'Out of the Blue,' Dennis Hopper's bleak, cult punk-rock flick at the Charles Theatre on Thursday
By By Caitlin Goldblatt
Feb 18, 2015 | 4:21 PM
Early on in Dennis Hopper's "Out of the Blue," teenaged Cebe (Linda Manz) observes that her fathers, Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, and Elvis Presley, have abandoned her, in that order. To her, the men who comprise this list of role models all embody her vision of what it is to be "punk." That vision, it turns out, operates without conscience. Cebe's actual father, Don (Hopper, in a raw performance that rivals what he does in "Blue Velvet"), went to prison early in her life after drunkenly crashing his freight truck into a school bus full of children while she sat in the car next to him. This left his daughter in the care of an emotionally fragile, heroin-dependent mother (Sharon Farrell) in a lower-working-class town near Vancouver.
Cebe remakes her reality in the context of a half-understood rebel ethos, shouts down anyone who contradicts the wasted sensibilities of her broken male idols, and demands to do things "the hard way" without recognizing that circumstance has already framed her life as such. The punk scene of the city serves as a road map for Cebe's journey through her early adolescence and experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, onward and downward into increasing bleakness following her father's release from prison, which only serves to remind her how disappointing her dad has been.
Hopper's direction balances an arty sensitivity with a documentarylike quality: Ominous tracking shots suggest a horror movie that never identifies its antagonist but rather focuses on its survivors; especially notable are scenes during which Cebe hitches a ride into Vancouver, too young to fully comprehend how the older punk kids tokenize her while narrowly escaping victimization at the hands of a trucker. Cebe does briefly get the chance to drum onstage with a punk band, in the film's sole moment of catharsis, but Hopper immediately juxtaposes this experience with Cebe having a flashback to her father's accident while driving some of her new fans around in a car she impulsively stole.
What Hopper does here speaks less to his ability to create atmosphere than to his compulsion to drive knives into the eyes of anyone daring to watch the posturing depicted in his films. By the late '70s, punk was already preparing for its death, determined to take the rest of the world—hippies and nonsubversives alike—out with it, and Cebe sees herself no differently. The implosion of Cebe's family grounds the story with the specific sort of terror children feel when they realize their parents are fuck-ups. Everything else feels lost and broken as a result. Cebe views herself as a final girl, at the end of all things. Fuck the trope of the angry young man—the angry young woman is here to stay. Actually, she was here the whole time.