“American Gigolo” (1980) dir. Paul Schrader

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“American Gigolo” was a transitional film for writer/director Paul Schrader. Pre-“Gigolo”, Schrader was primarily known as the writer of “Taxi Driver” and director of “Hardcore,” which unabashedly showed the nastier side of the inner city sex industry. On one level, “Gigolo” was as sleazy as “Taxi Driver” and “Hardcore,” but it’s the film where Schrader started to trade (in his words) “violence for style.”  The style in question was appropriated from Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the set designer for Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 masterpiece “The Conformist,” and who served as visual consultant for “Gigolo” (as well as for Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of “Scarface”).  Arguably, this is the film that made Giorgio Armani a household name in America and was the film that made Richard Gere a star.

“Gigolo”‘s story is almost like the seamier flipside of “Pretty Woman,” which came out 10 years later.  Gere plays Julian Kay, a high-priced gigolo catering to rich women in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Palm Springs.  While he has risen high enough in the ranks of prostitution to not trick with men, it’s clear that this wasn’t always the case.  Julian eventually finds himself set up for a murder he didn’t commit, but his alibi is one of his tricks, who is married to a local politician.  He needs to find a way to exonerate himself, but his journey leads him down some very dark paths and finds himself increasingly in danger.

“Gigolo” is a film that manages to be extremely sleazy without being offensive.  But despite its high style, it’s not what I would call classy or clean (I mean that as a compliment, by the way.)  Schrader has acknowledged the debt of Robert Bresson’s 1959 film “Pickpocket,”  even though they are very different films from each other.  However, if you watch and like “Gigolo,” you should really check out “Pickpocket” (which is available to watch for free if you have a HuluPlus subscription). The endings of both films are very very similar.

“Z” (1969) dir. Costa-Gavras

One of the most riveting films ever made is the 1969 French-Greco political thriller “Z.”  While it won best Foreign Film at the 1969 Oscars, it was also nominated for Best Picture that year, which it lost to “Midnight Cowboy.”  While I love “Midnight Cowboy,” “Z” is arguably the better film.  It’s intelligent, fast-paced, action-packed, and was a sizable hit back in the day (grossing the equivalent of $84 million in 2012 dollars), which is amazing for a foreign language film.   A big part of the film’s success is the awesome score by Mikis Theodorakis, which rivals the best scores by Ennio Morricone.

Some excerpts of the amazing score are below:

You can hear the influence on Giorgio Moroder’s classic score for “Midnight Express:

 

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder

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The theme song for Paul Schrader’s underrated and wonderfully bats–t crazy Freudian horror film from 1982, in its better original version recorded for the film. (There’s a remake on Bowie’s gazillion-selling 1983 album “Let’s Dance,” which is decent, but not as good as this one). Quentin Tarantino had the good taste to include this on the soundtrack for “Inglorious Basterds” during the scene where Shoshanna gets ready for a night of revenge.