Dennis Hopper’s ‘Out Of The Blue’ Is Back & Ferocious As Ever In 4K (FILM REVIEW)

Despite changing the course of film history with Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper’s career behind the camera in the years that followed was sparse.

Most of that absence is due to the failure of his 1971 follow-up, The Last Movie, which effectively led him to be exiled from the director’s chair for nearly a decade. That ended in 1980 with the release of Out of the Blue, a film that’s known largely by the controversy surrounding it. And while Easy Rider is an indisputable (albeit misunderstood) masterpiece, Out of the Blue is a true testament to Hopper’s fearlessness as a filmmaker. Now, in celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary, a new 4K restoration presented by Chloë Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne will kick off its theatrical re-release on Nov. 17 in New York City.

In the past, Hopper had been open about the shared DNA between this film and his debut. However, if Easy Rider was a lamentation over the death of the American Dream, then Out of the Blue is its whiskey-soaked, cigarette-stained eulogy being screamed at full volume.

As with most of Hopper’s films, the story behind them is as interesting as what made the final cut. The film started with him taking a role in a family-friendly Canadian film, CeBe, though he was unhappy with the footage and threatened to walk away from the project. The studio nearly pulled the plug, until Hopper spent a weekend rewriting the script, tailoring it to the personality of lead actor Linda Manz, and started filming the following Monday

In Hopper’s hands, CeBe was no longer the eponymous, plucky protagonist, instead becoming youthful rebellion incarnate. She loves Elvis, punk rock, and her father, Don (Hopper), who spends much of the film serving a lengthy prison term. Over the course of the story, she grows increasingly defiant to pretty much anything around her. Her mother, Kathy (Sharon Farrell), her classmates, her school, or just the whole damn system itself. 

Though it doesn’t take long to understand why the film’s reputation precedes it, it’s equally clear why Hopper himself regards Out of the Blue as his best film. Picking up a decade that followed the end of the 60’s naive optimism, summized by CeBe’s repeated assertion that “disco sucks,” the optimism Hopper undermined in Easy Rider years earlier had given way to begrudging complacency. The once-free spirits of the free love generation have long since trapped themselves in mundanity, with alcohol and sex being their only available coping mechanisms.

Gone are Easy Rider’s serene, music-filled landscapes, solely responsible for the film’s misguided romanticization. They’re replaced with the confines of semi-industrial, semi-rural, and thoroughly isolated town, set almost exclusively to Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My.” These changes prevent any of Hopper’s nihilistic vision from disappearing unnoticed into lingering shots of America’s backroads. Instead, like CeBe, it’s trapped. And, like CeBe, it starts as a slow growl before exploding in a violent, caucophonous finale.

It’s fair to consider Out of the Blue a forgotten relic of the New Hollywood era. It was a movement that Hopper essentially kickstarted in 1969, and though it had largely been undone by its own hand by 1980, this film is a stirring reminder of the raw artistic vision the movement once possessed. It’s not an easy watch, but its easy to understand the controversy surrounding it. It is, above all, a cunning, vicious commentary from one of Hollywood’s last true rebels.

Out of the Blue is holding a premiere screening at The Metrograph in New York, with other dates to follow in major cities

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