Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cinema Shame: American Gigolo (1980)



My 2019 Cinema Shame challenge got off to an auspicious start. Seven days into the year not only had I posted my challenge but I had also already seen two of the movies on my list. Then months passed, I never reviewed those films and now I find myself mid-April having to start all over again. But no sweat. Let's begin from the beginning.

My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980. These are films I've never seen before (hence "Cinema Shame").  I kick off the challenge anew with American Gigolo (1980). 

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, a handsome gigolo whose clientele mostly consists of the wealthy elite of Beverly Hills. With the help of his madame/boss Anne (Nina van Pallandt), he plays both escort and sex therapist to older rich ladies. Julian, or "Julie" as some call him, is very devoted to his job. He wears Armani suits, drives a Mercedes Benz (a 450 SL R107), speaks multiple languages and knows how to navigate the social scene. One day he meets Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of Senator Stratton (Brian Davies). The two have a wild love affair. In the midst of it all, Julian gets a secret side gig from his shady pimp friend Leon (Bill Duke) who sets Julian up with a couple. Weeks later the wife from that gig has been found brutally murdered and detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) is on the case. All fingers point to Julian who is clearly innocent. He's been set-up. But by who? And why?

"Legal is not always right. Men make laws. Sometimes they're wrong." - Julian Kaye





American Gigolo was filmed in early 1979 and released February 1980. Something I love about the 1970s and the early 1980s is Hollywood's newfound comfort with on-screen sexuality. We lose that later on and to this day people are more put off by sex in film than they are violence which, in my opinion, is an utter shame. I love how Julian Kaye enjoys his work and takes pride in offering quality service to the women who hire him. In one scene he discusses working for three hours with a client to achieve a particular goal that had previously seemed impossible. The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film was perhaps what drew me in the most. Julian's boss is a woman, his most trusted allies are women and any toxic relationships in his life all come from men. 

It's not a perfect film but I enjoyed American Gigolo  not only for the portrayal of sexuality (which at times was still a bit corny but hey its 1979/1980) and the exploration of gender roles but also for the crime drama aspect. Julian Kaye is solving a murder mystery while simultaneously trying to clear his name without revealing his own illegal activities. Richard Gere is charming as the debonair yet reserved gigolo and he's worth the price of admission alone. I had never seen Lauren Hutton in a film. I remember growing up in the 1990s, the age of the supermodel, and Hutton was still highly revered as one of the greats. 

Have you seen American Gigolo? If so, what did you think?

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