“Hard Working Man” – Captain Beefheart / Ry Cooder / Jack Nitzche, from the film “Blue Collar” (1978) dir. Paul Schrader

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The theme song from Paul Schrader’s mentally brutal 1978 working class thriller “Blue Collar.” One of the great forgotten films of the 1970s, with Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. As Kotto’s Smokey character famously asserts: “They pit the lifers against the new boys; the young against the old; the black against the white. Everything they do is to keep us in our place.”

 

“Auto Focus” (2002) dir. Paul Schrader

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One of the funniest and creepiest movies of the last decade is Paul Schrader’s corrosive biopic of the late “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane.  Crane was what we would now describe as a “sex addict,” whose obsession and weird friendship with a man who shared that lifestyle with him (as the film alleges) ultimately killed Crane.   What’s interesting about “Auto Focus” is how director Schrader so accurately depicts a man with absolutely zero self-awareness.  As Schrader put it in a terrific interview with Uju Asika on Salon.com when the movie was released: “… when I’ve dealt with characters like this before, these existential loners, they tend to be introspective. They don’t get it, but they’re trying to figure out how to get it. The interesting thing to me about Crane was that he was not only clueless, he was clueless about being clueless. And I think his greatest flaw wasn’t sex, it was selfishness. Hence the title. I don’t think he understood or appreciated how his actions affected other people. It was just sort of blithe egoism. So the challenge then was to try to make a film about a superficial character that wasn’t a superficial film.”    He also described Crane and his partner-in-crime John Carpenter:  “You take these kind of Rat Pack guys who have to trade in their narrow ties for beads and bell bottoms in order to score chicks. But of course they remain the same sexist jerks they always were. It’s a fascinating period in American male sexual identity.”  In my opinion, Schrader’s best film as a director, slightly edging out 1978’s “Blue Collar” and 1979’s “Hardcore.”