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Cinemalphabet: A is for American Gigolo

September 23, 2010

[Cinemalphabet, a journey through cinema one letter at a time….]

In his review of American Gigolo film critic Roger Ebert wrote:

We leave “American Gigolo” with the curious feeling that if women weren’t paying this man to sleep with them, he’d be paying them: He needs the human connection and he has a certain shyness, a loner quality, that makes it easier for him when love seems to be just another deal.

The protagonist Julian Kay (Gere) is the titular gigolo specializing in servicing wealthy, society women of a certain age. He’s at the top of his game as evident by his gorgeous clothes, flashy whips and home furnishings, though other than bedding rich ladies, his life is fairly solitary. Though I don’t find Kay especially rich in self-awareness, which I suppose makes it quite easy for him to be framed for the murder of one of his clients.

Besides seeing Gere at arguably his most dreamiest, American Gigolo is notable for the contributions of a pair of gentlemen named Giorgio! Decades before Sex and the City taught everyone outside of high fashion how to pronounce “Manolo Blahnik”, American Gigolo catapulted designer Giorgio Armani into the public consciousness courtesy of the already stunning Gere being made more beautiful (is that even possible) by the exquisitely tailored Armani suits he wore in the film.

Famed producer and musical innovator Giorgio Moroder, who worked with everyone from Donna Summer to David Bowie, crafted the unforgettable soundtrack to the stylish, sexy tale of decadence, excess and murder. However, the soundtrack – with its contributions by the likes of John Hiatt and Smokey Robinson – is perhaps best remembered for the killer theme by Blondie Call Me.

Loneliness was an intriguing lens from which to examine the film and allowed for a different experience than I often have while watching American Gigolo, which is to say, I normally spend more time loving the visuals and the delicious disco soundtrack by Georgio Moroder than considering the nuances of the script and direction. In some ways, American Gigolo parallels another Richard Gere movie – Looking for Mr. Goodbar, particularly in depicting the way folks use sex to combat loneliness, though it plays out differently in each film.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2010 9:38 pm

    I love that you made the comparison between AG and Mr. Goodbar! I mentioned that once to someone who gave me that “What?” face.

  2. September 23, 2010 9:39 pm

    I really like this movie but haven’t seen it in a while. I don’t think I was ever aware of the degree to which the mood was advanced by the design elements (music, fashion, lighting whatever).

  3. September 23, 2010 11:33 pm

    @eieioj – what was the particular pushback? I have also had that experience. People haven’t been able to see the connection between the two films – besides the obvious Gere connection.

    @redlami – American Gigolo is curious because despite being a fairly paint-by-numbers erotic thriller, its design aesthetic has elevated the film in ways that others following the same formula – Basic Instinct, for example – haven’t.

  4. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 24, 2010 12:57 am

    Now I want to watch it with a more critical eye, because I am very curious to see if there are any shoutouts to this movie in American Psycho (which I am convinced was directed as a satirical period piece about the 80’s — a costume drama as meticulous as Dangerous Liaisons). Yes, AG came out in 79. 1979 was actually the 80’s, just like 89 was actually the 90’s. I need to GMOFB about this clearly 😛

  5. September 24, 2010 2:49 am

    In a way “American Gigolo” and “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” are two sides of the same coin, so clearly there is a related thread there. The difference is that it’s a woman looking for love in all the wrong places in “Goodbar” and a pro taking care of business in “AG.” At the end of the day, though, the loneliness is what you’re left with and that floods the scene of both films in a way that ultimately leaves the audience with a lot of pity.

  6. September 24, 2010 5:02 am

    @Citizen Taqueau – American Pyscho – the film, anyway – is definitely a satirical cohort, in so far as it attempts to use “style over substance” in a subversive manner. While I haven’t read much about the filmmaker’s own impressions of American Gigolo it’s hard to ignore she has some pretty strong feelings about the way in which male hedonism is rarely presented as deviant or lethal (to the male). Another cohort in the genre is Al Pacino’s film Cruising, which was released a year later and explores similar themes, though from a different framework and with dramatically different messaging.

  7. September 24, 2010 12:54 pm

    @Taqueau… huh? No the “zero” years are tossed back to the previous decade: 1980 was supposedly part of the 70s (1971 – 1980, for example). But I don’t buy into that at all. whatever that third number says is where that year belongs!

    But, admittedly, when I saw the “American Gigolo” title I immediately thought of Christian Bale, not Richard Gere! Yeah, I was thinking “American Psycho,” also… maybe after the tribute to 1985, I just had Huey Lewis on the brain!

  8. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 24, 2010 8:26 pm

    @NYCPenpusher, your point can be argued as well — I guess I drift the other way for a couple of reasons. It all started for me with the Gary Numan phenomenon. His glorious, synth-driven third album, Pleasure Principle, contains a little track called “Cars”. This song seems to wind up on every 80’s pop hits compilation you can find. I was totally perplexed one night in 1990 when my favorite free-form radio station was playing a top 100 1980’s countdown, and they went into this whole thing about how WHO’DA THUNK, Pleasure Principle came out in 1979. So did Replicas, which prefigured the dark cyberpunk thing that I love so very much from the 80’s, Blade Runner to Max Headroom and on into the 1990’s until things went all pre-millennial tension (mmm, another good album, but I digress).

    After the whole Gary Numan thing, I went on this treasure hunt for cultural expressions that prefigured the aesthetics associated with the subsequent decade.

  9. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 24, 2010 8:40 pm

    The more I think of it now, though, a lot of my moments of “ding!” were probably not quite on the mark. Movies like “Do the Right Thing”, “Heathers”, “How to Get AHead in Advertising” aren’t so much 90’s movies as they are a big fat eff-you buh-bye to the fantasies purveyed in the 80’s. Then again, “Say Anything” never seemed like an 80’s teen romance, too angsty, and blah blah I should GMOFB.

    With music, I guess I have to take it with a grain of salt as well because Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girls, 10000 Maniacs, and Ministry’s albums from 1989 all got so deeply associated with college.

  10. September 24, 2010 10:19 pm

    @citizentaqueau @nycpenpusher: for what it’s worth, I tend to think decades are delayed by a couple years, so what we think of as “the 50s” is actually 1953-1962, the 60s is 1963-1972, etc. etc.

    @snarky: I’m so excited for you to Sue Grafton the hell out of some movies with this new series!

  11. September 25, 2010 12:15 am

    @Snarky: I got “But one’s about a man getting paid and the other one is about a lonely housewife….” as the explanation for why they’re not relatable in any way to each other. I attempted to point out the loneliness that both main characters deal with, but it was a lost cause.

    I also immediately flash to Patrick Bateman and American Psycho anytime I see/hear anything about American Gigolo. I also think of David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigalo” at the same time. Hmm.

  12. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 25, 2010 1:21 am

    @eieioj: I have been banned from karaoke for singing Diamond Dave’s “Just a Gigolo” in my sister’s favorite crappy basement bar. How could they resist my “BAHP. Bosedy Bosedy BAHP. Diddy bahp.”

    I’m not even making fun of it. I think it’s great.

  13. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 25, 2010 1:27 am

    @raymondj, yes, the vibe of a decade is not always decided by the final digit. I guess the question is, how is that defined, how does that happen?

  14. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    September 25, 2010 1:36 am

    @Snarky’s Machine:

    NICE with the pairing of Georgios. Both of them transcended the 70s and became indelibly associated with the sonic and couture version of soft-flash, soft-edged, 80s aesthetic. My friend the musical archaeologist who was only BORN in 1981 still recognizes Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” as a textbook moment in the development of synth-driven music. 70s Kraftwerk shout outs are another subject entirely. 🙂

  15. hsofia permalink
    September 25, 2010 9:07 pm

    Sounds like I definitely need to watch this movie.

  16. September 27, 2010 12:51 am

    I was just reading this book Deluxe about the evolution of luxury brands and it names this film as being integral to Armani’s big time fame. The suits that Gere wore in the film apparently redefined the garment for a whole new generation.

    But I mainly remember him being naked a lot.

  17. September 27, 2010 1:36 pm

    @citizentaqueau @nycpenpusher: for what it’s worth, I tend to think decades are delayed by a couple years, so what we think of as “the 50s” is actually 1953-1962, the 60s is 1963-1972, etc. etc.

    I agree with Raymond. Particularly, as it relates to the mainstream. I’ve noticed this as I’ve watched Mad Men. The show sometimes feels like the 60s as I understand them, but considering its heavily focused on WASPs it feels very much like the late 50s.

    A film like American Gigolo feels very 70s, but so does Sharky’s Machine, which was released in 1981! It really depends. I don’t feel like the 90s fully took root until at least 1993 and didn’t really end for me until 2002ish.

    @snarky: I’m so excited for you to Sue Grafton the hell out of some movies with this new series!

    Thank you. I am still trying to figure out if it’s always going to be just one particular movie or sometimes will it be about a theme or director or aesthetic concern. Who knows?

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