Dennis Hopper’s 1980 film, released by the BFI for this special, restored two-disc reissue, is a genuine one-off; a dark family drama that few have seen, and there’s a reason for that. This is the darkest of films, as befits Hopper’s reputation as a provocateur; he boarded this project and retooled it as a follow-up to his iconic Easy Rider, and it’s not hard to see why. The anti-establishment cool of that film has led to a dead-end here, with Hopper playing a dissolute father who has served jail-time, and comes out of the slammer to confront a dismal home-situation of his own making. The father he plays is no friend to the young; having accidentally killed a bus-load of kids on a school-bus that he’s ploughed his truck into while day-drinking, he’s lot a lot to live down.
But the hateful Don Barnes (Hopper) is not the main character here; that’s Cebe (the late Linda Manz) who still bears the scars, physically and emotionally, from her father’s substance-fuelled RTA. Cebe is alienated from her family and friends, and finds solace in punk rock. ‘Disco sucks, punk is forever’ Cebe offers as a mantra, but punk was dying out by 1980, and going to rough gigs doesn’t offer her much of a way forward. Cebe is tough, and able to fend off sexual predators, but the return of her absent father offers a different, unwelcome challenge that she can’t shake off so easily…
So we have to go into spoilers, because Out of the Blue requires a great deal of warning flags, all red. Don Barnes is an abusive father, and the film ends with Cebe killing her dad after confronting him as an abuser, then killing herself and her own mother Kathy (Sharon Farrell). This is one of cinema’s most gruelling, equivocal endings, and the reason why Out of the Blue is generally spoken about with hushed tones of reserve by those who stuck it out; you can’t say that Hopper sugar-coats his observation of these desperate characters, and neither does he pull away from depicting the worst possible ending for all concerned. Cebe promises to find a way ‘out of the blue and into the black’, and nothing becomes the characters’ lives here as much as the way that they leave this earth.
Coming to the project as a gun for hire after making Apocalypse Now with Coppola, Hopper is painful to watch as a feckless man lacking in any sense of basic human morality; drink and drugs are a staple to paper over the cracks in his personality, and the idea of pimping out his daughter to a friend (Don Gordon) is no big deal to him. Gordon and Farrell both give intense, naturalistic performances, but Manz is the revelation here, easy to empathise with and eking every drop of tragedy from an abused-daughter’s story.
A comprehensive package of extras includes Jack Nicholson’s radio spots commending the film as a ‘masterpiece’; it’s certainly a film well worth the detailed materials provided here in the extras. I saw this film on Channel 4 as a teenager, and was utterly shocked by the nihilism on display. Returning decades later, Out of the Blue is still a ground-breaking film in its willingness to observe the worst of human depravity, and if that’s what you seek, it’s an essential purchase for fans of Hopper, Canadian films or intense, adult cinema generally.
- Thanks to the BFI for blu-ray access to Out of the Blue.
- Released on 2-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime on 29 November 2021
- 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, 97 mins)
- Screen Guardian Talk: Dennis Hopper (1990, 91 mins, audio only): the filmmaker talks to Derek Malcolm
- Subverting Normality: Linda Manz Comes from Out of the Blue (2021, 18 mins): a new video essay by Amanda Reyes and Chris O’Neill
- Remembering Out of the Blue (2021, 174 mins): nine new interviews with cast & crew
- Me & Dennis (2021, 95 mins): four new interviews with Hopper’s friends and colleagues featuring Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Julian Schnabel and Philippe Mora
- Alex Cox Recalls Out of the Blue (2021, 13 mins)
- Montclair Film Festival Q&A (2020, 30 mins): John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr discuss the history and restoration ofthe film
- A selection of complementary archive shorts – Morecambe and Wise – Be Wise Don’t Drink and Drive (1963, 1 min), Drink Drive Office Party Cartoon (1964, 1 min), A Girl’s Own Story (Jane Campion, 1983, 27 mins); Girl (Carol Morley, 1993, 7 mins)
- Jack Nicholson radio spot (1982, 1 min)