Sunday, October 28, 2007

No. 12 - Blue Collar

Paul Schrader's 1978 directorial debut presents a much different view of unions than 1979's highly acclaimed Oscar-winner Norma Rae. In Norma Rae, the union represents (literally) the best hope for workers. The union in Blue Collar, on the other hand, is totally corrupt.

Schrader focuses on three workers in a Detroit auto plant. They are played by Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto. Desperate for money, they decide to rob union headquarters. The robbers don't find money when they break in at night, but they do stumble upon documents that could possibly be used for blackmail. Since this is a Paul Schrader film, their bold act turns out to be an exercise in futility.

Watching Blue Collar today, it is remarkable to see so many manufacturing jobs in the United States. This was the era before so many of these jobs were sent offshore to countries with a cheaper labor rates.

As he did with Taxi Driver, Schrader proved to be a prescient observer of cultural and political trends in Blue Collar. It went against Hollywood's conventional wisdom to portray labor unions in such an unfavorable light. It wasn't just management who was screwing over the workers.

Schrader presents a hopeless, almost nihilistic view of the plight of the American worker. The film perfectly reflects the bleakness of the Carter years, when inflation and unemployment rates skyrocketed. Audiences in 1978 preferred the escapism of Close Encounters and Saturday Night Fever, and had no desire to see Richard Pryor in a dour drama.

Two years later, Ronald Reagan attacked unions when he ran for the presidency. As the economy changed, unions became less powerful. To understand why, watch Blue Collar.

1 comment:

PackardFilm Ltd said...

Love this film! One of the best of the decade to be sure, Yaphet Kotto is one of those genuine underrated actors who never got the credit he deserved.