‘Out of the Blue’: When Dennis Hopper Cast Himself as a Dad

One of the weirder episodes in the long, strange trip of Dennis Hopper’s career, “Out of the Blue,” from 1983, was intended as a cautionary after-school special about a troubled teenage girl. It mutated mid-production when Hopper, cast as the girl’s father, became the director and, scarcely less violently than his character, threw caution to the wind.

The movie, which looks great in a new 4K restoration, is at Metrograph in Manhattan through Nov. 28.

Set amid the impressive vistas of the Canadian northwest, “Out of the Blue” is a boldly feel-bad film about punk rock, lunatic driving and deranged family values. A disgraced trucker, Don (Hopper) returns home after five years in prison to find work in the town dump. Meanwhile, his malleable wife, Kathy (the veteran TV actor Sharon Farrell), shoots up in the bathroom and their Elvis-obsessed daughter, the hard-faced urchin Cebe (Linda Manz, fresh from her attention-grabbing turn in Terrence Malik’s “Days of Heaven”), plots to escape high school.

Cebe has already run away to Vancouver for a short-lived idyll involving an Elvis impersonator; a degenerate cabdriver; a house of sin; a rowdy punk performance in which she got to play drums; a stolen car; and a session with a stern social worker, played by the Canadian actor Raymond Burr whose fleeting presence sealed the project’s status as a Canadian tax-shelter production.

“Out of the Blue” takes its title and several songs from Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1979 LP, “Rust Never Sleeps.” It’s a pop culture assemblage not unlike Cebe’s boudoir which, in addition to an Elvis shrine and several punk rock posters, contains a teddy bear, a model truck, a car-top flashing light, various road signs, a decapitated Barbie and a framed picture of a pink poodle.

Many scenes have a semi-improvised feel. Hopper, who gives himself some spectacularly self-indulgent moments, is often riveting, but the movie ultimately belongs to Manz, introduced in Halloween clown-face makeup happily riding in Daddy’s rig. “Am I as sexy as Elvis?” Hopper demands, eyes off the road, heading for a particularly horrendous collision with destiny.

“This father and daughter may not resemble any other father and daughter you’ve ever seen,” Janet Maslin wrote in her appreciative New York Times review, adding that “whatever wavelength Mr. Hopper is on here, she’s on it, too.” Indeed, unfazed by the antics of her director-father, Manz doesn’t appear to be acting.

At one point, Cebe goes with friends to a movie that, less than likely, is Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” “I hate happy endings,” she announces. It’s a foregone conclusion that “Out of the Blue” won’t have one, but Hopper uncorks a closer far beyond mere unhappiness.

Reviewing the movie for The Village Voice, I observed that “Out of the Blue” is just that: “You rarely know what will happen next and you scarcely believe it when it does.” That still holds true.

Out of the Blue

Through Nov. 28 at Metrograph, Manhattan;

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