Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer The Video Phile

By Chris Herrington

NOVEMBER 17, 1997: 

**The Babysitter (1995, written and directed by Guy Ferland) -- Rarely does a film based on a literary work measure up to the power of a story's original written format, and the film adaptation of Robert Coover's 1969 short story "The Babysitter" is not an exception. Coover's short story is experimental, written in paragraph-long sections which present many different points of view and many characters' fantasies. The begins as the Tuckers attend a party a few minutes away, leaving their three children in the care of a babysitter. (A normal enough occurrence, right?)

The Babysitter, as the celluloid counterpart to Coover's story, takes a different tack from the start. The viewer is made very aware that the movie is basically going to be an Alicia Silverstone extravaganza. Walking to her job as the babysitter, Jennifer (Silverstone) is the object of much covert attention- her boyfriend Jack (Jeremy London) gapes at her from a car, a police officer spies her in his rearview mirror, and ubiquitous hood Mark (Mickey Katt) crosses the street to bother her for a date that night. Jennifer proceeds to stomp down the street towards the Tucker's. This is a girl with a mission!

Strangely enough, although Jennifer is lusted after by all the males in the film, including Mr. Tucker and his nine-year-old son, she seems obsessed with the reality that she will baby-sit and the film does not give her an opportunity to respond or contemplate the attention she constantly arouses. It is unclear whether Jennifer is oblivious to the people around her or simply has a case of demented tunnel vision.

After threesomes, adultery, and blood-spattering fistfights are covered by the characters' imaginations, Jack opines, "I don't know what's real or not anymore." The problem with The Babysitter is that real events of the film are all too apparent in contrast with the sequences dealing with characters' imaginative wanderings. The turmoil and surrealistic nature inherent in the story is sadly lost in the film.

With a moralistic ending involving drunk driving and attempted rape, The Babysitter fails to measure up to Robert Coover's masterpiece of a short story. "What were you thinking?" Jennifer asks Jack near the end of the film. The viewer, for one, ends up knowing all too well what the characters have been thinking. As for questions concerning what the people involved in adapting this movie had in mind, the answer remains up in the air. -- Amy Lawrence


**** Blue Collar (1978, directed by Paul Schrader) -- That genuinely political labor films are rare in proportion to the issue's impact on American life may have something to do with Hollywood's belief that escapsims is what we crave most. But more likely it is because honest, serious and provocative material about the lives of the working class is not calculated to please the capitalists who finance movies or their most desired demographics. What then to make of Blue Collar?

*****

****

***

**

*

Fritoes

Chee-tos

Doritos

Funyuns

pork rinds

The directorial debut by Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader explores life on the Detroit auto assembly lines, focusing on the plight of three workers played by Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Pryor, who gives his best feature-film performance in his only dramatic role. The three men at the center of the film lead lives marked by low wages and large debts, lives where the plant, as Pryor's character says at a union meeting, seems short for plantation.

Where Blue Collar differs from other labor films, from Salt of the Earth to Norma Rae to Matewan, is that it is not a pro-union film. The union depicted here seems indifferent and ineffectual at first, but as the film progresses the extent of union corruption and complicity in maintaining the status quo is revealed. Blue Collar's only allegiance is to the worker, but it refuses to romanticize even him. The men in this film do drugs, cheat on their wives, and commit crimes. They're desperate -- desperate to stay alive, physically and spiritually. As systemic forces from the company to the union to the government conspire to divide them, the film conjures a mood of both anger and despair. No Hollywood ending here. Blue Collar is not liberal in tone or perspective, it is radical. That it got made by a major American filmmaker with prominent actors is surprising. That it is little know today is not. -- Chris Herrington


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