American Gigolo

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Synopsis

Paul Schrader, hot off writing the scripts for Martin Scorsese’s immortal classics Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, stepped into the director’s chair for the third time with 1980’s American Gigolo, a gripping tale of intrigue and deception set against the backdrop of sultry late-70s Los Angeles and starring Richard Gere in a breakthrough performance.

In a world of wealth and desire, high-end male escort Julian Kay (Gere) offers his love and attention to women in need. But when a client, the wife of a sadistic finance magnate, is found dead, all eyes turn to Julian as the prime suspect. Realizing he’s being framed, Julian races to prove his innocence, determined to unravel the mystery behind the setup. As he digs deeper into the case, he embarks on a journey that forces him to confront his own identity.

American Gigolo is a feast for the senses thanks to cinematography by John Bailey and costume design by Giorgio Armani, not to mention a soundtrack courtesy of “Father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder including the Grammy-nominated anthem “Call Me” by Blondie. Co-starring Lauren Hutton, Héctor Elizondo, and Bill Duke, American Gigolo is presented here in a brand new 4K remaster and packed with bonus features.

Picture 10/10

Arrow Video presents Paul Schrader’s ode to 80s shallowness, American Gigolo, in a brand new 4K UHD edition, newly restored from the 35mm original camera negative. The 2160p/24hz ultra-high-definition presentation is offered with Dolby Vision on a triple-layer disc in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

Arrow has truly outdone itself here: the presentation looks phenomenal. The restoration work has meticulously cleaned up nearly all signs of damage, leaving nothing of note behind, while the 4K scan has captured a breathtaking level of detail. The image is fairly grainy, but it’s rendered impeccably without any signs of macroblocking or noise.

Colors look great, as do black levels, with HDR providing a beautiful enhancement. It’s used effectively without being too showy, working wonders with the film’s many darker moments. Nightclub sequences stand out best, with bright lights and rich shadows that maintain detail. All of this leads to an image with a wonderful film-like texture, making this one of Arrow’s best 4K presentations to date.

Audio 7/10

The film comes with the original monaural soundtrack presented in lossless PCM, alongside a remastered 5.1 surround presentation. I was happy with both. The 5.1 track is surprisingly effective and wisely limits most of the audio to the fronts. Club scenes, some ambient effects, and the film’s score and music (primarily Blondie’s "Call Me") are mixed well to the surrounds without coming off as unnatural or distracting. The range is also rather wide.

The mono soundtrack is admittedly narrower in range when compared to the 5.1 soundtrack, but it’s still no slouch in that area. Music is still fairly expansive, and dialogue is sharp and clear.

Both soundtracks are strong, so it will simply come down to personal preference.

Extras 8/10

Arrow presents a solid set of features, starting with a new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin. Right from the start, Martin shares that he mentioned the film in one of his first articles about "misunderstood" and "underappreciated" films. His goal in this commentary is to explain why the film is a classic of its period. As someone who already appreciates the film, I didn't need convincing, but I'm unsure how persuasive this commentary will be for those who view it as one of Schrader’s weaker efforts.

Martin delves into the film's surface-level representation of everything, including its titular character, and examines its noir-like elements. He discusses the influence of other filmmakers, such as Godard, Ozu, and Bresson, and mentions The Conformist, a recurring reference throughout the features. However, Martin sometimes gets sidetracked by defending the film against accusations of homophobia, addressing specific criticisms, including those by film critic Robin Wood. Although he can be overly dismissive of what are fair criticisms, he still makes fair points, quoting Schrader where appropriate. This is definitely a topic worth addressing, though it ends up becoming a bit of a distraction that can lead the commentary down less interesting paths.

While I typically enjoy Martin’s tracks and find them insightful, I was slightly disappointed with this one. It remains a compelling commentary, and like all of Martin's tracks, it's worth listening to, though I doubt it will convert skeptics.

Martin touches on the production, but more detailed information can be found in the new interviews Arrow has recorded, starting with director Paul Schrader. In a 20-minute interview, Schrader explains how the idea for the film came to him and why he made it quickly following his previous films, Hardcore and Blue Collar (he feared losing Hollywood's goodwill and never getting another chance to make a movie). Schrader discusses focusing on the superficial aspects of the film, including Gere’s character, and shares production details, such as the original casting of John Travolta. He also talks about the influence of The Conformist and his film's ending, which Bresson's Pickpocket influenced. On this last point, he acknowledges that it wasn't the proper film to use it, but it found a suitable home in later films, including Light Sleeper. Schrader’s insights are always valuable, even if some of this information is familiar from other sources (his comments around the appropriateness of the ending have come up elsewhere).

Arrow also includes interviews with actors Hector Elizondo and Bill Duke, running 11 and 15 minutes, respectively. They discuss their backgrounds, how they were cast, and their experiences working with Gere, whom they describe as laid-back and egoless. Duke’s interview is particularly engaging, as his conversation eventually leads into what has become his most memorable role to audiences (I won't spoil it, but it’s a small part that sticks out in a rather unforgettable film).

Crew members Richard Halsey (editor) and King Baggot (camera operator) provide 7 and 25-minute interviews. Halsey discusses finding the beats, while Baggot talks about his Steadicam training and its use in the film. KCRW DJ and music supervisor Dan Wilcox then spends 15 minutes discussing the film’s score and music, highlighting its synth sound and Blondie’s "Call Me," which was derived from the score.

Professor Jennifer Clark contributes a 19-minute segment on the film’s fashion and its superficial representation of the characters. The disc concludes with the film’s trailer and small galleries of publicity stills, posters, and lobby cards. Arrow’s limited edition also includes a foldout poster and a 58-page booklet. The booklet features an essay by Neil Sinyard on the film’s production, a reprint of a 1981 article by Bill Nichols for Film Quarterly, and original press materials.

This film has never had a special edition before, and Arrow’s release more than compensates for that. It's all worth exploring if you're a fan of the film.

Closing

A lovely special edition featuring a knockout 4K presentation. A very easy recommendation.

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Directed by: Paul Schrader
Year: 1980
Time: 117 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Licensor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: June 18 2024
MSRP: $59.99
 
4K UHD Blu-ray
1 Disc | UHD-100
1.85:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region None
HDR: HDR10Dolby Vision
 
 Brand new audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin   Brand new interview with writer/director Paul Schrader   Six Ways to Sunday, a brand new interview with actor Hector Elizondo on detecting his character   The Business of PLEASURE, a brand new interview with actor Bill Duke on Leon’s profession   Montages and Monologues, a brand new interview with editor Richard Halsey on putting American Gigolo together   The Non-Conformist, a brand new interview with camera operator King Baggot on American Gigolo   Man Machine, a brand new interview with music supervisor & KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox on the music of Giorgio Moroder   American Icon, a brand new interview with Professor Jennifer Clark on American Gigolo and the fashion landscape of the 80s   Original trailer   Image gallery   Double-sided foldout poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket   Six postcard-sized reproduction artcards   Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Neil Sinyard, an archival article by Bill Nichols, and original pressbook materials