Old Reviews, Volume #5

         

March, 1980

“AMERICAN GIGOLO”

            Julian Kay (Richard Gere) is framed for a murder, however that’s not really his main problem. Julian is the highest paid hustler in Beverly Hills and gives pleasure for cash - but he can only give it, he hasn’t the ability to receive it - that’s his big problem. The fact that he’s framed for a murder, which seems like it could be the basis for the whole film, is actually a hindrance to his important problems.
            Julian Kay is really a fascinating character. Paul Schrader, “AMERICAN GIGOLO’s” writer/director constantly creates terrific characters, except every now and then he doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with them.
            There is no real good reason for pinning this murder on Julian other than milking the situation for more drama and giving Paul Schrader a chance to get involved with some Dostoyevsky-like implications.  When Schrader starts heaping guilt on Julian for this murder his is only screwing up his character because he already has a guilt-trip going – he isn’t able to take physical pleasure from giving it, only a sort of professional pride. When it finally gets around to the end, Schrader has Julian so messed up that the film ends four times, none of which are either apt or satisfying.
            Had Julian Kay’s story been more personal and not cluttered up with the murder, “AMERICAN GIGOLO” might very well have been a great character study. So far, Paul Schrader has made one great film, “Taxi Driver” (which he wrote and Martin Scorsese directed), and it is strictly a brilliant character study. As a writer/director Schrader seems perpetually on the verge of making a great film, but he either does not know how to end his stories (the problem with both “Blue Collar” and “Hardcore”), or he foists a problem on his character’s shoulders that he need not be dealing with.
            The reasoning that Julian should be framed for this murder is that he “spreads himself too thin.”  In other words, he is dealing with too many people and has too many things going on. That could very well be the case, but so what? With that reasoning most anything could happen to him, it’s simply not a good enough explanation for all of the fake cops and crooks nonsense.
            Throughout this ordeal Julian is falling in love with Lauren Hutton, however the relationship hasn’t enough screen time so that it is developed completely by the denouement. Both Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton are better than they’ve ever been before and make a gorgeous, if slightly mismatched, couple. That is really what “AMERICAN GIGOLO” ought to have been all about.
            Technically, however, “AMERICAN GIGOLO” is the best looking film Paul Schrader has yet directed.  Together with Ferdinando Scarfiotti, who is given credit as “Visual Consultant” and John Baily, a newcomer cinematographer, Schrader does almost continuous moving camera with an amazingly sharp, clean look that makes watching the film a visual delight.
            “AMERICAN GIGOLO” may not work as a story, but Paul Schrader is still one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.

 

“ALL THAT JAZZ”

            In 1971, Bob Fosse, co-writer and director of “ALL THAT JAZZ,” received every major award a director could win: the Tony, the Emmy and the Oscar. One might assume that all of these accolades would make Fosse a happy man, however he arrived at this plateau of fame with a penchant for over-work, booze, speed, and an insane fear of dying.  As he was simultaneously directing the film “LENNY,” while directing and choreographing the Broadway show, “Chicago,” he had a heart attack. This is the basis for Bob Fosse’s newest film “ALL THAT JAZZ,” an autobiographical-fantasy-musical that fails miserably beneath his own confused, over-bearing directorial hand.
            Everyone says that they love Joe Gideon (Roy Schieder) a lot, and frequently during the film, however that doesn’t seem to help him very much. He still pops Dexedrine every day, drinks up a storm and cheats on every woman he says he loves. While he is simultaneously directing and choreographing an unnamed Broadway show and editing a film he directed called “The Stand-Up,” lo and behold he has a heart attack.
            In a clip from “The Stand-Up” that we get to see, Cliff Gorman is doing an imitation of Lenny Bruce performing an unfunny routine about death that just so happens to be the structural premise upon which “ALL THAT JAZZ” is based. It’s a clever narrative idea, however it’s as little fun to watch as Cliff Gorman’s death routine, which is repeated five times.
            If Bob Fosse hadn’t lived through this ordeal he certainly wouldn’t have even considered filming it. As far as the story goes, Joe Gideon could have had a hernia instead of a heart attack and the film would have worked equally as well.
            It’s also a pretty thin basis for a musical, but had the musical numbers been any good it wouldn’t have made a difference. Unfortunately, not one of the dances seems to exactly fit with the music. They do connect every now and then, but only for brief moments. For the rest of them, and some are very long, it’s sort of like watching good-looking dancers at a Vic Tanny exercise class. They bump and grind and do the splits and jump around and even get undressed, but it’s rarely at the same tempo as the music.
            Roy Schieder does what he can with the role of Joe Gideon, but it’s never really him and he never actually dances which just exemplifies the fact that he’s not Bob Fosse. It’s a lot like Ann Bancroft in “The Turning Point;” it is rather difficult to believe someone is a dancer if you never get to seem them dance.
            Even Giuseppe Rotunno, the great Italian cinematographer who has shot many of Fellini’s films, doesn’t turn in a top-notch job. The film looks professional, but Rottunno is better than that.
            It really seems that Bob Fosse began this project with the intention of making a totally original, motion picture musical “classic,” but instead made a self-indulgent, rather tedious cinematic exercise that isn’t even fun to watch.

 

“THE FOG”

            John Carpenter is not only a slick director, he is also a first-rate film composer, and a passable screenwriter, too. Nevertheless, he is probably the most derivative filmmaker working, and not from just a source or two, but almost every horror film-maker and writer around.
            To say the least, “THE FOG” breaks no new ground in horror films, it just deals with every shtick and cliché in the genre as slickly as possible. “THE FOG” is a cross between: George Romero’s “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” Hitchcock’s “THE BIRDS” (among others), Clint Eastwood’s “PLAY MISTY FOR ME,” and William Hope Hodgson’s writing (i.e. “The Ghost Ship’) not to mention a dabbling of Brian DePalma here and there.
            It’s not unlikely that Carpenter intentionally borrowed from all of these sources. His TV movie, “HI RISE: SOMEBODY IS WATCHING ME” was the most blatant Hitchcock rip-off yet (Brian DePalma’s “Obsession,” which happened to have been written by Paul Schrader, comes a close second).
            But for the most part, John Carpenter puts these borrowed ideas to very good use. The scares come good and regular from about two minutes into the film and everything moves at a nice fast pace all the way through. The locations are pretty, Adrianne Barbeau is pretty, although not really the greatest actress to ever come down the pike, but it doesn’t make any difference, it’s good, low-budget horror and it works.
            By low-budget I don’t mean that “THE FOG” was cheap (it was about a million and a half dollars) and it doesn’t look cheap, but it’s still low-budget horror. “CARRIE” was about the same price and it’s a high-budget horror movie. The difference is that “THE FOG” is simply a re-shuffling of all the old cards and coming up with a good film, while “CARRIE” has a few new cards in the deck and is a great film.
            John Carpenter and Brian DePalma are very much alike in their choice of themes and their abilities at make good-looking, visually exciting movies. However, DePalma is always more original and adventuresome and a lot more kinetic. His regular use of split-screen and slow-motion for the action are in no way originally his, but he has made the use of them entirely his own.
            John Carpenter doesn’t seem to have any personal, cinematic traits, other than that he is very slick. With “THE FOG” he battened his camera down so firmly that there is rarely a bump. On all of the interior dialog scenes Carpenter’s creativity completely ceases and he just films them. That’s not necessarily a negative comment, however his story and dialog are only tools to keep the film going. The only interesting performance is John Houseman’s one appearance in the first scene. Houseman, dressed as a fisherman, tells a ghost story to some children by a campfire. The ghost story itself isn’t very good, but his delivery was great, in an oddly affecting way.
            “THE FOG” is a good, low-budget horror film. I was hoping that John Carpenter would have made the leap to high-budget after “HALLOWEEN” but he hasn’t.
            Maybe his next film.

        

 

“CRUISING”

            If writer/director William Friedkin seemed to have any feelings at all about the homosexual, S&M world of New York – an affinity towards it, a revulsion to it, anything – I might be able to see what all this fuss is about, but he doesn’t. He barely deals with it. What everyone is talking about is merely a background for a poor detective story.
            The only interesting scenes in “CRUISING” are in the S&M bars, however the only person we know in them is Al Pacino and he really has nothing to do with them, he’s a voyeur just like us. So as we move through these crowded bars, jammed with big hairy guys in leather and chains performing odd sexual acts on cue as Pacino and the camera pass by, it’s like paying a quarter and watching an R-rated peep-show. And, amidst all of this homo-erotica we never really see anything, not that we need to, but after a while it’s like watching a male leather and chain mime show.
            With each new film William Friedkin seems to become ever more distant from his subject matter. It’s not that there is anything technically wrong, like he doesn’t use close-ups, it just seems that there is less and less going on in his character’s heads. This has been happening ever since “THE FRENCH CONNECTION,” which is a great film, as is “THE EXORCIST.”  Then came “SORCERER,” which is an amazingly epic film, but Friedkin seemed to have suddenly lost his grasp on the third dimension – the characters as people. With “THE BRINKS JOB” it was entirely gone – Friedkin’s first totally flat movie.
            “CRUISING” is transcended slightly by Al Pacino, who is too strong of an actor to let Friedkin completely steal his humanity. Everyone else in the cast, however, including Paul Sorvino and Karen Allen, are totally lost from the word go.
            This is the first film that William Friedkin has written (it’s loosely based on a novel by Gerald Walker) and is assuredly the worst piece of material he’s ever directed. Al Pacino is a cop dressed in leather in the gay, S&M bars “cruising for a killer.” That’s Friedkin’s excuse to get into the bars and titillate us because he hasn’t any idea as to how to write a detective story. The way in which Pacino finally finds out who’s the killer is so cheap they wouldn’t use it on TV. Actually, it’s good that there are as many weird sex acts going on as there are, because you’ve got to have something to watch, even if it’s nothing more than a twenty-five cent peep-show.

 

 

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