Many economists point to the 1970s as the starting point to the ebb of the middle class in America. By then however, manufacturing jobs in the rust belt had already been in decline for a decade and the ability for a single-earner family to succeed had become nigh-on impossible on a line worker’s pay. That scenario provides the basis for Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, Blue Collar.
Schrader had made a name for himself in Hollywood as the screenwriter of Taxi Driver. Here he revisits the automotive world setting his script – co-written with his brother, Leonard – in an auto factory. In another link to Taxi Driver, the factory used as a backdrop is the Checker plant in Kalamazoo Michigan. That story is told through three main protagonists, played by Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto, and Harvey Keitel, as assembly line workers who are each struggling financially and with how they are treated by their employer. The three decide to rob the plant for cash, but instead come up with a union ledger that exposes corruption between the union and the company and puts them in even deeper water than before.
The three stars did not get along on the set owing to their individual working styles, and Schrader suffered a nervous breakdown during filming due to the stress of dealing with the actors’ egos on top of a grueling location shoot. The result however, is a raw portrayal of the American Dream fluttering out of these characters’ grasp, with a particularly heart wrenching scene where its divulged that a daughter has attempted to make her own braces out of paper clips after being told that the family couldn’t afford to straighten her teeth the right way.
Check out the trailer after the jump, and then wonder if things have gotten better since 1978, or if they’re far worse.
Blue Collar is currently not on any of the streaming services, however, like nearly everything, it can be purchased from Amazon.
Hoonivercinema: Monday Movie Trailer
A sidebar on this film: I was studying in Poland at the time and this film was introduced into cinemas by the then Soviet-Communist run Polish government. It seems the authorities thought the film would be seen as an indictment of US labor conditions. The effort backfired as Poles instead focused on the “lavish” lifestyles of the not-so oppressed US workers; cars, nice houses, etc. It was a level of luxury that a person living behind the Iron Curtain could not dream of in 1978. Theaters were packed for all the wrong reasons as far as the Polish Communist government was concerned. Kamil, ask your parents about it! Just translate the title literally into Polish.Loading…
Roundabout story, somewhat related…
I worked in a bicycle factory where we practiced both the “Open Company” and the lean manufacturing techniques known variously as Lean Manufacturing, Kanban System and Toyota Production System (the source of the ‘TPS Reports’ in “Office Space)
During an ‘open meeting’ of the company our chief entrepreneur mentioned the term ‘gung ho’ as an example of our corporate (13 people) culture. In an internet excursion I looked up the roots of the term “Gung Ho”. In American English, ‘Gung Ho’ was (evidently) introduced by a 1943 film of the same name. It fictionalized the exploits of real life USMC Brigadier General Evans Carlson.
The movie is sort of a typical WW2 flick, but it contains a monologue by Randolph Scott that is a synopsis of Carlson’s contributions to military organization that later filtered down in to industrial organization.
I though I might point this monologue out to my boss, in those pre-YouTube days, but as soon as I mentioned a movie called Gung Ho he thought I meant this Auto Manufacturing Farce (see, I told you this was a roundabout) that lampoons the efforts of a Japanese manufacturer to impose their techniques on a failing, malaise era American automobile plant. I had to buy a copy of the 1943 film (DVD) to show him.
The 1986 ‘Gung Ho’ seems to be an assassination of the 1943 ‘Gung Ho!’. (First of all, ‘gung ho’ is an Americanized version of a Chinese phrase, and has no business being the title of a movie with no Chinese in it.) Where the 1943 film lauded the lessons learned from Communist Chinese that Carlson used to defeat the Japanese, the 1986 film rejects any notion that anyone from the far east can teach us how to run our organizations.
Look up Gung Ho! on IMDB and you will not get the 1943 film, not even if you include the exclamation point. This is the same internet that taught me about this film!
At 14:00, the crucial speech. That the Brass would walk among the recruits, and ask for their input.
Nice job! One of the hardest things to learn for any company is that it isn’t enough to go through the motions of implementing Lean Manufacturing/Kanbans/TPS, the vital culture change is that communication between upper management and the worker bees needs to be a two-way street.Loading…
That is a new one and considering the near negligible effectiveness of Mao’s forces vs. the Japanese its probably the biggest contribution the Communists made to fighting Japan.Loading…