Just being able to survive feels like success.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival is screening the urban drama Blue Collar, possibly the best film on the ten-day slate. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and the underrated but indispensable Yaphet Kotto star, but this is Pryor's show, his star turn. A trio of Detroit auto workers are driven by financial desperation to rob their own union hall. They end up netting three-hundred dollars. Trouble is the union, seeking insurance money, claims it was twenty thousand. The organized crime guy who backed the job isn't interested in stories about a three hundred dollar take—he's owed ten percent and that's two grand. But there's hope—the robbery also netted a notebook filled with information on illegal loans, and if Pryor and company can sell it maybe they can come out on top after all. But just how likely do you suppose that is?
Blue Collar is a brilliant work of art. Cinematic maverick Paul Schrader directed it, operating in a gritty milieu that would become his trademark. But the pressurized lives of the working class heroes are truly brought to life by the cast. Keitel studied under Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, as well as at the HB Studio, while Kotto is a guy who studied at the Actors Mobile Theater Studio and made his professional acting debut in Othello, but Pryor the stand-up comic outacted them both, using self-contained fury, razor sharp humor, and just the right amount of improvisation. The man was a once-in-lifetime talent. His comedy was fused with desperation and pain, but Hollywood tried to harness the funny Pryor and jettison the rest. It was like removing his heart. He truly shone only in serious films, where he would break high tension with moments of humanizing comedy. Blue Collar was the best of the lot.
By today's movie standards a couple of thousand dollars hardly seems like much to fret over. Audiences are used to crime films dealing with millions. But the small amounts here make the movie feel real. A 2016 study showed that half of adult Americans would not be able to come up with $400 in an emergency—they would have to sell something, borrow money, or not pay. Back in 1978, when Blue Collar wasmade, real wages in the U.S. were higher than they are now, so the movie depicts travails among working class people who were better off than working class people are today. Let that sink in. We think this is a perfect movie to show in San Francisco in 2017, a city overrun by tech workers contentedly pushing longtime residents out. The movie won't change anything in the city. But it will be remembered by the ticketholders at the screening.
Scorsese and DeNiro drive the message home.
And as long as we’re on the subject of movie posters, above you see the amazing Japanese promo for Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro’s noir-influenced howl of anguish Taxi Driver. After being released Stateside in early 1976 it premiered in Tokyo today the same year, and it is simply one of the best pieces of cinema ever produced in the U.S. In a country where outrage is increasingly an accepted form of communication, its story of a broken soul trying to cope with his own formless anger—not using his mind, but using his gun—resonates ever more strongly each day. People see DeNiro’s character Travis Bickle differently. Some see him as a fairly regular guy. Others see him as a mutant. Maybe it depends on one’s own level of anger. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader aren’t ambiguous about it—Bickle is a mutant who can blend in only because he’s surrounded by people so overworked or beaten down or self-involved or dwarfed by circumstance that they don’t notice that something is very wrong with him. Taxi Driver shows a man dealing with a sickness of anger, suggesting that the urge to commit violence is a cancer that could infest anyone if they aren't careful. It's a good message for times like these.
Nastassja Kinski was the original pussycat doll.
If you think this Cat People poster is beautiful to look at, you should see Paul Schrader’s très chic 1982 film. Unfortunately, even the atmospheric New Orleans setting and several sequences of Nastassja Kinski slinking around totalement nu failed to elevate the film to classic status. This is pretty much unforgivable in a remake, which this was. The best thing we can say for it is that, viewing it today, we realized—as we often do with these old films—how unlikely it is any modern American director and actress would take the chances Schrader and Kinski took here. So even if the film isn’t scary, or suspenseful, or even satisfactorily resolved, we give it high marks for boldness. Cat People opened in the U.S. twenty-seven years ago today.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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