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Hollywood 1978: 12 Neglected Features

Wednesday, August 15, 1979
7:30 p.m. Straight Time & Blue Collar
Ulu Grosbard
Paul Schrader (USA,1978)

Straight Time
“Straight Time is the story of the month of freedom a convicted armed robber ‘enjoys’ between his July release on parole after six years in a California prison and his subsequent arrest in August for another armed robbery and murder. Dustin Hoffman portrays Max in a performance that is among his most powerful and convincing. Max is a chronic ‘offender,’ a repeater, and Hoffman gets inside this character and doesn’t soften him. Physically, he gives Max some of Ratso Rizzo’s unwashed low-lifer quality. He gives Max charm, but it’s an expedient, sneaky charm that he uses to get what he needs. Max is cornered, and can’t be trusted....

“In addition to Hoffman’s performance, Straight Time gets its persuasive force by being - like the prison drama ‘Short Eyes’ - an insider’s account. The film is based on the novel ‘No Beast So Fierce’ by ex-convict Edward Bunker. Bunker collaborated on the screenplay, and plays a small role in the film.

“The film contains many scenes shot in long takes. The effect is of someone looking at things without blinking....”

Independent Film Journal

• Directed by Ulu Grosbard. Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Edward Bunker and Jeffrey Boam, based on Bunker's novel "No Beast So Fierce." Photographed by Owen Roizman. Music by David Shire. With Dustin Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, Sandy Baron, Kathy Bates, Edward Bunker, Stuart I. Berton, Barry Cahill, Corey Rand, James Ray, Fran Ryan, Rita Taggart. (1978, 114 mins, 35mm, color, Print from Warner Bros.)

Blue Collar
“Hotshot screenwriter-turned-director Paul Schrader specializes in movies that are ‘simplified, like a long sliver, so they can zip through a million people,’ and Blue Collar, his 1968 directorial debut, is no exception. Schrader originally conceived the story as a metaphor of ultimate alienation - three (brilliantly cast) factory workers (Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) who become so alienated they stick up their own union.
“It’s a strong idea that raises significant socio-political issues, but Schrader... believes ‘a film has to have a high line and a low line... to make it financially viable. The high line in Blue Collar is Marxist analysis, and the low line is Pryor’s exploitation film get-back-at-the-man rage.’
“Given his screenwriting record (Taxi Driver, for instance) it’s not surprising that Blue Collar is well structured, full of sharp dialogue and strong, believable characters. What is surprising is Schrader’s confident directorial touch. Blue Collar is filmed in a cool, minimal, neo-Brechtian style.... It makes a lot of its points visually, and contains a number of fresh images.... an unusually fine musical score, ranging from vintage blues by Howlin’ Wolf to the pounding, Bo Diddley-styled main title, performed magnificently by Captain Beefheart.
“Still, for all Schrader’s craft and art, the film was not very successful on initial release - possibly because two of the three leads were black, as opposed to the usual (safer) ratio of one-to-three. Then, too, some people found the film politically backward, since it pictured the union being just as exploitive as the factory owners....” --Michael Goodwin
• Directed by Paul Schrader. Written by Paul Schrader and Leonard Schrader. Photographed by Bobby Byrne. Music by Jack Nitzsche. With Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Bellaver, George Memmoli, Lucy Saroyan, Borah Silver, Lane Smith, Cliff De Young. (1978, 110 mins, 35mm, color, Print from Universal)