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.