Tuesday, January 3, 2012

American Gigolo



Richard Gere was the first actor I have a clear memory of being totally gaga for. Sure, I had other pre-teen crushes: Shaun Cassidy; Andy Gibb: I think even William Katt from "The Greatest American Hero" made the list. But eventually Richard Gere replaced all those blonde-haired babies, and he was the guy for me, yielding the hilarious punchline that if we were to ever get married, my name would be Rain Gere.

American Gigolo is what did it for me, and how could it not? His Julian Kaye character has perfect 80's hair; a nose that's just a little too big; a ripped, hairless chest; impeccable clothes; and to top it off, he gets TOTALLY NAKED! (Click here for a very NSFW clip of that moment, poorly dubbed in Italian.)

But really, the movie sucked me in from the very beginning, with an opening credits sequence that convinced me the only life worth living was one in which I owned a Mercedes convertible, lived in Los Angeles, and had Blondie as my constant soundtrack. (That last part was already true.)


Yes, American Gigolo is a very sexual movie, even though there aren't any graphic sex scenes in it. There is a lot of dirty talk, some nudity, and the movie is about a dude who has sex for a living, so yes. Sex permeates the film.

But I didn't find it particularly scandalous or shocking when I saw it. Then again, I was probably distracted by my personal lust for Richard Gere, so I didn't have room for shock. (Of course, at that age my fantasies merely involved Richard Gere driving me around in his Mercedes, buying me stuff, and then maybe some kissing. As a matter of fact, that's probably still what I'd consider a perfect date.)

But it wasn't just the presence of Richard Gere that made me love the movie--although it was a big part--it was also the music, and its slickness, and the whole hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold storyline that also sucked me in. (It's a little ironic that 10 years later, Richard Gere would have the biggest hit of his career when he co-starred in another movie about a Hollywood hooker, Pretty Woman--a movie, for the record, I can't stand.)

Watching it again, I can understand how some critics dismissed it as pretty and shallow, and it is probably responsible for ushering in the flashy 80's that would eventually be epitomized on TV in "Miami Vice." The murder mystery Julian Kaye gets ensnared in is basically one huge MacGuffin, and what director and writer Paul Schrader is really interested in is redemption for a character that is, at heart, about as lonely as his most famous lonely man, Travis Bickle.

The one thing that really stood out on my rewatching is an underlying homophobia I didn't really pick up on all those years ago. It's implied that Julian started out as a hustler with male clients, but eventually "moved beyond" that, and he views any return to "fag stuff" as a complete sink back to the bottom (so to speak).

The movie even ends with a visit to a gay nightclub, presented in all its lascivious glory, with loud disco music, poppers, and anonymous sex. And the film's ultimate villain is gay (although he probably wouldn't admit to that). In all, not exactly an open embrace of the gay community.

(That visit to an "underworld" club is a a common trope in film noir movies, and ultimately, American Gigolo is neo-noir, which made it a good companion piece to Body Heat, which I also saw that Saturday in January, and which I will talk about tomorrow.)

I still love American Gigolo, even with its homophobia, and moments of silliness (the love scene between Gere and Lauren Hutton is a tad too artsy and obvious). It's one of those movies I can just turn on and watch and never be bored by. I don't think I'll be rehanging my German poster on the wall any time soon, but I don't regret giving the movie a "5!" all those years ago.

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