It was 1980 and I was totally confused. America had just disco danced on Richard Nixon’s grave for four years, when suddenly this guy named Ronald Reagan appeared and converted all the hippies to yuppies. The “Me Generation” now had a 401k and drove a SAAB. New Wave music and the video age teamed up with its new sophistication and openly sneered at the schmaltz that was 70’s music. Now gone were broad collars, openly audacious shirts, raging forests of chest hair and bulging crotches. But as a chubby 13 year old, entering high school, nobody told me.
Suddenly, guys had short coiffed hair, knit ties, buttoned collared shirts, penny loafers and always carried a copy of GQ magazine, inamoratas in tow.
What the hell had happened? A bomb landed, in the form of a movie called, “American Gigolo”, which forever changed how American men saw themselves. In it, starred an extremely young and good looking Richard Gere. Gere played a gigolo, named Julian Kaye, whose job it was to sexually satisfy lonely wealthy Beverly Hills wives. He’s extremely successful in his trade, but emotionally empty in his life. He’s framed for a murder and has to clear his name, but the movie isn’t at all about that. It’s about watching this spectacular looking man, with spectacular style, leading the life of a sexual super hero, having the wealthiest women fall at his feet. His short neat hair and angelically clean shaven face, sparkle like a Christmas ornament on top of his crème grey Armani linen shirts, crepe wool form fitting jackets, and subtly elegant knit ties. In one scene, Julian prepares for a night out, by laying and matching all his clothes on his bed, primping to a Smokey Robinson song, feeling the culmination of all his super powers, once he’s matched everything correctly. No man watching knew about clothing like he did. But every man knew they’d better learn, if they didn’t want to lose out to guys like him. Julian Kaye showed that this is where real power came from, not from shooting bad guys or punching them out, like John Wayne or Sean Connery. Nor, did Julian Kaye have the oafish masculinity of Burt Reynolds or Clint Eastwood. Julian Kaye, cared about his looks the way a woman did. He was pretty and pouty. He was vulnerable. He exercised to look better. We all took notes. We wanted to be like him. But we knew we never could. Richard Gere understood the key to playing Julian Kaye was in understanding his femininity. Julian Kaye made it safer for heterosexual men to care more about their looks — to be pretty AND masculine. This also made careers possible for Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Colin Farrell, Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto…and so on.
So if you’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it in a while, do yourself a favor and rent “American Gigolo”. You won’t be able to take your eyes off Richard Gere. Nor, should you. If you feel odd, because you find yourself studying every detail of Gere’s portrayal of Julian Kaye, don’t. That’s what you do when you see perfection.