Norma Rae Blu-ray Review
Thirty-five years ago a young Sally Field decided to take an incredibly risky but possibly high profile film playing an independent young woman who works in a textile mill in the southern United States. This character shares the name with the film and I’ll bet you know the name even if you’ve never seen it; NORMA RAE. More an important film than necessarily a great one, NORMA RAE is greatly revered for its message of hope within the real world; a place where things can get pretty bad.
NORMA RAE is the story of one young woman’s fight to elevate herself out of the small town from which she has been born and raised. In her mid-twenties, Norma Rae (Field) works in a textile mill where her entire family has worked (both her mother and father continue to work there) along with most of the town. It’s a noisy, dangerous job where people are constantly mistreated (though we see very little of this). In fact, most of the mill workers lose their hearing during their life (including Norma Rae’s mother during a very dramatic scene).
When an organizer named Reuben (played by the incredible Ron Leibman) from the Textile Worker’s Union of America shows up in town, Norma sees an opportunity to make better for her life and the lives of the other families who depend on the mill. But as Norma gets further involved with Reuben she risks losing everything; her family, her job, even her freedom. It’s a classic ‘David v. Goliath’ story told on a much more recognizable timeline, scale, and within a story that still plays 35 years since it was originally released.
That isn’t to say NORMA RAE is without its faults. The movie as a whole is actually a bit of a bore, a classical drama at its core. Today’s audiences will have a hard time with NORMA RAE’s plodding pace and slow build, not to mention the fact that the entire thing is shot with a handheld camera. But all of these things actually give something to NORMA RAE. They weren’t done for the wrong reasons, or to look cool… the very intentional choices of filmmaker Martin Ritt are ever-present but immersive for their authenticity to the source.
Without any flash and glamour the beauty of the film shines through. The south presented here is grimy, dirty, but beautiful for its simplicity. Norma Rae is not a traditional heroine, she isn’t glamorously beautiful and she is deeply flawed. But this is why we love Sally Field in this role; Norma Rae is probably very much like someone you know. A person who is motivated by their love of their family and community and a person who is willing to stick to her convictions regardless of what may happen to her. This is a testament to the work of Ms. Field in this role, one that could have easily been unlikeable and drab.
NORMA RAE was a passion project, or it would never have been released. Director Martin Ritt, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era but who made an incredible comeback in the years following his exile, vowed to only make movies with a message he felt important enough to tell. NORMA RAE was such a story but because of its close ties to actual events at a real textile mill in the southern US it almost wasn’t made. Thankfully the filmmakers got the job done and at the end of the day probably informed a great number of people to the plight of workers here in the United States… workers and conditions we usually relegate, inside our minds, to the third world.
I always find it interesting when a movie from a different era proffers a vision of the future, and NORMA RAE is certainly one of those movies. Norma is a liberated woman who has two children with different fathers and, much to her family’s chagrin, has never been married. But while she could be played as trite or bitchy, she instead comes across as the kind of person who would sacrifice anything for the people she loves. And this is the films greatest triumph. Highly recommended.
NORMA RAE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.39:1) NORMA RAE looks surprisingly good for a film this old. The world is immersively presented and the HD transfer carries all the feeling and environment forward to a new world of viewers.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono) Keeping the original audio works really well for NORMA RAE with some beautiful sound mixing to go along with, and bring you inside, the atmosphere.
Hollywood Backstory: NORMA RAE (25:13) A well produced (though sadly standard definition) feature, this was originally put together for television as a retrospective due to the overwhelming success of this little film that touched so many people, NORMA RAE. Well worth watching if you enjoyed the film.
The Blu-ray for NORMA RAE features only a single selection of special features other than the Theatrical Trailer (02:37). Thankfully both the backstory and the trailer are actually pretty interesting if only for historical context.