Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Ten Favourite Things About Breathless (No, Not That One, the Other One, the Kinda Sleazy One from the 1980's)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, or À Bout de Souffle if you will (damn dirty translators), is one of the finest achievements of cinema in the whole damn history of cinema - and yes, the film, and its director, along with his Nouvelle Vague compatriots and their earliest films, pretty much changed the way cinema is made and seen lo these past fifty years or so.  Real important stuff indeed.  I personally rank the groundbreaking 1960 film in my twenty favourite films of all time, and place it as one of the greatest French films second only to Renoir's Rules of the Game.  So yes, Godard's Breathless is both an important film and great film, and a personal favourite of mine.  But alas, this particular subject has been kind of talked to death by now (including from yours truly) so why add to the muddle.  No siree!  Not gonna do it.

We are here today to talk about that other Breathless.  You know, the oft-maligned (and sometimes quite viciously) American remake version of 1983.  Yeah, that one.  Well guess what?  I like the damn thing.  I went many years refusing to see the movie - mainly due to my love of Godard's original masterpiece - but then, after hearing so much praise from one of my favourite current filmmakers (see number one below), I finally gave in and watched the thing up on the big screen at my cinema.  Now I am not about to say it is anywhere near as good as Godard's film, nor would I ever place it in my own top 100, let alone top twenty (though if I were to stretch my favourites list to 200, who knows what strange and unusual things might occur) but damn if it isn't entertaining as hell.  With that exclamation made, let us move on to exactly why I find it so damn entertaining - in seven and a half reasons or less.

1) Quentin Tarantino and His (Questionable) Taste in Film - Usually included in the same breath (yeah, that was a purposeful pun) as films like Taxi Driver, Rio Bravo and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, QT has been pretty consistent in his adoration for Jim McBride's quite unnecessary but quite fun remake.  A die-hard cinephile, who puts every once of his vast film knowledge into every moment of cinematic homage he puts on screen, how could I say no to his (imagined?) pleading for me to watch the damn film already.  Now granted, Tarantino does have a penchant for such low brow fare as women in prison movies and 1970's kung-fu films, so perhaps one should take a recommendation from the auteur with a proverbial grain of salt.  Then again, the other three aforementioned favourite films are all favourites of mine, so what the hell, I said to myself, I am going to watch this damn thing.  And watch it I did - projected up on the big screen at my cinema.  The rest, as they say (whomever they may be) is history.

2) Richard Gere's Final Shot - Now normally, considering it is the, shot of the film, I would place this as the last "thing" to like about a film, but since this one is so ridiculously great - ie, silly as all fuck - it needed to be talked about before we get to the end ourselves.  Breaking the fourth wall in a way (just like little Jean Seberg does at the end of the 1960 original, though to a less devastatingly tragic, more unbelievably comi-tragic way here) Gere looks right into the camera like some deranged, hipster clad Mr. Roper (those in the know get that reference) and yells Breathless.  Gotta admit, pretty fun stuff indeed.  Fun stuff that only a guy like Gere, at a time like 1983 (having just given such over-the-top performances as he had in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentlemen the prior couple of years) could have pulled off as well as he did.  He did pull it off, right?  Anyway, I digress.

3) How the Film Resembles an Homage Made by a Shiny Guy Named Vince Who Hangs Out at Strip Clubs at Two O'clock on a Tuesday Afternoon - Now I am not saying director Jim McBride is actually a shiny guy named Vince who hangs out at strip clubs at two in the afternoon (though he may be, who knows), but let's face it, this film does look like it was made by such a guy.  That creepy guy drinking scotch and sodas, pinky ring extended so all can see, while getting a lap dance from somewhat bruised, drugged-out woman who goes by the name of Brandi but whose real name is Tina, and who says she is just doing "this" so she can feed her two year old son Tyler, who stays with his chain-smoking grandma while Tina/Brandi is, I mean stripping, but who in reality is actually doing "this" so she can feed her meth habit and pay for all the beers consumed by her boyfriend Gill, who beats her on a regular basis, but whom she cannot leave because she "loves" him....okay, perhaps this is dragging on too long, and maybe this really has nothing whatsoever to do with the film, and in essence is merely just a space filler because I could not come up with enough things I liked about Breathless to make up a respectably long enough post.  But yeah, this is the kind of guy one would expect to have made this ridiculous but quite entertaining little film.

4) How Film Snobs Look Down Upon the Whole Thing - You know what grinds my gears?  All those so-called film snobs, those who look down on any film that is not a pseudo-serious art film by Antonioni or Bergman (two directors I personally love, so this is not meant as a dig on them so much as on the aforementioned film snobs).  All those snooty bastards genuflect to anything and everything from someone like Tarkovsky or Fellini (again, two filmmakers I like) but toss aside most of the oeuvre of a Nick Ray or Sam Fuller (two more filmmakers I quite like) because they may not take themselves seriously enough.  All those narrow-minded cinephiles who cannot get past Citizen Kane being the greatest film of all-time (and once again, this is a film that I truly love and adore, but a film that I can see past to see other, somewhat non-canonical works to fill a best of list with).  Yeah, I hate 'em.  Now me on the other hand, I tend to lean toward the so-called film geek side of things.  That group that includes people like Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich and Quentin "There is That Name Again" Tarantino.  Ones that can appreciate the finer things in cinema (the Bergman's, the Fellini's, the Antonioni's) while also taking great pleasure in the, for lack of a better term, seedier side of cinema (that would be your Polanski's, your Powell, Pressburger's, your, and here is the zinger, your Jean-Luc Godard's).  These aforementioned film snobs are the ones who will not even mention this film when talking about cinema other than to degrade it for their own wicked, self-serving purposes.  This was me for a while, but then, thanks to that Tarantino fella, I have now seen the goddamn light.  Hallelujah!

5) Sometimes It is All About the Music Baby - Now one would think, with me being born in 1967 and ostensibly growing up in what was the mid seventies and into the early eighties, my musical tastes would run somewhere in either the glam rock, disco, punk or new wave realms - and yes, to varying degrees, I do like most of those genres and their ilk - but thanks to my Elvis fanatic mom, my tastes go back a bit further than that.  My early introduction to the likes of Del Shannon and Frankie Lyman and Sam Cooke, and such long lost groups as the Diamonds and The Fleetwoods and The Crests, as well as Presley and Jerry-Lee and Bill Haley and the Comets, kinda makes me quite predisposed to the soundtrack that McBride puts together for this film.  Now granted, there is more modern music in here - Brian Eno, Phillip Glass, X, even a Dexy's Midnight Runners song can be heard at one point - but Gere's bad boy Jesse and his obvious love for the music of Jerry Lee Lewis (not to mention his wardrobe, which we will get to in a bit) send the feel of this film right back to those days that are so often called the days of old time rock and roll.

6) Gere Perfectly Cast as a Last Days of Disco era Belmondo - Perhaps Gere's coolness as an actor is not the same kind of coolness shown by Belmondo in his younger days (think Richard Widmark cool versus Humphrey Bogart cool) but there is no denying, as I more than alluded to way back at number two, that Gere in this time and this place - the Looking For Mr. Goodbar/American Gigolo Gere, not the Pretty Woman era Gere, though when you really look at it, he was pretty sleazy there as well - is perfectly cast to play cad cop killer Jesse Lujack.  And those eyes are so dreamy too.

7) Valérie Kaprisky, From Porn to Breathless, and then Into Obscurity - Let's face it, French actress Valérie Kaprisky, having starred in a few soft-core films in the early eighties (think French Skinemax), was not hired here for her great thespianic endowments.  Even Gere said he told McBride to cast her because she looked like someone who could make love to - a thing that was reputedly going on during the time of filming, and a thing the actress said was the most thrilling thing about filming her scenes ("It was half real" she said) though Kaprsiky has since denied such stories.  No siree, even though she would garbner a César nomination the year after Breathless (for La femme publique), Ms. Kaprisky was definitely hired for a different set of endowments than acting.

8) To Paraphrase a Famous Saying by Alfred Hitchcock and Twist it Around so it Sounds Like it Was Coming from Edith Head, Wardrobe Wardrobe Wardrobe - I told you I would get around to talking about the clothes in this film.  Gere's bad boy, like Belmondo's own bad boy, is dressed like someone on the edge of society.  In Belmondo's case it is a lot less noticeable due to men still having a rather sophisticated style in 1960, but in 1983 L.A., after the advent of the hippies and hipsters and punk and glam rockers, Gere's wardrobe shows how his character is not someone that you would trust to walk your dog...or your girl.  In fact he resembles what one would imagine Charlie Sheen to look like when he goes out on one of his strip club nights.  Hey, lookie there, we came back around to the stripper motif once again.

9) On Meeting Kit Carson, the Guy Who Wrote the Damn Thing - I suppose talking about meeting screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson is not really a "thing to like" about the movie -and let's be honest, his actual screenplay really is not either - but it was fun to have the man who gave Gere his howl, as a guest of our cinema.  For those of you who are unaware (and really, why aren't you paying better attention to my life dammit), my lovely wife and I run a three screen arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa.  Last year, during our capital city's film festival, we hosted a screening of Jim McBride's 1967 film David Holzman's Diary.  The film starred the aforementioned Kit Carson, so somehow (he is such a big star after all) we managed to get him to come and do a Q&A after the film.  He seemed like a pretty fun guy while he was here - and he even signed the leg cast of one of our cinema employees.  Carson would later go on to write the screenplay for the modern classic Paris, Texas, as well as for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  His screenplay for Breathless?  Certainly not great, but once again, a damn entertaining film.

10) Behold the Sentinel of the Spaceways, Norrin Radd, the Spectacular Silver Surfer - Being a comic book nerd from long ago, it should not surprise me that one of my favourite things about this particular film is Gere's character's obsession with that classic Sentinel of the Spaceways, the former herald of the Mighty World Devourer Galactus, and friend and ally to The Fantastic Four and belated founding member of the non-group super hero team The Defenders.  Yeah, I'm a nerd.  What's it to ya?  But I digress once again.  One of my favourite things about this version of Breathless, is how Gere's bad boy identifies with the loner Marvel super hero Silver Surfer.  This also brings us all the way back around to Quentin Tarantino, as we see Jesse's obsession with the Surfer copied in Reservoir Dogs, with a strategically placed Surfer poster in Freddy's (Tim Roth's Mr. Orange) apartment.  See, everything goes back to QT (and he likes strip clubs too), which is why you should listen to the man and watch this damn film.  So there.  Breathless!!


Chip Lary said...

I still have never seen the original. I saw this one a loooong time ago and it was for one reason - Kaprisky. She was just so damn beautiful that it was worth the buck to rent it.

Blogger said...

I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the best virtual strippers on my taskbar.