Out Of The Blue (1980)
Director: Dennis Hopper
Cast: Linda Manz & Dennis Hopper
Run Time: 96 mins
Released on 2-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime on 29th November 2021
Jamie Havlin watches a punk era cult-classic that is ripe for rediscovery.
‘Disco sucks. Kill all hippies. Pretty vacant, huh? Subvert Normality!’
15-year-old Cebe (Linda Manz) sits alone in an abandoned 18-wheeler rig and attempts to spread her punk philosophy on CB radio at night. Of course, the truckers within her range aren’t interested. ‘You’re just a crazy little kid,’ one tells her and Gorgeous (her CB handle) signs off. If you’ve ever wondered where Primal Scream sampled the spiel you hear on their Kill All Hippies single from XTRMNTR, now you know.
Everybody has a different definition of punk, but by any standards, Cebe’s ideas on the subject are idiosyncratic. She identifies with punk but tends to dress in what is nowadays dismissively dubbed double denim, with ‘Elvis’ and a guitar embroidered on the back of her jacket. Elvis obsessed, she even gives herself a stick and poke tattoo on her hand of his name and her walls are lined with pictures of the singer too. These share space with posters of more modern bands. There are images of Vancouver’s The Subhumans and female punk trio The Dishrags as well as a front cover of local fanzine/magazine hybrid Public Enemy (with the same stencil lettering that the rap act of the same name later used for their logo).
Small in size, big on attitude, Cebe lives with her mother Kathy (Sharon Farrell), a heroin user who functions capably enough to hold down a job waitressing. They’re far from wealthy but finance has been found for Cebe to have a guitar and small drum kit in her bedroom. Ex-biker dad Don is behind bars, the result of crashing into a stalled school bus with horrific results while swigging booze. After spending five years inside, he’s about to be released and it’s somehow hoped that the family can magically reconnect and live happily ever after.
Inevitably, due to her father’s crime, a stigma has been attached to Cebe in school and beyond. And when he is released, not many people in town are going to be in any mood to forgive the drunk who killed a number of children and traumatised many others – including Cebe herself, who was sat in his passenger seat as the horror unfolded.
Kathy’s a good-looking woman, not unlike Farrah Fawcett. Men like her and she likes men. Out with temporary boyfriend Paul, she comes across Don’s pal Charlie, who she happily flirts with much to Paul’s annoyance. A rare example of a potentially good adult role model for Cebe, Paul doesn’t want Kathy getting back with Don. Kathy’s only using him, though. Charlie ends up back at her place where Cebe witnesses the pair shooting up. She can’t handle it and decides to go AWOL, hitching into the city.
There she eventually finds herself at a punkish downtown club where she gets talking with some members of headliners Pointed Sticks (a real group who’d just signed to Stiff). Cebe is seldom shown as happy, but when invited by their drummer to take over for the end of a song her excitement is almost uncontainable. She’s given a round of applause as she leaves the stage, and you would like to hope that there might just be a future in music for this alienated teen.
Cut to: Cebe driving a stolen car full of drunks. She’s arrested and sent to see a shrink. Feigning boredom, she attempts to fob him off by claiming she only borrowed the car, but he’s quick to remind her that in reality she endangered her own life and the lives of others. Like father like daughter.
Don hasn’t learned a thing from his mistakes either. At his welcome home bash, he comes across an unwelcome guest, the father of a boy he killed. Don shows a real lack of remorse which bodes badly for his future. He also talks about getting his rig back on the road but drink drives on his way to pick Cebe up from school. He drink drives while taking his wife and daughter to a nearby beach for a picnic. He boozes while he works in his new job at a local garbage dump populated by thousands of squawking seagulls.
This is far from a reformed character and this film surely isn’t going to end well.
Hopper wasn’t originally hired to direct, but when co-writer Leonard Yakir’s footage was judged to be unusable after a fortnight of filming a radical solution was needed fast. Hopper replaced him and rewrote the script over the course of a weekend. He would continue to re-rewrite every morning, drawing on Linda Manz’s personality for her character. He introduced the punk element when he found out that she was a fan of the music and that Vancouver possessed a thriving punk scene, while like Cebe, Linda Manz liked to drum, hence her cameo with Pointed Sticks.
The fact that there were constant changes to the script, including the cast’s improvisations, meant that Out of the Blue has a suitably rough and ready feel. The ending comes across to me like a fantasy or fever dream that Cebe might have had rather than reality. This is not what Hopper intended but you could argue it works either way.
It would make a great double bill with River’s Edge (1986), another disturbing youth-oriented film from the 1980s that featured Hopper, which should be much better known.
He gives one of his most intense and electrifying performances here. He’s not Frank Booth-frightening, but he is the kind of abrasive drunk that it’s a good idea to avoid in bars or at parties as he’ll likely spontaneously self-combust before the night is out.
Manz, then eighteen, is even better, truly spellbinding in places. The film premiered at Cannes in 1980 and she emerged as a contender for the festival’s best actress award – although A Leap In The Dark’s Anouk Aimée went on to lift the prize. If in the early 1980s, you were looking at movies like Foxes with Jodie Foster and Laura Dern or Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains with Diane Lane (and Laura Dern again), you might have judged that Manz had the most potential of any of these young actors, but she only ever appeared in a handful of films after Out Of The Blue, Sadly, she died last year from pneumonia and lung cancer, aged 58.
Once seen, never forgotten, Out Of The Blue is one of the best reissues of 2021.
This release comes packed with special features. These include an audio commentary with Dennis Hopper, producer Paul Lewis and distributor John Alan Simon (2000); new commentaries by Kate Rennebohm and Kat Ellinger; Dennis Hopper interviewed by Tony Watts (1984); Subverting Normality: Linda Manz Comes from Out of the Blue (2021): a new video essay by Amanda Reyes and Chris O’Neill; an illustrated booklet (first pressing only) and even short films by Carol Morley and Jane Campion.
For more on the release click here.
All words by Jamie Havlin. Jamie has written a couple of short films screened on British TV and at international festivals. He regularly contributes to the glam rock fanzine Wired Up!
More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.