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Blue Collar Actor (2003)
Let me briefly describe what Jeff Profitt's new film "Blue Collar Actor" is, and what it is not. This is a low-budget direct-to-video feature-length movie. It is short for a feature length film -- just about one hour long rather than stretched to around two hours as many are, but that's a good thing. It is the right length to fully develop the characters and straightforward story.
If you like to see highly personal, low budget, independent films, you may well enjoy this. But be aware that when I say "low budget," I mean essentially "no budget." This is a movie made by one family. The director stars in it, and his real-life wife plays his wife, and his real-life kids play his kids. But do not make the mistake of thinking this is a "home movie." It is not. Serious thought and effort have obviously been put into this project. The writing, filming, and post-production were taken seriously by somebody who, although inexperienced, clearly knows about the whole filmmaking process.
In terms of the budget and scope of the film, "Blue Collar" is very comparable to John Lyde's films "The Field is White" and "In the Service of God." But whereas Lyde's films were expressly about distinct Latter-day Saint themes, "Blue Collar Actor" is more universal in its content. The filmmaker and the film's characters are indeed Latter-day Saints, but the name of the Church is not mentioned specifically, and the themes are more about the family and the characters rather than specific religious themes. Their faith informs the story, but the main character's quest to become an actor (or simply to better his lot in life) is universally understandable.
"Blue Collar Actor" is also interesting in its total independence from Utah as a setting or influence. Even movies which took place partially in New York City, such as "Out of Step" and "Charly," were actually filmed mostly in Utah, and were always about Utahns transplanted to an "alien" East Coast environment. "Blue Collar Actor" is something altogether different. It was made entirely in New Jersey and features New Jersey characters. These Saints and their story evoke a spirituality and sense of goodness similar to other LDS and good family films, yet this film offers a glimpse at something distinctly different. The blue collar (instead of college-educated) background, the urban projects setting, and even the never-mentioned but visually evident biracial makeup of the family all lend an authentic freshness to the production.
More than any of these surface details, however, "Blue Collar Actor" is different because of the bleak, almost hopeless nature of the main character's lives. The smallest of expenses, such as gas money for driving to an audition, might mean not having enough money to put food on the table. Yet the characters summon an inspiring degree of faith and hopefulness in their struggle to achieve their dreams. The fact that the main character's plans for making it as an actor frequently seem ill-advised and impossibly far-reaching. This makes his efforts no less impressive.
My praise for the film's background and the distinctive nature of its setting and characters within this niche should be tempered with a clear understanding that this is the work of a very inexperienced filmmaker. Prior to making "Blue Collar Actor," Profitt had only made a couple of short films. "Blue Collar Actor" should not be thought of as an "art film." The musical score has some nice moments, but is mostly amateurish. Most people do not notice the editing in films, but if you do, you will notice that the cutting here is amateurish at best. "Blue Collar Actor" was shot on video, so it does not have the same look as a 35mm film. Yet for something shot on video, the sound, colors and lighting are surprisingly good - never noticably flawed or distracting.
The acting is mostly quite good, and the kids are a joy to watch. But the woman who plays the wife is obviously not an experienced actor, and at times it is difficult to decide if her performance is amazingly natural and authentic, or is simply the result of a non-actor trying to deliver lines. Whatever the case, her performance is refreshingly understated and she never over-acts. Her character a very unique picture of an African-American woman. Gone are all pretense of spunkly, uber-woman, or histrionic stereotypes. She is simply a very honestly portrayed Christian woman trying to survive in a life that has largely beaten her down with bleak reality.
Viewers with a particularly artistic bent may find that the film's biggest flaw is its rather happy ending. The ending will probably please most viewers, but may seem unearned or insufficiently grim to those who aspire to be writers.
I recommend "Blue Collar Actor" to anybody who appreciates low-budget, highly personal filmmaking. I found it interesting and compelling despite its flaws. The story on screen (and no doubt the story behind the camera as well) is one of utterly ordinary people who hold on to hope and goodness despite seemingly overwhelming odds and stifling surroundings.