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The Punk Rock Movie: Out of the Blue on Blu-ray

  Out of the Blue may appear on the surface to be a strange exponent of punk rock, especially when there is very little actual punk music on the soundtrack. Its lead character, CeBe played by Linda Manz, purports to be a fan of the genre, but it's only the Canadian cult band The Pointed Sticks we see her at a concert of, and otherwise her affections seem closer to the late Elvis Presley - she wears a denim jacket with his name stitched on the back. But once the film is over, we understand more, as her male role model is her father, played by Dennis Hopper, who is a constant disappointment to her, so the remote idea of a rocker is a better bet to look up to.

None of those problematic issues with a professional rebel, CeBe takes it for granted they knew what they were doing, yet even so the likes of Elvis and Sid Vicious were dead by the time in the late seventies/early eighties when Out of the Blue was made, and Johnny Rotten seemed to have deserted the movement, as far as she was concerned (guess Public Image Ltd never made it to her neck of the woods). Another bonus about worshipping rock idols is that they are unlikely to have killed all your schoolfriends, as we see Hopper do in the opening few minutes, one of the most very horrible introductory scenes of any movie before or since, punk or otherwise.

The punk description seems to have been added not because of the tunes - Neil Young penned and performed the theme song, My My Hey Hey - but because of attitude, and there was plenty of that in a film that often gets described as the epitome of screen nihilism. CeBe lives in a no hope, dead end town, her mother (Sharon Farrell) is a heroin addict with a propensity for latching onto any man who passes in her orbit, a survival method that backfires on her daughter, and nobody has any faith in the girl. Manz of course became a cult actress thanks to this work, as well as to an extent The Wanderers which she was in shortly before, and she embodied an energy and anger that kicked against her character's loneliness; she would say it was her favourite role in her brief career.

Rivalling her for cult acclaim is Hopper, who defined the death knell of the sixties with Easy Rider around a decade before this and spent the rest of his career either trying to live up to it or live it down. He had not directed anything since the debacle of The Last Movie, his messy potshot at Hollywood, and only took over the reins of Out of the Blue because the previous director had been fired; Hopper rewrote the script uncredited to adhere more closely to his career pessimism at the time. Nobody ends up happy in this, when CeBe realises there is no hope she truly commits to removing herself and her family from the picture, but the sheer commitment to the bleakness was bracing in a way that few other movies embraced, and Manz, who really should have acted more, is electrifying and saddening all at once.

The BFI have released Out of the Blue on a double disc Blu-ray absolutely stuffed with special features, if you ever wanted to be an expert on one of the grimmest films ever made in North America, you could do a lot worse than listen to the audio commentaries and interviews with Hopper and the cast and crew. Alas, the presence of Manz is missing: you imagine she would have loved to be involved in this special edition, but the fact she died in 2020 aged only 58 put paid to that idea. Indeed, out of the main stars here: Manz, Hopper, Farrell, Don Gordon and Raymond Burr, only Farrell was alive to share a few reminiscences, and she like the other interviewees admits it was a difficult shoot, Hopper having not left his wild years behind him yet.

It should be noted the presentation of this 4K restoration is from indie stars Chloe Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne, an indication of how much the androgynous CeBe means in her place of cult teenage girl characters. Therefore it is fitting that the two archive shorts included here are directed by women, A Girl's Own Story from Jane Campion, and Girl by Carol Morley, both from their earliest career points and both dealing with trauma as experienced by teenage girls. Campion's skilfully on a low budget traces the morass of conflicting emotions and drives as her characters come of age, from Beatles fantasies to teenage pregnancy, a source of shame in 1960s Australia, and Morley deals with the coming to terms of a girl with her father's suicide, told through closeups of an empty house and her parent's Morris Traveller. Each sympathetically demonstrates the blossoming talent of the director, and would be unthinkable from a male director's perspective.

Girl features Morecambe and Wise's comedy record on the soundtrack as a point of poignancy, so it is appropriate that the comic duo should appear in the extras too, performing their once-thought-lost anti-drinking and driving skit for a public information film, as seen on the television of the mid-sixties. It adeptly uses their humour to put across a serious message, a trick many a PIF would employ, and is therefore far more effective than the alternative piece from the Halas and Bachelor studios, which arranges still photographs and captions in a soft-hitting item of advice, aimed at women whose partners would drive them home. Maybe Hopper's opening scene of drunken horror from Out of the Blue should have been repurposed as a PIF.

[Those special features on the excellent BFI Blu-ray release:

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 the cast and 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 of the 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, 1min), A Girl's Own Story (Jane Campion, 1983, 27 mins); Girl (Carol Morley, 1993, 7 mins )
Jack Nicholson radio spot (1982, 1 min)
Limited 2-disc Edition (4,000 copies) includes booklet with extensive archival writing on the film, a new essay on the film's music by BFI's Vic Pratt, contemporary reviews and more.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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