Dennis Hopper’s Underrated Masterpiece

There’s been no end of Dennis Hopper tributes since his death last weekend, most of which have inevitably focused, despite his many decades of screen work, on his “signature” roles as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet and Billy in Easy Rider. This is all well and good, but I’m inclined to remember Hopper best as a director—and not just of the world’s most famous biker movie. Sure, there are fairly brilliant, sui generis, artful things going on in Colors, Easy Rider, and The Last Movie, but for my part, I think the teenage punk-rock nightmare that is Out of the Blue is Hopper’s low-rent masterpiece.

The story of a ne’er-do-well latchkey kid negotiating puberty in the late 70’s, the film has a kind of raw, gutter-life quality that shows up in American cinema once every never. Linda Manz plays Cindy, a teenager slavishly devoted to Saint Elvis Presley. Her dad (Hopper) is in jail, her mom (Sharon Ferrel) is a junkie, and her ambitions, shy of being a punk-rock star, are non-existent. She wanders around, gets high, plays guitar, and hitch-hikes just to pass time. It’s an amble of a movie, really, but there are some long takes that would do Mizoguchi proud. Hopper’s direction is by turns studied and slack and the fact that he was this fucking close to punk culture is nothing short of amazing. Just as time capsule, it’s priceless.

Don’t rent this film. Buy it. Watch it 75 times.