Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue

He never really dressed punk, but Dennis Hopper certainly pursued his stormy career with a punk rock attitude. So, it rather makes sense that he felt an affinity for the young punk rock fan who was the lead character of his 1980 directorial “comeback.” He was only hired as a thesp, but Hopper stepped in when the original director exited the Canadian-set film early on. For years, it has been largely known through its reputation rather from viewers actually laying eyes on it, but Hopper’s Out of the Blue now re-releases in its fully restored glory this week in Los Angeles.

Cindy “CeBe” Barnes is a hard kid to love, but frankly, she is her parents’ daughter. She pines for the parole of her former trucker father Don, who is doing time for an accident with a school bus—or at least she pretends she does. Meanwhile, her waitress mother Kathy is openly seeing her boss at the diner, while trying to cover up her drug addiction. Embracing her alienation, CeBe styles herself as a punker, but she still loves Elvis. On the other hand, she hates disco with a passion, as she explains to other truckers on the CB radio of her father’s wrecked truck.

Her father is due to be released soon, but rather than settling CeBe down, she seems to be acting out more than ever. In fact, she runs away to Vancouver, diving into the punk scene, where she inevitable runs into trouble with the law. Dr. Brean, her court appointed counselor would like to help, but she refuses to cooperate.

Out of the Blue premiered six or seven years later at Sundance, it could have scored a boffo Miramax distro-deal. Watching it now, it is easy to see it as an early forerunner to the films of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine. This is a very personal and uncompromising film. In fact, Hopper spares us absolutely nothing in the extraordinarily disturbing third act.

Of course,
Blue (as rewritten by Hopper) is a perfect vehicle for his persona. As Don Barnes, he seethes with rage, but also projects all kinds of pain and contrition. In a way, the deeply flawed trucker could be a missing link connecting the characters he would later play in Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. At the time, Linda Manz generated most of the film’s buzz at Cannes with her uncomfortably frank performance as CeBe. She is terrific, but like the film itself, she largely disappeared from the public eye, after her career got off to a quick start in Days of Heaven and The Wanderers.

Similarly, it is nice to have a chance to reappraise the talents of Sharon Ferrell (the stepmother in
Night of the Comet), who is just about as harrowing to watch playing Cebe’s mom, as Manz is portraying the troubled teen. It is also intriguing to see the legendary Raymond Burr adding gravitas as Dr. Brean, which was a rather uncharacteristic role for the thesp so identified with franchises like Perry Mason and Godzilla. (Also, you can briefly see Jim Byrnes from the Wise Guy and Highlander series as a party singer.)

The performances throughout
Blue are truly first-rate, but nothing about this film is easy to take. Hopper really goes full punk rock on the audience, pummeling us with his emotional spikes. Recommended for fans of 1980s indie films (you could argue it is one of the first), Out of the Blue opens Thursday (1/6) in LA, at the American Cinematheque.