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November 17, 2021

Out of the Blue


Dennis Hopper - 1980
Discovery Productions

The good news is that after decades of being unavailable to be seen in any form, Out of the Blue has been restored with upcoming screenings and a U.S. home video release. My own take on Dennis Hopper's third film is that it has not aged well. How the film was made is a more interesting story.

What originally was intended to be a made for television movie was transformed when the original director and co-writer was fired after two weeks of production. According to information included as part of the restored film, Hopper, who was initially hired as an actor, rewrote part of the screenplay convincing the producers to let him direct the film rather than allow it to be abandoned. Part of reshaping the film meant having it center on Linda Manz as the troubled teenage girl, using her pugnacious attitude to inform her fictional character. While Hopper is not credited for the final screenplay, the film appears to have at least partially been composed of improvised setups.

Manx's character of Cebe (pronounced as C.B.) is a perpetual rebel with an admiration for Elvis Presley, a love of punk rock, and a volatile relationship with her parents. Her father, Don, is an alcoholic, imprisoned for five years after driving his truck into a stalled school bus. Cebe was with her father at the time and spends time in the ruins of that truck. Cebe's mother Kathy works at a low end restaurant, occasionally shooting heroin (?). Cebe alternated between embracing and running away from her dysfunctional family. The relationship between Cebe and her father becomes uncomfortable viewing when Don's interest in his daughter appears more than paternal.

The title comes from the Neil Young song, remembered for declaring that "rock and roll is here to stay" and that it is "better to burn out than fade away". Forty some years after Young penned that song, rock seems to belong an aging generation of fans and musicians, and Johnny Rotten is a fan of Donald Trump. Punk taken to its extreme has revealed itself to be interested in disruption for its own sake. Cebe is not always a sympathetic character. Even with time spent alone, there appears to be no sense of self-reflection, with a constant need to be accepted only on her own terms. Maybe in my own way I have become more conservative, though not in the same way as Dennis Hopper had after he ended his own immersion of drink and drugs. Some other critics have used "masterpiece" and "classic" to describe the film. I may be in the minority but I am not convinced. Even more starkly now, the nihilism that permeated Out of the Blue has revealed itself itself to be literally a dead end.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 17, 2021 06:44 AM