This week’s Moviedrome Monday entry is a double-bill consisting of two films directed and written by Paul Schrader.
Blue Collar (1978)
Since I could not find a youtube video link of Moviedrome presenter Mark Cousins introduction to Paul Schrader’s 1978 directorial debut Blue Collar (he also co-wrote it with his brother Leonard), readers will have to rely on his intro transcript here. The episode’s original airdate was July 13, 1997 (read here). Since I can’t comment on his most recent film The Card Counter (have not seen it yet), I will say that after 2017’s First Reformed (for me his masterpiece), Blue Collar ranks as my second favorite film by Schrader as a director.
Here is a youtube video link to the film’s original theatrical trailer
American Gigolo (1980)
I have posted a youtube video link below to Moviedrome presenter Mark Cousins introduction to Schrader’s 1980 neo-noir sexual drama American Gigolo. Readers can also read Cousins intro transcript here. The episode’s original airdate was July 14, 1997 (read here). I am sorry, but I have to totally disagree with Cousins on this one. For myself, American Gigolo is a film that alternated between bad and mediocre. Visually, it perfectly captures the excess that defined the 1980’s on a whole – courtesy of it’s art deco and John Bailey’s cinematography. Giorgio Moroder’s music score – (including his involvement with Blondie’s Debbie Harry on the hit song Call Me) serves as a fitting contribution. Last, but not least, we get outstanding performances from it’s two leads, which in this case would be Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton. So now you might be wondering what my problem with American Gigolo is? Schrader’s reported intention of playing American Gigolo as a Bressonian character study feels out of place here for what becomes a routine commercial mystery. Given that the film’s visual style was influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (a reported favorite of Schrader’s), maybe it would have been more fitting for the previously mentioned director/writer to play it as a Bertoluccian one – regardless of whether it’s more commercial aspects benefit or hinder it (the latter in this case), but that is just me. Equally problematic (as others have noted – here is Moviedromer’s thoughts below Cousins intro transcript) is the homophobia and sexism on display here – whenever these sentiments are not expressed by Gere’s lead character, they take the form of Schrader’s depiction of some of the characters as played by Bill Duke, Tom Stewart and (combing the former with the latter) Nina van Pallandt. My qualms here lie less with those aforementioned accusations against it and more with how those criticisms end up considerably damaging the result – once one combines the first half’s (supposed) Bressonian elements with the debatably more conventional ones of the second, American Gigolo can’t help but come off as sophomoric for a drama and uncharacteristic for a commercial film of this type.
Here is a youtube video link to Mark Cousins Moviedrome intro to American Gigolo
Here is a youtube video link to the film’s original theatrical trailer
11 thoughts on “Moviedrome Mondays: Blue Collar (1978) and American Gigolo (1980) (Mark Cousins intro)”
I agree that Blue Collar is very good. As for American Gigolo, it was very much of its time. Nice to look at, not that much substance. My current favourite PS film is ‘Light Sleeper’, which I think is often overlooked, and much better than most give it credit for.
Best wishes, Pete.
Brilliant post. I love Blue Collar; one of the grittiest, tragic and darkly comic films about the working class experience ever filmed. So few know about it.
I agree too First Reformed is a masterpiece 🎬👍🏻
I’m one of the many who didn’t know about Blue Collar. Just looked it up and it looks pretty interesting. Always loved Pryor and his comic timing, of course, and Keitel is one of my favorites, along with Yaphet.
I agree about American Gigolo, too. I thought it was pretty mediocre. I had no idea what everyone was yammering about back then, ’cause I recall it was pretty popular. 🙂
I hear ya 🙂 It is sad that Harvey Keitel is the only surviving actor of the three – as you know, Pryor and Yaphet Kotto have both passed on – the former back in 2005 and the latter, earlier this year 😦
A big problem with American Gigolo is that the two films it wats to be are an unsatisfying mix. On the one hand, it wants to be a thought-provoking social commentary on an unlikeable guy, while on the other, it also intends to serve as a vehicle to celebrate Richard Gere’s (though he was not the original choice for the role) body in all it’s glory for his female fans. The debated sexism and homophobia botches the whole film. For the former, it’s drama feels too sophomoric to honor Schrader’s intention of honoring Robert Bresson (one of his influences). For the latter, the sexism and homophobia expressed by Gere’s character feels too out of place for a movie that also wants to please Gere’s then large female fanbase. American Gigolo should have been an arthouse film masquerading as a commercial film not the reverse.
Blue Collar is indeed very good and the three leads (Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto) are electrifying 🙂
For me, First Reformed is Paul Schrader’s masterpiece as a director 🙂 Anyway, thanks for dropping by 🙂
Blue Collar is very good 🙂 Check out First Reformed though because it has got a lot of critics implying that it is Paul Schrader’s masterpiece as a director. The sexism and homophobia of American Gigolo (and I said this in the blog entry) would not have been a major issue If it was intended solely as a Bertoluccian character study (a la The Conformist) and not also as a commercial movie for Richard Gere’s then large female fanbase. As a few others have noted, for a movie that is so in love with his body, part of the sexism and homophobia expressed by his character feels out of place for that kind of movie – If it was played totally as a Bertoluccian sexual drama and nothing else, it would have made sense, but here, it feels wrongheaded. Anyway, thanks for dropping by 🙂
I completely forgot about Yaphet Kotto passing away this year. I could have sworn he was still with us. 😦
I have seen First Reformed, and have the dvd.
I am really enjoying your personal opinions of various film. I am sure there are many places that I can read Alex Cox’s opinions–no doubt interesting–but this is the only place I can read John Charet’s opinions. It’s always nice when we agree as we do on Blue Collar and First Reformed. Brilliant films, I think. So honest. So profound. So vastly different from one another; in that regard, it’s almost like Robert Wise directed them. I think we’ve talked Shrader before, and I believe that I regard his cannon more highly than you do. Nonetheless, I also agree with you on American Gigolo. It is a strong film visually and thematically. It is well casted and acted, but I walk away from it with a shrug and the question of why? Why go to all the fuss over a character and his plight that I don’t give a *@$! about…and I’m not the only one who feels this way, undoubtedly.
Nice to hear Pam 🙂 This season of Moviedrome has Mark Cousins taking over from Alex Cox. Blue Collar is very good and First Reformed is a masterpiece 🙂 I do not know If Robert Wise would be a fitting comparison, but hey as long as it is seen as a compliment, that will work 🙂 As for Paul Schrader, he is a better screenwriter than he is a director. As for you regarding Schrader’s directorial canon higher than me, I do not recall ever talking about him before, are you sure it was not Sidney Lumet? 🙂 Glad to see that someone else here agrees with me on American Gigolo. This is a film that should have depicted depicted Gere’s character as unlikeable from the very beginning – but once the commercial mystery elements come into play, it makes the grave mistake of trying to redeem an unredeemable character. For a film that is so in love with his body, it’s elements of homophobia and sexism (worst of all, these sentiments are also expressed by his character) seem totally out of place for a film that also wants to appeal to Gere’s female fanbase (at the time, Gere was an up and coming heartthrob). Once again, the homophobia and sexism could have easily been shrugged off If it did not try to redeem his character, who is once again, unredeemable. In other words, it should have been played as an art-house film masquerading as a commercial film instead of the other way around.
The Robert Wise comparison…it was meant to imply that Blue Collar and First Reformed are so vastly different films that it is almost as if they were directed by two different film directors, which, of course, is the rub against Robert Wise–that he directed such vastly different films that it is as if he has no signature–modus operandi, style, if you will. It is not a particularly apt comparison, I agree. Schrader wears his signature on his sleeve, but with Blue Collar, he hadn’t solidified it yet. IMHO…I could have sworn that we discussed Hardcore, Light Sleeper, Affliction, Auto Focus–all films that I personally revere, films that you merely liked to varying lesser degrees, but I stand corrected…yes, we have discussed Lumet, perhaps my favorite director–you not so much though you do regard one of his films as a masterpiece, which one I can’t recall. Anyway, always nice discussing film with you, John. I would love to discuss First Reformed with you sometime. I agree with you–it is a masterpiece.