In Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue, CeBe Barnes (Linda Manz) is a tough teenager who still sucks her thumb, a loner and a leader navigating the shaky ground between the ‘70s and ‘80s, equally obsessed with Elvis and punk rock. She retreats nightly to the decaying big-rig truck that her father, Don (Hopper), used to drive before he drunkenly plowed into a school bus full of children in Halloween masks. CeBe was there at the time, sitting next to him.
It’s been five years since the accident, and Don comes home from prison to an unstable but adoring daughter and a heroin-addicted wife (Sharon Farrell). When he arrives at his welcome-back party with a beer already in hand, you get the feeling that things aren’t going to get much better for the dysfunctional Barnes family.
Spoiler alert: They don’t.
Hopper wasn’t the original director of Out of the Blue, his first time directing since the failed The Last Movie (1971), and apparently he rescued the project from his ineffective predecessor. He reworked the script and even gave the project a new name, based off of Neil Young’s "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," which plays repeatedly in the film. Hopper did a terrific job both behind and in front of the camera, letting scenes unfold in long shots and playing a tortured family man (and sinister drunk).
But he can’t outshine his teenage co-star. Bluntly portrayed by Manz, CeBe is the only person in Out of the Blue even slightly capable of keeping her shit together. She easily ignores her parents’ violent arguments in next room, but is prepared when their savagery spills over into her own space. Given CeBe’s home situation, her acts of rebellion — running away to the big city, bullying her peers — are pretty justifiable.
Manz was 18 when she made Out of the Blue but looked closer to CeBe’s age of 15, if not younger. She represents an age of tomboyish and complicated young actresses, the Jodie Fosters and Kristy McNichols of yesteryear. Manz’s first part was as Richard Gere’s little sister in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which she also narrated. In a 1979 interview with People on the heels of that film, Manz revealed that her personal life, while not quite as catastrophic as CeBe’s, was still pretty shitty. Her dad disappeared when she was 2, and her relationship with her housecleaner mother was so poor that she preferred to pay the woman’s rent in New York — while Manz herself stayed in L.A. and lived with a former teacher, waiting to turn 18 so she could officially quit school and live completely on her own.
"Acting's in my blood," she told the magazine at the time. "I hope it lasts forever."
In reality, Manz left the biz with little effort. Out of the Blue was Manz’s last film until Harmony Korine tracked her down for a part inGummo 17 years later. Manz was living in Northern California, where she “had to return [his] calls from a Texaco station.” As Korine explained to Index Magazine, the former actress had married an orchard farmer and had three sons. “She was very elf-like,” he said of her. “Always dancing around. She would spin on her belly.” Manz played Solomon’s mother, and her tap-dancing scene is one of the most unforgettable in a film filled with unforgettable scenes. The character might not be so far off from an adult version of CeBe.
Not long after Gummo, Manz went back to her normal life. In 2011, The Village Voice spoke to her when Out of the Blue screened at the Anthology Film Archives. She was still in Northern California and still without a phone, and the interview, conducted long after her career was over, contrasts interestingly with the People profile, conducted when it was just beginning. In hindsight, Manz talked about how her mom pushed her into acting, how her career simply petered out, and how she’d rather brag about her grandchild than her past roles.
“I think I was Cebe,” she admitted to the Voice.
Thankfully, Manz’s own fate wasn’t as bleak as CeBe’s.
Susan Cohen decided to leave her career in journalism to go back to school — for journalism. She's still not sure if she made a mistake. Visit susanjcohen.com to learn more about her.