Paul Schraders’ 1982 reworking of Jacques Tourneurs‘ classic 1942 thriller. A failure both critically and commercially, the film’s failure ensured that Schrader would not helm a studio funded project for over two decades. (The ill-fated Exorcist prequel Dominion released in 2004 ended this long streak) Schrader had emerged as an exciting writing talent in the early 70’s, falling in with the nascent ‘Movie Brats’ that included such ambitious young film-makers as Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese though his strict Calvinist upbringing and his formative background in film criticism marked him as the odd on out within that fraternity.
Whilst Spielberg gravitated towards old Hollywood; John Ford and Frank Capra, Schrader worshipped at the altar of European cinema; Godard, Antonioni and particularly, Bresson. He views cinema as a medium for grown up, intelligent adults, a forum for intellectual, spiritual, moral and philosophical inquiry. Which is may be why he has been marginalized over the years. His choice of subject matter and his style, which varies from film to film are hard to pigeonhole and more significantly hard to market to younger audiences, the predominant species of targeted by the studios over the past three decades.
Schrader burst onto the scene in 1976 with his screenplays for Martin Scorseses’ Taxi Driver and Brian De Palmas Obsession. Both were modest hits with Scorsese film receiving rave reviews, particularly for Robert De Niros‘ now iconic embodiment of Travis Bickle, a disturbed,possibly psychotic ex Vietnam veteran who sees himself as an avenging angel, ‘Gods lonely man’, sent to clean up the scum and filth from the New York streets.
In 1978, Schrader moved into directing with Blue Collar, an unusually clear eyed, incisive study of working class culture in which three Detroit automotive workers fed up with institutional corruption attempt to rob their own union. The following year he made the controversial Hardcore in which a businessman with Calvinist leanings played by George C Scott tries to track down his missing daughter who has become involved in the pornographic underworld.
Neither of these films proved to be box office hits and so Schrader chose as his next project, the more commercial American Gigolo (1980), produced by Jerry Bruckheimer with Richard Gere in his physical peak as the narcissistic title character who is framed for the murder of a financiers wife. With a pulsing synthesizer soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder, sleek cinematography by John Bailey and elegant clothing designed by Giorgio Armani, Gigolo encapsulated a definitive chic, Eighties style. The film was a hit, made Richard Gere a star and Schrader would carry over much of the visual style and indeed use most of the same production team for his follow-up project, Cat People.
Now this is where the history lesson ends and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit here that I haven’t actually seen the entire film. I have caught glimpses of it over the years but I feel that if i ever do get around to watching it, it would be an anticlimax. Especially when considering the astoundingly seductive opening sequence. Dreamlike, erotic, visually stunning with a hypnotic Bowie/Moroder score, the actual remainder of the film could never hope to live up to the trance/spell this wordless opening casts upon the viewer.