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February 8 2020
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While it seems Richard Gere was born to play Julian Kaye, he was cast by Paul Schrader only after John Travolta dropped out. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz.

American Gigolo, about high-class stud and phallic martyr Julian Kaye, who bestows orgasms upon the love-starved matrons of Beverly Hills the way Jesus bestowed loaves and fishes upon the starve-starved multitudes of Bethsaida, turned 40 on February 1. Which means this erotic thriller, written and directed by Paul Schrader, maintaining perfectly that precarious balance between purity and profanity, art and trash, and starring Richard Gere, at his preening, narcissistic best, is now as old as its protagonist’s ideal trick.

Ugly things happen in American Gigolo, including murder, and the souls of its people are often warped, dark, demented, and strange. Their exteriors, however, are immaculate; sunlight and money give them a sheen, an iridescent glory and glow. Feeling bad has never looked so good. (Julian doesn’t kill, but thanks to a then unknown Giorgio Armani he’s dressed to.) And the movie, in thrall to youth though it is, has aged spectacularly, its mood as gorgeous as it was in 1980—gorgeous, yet hinting at sickness, both physical and spiritual, and full of noir dread.

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