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April 09, 1980 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-04-09

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The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, April 9, 1980-Page 5

'AMERICAN GIGOLO'

Schrader turns a

cheap trick

BY CHRISTOPHER POTTER
I went to Paul Schrader's American
Gigolo for the second time last week,
hoping to discover some previously un-
perceived element in this strange film
that would jostle my curiosity, that
would somehow justify the film's
generally good reviews and its thus far
highly profitable box office.
There's no director I'd be more
willing to give a second chance: In suc-
cess or failure, Schrader seems to me
the most idiosyncratic, original
American filmmaker at work today, an
artist whose ample share of flops have
often proved just as fascinating as his
hits. While other current writer-
directors wallow in nostalgia or in outer
space, Schrader probes the contem-
porary American psyche with a
singlemindedness that - until now -
has been both courageous and in-
triguing.
SADLY, Schrader is also an artist
inmistakably at war with himself. His
classroom adulation for the austere,
existentialist-tinged cinematic
"minimalism" of French director
Robert Bresson seems forever at odds
with the naturally gregarious, hipster
vitality which has throbbed through his
work with an audacity which could only
be called funky American.
It's regrettable that Schrader's tex-
tbook inclinations appear for the'
moment to have triumphed over his
*naturalist spirit. American Gigolo is
am emotional-spiritual blank - it is
America through the eyes of a
European academician. The film is an
'irless, formalistic work, as barren and
uninvolving as any effort imaginable by
a serious American director. Schrader
has seized on a potentially fascinating,
rerboren subject - male prostitution -
then coldly, systematically drained it of
interest. He never burlesques or
trivializes his subject - rather, he
*lobotomizes it, shrinking his volatile,
troubled characters into wraiths of an-
droid gray. Concentrate though you
may on the film's premise and plot,
your mind soon slithers into far fields of
consciousness, groping desperately for
some sensory alternative to those
strange, sterile humanoids emoting
hollowly up there on the big screen.
Julian Kay (Richard Gere) is a male
practitioner of the world's oldest
profession, yet he's hardly a poverty
class hustler in the high-class hau',ur of
the Beverly Hills upper crust, renting
his bodily services out to rich, lonely
society matrons with beds to share and
cash to burn., "I know what you like,
pretty lady, I know just what you
need," he croons with a suave zeal as he
ministers to his clients with the slick
assurance of a neon saint.
JULIAN PURSUES his amoral trade
with a seraphic, almost priggish
righteousness - he won't do
homosexual tricks, he won't do S & M.
He muses with nostalgic pride over his
beneficient works: "This woman hadn't
had an orgasm in ten years. It took me
nearly three hours to get her off - for a
while I didn't think I was going to make
it." Young women hold no allure for
him - "There's no challenge. It has no
meaning." When questioned by a police
detective, Julian spells out his altruistic
credo:
Cop: Doesn't it ever bother you,
Julian - what you do?
Julian: Giving pleasure to women?
I'm supposed to feel guilty about that?
Cop: But it's not legal.
Julian: Some people are above the
law.
Cop: And how do these people know
who they are?
Julian: They know.
Julian rigidly dichotomizes his work
from its monetary benefits - which in-
elude a Mercedes, a galaxy of clothing
and a chic, cavernous, book-lined apar-
tment complete with maid service and
dial-a-breakfast. Here Julian basks in

monastic isolation, barricading himself
from his nightwork life ("Women don't
come here," he stbrnly lectures a
hopeful, horny female visitor).
YET OUR protagonist's neatly com-
partmentalized existence rests on

perilous underpinnings. His friend
Leon, an urbane black pimp whom
Julian occasionally works for, sounds
the warning: "You walk an awful thin
line, Julian. All those three, five-grand
tricks - you're gettin' awful cocky. If
those bitches ever turn on you - you're
through."
Sure enough, Julian's tightly con-
trolled world begins to unravel. He fin-
ds himself covertly framed on a murder
rap; simultaneously, he finds true love

camera avoids naked flesh like the
plague, tilting away or slowly
dissolving with a ritual modesty so iron-
clad that when the director unexpec-
tedly inserts a lengthy, semi-frontal
nude shot of Julian lounging against his
bedroom window, the scene comes
across like an out-take from an entirely
different, ribald film.
Indeed, though sex is the core of
Gigolo's essence, it is rarely even
discussed in anything resembling an
uren Hutton, a desirable but lonely
L Schrader's 'American Gigolo.'
erotic mode. In Julian's world, it is
strictly business -dollars and cents,
kink or straight. Schrader never at-
tempts to explore "Nthe arcane
psychology behind sex for sale; he
could have cast his protagonist as any
high-powered executive fighting an in-
ner-office coup by his peers and barely
disturbed the film's plot and at-
mosphere a single iota.
Gigolo lacks any hint of spontaneity
or energy. Its characters move and
speak haltingly, almost painfully, as if

and Gigolo's performers, alas, fall well
short of Olympus. As Julian, Richard
Gore manages the unusual feat of being
simultaneously sexy, intelligent and
boring. He never for a moment lets you
on the inside of Julian's slowly en-
veloping panic as his world distin-
tegrates. There's no risk in Gere's per-
fo'mance, no, sense of something mor-
tal at stake; through pleasure and pain,
his face and manner remain in a fixed,
cast-like synchronization - handsome,
haughty, imperturbably glacial.
SURPRISINGLY, Lauren Hutton
fares better with the thankless part of
Michelle. Her intelligent, painstaking
attempts to extract a living role out of a
total void indicate she may have at last
surmounted the model-pretending-to-
be-an-actress stigma that has shackled
her thespian career. The same cannot
be said of ex-jetsetter Nina Van Pallan-
dt, whose impersonation of an affluent
female pimp solidifies the notion that
she belongs anywhere on earth except
in front of a movie camera. Among the
rest, Hector Elizondo's overdrawn,
cliche portrayal of a sleazy cop wins ac-
ting honors by default simply because
the remainder of the cast stays so som-
nambulantly laid back that his perfor-
mance is the only one that even vaguely
sticks in your memory.
Gigolo's visual motif fares little bet-
ter than its script. John Bailey's
cinematography captures a certain
feeling for soulless Southern California
glitter, yet he lacks the fire that
Michael Chapman's quirky, pulsating
camera provided Schrader's Hard
Core. Aside from a relentless mania for
initiating scenes with slow pans, Bailey
lets his lens rest immobile, as
paralytically non-judgemental as
Schrader remains himself.
As American Gigolo makes no
judgements, it effectively sells its own
artistic soul. It is a shockingly diffident,
cringing work from a filmmaker who
had scorced us with the dementia of
Taxi Driver, the urban gutsiness of
Blue Collar, even the cultural schism of
the erratic Hard Core. For whatever
reasons, Schrader has abruptly aban-
doned his protean instincts in favor of a
contrived, bookish timidity. And while
his conversion may wow the auteurs
and pedants, it can only dismay anyone
who cherishes film as a fluid, living art.

ANN ARBOR CIVIC THEATRE presents:
"THE CRUCIBLE"
by ARTHUR MILLER
of
Lydia Mendelssohn
April 9-12
CURTAIN 8:00 pm
The Ann Arbor flm Coopew e Presents at Aud. A: $1.50
WEDNESDAY. APRIL 9
BLUE COLLAR
(Paul Schrader, 1978) 7&a 9-AUD. A
Grand Rapids' own Paul Schrader made his directorial debut with this modern-
ized, relentlessly fatalistic film noir about three Detroit assembly line workers
(RICHARD PRYOR, HARVEY KEITEL, YAPHET KOTTO) who rob the union
treasury with ironic results. Captain Beefheart sings the opening song. "The
rarest of Hollywood commodities, a genuinely political film. And a damned
good one at that."-Newsweek. 35mm.
Tomorrow: George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
and Edgar G. Ulmer's DETOUR at Nat. Sci.

ANN ARBOR
Featuring: Traditional Native American dances,
dance contests, booths for arts and crafts & food.

i
t

4

Richard Gere rekindles passions in Lai
woman married to a state senator in Pau
for the first time in the personage of
Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the
beautiful, alienated wife of a prominent
state senator.
Julian's efforts to cope with these two
equally traum tic intrusions occupy
most of Gigolo's two hours. Under
suspicion for killing a client's wife but
not yet incarcerated, he becomes a
pariah among his former customers;
brusquely abandoned by his friends and
colleagues, stalked by the police, Julian
finds strength and sustenance only in
Michelle. Yet even here his inbred
hustler's defenses get in the way: "I
can't give Vonwany pleasure (in bed),
and you can't fool me any more," she
accuses. "I care about you," he pleads,
"I really do." "That's still not enough,"
she replies bitterly.
AS THINGS go from bad to worse, we
find Julian, his cool utterly demolished,
casing the city in frantic search of an
alibi for the cops. He finally deduces
who the real murderer is, semi-
accidentally kills him (strangely, this
gets him in no additional legal trouble),
then is belatedly incarcerated, drained
and semi-catatonic, facing a near-
certain date with the gas chamber.
At this darkest moment, sudden
salvation: Michelle tells the authorities
Julian was with her the night of the
murder (he wasn't), thus saving him
even at the presumed cost of her
husband's political career. Moved by
this ultimate, unsordid act of self-
sacrifice, Julian emerges from his or-
deal spiritually and biologically
reborn: He no longer needs the
hustler's life - at last he can accept
love as well as give it.
Though one would think such soap
opera would prove Gigolo's greatest
liability, Schrader subjects his charac-
ters to such passionless distancing that
a little old-fashioned schmaltz would
seem an elixir. Throughout, the direc-
tor exhibits an almost disdainful disin-
clination to draw our interest.
HIS PROTAGONISTS remain num-
bingly sketchy: We learn nothing of
Julian's background, his conflicts, the
obscure elements that have made him
what he is. ("All my life I've been sear-
ching for something," our hero tells us
in his most searingly self-confessional
moment). Nor do we learn the reason
for Michelle's desperate discontent, or
what forces would drive her to Juliam
in the first place.
We learn even less about Julian's
nighttime profession. Given its subject,
Gigolo exudes an astoundingly sterile,
almost chaste nature: Schrader's

APRIL 12 & 13.
Saturday - 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sunday - 2 p.m.

I

I

Huron High School
Donations: Adults - $3.00, Students (with I.D.) - $2.00
Children (12 and under) - $ .75
764-5418 or 662-0567

F

Public invited!

caught 'in a slow-motion treadmill of
nihilist inertia. There's little evidence
of the ribald wit which has dotted
Schrader's previous efforts; Gigolo's
people are gilded, prim and
forebodingly humorless - drab
marionettes jerked about by a dour
creator who has either misplaced or
pointedly abandoned the concept of
passion altogether.
It would take acting of Dionysian
proportions to bring such a film to life,

Do a Tree
a Favor:
Recycle
Your Daily

.2

WEDNESDAY, April 9
HOWARD HAWKS'

(Tonight, that is)

THE BIG SLEEP
Screenplay by William Faulkner. Starring of course-BOGART and BACALL-
that star couple that sends shivers up and down everyone's spinal area. "It
/ all depends on.who's in the saddle." A very witty and gritty movie-Sarah
Bellum.
Thursday: A Jane Fonda Film!

CINEMA GUILD

7:00 & 9:05

AT OLD A&D UD
$1.50

/Ij

Gonzomania Strikes Ann Arbor!
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN'S OFFICE OF
MAJOR EVENTS IS PLEASED TO PRESENT ' . .
WANGO-TANGO TOUR'80

With Special Guests
ROAD MASTER

:.

FRIDAY,
APRIL18
*o~nn

""-

(

RISLER
ARENA
Ann
Arbor
_ , ? i

tA

"'A.

I

. -,

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