Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Just a gigolo

I noticed AMERICAN GIGOLO was showing late in the tv schedules so I decided to record it and have another look. I have the dvd of course but I would never have got around to playing it. So I had another look - and I loved it all over again!

Sometimes one can love a movie too much - you can become obsessed about it, go back to see it several times [this is before video, let alone dvd...], one gets the poster, the soundtrack album, it becomes part of that period of your life. Then you get over it and never want to go back to it but it will always be there for you: EAST OF EDEN, THE MISFITS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, 2001, EL CID, CHARADE and THE PINK PANTHER, KLUTE for Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels, Isabelle Adjani stunning me in THE HISTORY OF ADELE H, Genevieve Bujold in OBSESSION, MODESTY BLAISE, BLOW-UP [ideal when I was 21], UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, A BIGGER SPLASH, THE PASSENGER, CHINATOWN, TAXI DRIVER, BARRY LYNDON and AMERICAN GIGOLO for my early 30s. It caught that end of the 70s and into the 80s vibe exactly and made Los Angeles a dream city, Hockney-esque as Richard Gere drove around to Giorgio Moroder's score and Blondie's "Call Me".

That sequence is still perfection: Gere full of himself laying out his clothes in that apartment I wanted to live in, as Smokey Robinson sings that perfect song which the scene seems to be edited to: "We used to meet in romantic places .... the way you wrecked my life was just like sabotage ... the love I saw in you was just a mirage". Pity the song wasn't included on the soundtrack album, but I found it on a Smokey compilation! and then of course for the disco scene with all those macho guys dancing - how very 1980 - Cheryl Barnes' "Love and Passion".
By the mid 70s Paul Schrader was the guy to watch with his scripts for TAXI DRIVER and OBSESSION and being lionised by the likes of "Film Comment" - then his gritty early movies like BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE emerging from his Calvinist upbringing. Then the glossy AMERICAN GIGOLO caught the moment perfectly and sealed Richard Gere's reputation after those roles in those key movies like DAYS OF HEAVEN, LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR and Schlesinger's YANKS. Oddly enough I had no interest in him after that - I didn't want to see the big hit AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (which like TOP GUN became symbolic of the era) and seeing some of the BREATHLESS remake on television confirmed that he was now playing to his admirers.

But as Julian Kay, alone in his apartment with his weights and his clothes and learning Swedish for a new client he does not realise the enemies he is making by falling out with Nina Van Pallandt's madam who created him, or the pimp Leon - before he knows it he is framed for murder and has to turn on himself and wreck his apartment to find those hidden jewels. His clients and socialite friends desert him - but there is Lauren Hutton as the woman he is finding out how to love another person who stands by him. Hutton has hardly been accused of acting, but I love her here; she is perfectly in tune with the film and displays great vulnerability and layers of character. Gere too steps up to the mark with Schrader's exploration of his vulnerabilities and why he does what he does, including that nude scene. One could hardly picture John Travolta doing it. He is so central to the movie, like how Antonioni idealised David Hemmings in BLOW-UP.

This is a perfect summation by Jed Medina of its themes: "A slick Los Angeles callboy finds love and redemption in Paul Schrader's ultra-stylish drama. High-living prostitute Julian Kay has it all: the Mercedes, the clothes, access to Beverly Hills' swankiest establishments, and a stable of rich, older female clients. But it all falls apart after he does a favor for his former pimp (Bill Duke) and the trick turns up dead a short while later; Julian's actual client won't give him an alibi, and police detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) doesn't believe the gigolo's denials. The one person who can help him is frustrated politician's wife (and sole non-paying bedmate) Michelle (Lauren Hutton), if only Julian could let down his defenses and accept her gesture of love. Mixing his admiration for European art cinema with a voyeuristic view of the seamier side of sex and affluence, Schrader renders Julian an inscrutable, emotionally disengaged purveyor of pleasure, decked out in Giorgio Armani clothes coordinated with Ferdinando Scarfiotti's meticulous production design.
With some audiences reportedly showing up for repeat viewings of Gere's seductive charms, it became a moderate hit, turning Gere into a star and Armani into the new fashion sensation. Whatever reservations one may have about the movie, it provided two indelible images of 1980s decadence to come: Gere's perusing his "artist's palette" of shirts, ties, and jackets, and cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in his convertible to the New Wave strains of Blondie's "Call Me"."

The other elements - the stylised apartment, Moroder's score, the set design of Ferdinando Scarfiotti (a victim of the 80s Aids crisis), the Armani clothes and Schrader's script and direction, all those serpentine camera movements - blend to create a perfect zeitgeist movie for its time, like Fosse and ALL THAT JAZZ. And of course those Robert Bresson influences, like that ending echoing PICKPOCKET as Julian finds redemption by finally accepting love. It all still works now. Nice to have seen it again and put it back for some other future time. Schrader went on to his intriguing remake of CAT PEOPLE and LIGHT SLEEPER and then after a dip while exploring his demons, returned the other year with THE WALKER, with its echoes of AMERICAN GIGOLO and another great central performance one would not expect from Woody Harrelson. Hopefully there will be more Schrader films to fascinate us. The older Gere is also turning out the occasional interesting movie as well as some very disposable ones!


  1. richard was just great and sensual enough for the part ! just nailed it !

  2. Its the perfect movie for gays, sophisticates and fashionistas, An Officer and a Genteleman was perfect for the girls in the multiplexes dreaming (as they still do) of being swept away by a guy in a white suit.