the Blue” competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, but more importantly it became a VHS cult classic shared among friends for years. This new 4K Blu-ray recovery gives it the deluxe treatment. The tidied up 35mm print not only looks and sounds exponentially better (Neil Young’s lonely solo music has seldom been better used in a film apart from Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”), but over 15 hours of additional features are included. Among them is a long, fascinating interview with Hopper conducted by Tony Watts in 1984; the Restoration Premiere 40th Anniversary Q&A with Julian Schanbel, Natasha Lyonne and others; Gone But Not Forgotten: Remembering Linda Manz, a featurette starring Lydia Lunch and Leif Garrett, among others; a short film by original author Leonard Yakir; a radio spot by Jack Nicholson calling the film “a masterpiece”; in-depth interviews with admirers Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Philippe Mora, Schnabel and others that appear to have been filmed via videoconference during the pandemic; “Dealing with Demons,” Brian Cox on acting with Dennis Hopper; an interview with director Alex Cox (“Repo Man”); More interviews with 11 original cast and crew from the film – the list goes on and on. It’s truly remarkable how rich the content is, which speaks volumes about the film’s impact. It’s good to see that one of the most memorable cult films of the 80’s is finally getting its share – and then some.