If cancer and pneumonia hadn’t taken her last week, Linda Manz would be celebrating her fifty-ninth birthday today with her husband, her two sons, and three grandchildren. Though she would later appear in a smattering of films and television shows, Manz will always be remembered for two outstanding performances delivered at the outset of her erratic career. Of all the many voice-over narrations in the films of Terrence Malick, Manz’s in Days of Heaven (1978) is somehow both the earthiest and the most otherworldly. And in Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue (1980), she gave us a teen rebel like no other as Cebe, “pronounced ‘CB,’” as Rebecca Bengal pointed out in the New York Times in 2014, “as in the CB radio over which she broadcasts statements like ‘Kill all hippies!’ and ‘Subvert normality!’ in a tough, throaty voice.” Lecturing on the film in Antwerp last summer, Nick Pinkerton called Manz “one of the realest existential presences in American movies, then or ever.”
As Cebe, the daughter of a waitress (Sharon Farrell) and a truck driver (Dennis Hopper) serving time for ramming into a school bus, Manz delivers in Out of the Blue “one of the great teenage performances of all time,” wrote Sheila O’Malley for Film Comment last year as a new restoration was set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival. “Manz has a tough and knowing presence, a scrappy street urchin with a New York accent straight out of a ’30s gangster movie or Mean Streets. She is in the glittering pantheon of 1970s tomboy teenagers . . . Manz seems completely un-studied, unable to lie or fake it.”
Odd jobs followed, perhaps none as odd as Mir reicht’s, ich steig aus (1983), a movie German director Gustav Ehmck shot in New Mexico with Manz in the lead as another rebellious daughter and an international cast that includes Ana Torrent (The Spirit of the Beehive). Reviewing the forgettable flop for Die Zeit in 1984, Krischan Koch noted that, starting with the screenplay, the film falls flat in every way a film can.
In 1997, Harmony Korine called Manz out of early retirement to play a tap-dancing mom in Gummo because she was “one the top five screen presences of all time—right up there with Lillian Gish and Gena Rowlands,” he told Rebecca Bengal. That same year, she took a small role in David Fincher’s The Game, and in 1999, an even smaller one in Mark Hanlon’s psychological thriller Buddy Boy. She reemerged from her quiet life once more in 2016 to talk about working with Dennis Hopper on Out of the Blue in Nick Ebeling’s documentary, Along for the Ride. “I’ll always be that character,” Manz told Bengal in 2014. “I’m just a tough little rebel. A survivor, I guess that’s what you’d call me.”
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