October 29, 1985

Charnel House Blues
By D.E.

The Killing Floor couldnít have been made without large contributions from more than 40 unions. They werenít allowed a peek at the script, but they did insist on relatively costly union contracts for everyone involved. (These are often waived on low-low-budget independent movies.) The terms of the contract change with a theatrical release, and the snarl now, I gather, will be over how much more the producers have to cough up for their union workers-- to tell the story of the union to the masses. As Frank Custerís realized, sometimes you can't win.

Few American movies have this kind of reach. Executive producer Elsa Rassbach, who worked on the story with black playwright Leslie Lee, was educated in West Germany, and Brecht Lives in the jaunty narration that accompanies speeded-up newsreel footage and in the filmmakers' detachment--the way their characters act logically (if shortsightedly) in response to dire economic conditions. Iíve seen no more clear-eyed account of union organizing on film, but, as a result, this isnít the warmest picture--The Killing Floor wonít be a lump-in-the-throat, Norma Rae sensation. Yet it has come a ways since its premiere, in the spring of 1984, on PBSís American Playhouse. It was shown to the jury at Cannes; it has been picked up for theatrical release on London; and, with luck, it will have limited theatrical engagements in the major cities (Chicago first) in early 1986.
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