Monday, April 27, 2009

Film Review: BLUE COLLAR (1978, Paul Schrader)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto (THE PARK IS MINE!, ALIEN, EYE OF THE TIGER), Cliff de Young (THE HUNGER, DR. GIGGLES, THE SUBSTITUTE), Ed Begley, Jr. (CAT PEOPLE, Stan Sitwell on TV's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, TRANSYLVANIA 6-500).
Tag-lines: "Whatever became of the "American Dream?"
Best exchange: (while watching THE JEFFERSONS) "Now that shit is pitiful. I dunno how in the fuck a nigga like that gets some money anyway. This is the dumbest shit - look at this muthafucka. Look like a muthafuckin' ostrich. Look at that shit . . ." "––If you hate it so much, why dontcha just turn it off?" "Turn it off? Are you kiddin' baby? Took me three years to pay for that muthafucka. We gon' watch everything they show on it. All the shit they show. Even the snow when the muthafucka go off, I'm gonna sit here and watch that."
Fun trivia note: Pryor evidently punched Keitel and hit Kotto with a chair during filming.

Possibly the greatest movie ever made on the subject of how, no matter what machinations, logic, luck, or hard work are in play, the Average Joe still gets screwed. Paul Schrader is an absolute genius when it comes to channeling existential masculine frustrations (and the raw fury and/or crippling impotence that generally results), and has made this (sometimes self) examination the centerpiece of his oeuvre. Whether it be a cabbie's hatred of society achieving catharsis through pimp-killing (TAXI DRIVER), a Bible Belt father's quest to find his daughter amidst the grime of the sex industry (HARDCORE), a palooka's attempts to reconcile his life with his fists (RAGING BULL), a male prostitute reassessing his self-worth (AMERICAN GIGOLO), or a writer who feels that that words are no longer enough (MISHIMA), Schrader makes sure that you UNDERSTAND them, understand clearly how their thought processes work, and how they get from point A to point B. In BLUE COLLAR, our heroes (a pugnacious but sympathetic Harvey Keitel, a hot-tempered but family-minded Richard Pryor, and a jaded but passionately loyal Yaphet Kotto) are certainly flawed, but they're men that have been forced into a corner. (The performances are insane, intense, and perfect: Keitel, as always, is semi-nude and fully committed, Kotto is at his most raw and powerful since BONE, and Pryor brings a crazed desperation to the role that makes you wish he had taken the dramatic route more often in his career.)

The problem is, the powers that be have such an immaculate system- pitting poor against poor, black against white - that all of that bottled up righteous anger ends up getting unleashed at the wrong time, at the wrong people. Its a tragic drama that plays out over and over and over, and Schrader's film is a as much a Fuck You to the fatcat bosses and corrupt unions as it is a begrudging realization that there's just no way to stop people from marching to their doom. The performances are astounding, and Schrader, in his directorial debut, reveals the true breadth of his talent.

I really don't want to reveal a single detail about this film, but one scene involving industrial chemicals and a confined space, is one of the most claustrophobic, viscerally horrifying things I have ever seen, and for that, it bears special mention. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


skeelo said...

Man, this cast is lights out! Thanks for the tip, loved the movie.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, I mean, even as a huge fan of Schrader and all of the actors, I really didn't expect to be as blown away by this as I was.

BuckAtwater said...

"Keitel, as always, is semi-nude and fully committed"

I had to laugh at that line. Keitel is one my favorite actors. I found this movie a while back when checking out some of his older stuff I hadn't seen before and it really blew me away.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for the kind words! Truly an underappreciated Keitel performance, not to mention an underappreciated film.