Out of the Blue (1980)

I used to call it white trash suicide.

Part of the reason I’m an unemployable loser and a good for nothing bum is how much I love quitting jobs in in anger. I suggest that everybody try it at least once. It’s better than sex. One moment you’re a miserable wage slave in the gigantic soul crushing machine of the capitalist economy. Only a few seconds later, you’re a free man, outside the system, and outside of society. One moment the boss has his foot on the back of your neck. As soon as you quit, you’re looking him straight in the eye, and daring him to step outside for a fight. I have never had a boss take me up on the offer to step outside and settle it like men, although one did report me to the FBI to accuse me of trying to hack his e-mail server, and another called me at home and threatened to kill me. I gave him the address but he never showed.

For the first few days after you quit your job in anger, you feel genuinely alive. You enjoy food. You enjoy music. You enjoy wine. You often fall madly in love with the first attractive member of the opposite sex who crosses your path. The best time of the year to quit a job in anger is the Spring. You can take long walks in the glorious April or May weather, stroll through the park, and actually be able to smell the flowers. You pet dogs. Cats don’t run away. The birds in the trees seem to be singing their songs just for you. You fall into a deep sleep almost immediately after your head hits the pillow. You wake up at dawn, throw open the window, and greet the morning air. You start to plan your walking tour of Europe. You have absolutely no urge to turn on the TV set. Something about the world just feels right. You wonder why it all took so long. Then you remember.

You have to get another job.

Dennis Hopper may not have fully understood the high you get from committing white trash suicide. He wasn’t a member of the working class, after all. But in his utterly bleak, nihilistic 1980 film Out of the Blue, he demonstrates just how well he understands the consequences, the hangover that comes after you realize that all you’ve done is tighten your chains. You can’t list your old employer as a reference. You are now less marketable in your chosen field. If you’re lucky to get an interview for a new job, you have to explain why you quit the old one. Eventually you join the underclass. You become unemployable. That high you once got quitting your job is no more. You begin to feel lucky if someone will hire you for a few days at minimum wage washing dishes. You start to drink. You start to take drugs. You begin to consider the most efficient way of killing yourself. Should you jump off a bridge? Should you take sleeping pills. Should you do it like a man and a Samurai and disembowel yourself? Or should you buy an illegal gun and blow your brains out? In the end, you probably just get by the best you can until you die of old age.

It takes a lot of balls to chose the time and place of your death.

Hopper plays Don Barnes, a Vancouver truck driver back in the days before Vancouver got too expensive for anybody but a billionaire to live there. Sharon Farrell plays his wife Kathy, a heroin addict. Don Gordon plays his best friend Charlie, a sleaze bag and a borderline pedophile who likes teenage girls. Raymond Burr plays Dr. Brean, a psychoanalyst. No, I’m not kidding about that. Most importantly of all, Linda Manz, who cinophiles will recognize from Days of Heaven, The Wanders, and Gummo, plays Don’s daughter Cindy, or “CeBe,” who lives in a room covered with posters of Elvis and Johnny Rotten, dreaming of being a rock star.

If you’re not a late Boomer or an early Gen Xer you have no idea just how much “my generation” looked up to rock stars. It was almost like a cult. In reality, it was about how America in the 1970s, while not exactly a “failed state,” was certainly a “failed culture.” Nobody believed in anything. There was no authority figure you could trust. If you were a teenage boy, everything was fake. If you were a teenage girl, 40-year-old men were constantly trying to get inside your pants. You spent as much time away from home as you could. When you came home, you ran up to your bedroom and buried your face under the pillow, lest you hear your mother and your father screaming at each other. If you caught your mother shooting up, it was just the way things were. If your father tried to molest you, you had no idea that what he was doing was wrong, even if it felt that way. When Johnny Rotten shouted “no future” in God Save the Queen, you knew exactly what he meant. If you lived, even if you survived well into middle age, nothing really changed. If you want to go back in time and figure out what all those white, 45 to 55 year old non-college graduates currently drinking and drugging themselves to death looked like when they were teenagers, you could do a lot worse than Linda Manz as CeBe in Out of the Blue.

Out of the Blue opens with a school bus stalled out in the middle of what appears to be a half deserted road. We see Don and CeBe in Don’s 18-wheeler, father and daughter kissing each other on the mouth, speeding down the highway unaware of the tin can full of 12 year olds just ahead. You can guess what happens next. Don ends up in prison for manslaughter. CeBe ends up under the “care” of her mother, who gets a job working for some guy she’s fucking, Johnny Rotten and Elvis. CeBe thinks she’s a rebel, but she’s not. She’s really just a lost little girl, her fetish for punk rock and Elvis just the longing for the possibly incestuous and abusive biological father locked up in prison. When Elvis dies, it almost feels as if her real father abandoned her all over again. She runs away from her dilapidated house in suburban Vancouver to the big city. She gets picked up by a hippie cabdriver who tries to get her high so he can fuck her. She escapes. She goes to a punk concert, steals a car, gets caught, and after a brief consultation with Raymond Burr, winds up home back under the care of her mother.

When Don comes back home everything seems better, at least at first. Whether or not he molested her, CeBe genuinely loves her father. They go on a picnic. They drive carelessly. They seem happy. It all seems too easy. After all, only 6 years before, Don killed an entire school bus full of children. Surely he has enemies. He does. Eventually we realize Don, Kathy and CeBe are pariahs in their suburban neighborhood, and they don’t have the money to leave. Don gets a job at a garbage dump. The father of one of the children he killed tries to get him fired. He quits first. It’s a great scene. Don won’t give his boss the satisfaction of firing him, or even seeing him walk off the job peacefully. Instead, he demolishes half the work site in his bulldozer, causing hundreds of dollars worth of beautiful damage. But the writing is on the wall. He has committed white trash suicide. After the rebellion comes the hangover. Kathy shoots up. Don gets drunk, then commits a violent crime. Charlie not only tries to molest CeBe. He asks, and receives, Don’s permission. CeBe knows she’s damned, that however long she lives, she’ll never fit in, anywhere. Everything is spireling downward and out of control. The walls are closing in on the Barnes family. They’re not long for this world. Then CeBe chooses the time and place, not only of her death, but of the death of her mother and father, and it’s glorious.

Final Note: For a ruling-class version of CeBe, check out Mia Wasikowska in the sadly neglected 2013 film Stoker.

9 thoughts on “Out of the Blue (1980)”

      1. Which was more profitable? Being an insider or a pariah? I realize you would have to change the name of your blog if you actually started making money by writing.

  1. A great review, although perhaps more a “critique” like M. Truffaut. I’m all anti-materialism these days and crapping on the people “working hard to join the middle class,” that our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uses as a ‘talking point.” Ha ha, really. Simplicity has its own rewards, but sometimes I get pissed off nearly getting run down by an SUV with a cell-phone-driver. One of those great members of that “middle class” who should be the pariahs, at this point. But I have to go and make a really simple recording of a song for my daughter’s birthday. Anti-materialism gets into birthdays, too, like we get older and die, but “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” (Ellen McIlwaine). Dying is an honest topic, but a “Black Death” like “Out of the Blue” is Nietsche Nihilism, and I dream, like Buddhists, of a Happy Passing into (perhaps) some other realm. Thanks for the thoughts.

      1. Just sawv the 4k restoration. Stellar review of a unique film. What a loss is Dennis Hopper.

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