R.I.P. Linda Manz

This teenage actress – from films such as Orphan Train (the first time I saw her), to Days of Heaven (her voiceover makes that film what it is), and Dennis Hopper’s nihilistic punk-rock scream Out of the Blue – is in my personal pantheon. She was a role model to me when I was a weird scrappy tomboy kid, filled with ambivalence about being born a girl – ambivalence I couldn’t of course name or even speak about, but I remember it very clearly. I didn’t NOT want to be a girl, but I didn’t want being a girl to LIMIT me. And I sensed those limits very VERY young. I can’t even express how important Linda Manz was in this aspect. Then, when I got serious about acting, I realized: Wow. This CHILD is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen.

I wrote about Out of the Blue for my Film Comment column. And she also came up in the piece I wrote about 1970s tomboy films. Her work meant – and still means – so much to me. She was an outlaw. A wild swaggering KID. Totally herself. An acting genius in terms of just being herself in the moment (listen to that Days of Heaven voiceover: has there ever been anything else like it?) For someone with such a small filmography, Linda Manz casts such a long shadow. I think she gives one of the great teenage performances of all time – of all time – in Out of the Blue.

Rest in peace to a giant in my mind, a giant, an outlaw, a free spirit, an unfettered soul who could just BE all that on camera – in ways that have yet to be matched. She was one of a kind.

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10 Responses to R.I.P. Linda Manz

  1. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Sheila

    Oh! Linda Manz!! I loved her too! Yes, Yes, Yes to all you write here about her. Definitely one of a kind!
    I read she came up with a lot of that dialogue in Days of Heaven and Malick, the genius and incredible filmmaker he is, knew he had gold with her and kept that all in. She definitely stole that beautiful movie with her performance.
    That deep voice!
    I loved Out of the Blue too. So much!
    All Hail Linda Manz!! We will not forget you.

    • sheila says:

      // I read she came up with a lot of that dialogue in Days of Heaven and Malick, the genius and incredible filmmaker he is, knew he had gold with her and kept that all in. //

      Regina – I know, right?? It amazed me when I learned that he basically had her just improvise her thoughts as she watched the footage – that none of that was scripted – it was all her. Incredible!

      She was such a unique figure, so tough, so knowing, and yet in something like Out of the Blue – you can feel her innocence too.

      An amazing actress.

  2. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Sheila
    I wrote this so fast before I read your amazing review of Out of The Blue, Linda Manz and your terrific writing on Dennis Hopper! You studied with Hopper, amazing! I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and its burned in my head! Great piece of writing on it. I want to see it right now!

    • sheila says:

      Yes – I took this wild workshop with Hopper AT the Studio! He was incredible. He basically just did not accept fear as a valid factor for not doing something … and he created this vibe where fear became irrelevant. He was amazing!

      My favorite moment – a student asked him at one point, “How do you stay inspired artistically in between projects?”

      Hopper seemed like he literally didn’t even understand the question. Because for him – of course – there is no “in between projects.” He doesn’t need to manufacture being inspired. He said, “Go to a museum. Get laid. I don’t know what else to tell you.” lol

      The good news in re Out of the Blue is that a restoration has been in the planning phases – the only thing now that’s stopped its release is the pandemic. It was screened last year at the Venice Film Festival – so it is basically finished – I so look forward to it being properly released so more people can see it!!

      • Regina Bartkoff says:

        Sheila
        I love how Manz came up with that character she calls Ding Dong, in Days of Heaven. She just made it up on the spot. Hahahah!
        We were watching the doc Along for the ride by Nick Ebeling, narrated by Satya De La Manitou. At one point Satya goes and interviews Linda Manz. You hear THAT voice first. And there she is! Sitting across from him at a coffee shop, middle age now, hair that same cut off blunt, and she is listening to him with all of herself. That same intensity is there coupled with that relaxed body, like a cat! She is so present! You want the camera to be on her all the time. Satya asks about the difference between Hopper and the other directors she worked, with Manz says, “He was a lot wilder!” and laughs a big laugh. She said at the time she never heard of Sid Vicious, or “Johnny Rotten for that matter” (as she calls him) But I heard of Elvis!”
        Hopper found out Manz played a little guitar and drums so he put that in. So great to hear Out of the Blue is being restored!

        • sheila says:

          Ding Dong!! lol Linda Manz just riffing! toooo funny. and a great acting lesson, too – she was just in the zone, and when she was in that zone, she couldn’t do anything wrong.

          and wow – gotta see that doc! It sounds amazing!

          // She said at the time she never heard of Sid Vicious, or “Johnny Rotten for that matter” (as she calls him) But I heard of Elvis!” //

          wow, that’s incredible – I had no idea. she is SO punk rock in that movie.

          What a wonderful actress.

          • regina Bartkoff says:

            Sheila

            The doc Along for the Ride is pretty great! And Dean Stockwell shows up (me and Charlie both yelled out, “Sheila’s guy!” hahaha! and in two seconds he is is pretty hilarious! He’s quite a character himself!

  3. Jim Reding says:

    The news trickled out so slowly. I had hoped the initial reports weren’t true, even while I knew in my heart they likely were.
    It’s a shame Gummo didn’t lead to a full-on comeback for her. Whatever my mixed feelings about that movie, it showed she still had it.
    Publicly, it sounds like she had contradictory feelings about the possibility of coming back. There’s a 1994 People Magazine quote ““Give me something to do. I’d like to get back. Be on the set. Be Linda Manz again.” There’s also one from Time Out New York in 1997. “Now I enjoy just staying home and cooking soup.” I lean toward believing the former. I can’t imagine anyone who worked at that level that she did wouldn’t want the opportunity to try it again.

    • sheila says:

      // It’s a shame Gummo didn’t lead to a full-on comeback for her. //

      I hear people say this but I honestly think such a thing didn’t interest her. She just wasn’t all that into acting as a career. I think she really did enjoy staying home and cooking soup. (Look up Nick Pinkerton’s piece Calling Linda Manz – from 11 years ago – you may have already read it.) It made me happy to read it because it doesn’t seem like she went through life with regrets, or “what ifs” or “why wasn’t I more famous” – she was really really good at something when she was a child – and hustling for it just wasn’t her thing.

      I personally wish she had worked more as an adult just because she was such an interesting child she was probably even more interesting as an adult!!

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