Vintage Cable Box: “Breathless, 1983”

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“Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.”

breathless 1983 poster

Breathless, 1983 (Richard Gere), Orion Pictures

Richard Gere, what are you rebelling against? He’s the ageless and iconic (not to mention extremely annoying and inappropriate) scofflaw who hot-wires cars, reads comic books and seduces good little girls. He’s James Dean (another irritating icon who won’t go away) infused in weed and acid. I never understood these archetypes, even as an angry young man myself. I guess they’re the bad boys all women crave. If you sat your daughter down and asked her what kind of guy she wanted, she’d show you Rebel Without A Cause, and you’d have to roll your eyes and promise yourself this is just a phase.

On the lam after stealing the aforementioned Porsche, he accidentally shoots and kills a cop. In Vegas, he hooks up with a fling named Monica (Valerie Kaprisky), first breaking into her apartment, and helping himself to a shower. He barges right into her class, removes a table, and makes a mess, but she’s delighted by his unruly behavior. Apparently I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. If I were to emulate Gere’s Jesse Lujack, I would’ve had to beat off the babes with a stick! While Jesse might have certain personality quirks similar to Vincent Spano’s Sheik from John Sayles’ 1983 Baby It’s You, Spano’s performance is much more sympathetic, because we like Sheik. We know he’s trying. He might fail along the way, but damn-it, at least he tries. Gere is a dizzy, repulsive yet charming thug.

Of course, it doesn’t take long for Monica to surrender to Jesse’s cheap advances.  After pouring it on thick, he plays hard-to-get, and then she unfolds like the delicate flower she’s supposed to be, and a great deal of time is taken up with scenes of incessant, sweaty screwing.  The beautiful Kaprisky gets naked (as does Gere) quite a bit in this movie, but the sex gets boring!  I have nothing invested in these characters.  Kaprisky, while a competent actress in her own language, is lifeless in her attempts at English.  Gere seems too old for this part.  Jesse should be 20, and not 33 as Gere was at the time of production.  Instead of a naive youth born under a bad sign, he comes over as creepy, and a unimaginative retread of the street thug he played in Looking For Mr. Goodbar.  In short, he’s not deep – he’s an asshole.

Breathless still

Although, I was never a fan of the original 1960 film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and the auspices of the French New Wave, in turn influenced by classic American cinema, I did find it interesting that in Jim McBride’s remake (from a script by McBride and L.M. “Kit” Carson), the characters switch nationalities and locales. I also admire McBride’s techniques, emulating much better films with his use of back-screen projection and vivid colors. There is a retro feel to the movie. The soundtrack festers with Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, and Link Wray. This is seriously style-over-substance. According to Jane Hamsher’s book, Killer Instinct, Quentin Tarantino wanted McBride to direct his script of Natural Born Killers and his influences (as well as those seen in Pulp Fiction) are, most assuredly, based in this movie.

The cops play cat-and-mouse with Jesse for most of the film’s running time.  Jesse enjoys Silver Surfer comic books, and engages in debates with teenagers, and perhaps tries to see a little of himself in the Surfer.  I suspect Kaprisky’s character is attracted to that element of danger I alluded to earlier, but she’s supposed to be a smart kid.  Ultimately, she gets squeezed by the cops into revealing Gere’s whereabouts.  In the end, the cops catch up (spewing some incredibly cheesy dialogue on the way), and Gere finds himself cornered.  While Michel in the original version is shot to death, McBride chooses to freeze-frame the action before Gere is (presumably) shot, much like Thelma and Louise’s car swan-dives into a canyon before the credits roll.  I never liked that ending, but I sincerely hope Jesse got shot right in the nuts.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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