At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Out of the Blue “80”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Drama/Stars: Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, Don Gordon, Raymond Burr, Eric Allen, Fiona Brody, David L. Crowley, Joan Hoffman, Carl Nelson, Francis Ann Pettit, Glen Pfeifer, David Ackridge, Jim Byrnes, Glen Fyfe/Runtime: 95 minutes

I think it is safe to say that if you ever mention the name of “Dennis Hopper” in connection with the land of movie magic I think you will find yourself the recipient of one of at least three different reactions. One of these is most common amongst people of my age and just involves them looking at you and going “who?” as if they are a fairly confused owl. The second is where the person you say the name to looks at you with a smile and says “oh heck yeah! That guy’s the man! I loved him in Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, and on and on”. That reaction incidentally is one you will find when you bring his name up to me…..or to people who love the underground Hollywood scene of which Hopper most assuredly was a proud and thriving member of. Lastly, there’s the group that if you say his name to them the only thing about the man that they can tell you is that they loved him as the villain that Keanu Reeves went toe to toe with in 1994’s Speed since that was easily one of the most “mainstream” slices of cinema that the man ever made in his career. Yet for all the achievements the man had in his career, I think the one that most people overlook is that the man was also an immensely talented director. Indeed in his career, Hopper gave us no less than 7 directorial efforts during his time entertaining us on the silver screen and all 7 of them in their own ways are truly iconic slices of cinema that are definitely worth checking out. Out of all of them however, the one that I feel doesn’t get nearly as much attention or respect paid to it as it rightfully should is a movie he helmed in 1980 known as Out of the Blue. Indeed here is a Canadian slice of cinema that Hopper made whilst he was a persona non grata in Hollywood and he was only supposed to star in it. Yet following a series of circumstances leaving the director’s chair open, Hopper volunteered to take over. The result is a slice of cinema that is raw, gritty, emotional, extremely well-cast, very well helmed, and one that might not be for everyone, but is definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance to.

The plot is as follows: Out of the Blue tells us the story of a young woman by the name of Cebe. Here is a young woman who may have started life with all the potential and promise that a person born into this world may possess, but who in her teenage years has already found herself looking at a life that is the equivalent of a 5 car pile-up on the highway. A claim that can be backed up by the fact that her home life is a complete and utter wreck. Her father Don, when our story begins, is in the middle of getting out of jail for a crime that I think I will leave for you to discover for yourself and has desperately been trying to repay society for ever since when he’s not being tempted by his friends Jack Daniels and Jim Bean if you get my drift. As for her mom Kathy, she has been doing whatever she can to support the family….when she’s not shacking up with dear ol’ Dad’s slimy “best friend” or engaging in her own vices that is. Suffice it to say that this intriguing family dynamic is one that seems to be made up of equal parts grief, pain, tragedy, and maybe a bottle or two of booze and pills and is one that is all but setting the table for Lady Tragedy to come and make a blemish on their lives that might just be impossible to remove. As for whether or not she does just that, I think I will just leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say you might think you know where this bumpy and twisty road is headed, but you don’t. Not by a long shot.

Now this slice of cinema is blessed first and foremost with the fact that it got Dennis Hopper to direct it since I can all but guarantee you that Hopper was able to connect with this highly dysfunctional family and their various flaws and vices since he helmed this movie at a fairly low point in his life where he himself was in the tragic throes of an addiction to both pills and the bottle. Yet the film, rather than shy away from the immense struggles its director was experiencing at that time in his life, actually makes the bold choice to kind of hint at it courtesy of a rather unorthodox narrative. A structure that consists of Hopper glossing over moments you would normally see in a film like this like the dad being discharged from prison and instead focuses on seemingly superficial moments that don’t really propel the narrative ahead in any key way. However, I would like to point out that this a fairly appropriate manner to film this since it manages to effectively show aimless our 3 main characters really are. A key example of this is a scene where Cebe goes into town for a wild and crazy party-hearty night. Once in the city, we see her climb into a taxi and start chatting to the driver about punk rock and he suggests taking her to a place he knows where the two of them can engage in certain substances. From there, we get to see Hopper show us this place in all its seemingly realistic yet still quite gaudy “glory”. More importantly than that however, it also proves to be a riveting look at just how far down the rabbit hole Cebe has traversed, but just as terrifying, how further down she could traverse as well and that’s just one example of many impressively on display in this slice of cinema’s 95 minute runtime.

Now the other big positive that is working in this slice of cinema’s immense favor would have to be the emotionally potent and fairly gripping work done by its cast which, all of whom incidentally, turn in some truly powerful performances. This starts with Linda Manz who is equal parts hard to watch yet also downright magnetic in the role of Cebe. Indeed Manz gives us an inside look at a young woman who her whole life has had it be molded and shaped by forces outside of her control and is, if I’m being a wee bit brutally honest, kind of a mess on the outside. Yet it’s in those moments where Manz removes the armor and gives us a look on the inside that we are tragically able to see that the exterior might be a little bit of a mess, but on the inside it’s even worse. That’s because internally this is a young woman who is, for all intents and purposes, on a collision course with disaster in the worst way. Yet even with this looming overhead you still can’t help but be riveted by her performance due to how realistic and gripping it is even if it is the acting equivalent of seeing a head-on collision coming from a mile away and tragically not being able to do anything about it. Suffice it to say Manz gives us one of the more raw looks at neglect, abuse, and just pain and heartache from a young actor this side of Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People which coincidentally was released the same year as this film. We also get top-flight work in this from Dennis Hopper as Cebe’s father Don and I know that there are stories which talk about how Hopper was going through some serious issues with drugs and alcohol at the time. However I think those issues are also what make this such a powerful performance. That is because the character of Don is one which required an actor who wouldn’t play this man as a character in a movie, but as a real human being flaws and all. I think it’s safe to say that Hopper is able to give us that and so much more. Indeed it’s one heck of a performance from a man who gave us a career full of those. Now in the role of family matriarch Kathy, I definitely think Shannon Farrell gives a good performance, but it does tragically tend to get overshadowed a bit by the work done by Manz and Hopper respectively. Finally, there is one other performance that I would like to take note of and that is the integral co-starring role in this by Raymond Burr as Dr. Brean. No it’s not the biggest part in the movie, but Burr manages to give the character a wonderful mix of warmth and humanity that it so desperately needed and his scenes with Manz are truly some of the most emotional in the film.

All in all Out of the Blue is a raw and human look at the magnitude of impact a tragically and seemingly never-ending collection of pain, heartbreak, and various addictions on all sides can impact and contort a family dynamic until all you are left with is three people who I suppose do love one another (or rather did at one point in time), but who have become so twisted by their various vices (drugs, alcohol, and other factors) that not only can they not connect with each other, but they also cannot connect with other people to say nothing of rebuild their lives and make something of themselves as well despite their best attempts to do so. Yet rather than take the easy way out at any point in time, this slice of cinema has the courage and the guts to try and be as realistic and heartwrenching as possible. A feat that I can proudly say this slice of cinema manages to achieve thanks in large part to not only how riveting Hopper’s helmsmanship truly was, but also in how terrific of a job the truly gifted cast does at making their characters not only seem like real people in the vein of you or me as well as heart wrenchingly believable when it comes to the choices that they make throughout the course of this slice of cinema’s 95 minute runtime. Suffice it to say therefore that 1980’s Out of the Blue might be a tough sit for a lot of people, but if you get the chance to sit down and view this slice of cinema I implore you to please give this slice of cinema an opportunity to show you what it is working with. Not just because of all the other high-quality aforementioned ingredients this emotional saga of dysfunction, alienation, and addiction brings to the table, but also because of how genuine and realistic this slice of cinema is at showcasing what it’s like to find oneself suffering from severe disconnect of the world around them because of factors that you tragically either might have had no control of or did and you just sadly were unable to do anything about them until it was too little, too late. On a scale of 1-5 I give Out of the Blue “80” a solid 4 out of 5.