In Paul Schrader’s ‘Blue Collar’, the Factory Floor Is Brutal


Outlaw Baron Jay Gould allegedly boasted that he could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. That quote, potentially apocryphal, is the essence of Paul Schrader’s “Blue Collar”, a draconian morality drama in which – squeezed between Scylla of a factory’s exploitative management and the glut of their corrupt union – three autoworkers become crooks. go.

“Blue Collar” has been revived for a week in the Film Forum in 35mm print. It was timely in 1978 and, in its expression of Jung-Belt alienation, was also the presenter.

Perhaps because it was Schrader’s first film as a director, “Blue Collar” communicates the thrill of breaking new ground, albeit with Martin Scorsese (for whom, a few years earlier, Schrader had written “Taxi Driver”). showing the effect. It echoes both the pro-drama “Car Wash” (1976) and the mode’s classic example, “On the Waterfront” (1954).

The most daring unprofessional move in Schrader’s screenplay, co-written with his brother, Leonard Schrader, was forming his reckless trio as the so-called “Oreo Gang”—two black activists, played by Richard Pryor and Yaphet Cotto. Gone, and a white, Harvey Keitel. (Contrary to what would have been traditional Hollywood wisdom.) Schrader’s boldest strategy was to allow every then-starved actor to consider himself a star. Call it a form of “method” direction. In his History of 70s film, Peter Biskind describes the set as a “powder keg”.

Thus, while Keitel and Koto smolder with suppressed anger, Prior (who, like Marlon Brando, rarely gives the same line-reading twice) as a sharp-minded trickster, stuns with a jerky strut and everything. There is an answer for. In his mixed review, New York Times critic Vincent Canbyo famous That, for the first time, was Pryor’s role using “the wit and fury that sets her straight comedy routine apart.”

Pryor’s improvisations accentuate the film’s dichotomy of oppressive reality and fantasy escape. While factory scenes shot at a checkered cab plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., have a documentary quality, the fantasy is presented by the Norman Lear TV sitcom that punctuates domestic scenes. The film’s resident realist is the clever president of Union Local. Nicknamed Eddie Knuckles, who is he embodied by harry bellawar, a seasoned (and genuine) working-class actor no less than Pryor, delivers the impression of nailing his dialogue on the spot.

“Blue Collar” has some weak bits, especially one where, interrupting Pryor’s critique of “The Jefferson,” an IRS examiner pays an unexpected house call. And just as the Oreo gang fails to think about their heist, the film sheds light on a worse crime that could not have happened without the complicity of the management. Still, this picture of desperation is powerfully drawn. The opening credits – an assembly-line montage to the fast first chords of the blues song “I’m a Man” sung with new lyrics from Captain Beefheart – provide a brutal announcement. And, after a gripping finale, Schrader reimagines the cliché of ending at the freeze frame by returning the conflict to the factory floor.

Interviewed by the left-wing film magazine Cinestad, Schrader emphasized his non-political intentions, congratulating himself for having come to “a very typical Marxist conclusion”. Be that as it may, the “blue collar” is less Marxist than Hobbesian, as expressed by Coto’s indictment of powers: “They will do anything to put you on their line. They age against the new boys.” The old against the young, the dark pit against the white – every – To put us in our place.”

Collective action is pointless.

blue collar

July 9-15 at Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, Manhattan; Filmforum.org.



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