US, 1980, 116 minutes, Colour.
Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo, Nina Van Pallandt, Bill Duke, K. Callan.
Directed by Paul Schrader.
Writer-director Paul Schrader continues his preoccupation with American society: its violence (Carrie), righteousness exorcising evil (Taxi Driver), traditional American Puritanism vs. crass amorality (Hardcore). This story is conventional enough: successful hustler Richard Gere operates with older women, his procuress Nina Van Pallandt; he meets a lonely wife whom he loves (Lauren Hutton vulnerable and charming). He is also framed for murder. Schrader seems obsessed with the American image of self-righteousness by success and the seamy reality (especially lustful, greedy, violent, power-seeking and manipulative) it covers. This is portrait, expose and a faith in genuine relationships that could look a bit facile at the end to the cynical viewer.
1. This film within the writings and films directed by Paul Schrader, his interests in American society, violence, sexuality, morality, repression? Its link with power especially in politics, the police? His style? Tough, sentiment?
2. The tone of the title and expectations, indication of themes and treatment?
3. The focus on America: traditional morality, the puritan ethic, surface respectability, the realities below the surface, the nature of sin, morals, scruples, responsibility, guilt, punishment? In the individual, in society as a whole? Politics, the law?
4. The film and its allegorical overtones: the gigolo as the parasite on American society, preying on women, the possibility of being framed and becoming victim? The possibility of redemption by love?
5. The film's focus on sexuality: the nature of marriage and American marriages, relationships in affection, tenderness? The hollowness of American marriage institutions? The needs of husbands and wives? Loneliness, lust? Older women, widows? The presentation of the woman running hustlers and living off them? The callousness of her business style? Men and women prostitutes, business, style, on the streets, telephone arrangements? International reputations? Facades? People using and being used? Combinations of lust and tenderness? The homosexual background? Sadism and masochism?
6. The title and the social role of the gigolo? His being used, his using others? Vulnerability and self-assurance? Wealth, style? Reputation? Access to society? Questions of morals and scruples? The gigolo used and ultimately disliked and abused?
7. Richard Gere's style as Julian? How credible in the gigolo role? Age, background, hopes? The focus on his physical appearance, his exercises, clothes, apartment? Tenderness? His sexual role, the scenes of encounters with his clients, nudity? The building up of his character and appearance through the exercise scenes, the buying of the clothes, the way that he escorted the older women, his manner of speaking, telephone calls, his being well known to the staff of hotels, his presence at the swimming pools, charm, the number of languages he spoke, the learning of Swedish, flattering women? His using people but not wanting to be possessed?
8. His reliance on Anne? Her training him in all his finesse, bargaining with her over percentages, his learning Swedish and her international clients, his visits to her and her callousness, her lack of interest in the murder and the victim, her concern about her son, about the young women and the sunbaking? Her refusal to help when he visited her home. in the restaurant? The film's judgment on her as a person, in her work?
9. The portrait of the various women that Julian helped? Lisa and the telephone call. the auction and the bargains, the lies he told to flatter the women? The widows coming to Los Angeles, accompanying them to receptions? Men's comments about his work?
10. The encounter with Michelle? her speaking French, lonely? Her direct way of speaking? Her seeking him out? Their seeing through each other and the truth of each other? Her visits, the lovemaking? Their liking each other? Happy in each other's company? The irony of the reception and his meeting her? Senator Stratton and his having Julian followed, the writing of the telephone number on the young man's forehead, the harsh encounter with the senator and the discussion about blackmail? Michelle and her growing desperation, not wanting to hurt her husband's career, willingness to go overseas? Her visits to Julian in prison? Her paying for his legal aid, giving evidence for him? Her not having any future except with Julian? How genuine was this? How dramatically credible?
11. The continual allusions to politics and politicians? The dinner and Senator Stratton's speech, his mouthing of liberal causes? The cynical attitude of his audience? Senator Stratton in real life, relationship with his wife, paying off Julian? The film's suggestion that the American gigolo threw light on the manner of American politics?
12. The world of finance, sado-masochism? The hiring of gigolos? Torture, accidental deaths and murder? The manner of cover-up? The lengths to which people went? Leon and his friendship with Julian, asking him to do a favour? His using Julian, framing him, saying that he didn't even like him? The background of the Los Angeles streets, the cruising, the homosexual night club? The boy and his relationship with Leon, killing the woman, the cover up with the jewels? Julian and his following of Leon, the build up to the confrontation? The accidental death and its repercussions for Julian? Leon and the various types of the immoral world?
13. The presentation of Julian as successful, his daily life? Could the audience identify with him? The change of atmosphere with the murder and the investigation? Sunday and his confrontations? Julian becoming victim? Being followed, the home being searched, the car, the planting of evidence? Julian and his isolation and having to drive around, observe the city? His relying on his friends and their abandoning him, Lisa and her husband cutting him off, Leon and his hostility, Anne and her refusal to help, Michelle and her inability and Julian wishing to cover for her?
14. The picture of the police ? especially Sunday ? a good detective, his curiosity about Julian and his career, his despising of Julian? The discussions about clothes and self-presentation? The line-up and Julian's presence there ? and the joke about being paid? The interviews, the lawyers and their work? The characterisation of Sunday?
15. The Californian background as appropriate for this story? The permissive lifestyle? The range of people in California and the interlocking of the situations?
16. The final pieces of the film, the change of pace, prison, legal aid, Michelle's intervention, the happy ending?
17. The portrait of the surface successful American who is really lost? The oppression and becoming victim? Love and redemption in hope, a sentimental ending or appropriate to what had gone before?