Blue Collar Blu-ray Review
Paul Schrader's debut goes after the American Dream with a vengeance.
Back when Paul Schrader was hot property, writing the screenplays for some of Scorsese's golden era masterpieces, he broke through into directing with Blue Collar, his gritty and memorable debut.In 1978 off the back of his script for Martin Scorsese's classic Taxi Driver, Schrader turned to directing his own script - co-written with his late brother, Leonard - pulling together rising heavyweight Harvey Keitel (who'd already made waves with Scorsese on Mean Streets and Taxi Driver), the ever-underrated Yaphet Kotto (Alien, Live and Let Die) and fast-talking comedian Richard Pryor, in one of his rare but memorable dramatic roles. The process of putting together this diverse crew led to some distinct on-set challenges, with the trio of outspoken personalities clashing violently with each other and with Schrader, in turn leading to a nervous breakdown for him that would almost stop his filmmaking career before it got started.The end result is a distinctly flavoured, raw and surprisingly dark social reflection on the struggles of three car factory worker friends who inadvertently stumble upon proof of their bosses' corruption during a botched robbery attempt, and subsequently struggle to know what to do with the powerful but eminently dangerous material. Whilst it's prescient socio-political commentary is still relevant today, the human drama beneath also remains natural and authentic, and the tension is palpable. Schrader's writer/director efforts led to at least a promising early career, but it's work like this that also reminds that Keitel and even Kotto were serious contenders back then, and that Pryor was a potent dramatic actor with the right material. It's a forgotten gem.
Picture QualityIndicator's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Blue Collar affords the 40-year-old film an impressively restored presentation which promotes the movie in the best condition it's ever been in. The remaster - presumably a 2K job - stands up in all the key areas, and whilst it can only do so much with the limited budget and limited scale production, fans should still be pleased with the end result.
The best condition it's ever been in
The image has been impressively cleaned up, now devoid of dirt or damage, and boasting a strong level of detail beneath a fine albeit pervasive sheen of natural grain. The colour scheme has been well-rendered too, with strong contrast and, whilst there are no particularly vivid primary tones on offer, it's a very organic reflection of them. Black levels hold up too, affording some decent shadow detail that, given the period of the piece, doesn't falter as much as you might expect it to.
It was a problematic shoot - notoriously the actors (particularly Pryor who, not long after, would had some substance abuse issues and subsequently set himself on fire) were so volatile that they would only do a certain number of takes - and the end result is an image which is likely not quite as refined as it would have been had Schrader had the opportunity to go over it a few more times. As a consequence, it's easy to dismiss a few shots as looking less than impressive on this release, when actually the focus problems are more to do with the production, and could never have been improved. This is, indeed, likely the best shape we're going to get to see the film in.
Sound QualityThe audio is also a strong effort
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track is also a strong and impressive effort, delivering the original mono authentically but with some nice depth and resonance. Whilst it's not exactly an expansive affair, lighting up the surrounds with discrete elements, it's exactly what you'd expect from a limited budget directorial debut of forty years ago, bringing the harsh car factory environment to life in all its glory. Screeching machines, drills, hammers, sparking metal and industrial paint sprayers work incessantly, creating an intense, intoxicating and almost claustrophobic atmosphere that often takes precedence over even the dialogue, which is picked up as cleanly and coherently as you're ever likely to get, but which does often play second fiddle to the factory. The score, complete with a few great classic song tracks, gets nice airtime from the mix too, rounding out a solid and faithful representation of the audio component to this production and, as with the video, likely the best shape we're going to hear it in too.
ExtrasIndicator go above and beyond in the extras department, affording the film and its fans a whole slew of great extra features headlined by an Audio Commentary from writer/director Paul Schrader and author Maitland McDonagh, which explores some of the more controversial aspects of the production in some detail, and is one of the most honest and interesting commentaries you'll ever come across, nicely complemented by am archival feature-length BFI Masterclass on screenwriting from Schrader, which runs at 106 minutes and was produced just a few years after Blue Collar.
An impressive extras package
Visions is an archival 80s Channel 4 interview with Schrader available in the shorter 20 minute broadcast version and the longer hour-long unedited version which is rougher around the edges but has a lot more background into Schrader's film history, his work in the era (Cat People, American Gigolo and Raging Bull) and his late brother.
Actor/director Keith Gordon's new study on Blue Collar is 12 minutes of expertly argued praise, and the impressive package is rounded off by a Trailer, Gallery and Booklet.
Blu-ray VerdictBlue Collar is a forgotten gem
Writer/director Paul Schrader may be currently struggling to find (and deliver) decent projects, recently losing a battle to stop the producer's cut of his potentially semi-decent Nicolas Cage film The Dying of the Light from being released, but his 1978 directorial debut is not only an excellent film but one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time.
Indicator rekindle the love for this forgotten and vastly underrated gem with this UK Region B-locked Blu-ray release that sports the best video and audio the film has ever seen as well as a bounty of worthy extras. It comes highly recommended.
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