Blue Collar

In a joke interview on the occasion of his joke film Auto Focus given to one of our joke street rags, Schrader has said this is “a Marxist film.” Such is the hypnotic power of words with illiterates he was probably believed prima facie. The erection of scenes and the manufacture of characters are the basis of the film’s economy, which is able to find in the dilemma of individuals something better than class action and absorption.

This is Schrader’s On the Waterfront. The flawless technique belies its own rigidity in one or two stylistic touches that confused the critics perhaps, but still do not give the artist away so clearly as the scene of Smokey’s murder in a factory paint room, and the final car chase. The latter is partly an homage to Bullitt, the former dissolves in blue paint particles, and is one of the cinema’s greatest scenes. Both show Schrader’s ability to lose himself in action.

Vincent Canby’s New York Times review is so remarkable it must be quoted in extenso, “...very mixed feelings. It is a sort of poor man’s On the Waterfront, a movie that simply—often primitively—describes corruption in a Detroit auto workers’ local without ever making the corruption a matter of conscience. Corruption is there. It exists. It’s part of the system...

“At the end of Blue Collar we see a man more or less cornered into turning state’s evidence. His testimony probably won’t do any good. The movie even implies that his decision to testify may make him an unwitting tool of the system. His fate isn’t especially tragic. It’s a pop tune with a big beat.

“At least, this is the way I reacted to Blue Collar, which opens today at three theaters...

“Where Blue Collar starts to go awry is in its melodramatic plotting that has the three friends attempting to rob their union headquarters. Instead of a large amount of cash, they find a ledger that records the details of the union’s loan-sharking activities. When they attempt to use this information as blackmail, the results are predictably disastrous—for the friends and for the movie that otherwise shows us a kind of existence seldom accurately depicted on the screen.

“Everything in the characters’ private lives looks right, from the pictures on the walls (and stuck into the corners of mirrors), to their color television sets, plastic slipcovers, and bowling costumes. You suspect that each item was bought yesterday on time and will be worn out tomorrow before the payments are completed.

“The performances are excellent. Mr. Keitel’s Jerry is all itchy ignorance, baffled by the circumstances in which he finds himself wanting to do the right thing but having no idea of what that is. Mr. Kotto’s Smokey appears to be as much a matter of his sheer presence as it is of his cool, self-assured performance.

“The center of the film, however, is Mr. Pryor who, in Blue Collar, has a role that for the first time makes use of the wit and fury that distinguish his straight comedy routines. It’s a sneakily funny performance right up to the film’s angry, freeze-frame ending, which by this time is a mannerism that almost any film could do without.

“Mr. Schrader’s decision to use that freeze-frame calls attention to the phoniness that haunts the film at other moments. The scene in which a fussy I.R.S. man calls on Mr. Pryor is funny, but do I.R.S. men often make house calls at night?...”



Can one marry a model?
Kill your past, make you real, raise a family,
by removing you bodily
from back numbers of Sham?


A modernization of The Searchers set in contemporary California, the modulation passing through Lolita and The Night They Raided Minsky’s from Farewell, My Lovely (Murder, My Sweet).

A rare part allowing George C. Scott to boil over rather than richly seethe.

The delicacy and precision of the shots is arranged in broad movements punctuated with great style by dark color transitions. The quintessential shot pans slowly from a choir on a hotel television set to a view of Hollywood Boulevard through the window, with Star Wars at Grauman’s Chinese.


American Gigolo

There appears to be a great deal of formal complexity in American Gigolo, for which reason the critics concentrated on Armani, but it’s very elegantly made in its own right, Schrader’s film, and not perhaps that difficult. It will be seen, above all, to be closely related to Taxi Driver (or indeed a variant).

“The well-made film,” they used to say at Cahiers du Cinéma, “how small its ambitions.” Gere laying out his gear & tackle & trim for his grand assaults on the female audience is a meticulous sight to behold.

Again the tale is of politicians and prostitutes. While there is amusement in the good-pimp/bad-pimp arrangement, structurally they are the same thing.

At the top of the gigolo’s world is the husband who pays. Sen. Stratton gives a speech against oil-drilling, and is called a “whore” by the gigolo’s matron of the evening. The senator is structurally identified with Rheiman, the wealthy Palm Springs socialite who hires the gigolo (through the “bad pimp”) for a “rough trick” with his wife.

That’s the simplest way of looking at it. The wife is later murdered, the gigolo is framed, the bad pimp dies, the senator’s wife falls in love with the gigolo.

There’s a certain relationship to Coppola’s The Conversation especially visible when the gigolo tears his hotel room apart looking for planted evidence. The detective’s name is Sunday, not Friday (and not Billy). After Hardcore, this is a humorous front line for the main articulation, a puppet show for the critics.

And after all, the surface is quite pleasing, in John Bailey’s cinematography. How it gets that way is the whole point, however. The title is certainly ironic, De Tocqueville having been particularly struck with Americans’ penchant for not relying on servants to open the door, hitch up the wagon, etc.


Cat People

This delectable masterpiece with its quasi-Ovidian theme has been overlooked by the generality, and to no purpose. It opens with a scene that might be The Dawn of Man on Mars à la Kubrick (or Tarzan), with Kipling’s black leopard (which comes into its own later). It follows this with a coup in the casting, as Malcolm McDowell unveils the cabinet of grotesqueries from If....

Ruby Dee watches Top Cat on television, Nastassja Kinski gives a subtle air of Jean Seberg in À Bout de souffle, and for the rest, there is Alan Ormsby’s account of Roger Vadim scouting locations in New Orleans on a commission from Universal. Kinski in the train evokes North by Northwest, followed by a Hitchcockian dream that pays homage to Zoltan Korda.

“Poetry selection from Dante’s Vita Nuova,” reads an end credit. If you like, the charm of this is Schrader’s erudite translation of his original’s opaque, formal style, which forms a sort of background to it. In the foreground, he conducts a close parody of a contemporary horror film, and between the two he manages to sustain a constant shuttling. This results in a constant appraisal of the whole métier behind Tourneur, and in that sense (and to that extent) is one of the most detailed pieces of criticism to be found. And if you don’t like, well, there is McDowell’s little aping of Klaus Kinski for your amusement, anyway.


a life in four chapters

Destruction, wounds, death, and a rallying point against these, as intended, thus the three literary chapters and a fourth of “action”, the last most complicated.

“A boldly conceived, intelligent and consistently absorbing study” (Variety). “A rather glorious project in these days of pragmatic commercialism and rank cynicism in the movie industry” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). “A sumptuous austerity, paralleling Mishima’s disciplined decadence” (Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice).


The Comfort of Strangers

John Simon has written of a press conference he attended at the time of Accident’s premiere, listening to Losey and especially Pinter speak he became quite convinced that they were a couple of frauds with nothing at all to say, nothing that meant anything, and he went on writing criticism happy in the thought.

The Comfort of Strangers opens and closes with a joke, the “unreadable” manuscript and the detective who doesn’t “get it”, the setting is Venice, a relationship to Betrayal is indicated.

Pinter’s screenplay of The Trial is exactly cognate with Schrader’s film, from a slightly different angle. The English couple, a thyrsus all vine and no rod as Baudelaire would say, meet the Venetian gentleman and his Canadian wife, the somewhat fey and feckless reader is set at one with his forefathers.

Critics were prepared to find this agreeable from one point of view or another, some did.


Witch Hunt

The digital murder case, solved by practitioners and Schrader’s detective, Philip Lovecraft, who never touches the stuff (it puts Bill Shakespeare on the studio payroll and makes a movie star of plain Jane), Hollywood “magic”, the senator who’s investigating has a warlock of his own.



The original article is always hampered by authoritarian traditionalists on the one hand and shameless hucksters on the other. The beauty of Schrader’s analysis (out of Elmore Leonard) is to show that these two forces meet and combine in the daytime talk show.

Naturally, the hero’s name is Juvenal, and his forte is healing. The strong basis of all this is Frank Capra, particularly Meet John Doe, treated with shorthand precision in a ghost town (Fullerton, Calif.) dominated by a shopping mall.

He has the stigmata, served with the Franciscans in Brazil, and runs afoul of the RV dealer who once was an ordained minister of Unifaith and now recognizes a hot property. The other nemesis wears a sort of uniform as head of OUTRAGE, his Organization Unifying Traditional Rites As God Expects.

The huckster has an ally in the music business who becomes Juvenal’s mistress. A confrontation with OUTRAGE turns injurious, and all sides meet on the local fifth-rated daytime chatterbox, miraculously.

Critics seem not to have known what to make of this, but they are not inventive, as a rule.


Auto Focus

The title is a cautionary preface to analysis, which certainly must be allowed to find its own range in these various perspectives.

Taken at face value, as by the preponderance of critical opinion, this is drivel pure and simple (Hogan’s Heroes gets accused of being “Holocaust comedy”, which might be expected to aggrieve Robert Clary and the admirers of Ernst Lubitsch, whose film To Be or Not to Be was the model). Further, it appears as toadying (Schrader has said he hoped to be given the next Exorcist sequel, in what sounds like a joke), and worst of all, a travesty of Bob Crane.

But as a metaphor of technology degrading motion picture production to the point of extinction (this is sometimes said), it’s a unique expression of the American cinema—also the first film one has seen with digital masking of a saucy bit, added by the censors, apparently following the precedent set in some prints of Eyes Wide Shut.

The special note of period as “store-bought realism”, rather than the desired evocation, is a view from the present, as in some of Scorsese. With Polanski’s The Pianist, it demonstrates an adroit use of computer imagery, a brief night exterior of The Classic Cat might be taken for a matte painting.

A most accomplished campaign of personal publicity generated by Schrader himself produced the desired effect on at least one moviegoer, who never felt so impelled to see a film before, nor afterward so compelled by misdirection to see it again.