Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BLUE COLLAR (1978) (Indicator Blu-ray Review)

Limited Blu-ray Edition (UK Blu-ray premiere)

Label: Indicator
Region Code: Region-B Locked 
Rating: 18
Duration: 114 Minutes 
Audio: English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Bellaver, George Memmoli 

Blue Collar (1978) is the directorial debut of screenwriter Paul Schrader (Hardcore, Taxi Driver), a suitably cynical factory union, working-man story of three Detroit auto workers employed at a car factory working on the assembly line in various capacities, they put in a grueling day of labor at the plant but each man struggles to make ends meet at home. The trio are made up of two black characters; Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor, See No Evil, Hear No Evil) and Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto, Alien) and a white Polish guy Jerry Bartowski (Harvey Keitel, Two Evil Eyes), all of whom owe money to various people. Jerry cannot afford his daughter's much needed braces despite having a second job pumping gas, Zeke owes money to the IRS and Smokey is an ex-com in deep with a loan shark. One night while partying with whores and doing lines of coke the trio come up with a plan to rob the factory's union, who they've been unhappy with for quite a while. Pryor's character is particularly venomous about the union, at one union gathering he declares "plant is short for plantation!", which doesn't win him any favors with the union's crooked rep, played by Lane Smith (Dark Night of the Scarecrow).

The burglary doesn't score much cash but Pryor's character Zeke snags a ledger containing all the dirty secrets of the union, they're even more crooked than they knew!  While Zeke attempts to leverage the ledger for a better lot at the plant he puts himself and his buddies in a lot of danger, as the union is tied into the mob and things don't quite go as planned, causing the group's loyalties to drift, even when one of them is killed in a staged "workplace accident", a brutal suffocation scene inside a paint room.

The movie is a true slice of working class cinema, the Detroit factory scenes are gritty and sweaty, the characters are honest and wear there colors on their sleeves, and the film which starts as a bit of a factory comedy of sorts, including a fun forklift attack on a thieving beverage machine, turns dark and very cynical, especially when the close knit group's loyalties are tested and betrayed, with the corporate bosses pitting the men against each other. The film has a real downer ending as two friends devolve into racism and hatred for one another, finding themselves venomously divided by the opposing sides of the American dream.
Audio/Video: Blue Collar arrives on region-B locked  Blu-ray from Indicator in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) looking great, there's a nice natural layer of film grain, the image is nicely sharp without artificial sharpening and colors look accurate, Indicator have yet to fail me with their Blu-ray transfers. Likewise the audio is solid, the LPCM Mono handles dialogue, effects and the Jack Nietzsche score very nicely, in addition to soundtrack cuts from Lynyrd Skynyrd, the awesome Howlin' Wolf, and Ike and Tina Turner, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Extras include an audio commentary from writer-director Paul Schrader and author Maitland McDonagh, plus a 1982 BFI Masterclass with director Paul Schrader which can be played like an audio commentary along with the film.  We also get an archival interview with Schrader, in both the original 21-minute broadcast version with an introduction, and the longer 58-minute version with a newly recorded introduction by Tony Rayns. Next up, an appreciation by Director/Actor Keith Gordon (John Carpenter's Christine), a Trailer's from Hell commentary by Josh Olson, the theatrical trailer, plus an image gallery. Retail versions (this was a check disc only version sent for review from Indicator) will include a 40-page booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with director Paul Schrader, and film credits, which I believe is only included in the initial limited edition run of 3000 copies.     

Special Features:

- Audio commentary with writer-director Paul Schrader and author Maitland McDonagh
- Paul Schrader BFI Masterclass (1982, 106 mins): the filmmaker presents a fascinating summary of the many issues and ideas he explores in his screenwriting class, recorded at the National Film Theatre, London
- 'Visions’: Interview with Paul Schrader (1982): archival interview, presented in two versions – the broadcast cut with its original Tony Rayns introduction (21 mins), and the complete interview rushes with a newly recorded introduction by Tony Rayns (58 mins)
- Keith Gordon on ‘Blue Collar’ (2018, 12 mins): a new filmed appreciation by
the filmmaker and actor

Trailers' From Hell Trailer Commentary with Josh Olson (3 min)
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with director Paul Schrader, and film credits
- UK premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited Edition of 3,000 copies

This was a first time watch for me, like all of the January titles from Indicator, and it's a keeper, a real hidden gem of working-class cinema! Blue Collar certainly gets under the skin of the blue collar workers of the film, picking away at what makes them tick, their frustrations, and how they are manipulated by the corporate big wigs, eventually turning on each other revealing their own prejudices in the process, it's a powerful film, and one that is particularly resonant and poignant in the current socio-political climate, sadly. We have such a great cast here, the film anchored by the talents of Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto, all are great, but Pryor's performance was the most surprising, a rare dramatic performance and is a career highlight that needs more recognition, definitely an under seen slice of Americana. 

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