Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Out of the Blue

OUT OF THE BLUE             A-                   
aka:  No Looking Back
Canada (95 mi)  1980  d:  Dennis Hopper

Everybody left me.  My father left me, Johnny Rotten left me, Sid Vicious left me, and now you, the King has to leave me.  I know you don’t understand, it’s just not the same without you.  I’m trying…
—Cindy “Cebe” Barnes (Linda Manz)  

Raw and ragged, with a fatalism befitting of the times, crudely honest and completely unpretentious, though relentlessly downbeat, this film has a spectacular air of nihilist rebellion about it unlike any other, where this may have been a blueprint for Harmony Korine’s GUMMO (1997), with the common connection being Linda Manz, who appears in both, an actress best known for her brilliant narration in Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978), one of the greatest voiceovers in cinema history.  Manz, raised on East 78th Street in New York, was in her early teens at the time of her discovery, and hadn’t done much acting outside of the classes forced on her by her mother—a cleaning woman in the World Trade Center.  While Jonathan Rosenbaum lists the film among his 15 best of the decade, "Jonathan Rosenbaum's Top Ten Lists 1974-2006", it was shot in Vancouver, originally conceived as a Canadian tax shelter, with Canadian-born actor Raymond Burr in the lead role.  Co-written and directed by Leonard Yakir, he proved to be completely incompetent once shooting began, so just 8 days into the shoot he was fired.  Producer Paul Lewis, one of the producers of Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (1971), which failed critically and financially and was pulled from theaters after a two-week run in New York (and is listed in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, though it has developed an enhanced reputation over time and may one day be perceived completely differently in the future), literally blacklisting Hopper from working in Hollywood afterwards, turned to Hopper to complete the film, perhaps the least likely person to be offered the job.  Described by Francis Ford Coppola, who hired him for APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), as “98% bullshit and 2% genius,” Coppola claimed he was going for the genius in his manic performance.  Hopper, who was on the set at the time only as a hired actor, but hadn’t been filmed yet, rewrote the script over a weekend, discovered new locations, and changed the focus of the entire movie, becoming a blistering teen angst film about insufferable alienation starring Linda Manz, who delivers a ferocious performance, one for the ages, and is the real reason to see this film.  Raymond Burr, who thought he was the star of the movie and whose presence was needed to receive the Canadian tax shelters, received 50% of the budget in salary, though he was largely cut out of the movie and is only utilized in two scenes.  Unlike THE LAST MOVIE, where it took him a year or two to edit the film (see 1971’s The American Dreamer, paralyzed by writer’s block and naked groupies for how he was spending his time during the editing process), this film was edited in six weeks, in time to premiere at Cannes in May 1980, where according to Roger Ebert, “it caused a considerable sensation, and [Linda] Manz was mentioned as a front-runner for the best actress award.  But back in North America, the film’s Canadian backers had difficulties in making a distribution deal, and the film slipped through the cracks.”  Losing the tax shelter status, the film was retitled NO LOOKING BACK, and wasn’t released in Vancouver until late 1983. 

Originally titled CEBE, Hopper heard the Neil Young song “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” Out Of The Blue (1980) trailer YouTube (2:23) on the radio while on the way to the set one day inspiring him to use the music while renaming the film OUT OF THE BLUE.  While the collaboration of 13-year old Manz with Malick produced the utterly sublime poetry of DAYS OF HEAVEN, the same collaboration two years later with Hopper produces a combustible force that is this movie, filled with the foreboding and doom associated with the director’s notorious drug consumption which was at its peak in the 70’s and 80’s following the huge economic success of Easy Rider (1969), where Hopper considered himself an alcoholic that used drugs to keep himself awake so he could drink even more.  Before he went into rehab, he was quoted as “drinking half a gallon of rum a day with a fifth of rum on the side, and about 28 bottles of beer and 3 grams of cocaine.  That was my daily input.  Then I started shooting up cocaine.”  While Hopper was exiled from the Hollywood studios, he continued to work outside the system for the rest of his career, as evidenced by a similar performance in Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (Der amerikanische Freund) (1977), where this is an independent film made during a time when there was no outlet for these films.  Using the Cassavetes template, Hopper’s style was a similar utilization of long, extended takes, allowing performers time and space to develop their characters.  In doing so, there’s a growing fascination with the inner turmoil and messy uneasiness of their lives, where the glaring imperfections are everpresent, including a low-budget, Roger Corman look of a film made on the fly, but also captured are real emotions, which is what matters most to this director.  If there were any lingering thoughts about resurrecting the innocence and idealism of the 60’s in the face of the shrill cries of nihilism from the rebellious punk scene of the 70’s, this film puts that dream to rest, appropriately conveyed by the Neil Young end-of-the-60’s punk anthem playing on the soundtrack with its immortal line, “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” which ironically achieved notoriety for supplying Kurt Cobain with a well-publicized quote in his suicide note.  Opening and closing with a bang, the film is largely a portrait of a dysfunctional family destroyed by a catastrophic event when a drunken Don Barnes (Dennis Hopper) crashes his truck directly into the center of a school bus stalled in the middle of an intersection, killing a busload of small children, forever damning Cebe’s reputation in school and in a town filled with angry parents.  Sent to prison for five years, young Cebe has largely raised herself alone, as her stressed out mother Kathy (Sharon Farrell) can’t make ends meet from her part-time job as a waitress where she’s sleeping with the owner while shooting heroin whenever she can get it.  Cebe establishes the mood with her opening credits rant to passing truckers on CB radio while sitting in the decaying cab of her father’s destroyed truck, Disco Sucks! Kill all Hippies!!! (1:34).

Subvert normality.  Punk is not sexual, it’s just aggression.  Destroy.  Kill All Hippies.  I’m not talking at you, I’m talking to you.  Anarchy.  Disco sucks.  I don’t wanna hear about you, I wanna hear from you.  This is Gorgeous.  Does anybody out there read me?  Disco sucks, kill all hippies.  Pretty vacant, eh?  Subvert normality.  Signing off.  This is Gorgeous.  Signing off.

With a cigarette in her mouth and a shrine to Elvis Presley in her room along with a drum set, Cebe literally struts down the street in her blue jean jacket with Elvis written on the back, terrorizing anyone and everyone she meets, yet despite the gruff exterior full of bluster and bravado, there’s still a little kid inside who’s frightened by her dead-end future, where the film is seen through her impressionable teenage eyes with the constant refrains of “Heartbreak Hotel” Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel - YouTube (2:09) echoing throughout the film, following her around like a dark shadow.  Given little reason to care while obsessed by the rebellious rage of Elvis and punk music, Cebe finds all adults pretty much useless, including her teachers, expressing no interest in a school system that fails to make any attempt to comprehend her broken home circumstances, whose kneejerk reaction is simply to kick her out of the classroom, all but encouraging her to cut classes and stop being “their” problem, instead spending her time wandering around the dingy streets of Vancouver, seen in an early 80’s time capsule, all shot in verité style.  One of the better scenes has Cebe fleeing from a potential scene of sexual exploitation into the manic hysteria of a punk club, Out of the Blue (1980) Pointed Sticks (5:45), making an instant connection with the drummer, where one of the exhilarating moments of her young life is playing onstage, even if it’s only for a few seconds, making her an instant star in the eyes of the other kids.  While she meets with a court-appointed therapist, none other than Raymond Burr as Dr. Brean, playing the role of police officer Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), who tries to help her adjust to her father’s release.  While she thinks everything will get better with her father back home, she’s in for a rude awakening, as he drinks recklessly, even on the job, where he drives a bulldozer emptying trash into a mammoth junkyard overrun by seagulls, Bob Seger (?) - Dennis Hopper - Out of the Blue (4:00), eventually fired after one of the irate parents complains to the owner, taking his rage out by demolishing the owner’s wooden shack.  Cebe has a terrific scene that plays on the theme of small town conformity, with a marching band in formation and cheerleaders in uniform, where Cebe disrupts their precision like a heat-seeking missile, walking through the lines before knocking over one of the cheerleaders that had given her a hard time earlier, seen in this updated YouTube clip set to the anti-disco reverberations of a modern era Spanish group Los Ginkas, LOS GINKAS- LINDA MANZ (2:40).  Out of work and back with his old gang, led by the equally crazed Don Gordon as Charlie, Don literally descends into a path of oblivion, growing more deranged and dangerous every day, where Cebe’s parents never stop bickering and fighting, offering little more than a picture of hopeless futility.  Hopper is to be commended for offering such an unflinchingly raw glimpse of the seedy realism and darker edges of out-of-control lives.  Most can’t even imagine this kind of life, much less see it onscreen, as it is the picture of senselessness and moral depravity, leaving Cebe no avenue of escape from this madness, where even their happiest days are shrouded in gloom.  Linda Manz is unforgettable in the role, where she obviously connected with the mad obsessions of the one and only Dennis Hopper.            

The perfect lead-in (the opening ten minutes) and post film discussion is led by independent filmmaker Richard Linklater during a screening at the Austin Film Society, Richard Linklater presents Dennis Hopper's OUT OF THE BLUE at the Marchesa (5/28/14) (39:02), offering some insane Hopper recollections (blowing himself up with dynamite and surviving!) that were associated with Linklater’s initial viewing of the film as a teenager, as he was there the night they finally led Dennis Hopper off to rehab.  Around the 33-minute mark Linklater describes Hopper’s intergalactic, sci-fi follow-up film to EASY RIDER.  Well worth listening and paying attention to, as Linklater perfectly encapsulates the flavor of the movie and the incredibly twisted nature of the man who made it.     

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