AMAD Special Tribute: Patton Oswalt on Paul Schrader’s BLUE COLLAR (1978)!!!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the final AICN Tribute article, from one Mr. Patton Oswalt who chose Paul Schrader’s first film as director BLUE COLLAR. It’s been a nice 6-movie run and below Patton’s review I’ll say all my thanks. Nothing more for me, let’s get to Patton! Enjoy!
If you’ve ever worried that, lying on your deathbed, you’d utter, hopelessly, “My God, I never saw a shirtless dildo fight between Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor”, then put your fears to rest. Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar – his directorial debut after writing obsessive masterpieces as The Yakuza, Rolling Thunder and Taxi Driver – features just such a scene.
Said dildo fight happens during a sweaty, exhausting, ultimately hopeless low-rent orgy scene, midway through the movie. Our three leads – Keitel, Pryor and Yaphet Kotto – play laborers on the Checker Cab assembly line in Detroit. Their lives are sweat, oil, fumes, flame and frustration. Every conversation on the line is a barked argument. Every union meeting is a chance to speak truth to powerlessness and smirking condescension. At night, they go home to un-filling meals of Hamburger Helper, intrusive IRS agents interrupting their numbing hours in front of silly-ass shit-coms, and drinking themselves into dry oblivion.
It’s pointless to repeat the whole, “Major studio movies in the early 70’s would be little indie films nowadays”, mantra. But Blue Collar is a refreshing exception – this probably wouldn’t even get made as an indie today.
Remember when art direction and costume design were as thoughtful and creative as the screenplay and direction? In The Taking of Pelham 123, Walter Matthau dressed in the drab, slouchy sort of suit a transit cop would be able to afford. Melvin and Howard’s world of trailers, junk food, coupons and jury-rigged appliances are as much characters in the film as the actors. And was there ever a more alive, breathing, growing/dying Western town than in McCabe & Mrs. Miller?
The characters in Blue Collar wear give-away T-shirts from McDonalds and outfits made of the same, re-purposed six or seven clothing items. Their “break room” is an alcove full of rusted snack dispensers that belch out stale candy bars and over-sweetened instant coffee – when they don’t flat-out steal your money.
And the “chemistry” between the three leads is, at best, tense. This is the kind of “friendship” that develops between the desperate and pressured – wobbly, and abandoned at the first sign of selfish hope. The fact that any sort of give-and-take exists between Pryor, Keitel and Kotto onscreen is a miracle because, according to Schrader in the DVD commentary, the three actors hated each other. Fistfights, arguments and threats were the norm for any working day. The laughter between the three – on the line, in the bar after work and, later, as they plan a heist, is only there to cool the flames of hatred and violence.
Yes, they plan – and execute – a heist. Pryor – here playing a work-shirking, fast-talking con man – notices the safe in the union headquarters is under-guarded and usually left open. Desperate for money (at one point he “borrows” the neighbor’s kids to try to fool an IRS inspector that he actually has all the kids he claims on his taxes) he convinces Keitel and Kotto to go in on the job. Both of his friends are in similar financial straights – un-solvable, self-inflicted financial holes they’ll never dig themselves out of.
But what they find in the safe is more valuable than money, and ultimately, their doom. Not to spoil any of the surprises in the second half of the movie, but Blue Collar goes places with its story and characters that even a gritty independent might be uncomfortable visiting.
So many things to love about this film. The soundtrack, especially the unnerving, machine-driven score, with Captain Beefheart growling over an anvil chorus (“Dark meat by the pound/Hard work fucking man”). The documentary shots of the assembly lines, like the industrial ballets of Metropolis and Brazil, but robbed of all grace and poetry. The way goofy comedy mixes so seamlessly with anger and violence in scene after scene. Yaphet Kotto, an avenging angel against the union’s eerie thugs, who ultimately pays a grisly price for his strength and intelligence. Keitel, complaining of “brain cancer” and kid’s braces, reduced to an automaton by the film’s end, whose only humanity left to him is whatever violence he can inflict. Lane Smith and Ed Begley and Leonard Gaines and the great Harry Bellaver as the ineffectual Union president.
And Richard Pryor. If you only know him from The Toy and Superman III, then watching Blue Collar will be a refreshing shock. Still as profane, true, mean and funny as he ever was onstage, Pryor here is also scary, sad, and all too-human as Zeke, the biggest fly in the company ointment. If the company can’t crush a noisome fly, it can do something far worse. You’ll see.
Keep those cabs rolling out. Never stop the anvil chorus. Grease the gears.
Those Checker Cabs. Was that a conscious choice on Schrader’s part? The fact that these cabs, the same model Travis Bickel piloted in Taxi Driver, came from a hot, hopeless hell like the factory in Blue Collar? Where every rivet was fastened by someone with murder on their minds? Every windshield tamped into place by someone who wanted to blow up the world? Every steering column and gas pedal affixed by the damned? It’s as if the metal, rubber and fuel themselves were infused with rage. Bickel never stood a chance.
That wraps up the AMAD Tribute. I’d like to thank all the contributing talents who have written in for taking the time. So, all my thanks to Edgar Wright, Rian Johnson, Randy Cook, Aziz Ansari, Don Coscarelli and Patton Oswalt!
I won’t say the AMAD book is officially closed because who knows what lies in the future. I might try to organize another special run if I feel there’s any interest from friends and acquaintances in the industry and I will, of course, be keeping the spirit of AMAD alive in a regular, hopefully weekly, article that’ll have me looking at a previously unseen vintage film. I think I’ll simply call it Quint’s Watching… That feels right.
Thanks also to all you constant readers for following along. The three or four dozen emails I’ve gotten since closing the column have been a great thrill to me and I’m very touched that AMAD meant a lot to many of you guys out there.
Like I said earlier, the memory will live on… so stay tuned!
Every A Movie A Day Tribute:
Edgar Wright discusses 1971's VIRGIN WITCH
Rian Johnson discusses 1971’s A NEW LEAF
Randy Cook on 1963’s DONOVAN’S REEF
Aziz Ansari on 1988’s MAC AND ME
Don Coscarelli on 1953’s THE TWONKY
Patton Oswalt on 1978's BLUE COLLAR
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Jan. 17, 2009, 2:54 a.m. CST
Jan. 17, 2009, 2:56 a.m. CST
This special treat has soothed the pain of AMAD ending.
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:05 a.m. CST
i'd offer my self up to be defiled...just saying.
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:23 a.m. CST
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:25 a.m. CST
by Mr Nicholas
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:30 a.m. CST
Patton, that my friend was a well written review! My only beef is the spoilerific nature of some of your alliterations, but those are mild at best( we could prolly figure that out anyway). Though you never really let us know how you felt about the film, but your recollections and assimilation of the storyline was riveting. Kudo's to you my friend, Kudos!
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:53 a.m. CST
I just knew it. It could not have just *NOT* possibly happened. <p> Love you, Quint; Love you,Patton. Thank you thank you.
Jan. 17, 2009, 4:07 a.m. CST
But it was beautifuck and poetic. Bukowski would buy you a drink.
Jan. 17, 2009, 4:43 a.m. CST
What ever happened to him? I loved him as Giardello on Homicide:Life on the Streets but haven't seen him lately...
Jan. 17, 2009, 5:44 a.m. CST
Yeah. I must check this out so I can go kill myself afterward. Great. Why are "good" films all about hopelessness? If life sucked that bad, none of us would do it.
Jan. 17, 2009, 5:45 a.m. CST
It was an insightful review. And Pryor was the man.
Jan. 17, 2009, 5:45 a.m. CST
This is one of those movies I'd heard about in passing and always thought I'd be interested in seeing, but now it's a goddamned priority. <p> Thanks, Patton.
Jan. 17, 2009, 7:18 a.m. CST
by Stuntcock Mike
Good stuff Patton.
Jan. 17, 2009, 7:20 a.m. CST
by Elliot Cowan
Maybe you mean jerry rigged...
Jan. 17, 2009, 7:55 a.m. CST
As a lover of words I am impressed by the imagery you weave, Patton. I am determined now to seek out this film. You missed your calling with all of that standup and King of Queens foolishness. You are a movie critic!
Jan. 17, 2009, 7:56 a.m. CST
Was a very talented actor, period. He did not use/need his talent in every movie but man there was definitely something about him on screen in dramatic roles that was amazing. I wish he had done more in that area.
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:02 a.m. CST
he died of pneumonia I think, a few years back.
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:02 a.m. CST
Will you still be doing your list of faves Quint?
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:13 a.m. CST
I watch it every couple of years and am always impressed at how well it holds up. Pryor's performance is probably one of the best of his career. Oscar worthy - it's that good.
Jan. 17, 2009, 9:02 a.m. CST
it sounds great<P>as for Yaphet Kotto a quick check shows he was in the movie Witless Protection with god Eric Roberts, Peter Stormare, Joe Mantagna and umm...Larry the Cable Guy
Jan. 17, 2009, 9:27 a.m. CST
After I heard his commentary on the spaced tv series I went searching to see if he puts out a regular podcast. He doesn't, but should. His insight and knowledge of film history is amazing. fuck Ebert.
Jan. 17, 2009, 10:04 a.m. CST
by abn3r p3pp3r72
and well and living in Droitwich.
Jan. 17, 2009, 10:06 a.m. CST
Why not keep the section for good? Come on, I'll bet you guys have no trouble finding guests. I'll even read talkbackers' AMAD if you post them. Pretty please?
Jan. 17, 2009, 10:07 a.m. CST
by Captain Happy
dick...don't spread rumors...the Kotto is alive & well: http://tinyurl.com/9e4ekb Deadoraliveinfo.com - Revel in it's usefulness!
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:01 a.m. CST
by Tin Snoman
If the whole standup thing doesn't pan out (unlikely), you definitely have a fallback as a film critic. Excellent stuff.
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:16 a.m. CST
Not only wouldn't studios make a movie like this today, no indie would either, because what trust fund kid going to film school would even bother to try to imagine what this kind of life is like? Much better to make a movie about attractive twentysomethings with romantic complications. Or hitmen! Attractive hitmen with romantic complications!
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:38 a.m. CST
His reviews are just as acerbicly great as his stand-up. How cool would it be to feature periodic Oswalt reviews?
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:40 a.m. CST
by Bob Cryptonight
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:41 a.m. CST
Is this movie even available on DVD?
Jan. 17, 2009, 11:58 a.m. CST
And used copies seem to be going for a fairly high price at Amazon. I bet you could turn up one just by checking the for sale racks at a few dying video stores, though. Pryor's name was probably good for sales to place that thought they were getting Stir Crazy or Bustin' Loose.
Jan. 17, 2009, 12:16 p.m. CST
by Harry The Hutt
The last thing he was in was Witless Protection with Larry the Cable Guy.
Jan. 17, 2009, 12:16 p.m. CST
Abe is still kicking at 87.
Jan. 17, 2009, 12:37 p.m. CST
Blu ray would do this flick a world of good. This movie is the best thing these Union types need to see.I loathe them,and this movie shows all the reasons why. Great review,... This movie and Greased Lightning are two Richard films that are so great,the studios think they need no real "treatments" on any disc.
Jan. 17, 2009, 12:57 p.m. CST
Careful Quint, that troll will probably sue you for copyright infringement. This was a great last entry; one of the few I am going to hunt down and watch.
Jan. 17, 2009, 12:58 p.m. CST
You're better than everyone on this site, with the exception of Vern, now that Drew Mc. has jetted.
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:07 p.m. CST
by Thunderbolt Ross
Was that a dopey review or does the AICN font just make everything written in it seem slightly pointless?
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:37 p.m. CST
by Jonas Grumpy
...back in '78, so I was all of 11 at the time. I literally remember nothing about it except for someone describing the trio of Kotto, Keitel, and Pryor as resembling "an Oreo cookie." <BR><BR>(I'm probably messing up the line, but those of you who've seen the movie know of what I speak.)
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:37 p.m. CST
She works in Denver - in case you were wondering
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:38 p.m. CST
by Jonas Grumpy
That's the sequel to "Ecks vs Sever," right?
Jan. 17, 2009, 1:39 p.m. CST
by Alonzo Mosely
Alien, Truck Turner, Bone, Live and let die, Blue Collar and of course, the perfection of 80s action comedies, Midnight Run...<p> I also just learned that he played 'Alonzo Mosley' in the theatrical version of Witless Protection, before lawsuits saw his character's name dubbed for DVD. <p> It is somehow the greatest and worst thing in the world at the same time. There was a new Alonzo Mosely movie, something of infinite coolness, only it was a Larry the Cable Guy fucking vehicle. I both want to see the movie more than anything in the world and would rather poke rusty nails into my genitals than watch. I am have never been so conflicted. This must be what it is like to be bi-sexual...
Jan. 17, 2009, 2:54 p.m. CST
Could be interesting, but I see this more as a project for The Zone.<br> (BTW, why is The Zone pretty much abandoned by the AICN crew? I mean, I'm not really complaining, because I like what The Zone became over the years (Seriously. Talkbacks are for fun and bitching, The zone is for fun, bitching and real discussions and conversations.), I just think it's weird.
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:06 p.m. CST
you realize that "jury rigged" is correct and you're, well, not...right?<p>"jerry rigged" is as wrong as a "bold-faced lie" or "for all intensive purposes"...<p>always good to be on the safe side and know what you're talking about before you call someone out.
Jan. 17, 2009, 3:50 p.m. CST
by Alonzo Mosely
Jury Rigged and Jerry Built are two different expressions with different histories, that are similar enough they get mixed together often...
Jan. 17, 2009, 6:14 p.m. CST
by Jonas Grumpy
Don't forget "I could care less," "I should of known better," and "this is where we're at." <BR><BR>People who say/write those are all loosers. ;)
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:04 p.m. CST
...is available in R2 land on DVD. Amazon UK has it for about four pounds.
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:22 p.m. CST
I have always been a fan of Paul Schrader, especially his films from the 70’s such the Hardcore, Rolling Thunder and that little film he wrote for Martin Scorsese. There is something about his work, were he is willing and able to go to such dark, primordial places other writers never could. Sure other filmmakers and screenwriters are able to write about sleaze and betrayal, but it doesn’t seem like they know what they are talking about. You can almost detect the venom and anger in Paul Schrader himself in his scripts, and his characters anguish and torment always seem to be something he knew firsthand. <p> Consider me part of the group that thinks a movie like Blue Collar would not be made today, whether by a studio or as an independent. Not because it is too gritty or realistic, or it deals with too touchy of subject. No, because the in the 70’s filmmakers somehow knew that you could be artistic and creatively daring while still having a narrative structure and following certain story-telling rules. As Steven Soderberg once commented, it seems that critical and commercial success went hand-in-hand those days; the films that were the most artistically challenging were also the films that audience would find the most entertaining and enjoyable. <p> This isn’t to say that modern independent films can’t or aren’t good; however, to often independent filmmakers look down upon such things as the three-act structure or genre, as if those things were somehow less artistic or have less integrity than an avant garde or dogma film that throws out any of the old rules. Sure the 70’s had some great films that you couldn’t put into a category or didn’t obey the classic film structure – Carnal Knowledge, Dog Day Afternoon, Nashville, Five Easy Pieces – but to me the best films from out of the New Hollywood were revisionist genre flicks: Westerns like McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Little Big Man; detective stories like the Long Goodbye and Chinatown; gangster movies like Godfather part I & II; and war movies like Apocalypse Now and M*A*S*H. <p> Of course, there is also the question of why the studios can’t make such good movies anymore, but part of the reason is that they are so averse to taking risk. Back in the 70’s they would make a big Hollywood film staring two of the biggest stars in a period detective piece involving such an un-sexy subject as water and such a taboo subject as incest, and then have the balls to end it with the heroine dying and the hero standing by, impotent, unable to do anything.
Jan. 17, 2009, 8:25 p.m. CST
Any of you ever read "Easy Riders and Raging Bulls", which deals with the New Hollywood generation of filmmakers. Some of my favorite parts in that book deal with Paul Schrader and how often he fucked over his brother. Not to make light of Paul's actions, but whenever me and my brother do something as partners we jokingly threaten to screw the other over, saying “I’m so going to Schrader you”.
Jan. 18, 2009, 5:11 a.m. CST
Yaphet Kotto totally channels his character from this in Alien
Jan. 19, 2009, 12:46 a.m. CST
by Banky the Hack
And not one reference to Neil Cumpston? (spelling?)
Jan. 19, 2009, 9:42 a.m. CST
because I think the world needs to hear my take on "The Last Of Sheila" or "Hickey and Boggs" or "F For Fake" or "The Lady From Shanghai" or "The Liquidator" or "Two For The Road" or "Charade" or "Night Moves" or "Choose Me" or "The Hit" or Champagne For Caesar" or "His Kind Of Woman" or "Hail The Conquering Hero" or... I watch a lot of movies.
Jan. 19, 2009, 10:40 a.m. CST
You want to know how miserable it is sometimes, being Patton Oswalt? Somewhere around talkback #8 or #9, some assclown says: "Pat, that wasn't funny..."<p> Maybe, and Im just throwing this out there, but maybe brilliant comedians like Patton Oswalt aren't trying to be funny ever moment of every day of their lives. MAYBE, once in a while, they do something for themselves as opposed to doing yet another court jester sock-puppet routine for your pleasure.<p> JUST MAYBE<p> maybe - he wanted to offer up a sincere, well thought review - and a sincere, well written tribute to the best thing that ever happened to this website.<p> I think it was a 10/10 review, regardless of WHO wrote it. Was it funny? I dont recall wiping my eyes when I read it - maybe he wasn't putting on a stand-up routine here. I dunno. He'd have to tell you himself.<p> but I suspect that he read the aforementioned comment, and muttered, "what a douche", and then wheel-moused right on by.
Jan. 19, 2009, 11:38 a.m. CST
and believe Schrader had to go outside of Detroit to film the factory scenes, and found a shop that assembled cabs. Given the content of the scipt is it a suprise the Big 3 turned him down.<p>A very strong film, even moreso considering it was Schrader's first directing job.
Jan. 19, 2009, 4:14 p.m. CST
Did you even read what I wrote? Or did you just read the subject line, ya fucking skimmer. <p> I *wasn't* LOL funny unlike some of his other blogs - "Gay-tham for Statham" being his latest. But I did think it was beautiful as fuck (beautifuck) and compared him to Charles Bukowski, you pleb. Although, I should expect this from you, considering your deep understanding and comprehention during the election talkbacks. <p> PS: I hope Obama ruins your life.
Jan. 20, 2009, 1:17 a.m. CST
and i will say that Good Bad Ugly is INDEED THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER!!!!!!!
Jan. 20, 2009, 5:10 a.m. CST
by Lost Jarv
this has inspired me to bump Blue Collar up to the top of the list of must sees. Just behind Hard Rock Zombie,
Jan. 20, 2009, 7:04 a.m. CST
And grammatically correct and everything was spelled right and everything. I wish Patton would regularly write reviews for this site. Or some site. I'd go see 'em. I loved this review. <Br><Br>And actually the thing about the shirtless dildo fight was funny. I laughed.<br><Br>Patton rocks. I'd love to see more Patton on this site. More Patton, please!
Jan. 21, 2009, 2:48 p.m. CST
Patton Oswalt, king of comedy. You know, he's got my family quoting his stuff. And 'failure pile in a sadness bowl' has entered the common parlance of my break room at work. I force Werewolves and Lollipops on people at parties, the way my folks used to force George Carlin and Richard Pryor on people during their parties...by putting it on, and letting the laughter happen.
Jan. 22, 2009, 12:34 p.m. CST
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