Out of the Blue

Screenplay by Brenda Neilson, Leonard Yakir, Dennis Hopper

Directed by Dennis Hopper

Starring Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, Don Gordon

Dennis Hopper’s 1980 film “Out of the Blue” is the very definition of a controversial masterpiece. With its visual palate of destruction both external and internal, it was a film that most critics loved but one that proved to be too controversial in its subject matter to find an American distribution deal, even after making a small splash at the Cannes Film Festival.

This unique and important work has long been exiled to inferior VHS copies and foreign export DVDs and has been all but forgotten… until now.

The film has been restored in 4K from the only two 35mm prints left. John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr of Discovery Productions, Inc., the restoration premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival and was set for a rerelease, until the COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide shutdown, stifling plans for a release. Now that the world has opened again, the restoration is finally showing at The Metrograph in New York City, beginning Wednesday, November 17th and will be hosted by actresses Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny. 

As Simon stated, “… this restoration project was pay-back for all I learned from Dennis Hopper when we originally took ‘Out of the Blue’ on the road in 1982 after I rescued it from the shelf.  He was an amazing artist and friend and (the film) remains as unforgettable as he was and serves as an indelible tribute to the talents of Linda Manz.”

As both Manz and Hopper are both gone now, Simon’s words hit deeper to fans of these two unique talents. 

As Linda Manz’s character “CeBe” is keen on saying, “Subvert normality”, such is Hopper’s direction of the film. This is a story of alienated youth and doomed souls and as both director and actor, Dennis Hopper pulls no punches.

“Out of the Blue” follows Cebe (Manz), her mother (a fantastic Sharon Farrell), and father, Don (Hopper), and their dangerously ignorant navigation of the emotional debris that is their family. 

Don has spent the last several years in prison for a drunk driving accident where he crashed his semi into a school bus where many children were killed. 

It is in the film’s opening moments where we witness the horrifying crash. Don was drinking. CeBe (in clown makeup) was with him in the truck. As the truck plows into the bus of screaming children, so goes the lives and futures of this already cursed family. 

Hopper and cinematographer Marc Champion make their imagery powerful without needing artful design. Everything in “Out of the Blue” is presented naturally with Vancouver’s grey and rainy skies enhancing the dark futures of the characters. In CeBe’s world, the skies are as unforgiving as life. 

As CeBe, Linda Manz gives one of the great screen performances. Her work goes beyond the normal alienated (or alienating) teenager that is usually depicted in films. CeBe is a Punk Rock loving, Elvis Presley obsessed, teenager with no future and no guidance, who lives in a dream world where she worships her father. CeBe has buried the fact that Don was responsible for the deaths of those children and spends her days wearing his leather coat and trying to play her guitar, all the while waiting for the family to be reunited upon dad’s release. In her moments of frustration and stress, when reality finds its way in, she lies on the floor sucking her thumb, allowing a glimpse into the child she still very much is.

Manz delivers a performance that cuts through presumptions and expectations, creating a character that stays with you. The actress’ work is in the same stratosphere as Gena Rowlands’ Earth-shattering genius in John Cassavettes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”. CeBe is the personification of pain. At once heartbreaking and tough and vulnerable. Hopper rewrote the role to better suit the actress’s vibe. On screen and in her personal life, Manz was tough and no bullshit. Her presence here is nothing short of striking. 

Dennis Hopper matches Manz emotion for emotion. Hopper gave one for the ages. It is an aggressive performance filled with desperation and despair. Don and CeBe’s relationship is tragic and frightening. As Don, Hopper will not allow you to take your eyes off him and you will never forget what you see.

Hopper’s good friend Neil Young allowed the filmmaker to use cuts from the album “Rust Never Sleeps”, especially the hit, “My My Hey Hey (Into the Black)”. As the lyrics call out, “The king is gone but he’s not forgotten. Is this the tale of Johnny rotten? It’s better to burn out than fade away”, the song becomes both a prophet of doom and a final cry of defiance for CeBe and her parents. 

This is a strong and nihilistic piece of filmmaking. There is rebellion here, in the characters and in the film itself. Angry and brilliant and featuring a finale that is still shocking 40 years later, Hopper’s masterwork ends as it began, with everything bloodied and broken. 

“Out of the Blue” is (as CeBe calls her final act of defiance), “a punk gesture”. There is nothing like it. 

R, 94 Minutes, Discovery Productions