Color, 1978, 113 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring RIchard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Bellaver, Cliff De Young
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Koch Media (Germany (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Anchor Bay, Universal (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

After Blue Collarestablishing himself Blue Collaras a screenwriter to be reckoned with thanks to Taxi Driver, The Yakuza, Rolling Thunder, and Obsession, Paul Schrader was in an excellent position to make the leap to join his fellow New Hollywood superstars as a director. He pulled it off in fine fashion with his debut feature, Blue Collar, a blistering combination of heist film, social commentary, and dark dramatic comedy about a trio of auto workers who find themselves caught in the messy, corrupt web of modern American labor.

At a Detroit car factory, employee morale is slipping fast thanks to callous management treatment and inadequate protection from their union. Close-knit friends and coworkers Zeke (Pryor), Jerry (Keitel), and Smokey (Kotto) are frustrated by their inability to crawl out of debt or provide for their families, so they decide to rob the union bosses' safe in their office. Instead of a windfall, they discover a ledger with incriminating information that could either give them tremendous power or tear them all apart.

Though Richard Pryor was by far the biggest name in the film due to his red-hot status as a comedian at the time, Blue Collar ladles its dramatic duties mostly evenly between the three leads and works all the better for it. Rather than clubbing the viewer over the head with a message (apart from Kotto's potent commentary about Blue Collarstill-relevant divide and conquer tactics), it's an unsentimental snapshot of working Blue Collarclass issues that have proven to be universal from one decade to the next. It's also a lively, highly enjoyable viewing experience thanks to its feisty stars, who evidently didn't get along in real life at all during the shoot. Also noteworthy is down and dirty music score by veteran rock and blues writer Jack Nitzsche, who had been shifting further into film scoring at the time after his successful work on One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Blue Collar first appeared on DVD from Anchor Bay in 2000 as part of its brief but productive licensing deal with Universal. The disc sported a solid anamorphic transfer for the time and, most significantly, a fine audio commentary with Schrader and author Maitland McDonagh, packed with details about his transition from screenwriter to director and his thoughts on tackling labor issues on film as well as the ins and out of New Hollywood and the on-set tensions that took a heavy mental toll. In 2009, Universal brought the film back into circulation as a DVD-R in its Universal Vault series (no commentary this time), which was then repurposed as a pressed disc in 2017. In between, the film made its Blu-ray debut in 2016 in Germany from Koch Media, with a simultaneous DVD to match; the excellent HD transfer makes the film look vibrant and fresh, and extras include a trailer and gallery.

However, the version to beat is the 2018 UK release from Indicator, which sports the same excellent transfer (they look the same side by side), a DTS-HD MA English mono track with optional English subtitles, and by far the largest slate of extras to date. The original Schrader commentary is ported over here (as is the theatrical trailer seen on Blue Collarpast releases), while a third audio option features Blue CollarSchrader in a BFI Masterclass appearance in 1982 at the National Film Theatre (around the time Cat People was released), going into extensive detail about his creative process and thoughts on the writing process rather than going into the nuts and bolts of specific titles too much. The track runs almost the length of the film, so be prepared to learn pretty much everything about Schrader you could've wanted to know by that point in his career. Next up is a Schrader interview for the show Visions by Tony Rayns viewable in both its final broadcast version (20m40s) or the unexpurgated raw version with a new Rayns interview (57m39s). Filmmaker and actor Keith Gordon offers his own new take on the film (12m11s) focusing on its artistic impact on him at an impressionable age, while screenwriter Josh Olson covers the basics of the film's importance in a Trailers from Hell version of the theatrical trailer. A smaller gallery (38 images) than usual is included with an assortment of stills and promotional material, while the limited edition's insert booklet features an excellent new Brad Stevens essay about the film's complex refusal to defy categorization and its take on masculinity, plus a vintage '78 Schrader interview and an excerpt from the book Schrader on Schrader.

Reviewed on February 8, 2018.