Schrader’s American Gigolo, which the director positioned in the tradition of Taxi Driver and created as an adaptation of Bresson’s Pickpocket, was the first film ever to expose a man in frontal nudity. The moment was unscripted, but Gere felt it unfolded in the love scenes. The story is of Julian Kaye, a male prostitute who “mostly” turns tricks with older, wealthy Beverly Hills women. Like Bladerunner, American Gigolo employs a noir lense to describe and exaggerate the visual landscape of 1980s Los Angeles. In this sense, it is an invitation to think about that masculinity as somehow post-traumatic, endangered, or cornered. The violence by and objectification of men in the film would seem to corroborate this.
The film explores Julian’s pride and joy in giving women pleasure, “the only thing I’m good at,” which makes him interesting both as an object of desire and the film’s gaze as well as a study in male arrogance in the guise of “generosity.” He parades around in fancy suits, learning different languages to impress rich women and amusing them with his antics, but when he is accused of a murder of a girl in Palm Springs the same week he had a job in that house, none of his women (nor his madame) will provide an alibi. Julian turns to Leon, his seedier, black male pimp, and trusts him to come up with an alibi (it turns out to be a trap – It is Leon’s gay lover who kills the woman, inflecting the “subtext” of gay sexuality in the film, as Gere called it, with a different mode of physicality than was typical of portrayals of homosexuality at the time). When he meets Michelle (Laura Hutton), he is so enchanted that sleeps with her for no fee. The scene is largely shot from his perspective looking at her naked body, but also vice versa, objectifying him. After she sacrifices her public name and marriage to provide a (false) alibi for a murder Julian is accused of committing, the film resolves their story as a moralizing ‘true love’ – she has become public and liberated, he private and unselfish.