My recollections of Paul Schrader‘s Blue Collar (’78) are on the vague side. It was reasonably well regarded back in the day, or so I recall. But I couldn’t remember much about the plot. I could only recall three angry, financially struggling auto workers (Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto) pulling off a half-assed heist, and things becoming worse as a result. So I read Vincent Canby‘s N.Y. Times review (which ran on 2.10.78) and I still couldn’t recall anything. That’s usually a bad sign.
During filming of Blue Collar, sometime in ’77: (l. to r.) Paul Schrader, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Pryor.
Blue Collar‘s production history was unstable and conflicted. A recent Cinephilia & Beyond piece reports that “filming was tumultuous.” At one point Pryor pulled a gun on Schrader and refused to do any more than three takes. “Pryor was the unhappiest person I ever met,” Schrader said on a voiceover commentary. “After about three weeks in, I was in the middle of the set and all of a sudden I started crying and…couldn’t stop.”
Schrader later admitted that “Pryor’s best performance would be found in those second or third takes and that he would become bored and begin to improvise from thereon, to the annoyance of Keitel.”
“A day did not go by without some form of provocation,” Schrader recalls. “Either physical or verbal or walking off [the set]. It was just trench warfare.”
Blue Collar was widely praised by critics. (I think.) Roger Ebert liked it. I’ve already rented the streaming, but I have an idea that a making-of doc might be more interesting.