Out of the Blue (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jun 30, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Out of the Blue (4K UHD Review)

Director

Dennis Hopper

Release Date(s)

1980 (July 26, 2022)

Studio(s)

Discovery Films (Severin Films)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A+
  • Overall Grade: A+

Out of the Blue (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!

Review

Out of the Blue is a searing portrait of alienation and repressed trauma, featuring a potent lead performance from the late lamented Linda Manz—it’s a punk rock scream of rage against the world. Cebe (Manz) is a disaffected teenager whose father Don (Dennis Hopper) has been in jail after he accidentally crashed his truck into a school bus, killing all of the children inside. Her mother Kathy (Sharon Farrell) uses both drugs and men as a means of escape, leaving Cebe to deal with living in the same town and going to the same school as the families of the deceased children. Cebe copes by embracing punk music and rebellion against society, represented by a psychiatrist (Raymond Burr) who has been assigned to her case. Cebe has been longing for her father to return, but when he’s finally released from jail, the dark heart of this dysfunctional family slowly spirals out of the blue, and into the black.

Out of the Blue was Dennis Hopper’s triumphant return to the director’s chair after a ten-year hiatus following the adverse reception to his 1971 film The Last Movie. All of the goodwill engendered by the smash success of Easy Rider quickly evaporated, so Hopper remained in front of the camera for the rest of the decade. Fate intervened when he was hired to act in a low-budget independent Canadian film that was experiencing some dysfunction of its own.

Out of the Blue began life as a substantially different film called Cebe, helmed by Canadian writer-director Leonard Yakir. Yakir had only worked for a week before the producers decided that his footage was unusable, so they removed him from the project. Hopper stepped in to salvage the production, under the condition that he be given the freedom to reshape the project as he saw fit. Yakir’s conception for the story was the equivalent of an after-school special, featuring Burr’s psychiatrist as a heroic character who brings a troubled teen back from the brink. Hopper rewrote the script, centering the story on Cebe instead, and incorporated Manz’s love of punk rock into the character. He also changed the title after hearing Neil Young’s song on the radio, as it perfectly captured Cebe’s attitude that it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Sadly, fate wasn’t done yet with either Hopper or Out of the Blue, and after a positive reception at the Cannes Film Festival, the producers failed to secure distribution in North America. The film sat on the shelf until 1982, and even at that point, it only received a limited release. Critics like Roger Ebert championed it, but Out of the Blue has still never received the full attention that it deserves. It’s one of the very best films of the Eighties—a raw, naked dissertation on alienation and familial decay. The remarkably intense finale offers no real hope, only nihilism and despair. Yet for Cebe, there really was only one avenue of escape from her suburban shackles, and she stays true to her principles until the very end. There’s never been another film quite like Out of the Blue. Perhaps that’s for the best.

Cinematographer Mac Champion shot Out of the Blue on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This 2019 restoration utilized a 4K scan of the original camera negative, which was then graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on the disc). The results are beautifully clean and filmic—there’s little in the way of damage, but no obvious signs of digital manipulation, either. There are small scratches here and there, but these are only really noticeable when stepping through the film frame-by-frame. The grain is subdued and even throughout the film, with the exception of the optically printed opening credits, where it’s naturally a bit coarser. Everything genuinely looks like film, just like it should. The HDR grade is restrained, with no revisionary color timing or blown-out highlights—Champion and Hopper’s intentionally muted color scheme is reproduced accurately here. When comparing the UHD to the included Blu-ray copy of the film, the differences are minimal at best. The UHD has a marginally more refined grain field, which is less prone to breaking up during camera movements, and perhaps a slightly better contrast range, but they’re really close to each other. Unless viewed on a large screen, those minor differences may be indistinguishable—and even then, you may need to get your nose right up to the screen to see them. That’s not a criticism of the UHD, but rather an acknowledgment that the Blu-ray already looks quite good on its own, and there was only so much detail to be wrung from the original negative.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. The track is clean, but the frequency range is limited, and the dialogue occasionally sounds a bit muffled. It’s still clear enough to be comprehensible, however. There’s also some awkward ADR that doesn’t integrate well into the soundstage, and the lip sync doesn’t always match. That’s a production issue though, and not a problem with the disc itself. Tom Lavin wrote the score, while Neil Young provided the title song as well as Thrasher, both taken from his album Rust Never Sleeps. The music sounds fine, within the limitations of the original mono mix.

Severin’s 4K Ultra HD release for Out of the Blue is a three-disc set containing one UHD and two Blu-rays. It includes a reversible slipcover designed by Sister Hyde, with new artwork in blue on one side, and the iconic poster art in black on the other. (Yes, even the packaging is out of the blue, and into the black.) The extras are spread over all three discs. (Take note that the Q&A on the UHD isn’t included in Severin’s alternative Blu-ray-only release of the film.)

DISC ONE: UHD (FILM AND EXTRAS)

  • Audio Commentary with Dennis Hopper, Paul Lewis, and John Alan Simon
  • Audio Commentary with film scholar Kate Rennebohm
  • Audio Commentary with film writer Kat Ellinger
  • 40th Anniversary 4K Restoration US Premiere Q&A with John Alan Simon, Elizabeth Karr, Julian Schnabel, and Natasha Lyonne (HD – 19:35)
  • Theatrical Trailer (4K SDR – 2:44)

The first commentary with Dennis Hopper, producer Paul Lewis, and distributor John Alan Simon was originally recorded for the 1999 Anchor Bay DVD release of the film. They start by giving a brief overview of how Hopper came to write and direct the film, and then break down the individual scenes. (Hopper notes that Burr rewrote his own dialogue, but since they needed a Canadian actor into order to qualify for the tax breaks, Hopper let that go.) They point out some technical aspects that aren’t necessarily obvious after a single viewing, like a subtle six-minute long tracking shot in the diner near the beginning of the film. Hopper may have been considered an actor’s director, but that’s partly because he was skilled at keeping his technique invisible. Hopper said that he was influenced by Francois Truffaut, who never let technique get in the way of emotions. The group lapses into lengthy silences at times, and they occasionally react to what’s happening on screen rather than discuss it, but there’s still interesting information here.

The second commentary is by film scholar Kate Rennenbohm, who provides details about the film’s original production, its complicated release, and the recent restoration. She also spends time discussing Neil Young’s song, and how it plays into the themes of the film. Rennenbohm sees parallels to Western films, with Cebe ultimately functioning as a kind of a punk cowboy. Cebe’s world may not provide any redemption, but it allows for a warped form of justice. While Rennenbohm also lapses into silence periodically, this track still provides a fine complement to the original group commentary.

The third commentary is by author, editor, and critic Kat Ellinger, who describes Out of the Blue as simultaneously a punk rock film and the end of punk, with punk living on in the heart of Cebe. The film has personal resonance for Ellinger, and she clearly identifies with Cebe’s struggles. Cebe’s behavior is a rejection of what she sees around her, and a female reclamation of the countercultural anger that had largely been a male concern up to that point. Yet while punk is at the center of Cebe’s identity, she’s bereft of any political ideology. Her rage isn’t against the machine, but rather against life itself. Ellinger’s commentary provides less technical details than either of the first two commentaries, but that’s because she keeps Cebe front and center the whole time. It’s a different approach, but one that successfully uncovers the heart of the film.

The 40th Anniversary 4K Restoration US Premiere Q&A features restoration producers John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr, as well as Natasha Lyonne and Julian Schnabel. They discuss the original production and the path to restoring the film decades later, including how Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny became involved as backers. Schnabel (who is prone to interrupting the others) offers the observation that it’s hard to get a movie made, and it’s difficult to make a movie, but it’s really difficult to make a movie like Out of the Blue.

DISC TWO: BD (FILM AND EXTRAS)

  • Audio Commentary with Dennis Hopper, Paul Lewis, and John Alan Simon
  • Audio Commentary with Kate Rennebohm
  • Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger
  • 1984 Dennis Hopper Interview by Tony Watts (Upscaled SD – 96:52)
  • Gone but Not Forgotten (HD – 17:59)
  • Subverting Normality: Linda Manz Comes from Out of the Blue (HD – 17:53)
  • Terminal City Blues (HD – 19:22)
  • Main Street Soldier (HD – 35:30)
  • Restoration Trailer (HD – 2:28)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:18)
  • Jack Nicholson Radio Spot (HD – 1:02)

The interview with Dennis Hopper was conducted for British television to tie in with a screening of his film The Last Movie at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. (The screening in question took place in 1982, not 1984, so the date listed on the disc appears to be in error.) It’s a laid-back, conversational interview, with Hopper openly discussing his career, his life, and his beliefs—including the influence that The Gospel According to Thomas had on his films. It’s a freewheeling journey through the mind of Dennis Hopper, which is always a trip worth taking. Gone but Not Forgotten is a remembrance of the late Linda Manz, featuring interviews with a diverse collection of colleagues, musicians, and admirers: Wendy Mullin, Dorothy Woodend, Jacob Reynolds, Larry Schemel, Patty Schemel, Weasel Walter, Lydia Lunch, Bobby Gillespie, Juliet Belmas, and Leif Garrett. Subverting Normality: Linda Manz Comes from Out of the Blue is a video essay by Amanda Reyes and Chris O’Neill. Narrated by Reyes, it traces Manz’s influence on the film, noting that Cebe remained the role with which she felt the closest personal connection.

Terminal City Blues is a look at the way that Vancouver is presented onscreen in Out of the Blue. At that point, Vancouver hadn’t yet turned into the center of film production that it would later become, so Out of the Blue really captures a bygone era. Narrator Kier-La Janisse (who also wrote and produced) provides some of her personal experiences with the locations shown in the film, which makes the whole piece feel quite elegiacal. Main Street Soldier is a 1972 short film by directed by Leonard Yakir, presented with an optional partial commentary track featuring Yakir. It’s a cinema verite portrait of Ray LeClair, an alcoholic WWII veteran who brought his battlefields back with him to the streets of Winnipeg. Yakir made the film at a time when there was no real infrastructure for independent filmmakers in Manitoba, so it remains a minor landmark for film history in the province. Main Street Soldier is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with English 2.0 mono Dolby Digital audio. (Yakir’s commentary runs for approximately the first 11:40 of the film.) Finally, the Jack Nicholson Radio Spot is an unusual radio ad featuring Nicholson providing a personal endorsement for the film.

DISC THREE: BD (EXTRAS)

  • Remembering Out of the Blue (HD – 240:22)
  • Me & Dennis (HD – 149:12)
  • Straight to Hell (HD – 13:16)
  • Dealing with Demons (HD – 20:33)
  • AFI Q&A with 4K Restoration Producers John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr (HD – 22:14)

Remembering Out of the Blue is a collection of eleven new cast and crew interviews, including second assistant director Bob Akestar; production coordinator Patti Allen; actor John Anderson and the punk band Pointed Sticks; location manager Mark DeRochers; editor Doris Dyck; Sharon Farrell, post-production assistant and publicist Julia Frittaion; camera operator John Holbrook; Tom Lavin; script supervisor Christine Wilson; and Leonard Yakir. The interviews (which run a whopping four hours!) can be played either individually, or as a group. They were conducted via Zoom, with John Alan Simon serving as moderator and asking questions. All of the interviews offer interesting nuggets about Out of the Blue, but the real gem is the closing one with Yakir. He speaks candidly (if a bit tersely) about his own experiences making the film, including being removed as director, and also describes some of the differences between his conception of the story and Hopper’s. (The most poignant moment occurs during Sharon Farrell’s interview, as she hadn’t realized that Linda Manz had passed until Simon broke the news to her. She’s now the only surviving lead actor from the film.) Me & Dennis is a collection of six new interviews with Hopper’s friends and colleagues, including Ethan Hawke; author and journalist Jessica Hundley; Richard Linklater; Phillipe Mora; Lawrence Schiller; and Julian Schnabel. They can also be played either individually, or as a group. The participants give their own personal backgrounds with Hopper, as well as their thoughts about Out of the Blue.

Straight to Hell is an interview with idiosyncratic filmmaker Alex Cox, conducted via Zoom by John Alan Simon. Cox recalls the disastrous screening of Out of the Blue that he attended in 1980, and also analyzes the way that the film fits into Hopper’s career. Dealing with Demons is an interview with Brian Cox, who calls Out of the Blue “the most articulate study of inarticulacy.” He shares his thoughts about the performances in the film, and praises Hopper’s skill at handling actors. The AFI Q&A is from the pandemic-era virtual AFI Fest in 2020, with programmer Malin Kan serving as moderator via Zoom for restoration producers John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr. They offer an overview of the original production and distribution of Out of the Blue, as well as their efforts to restore the film. (Simon also explains the circumstances that led to the recording of the Jack Nicholson radio spot.)

Collectively, that’s an astounding fifteen plus hours of content, and yet it’s still not all-inclusive. Missing from the 2021 BFI Region B Blu-ray release of Out of the Blue is the audio-only conversation between Hopper and Derek Malcolm; the Montclair Film Festival Q&A; the complementary short subjects Morecambe and Wise—Be Wise Don’t Drink and Drive, Drink Drive Office Party Cartoon, A Girl’s Own Story, and Girl; as well as the Limited Edition booklet. On the other hand, the BFI version of Remembering Out of the Blue is missing the interviews with Mark DeRochers and Leonard Yakir, while their version of Me & Dennis is missing the interviews with Sharon Hundley and Lawrence Schiller. Their set is also completely missing Gone but Not Forgotten, Terminal City Blues, Main Street Soldier and the two Q&A sessions that are included here. Considering that some of the missing BFI material wasn’t directly related to Out of the Blue, Severin’s extras package arguably has the edge here, but owners of the BFI set will want to hang onto it in order to have the full spectrum of available features.

Physical media may be dying a prolonged death, but boutique labels like Severin have decided that it’s better to burn out than to fade away—you pay for this, and they give you that. In this case, what they’re giving you is an extraordinary quantity of content, and the quantity is matched by its quality. This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but after the banner year that 2021 was for physical media releases, 2022 continues to top it. Severin’s UHD release for Out of the Blue is one of the very best of an already abundant crop of standout titles so far this year. It gets the highest possible recommendation.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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