Okay, so the idea is to achieve emptiness so that we may be actually informed by what it is we see. To train an eye for details that doesn't react or classify or evaluate but instead grasps effortlessly the totality of what a film means to us. In this process, naturally we have to discard our preconceptions and routine streams of thought; who made the film, is it art-house, does it belong in a list of masterpieces.
A bunch of those here; a remake of a well known French film, the presence of Richard Gere (usually signifying fluff), the very idea of a film that never made much sense to begin with. Who needs a Breathless remake, much less the Hollywood version? But we got it, so what about it? The Godard film was about young people coming to discover for the first time the struggle with important things, about love and meaning dealt with in the pretentious, silly, superficial ways of youth. What tied the struggle together was a boyhood fantasy about movies. We had a protagonist acting out an imaginary gangster part and the reality of the film arranged around him as a movie plot in which to act the part. It was about the safe distance provided by the fictional as conflated into the emotional distance between two people.
Now watch how the remake transcribes this. Richard Gere is the Michel Poiccard character but instead of Bogart he is a Clark Gable. A movie hunk 'exhuding studly scent' as another reviewer aptly puts it. Recklessly oblivious to anything but the present moment and what it has to offer, he is the very dream of movies. A doofus at first sight but who instinctively seems to have grasped the essence of life by the balls. As much a target of ridicule as admiration. We see him empathize with utmost seriousness with Silver Surfer comics! Something akin to a destiny for him.
But we're not inside him, we're siding with the French girl who's come to LA to study architecture. The girl who plans, thinks, wants the buildings she will create to last. The perfectly logical human being who (along with us) is swept away by the irresistible allure of an existence without bounds, centered in the 'now' and radiating outwards. Valerie Kapriskie is a perfect match here, an Ali McGraw to Steve McQueen; she's great because she can't act to hide what seems a genuine infatuation with Gere's adolescent antics (mixed with genuine frustration).
We travel with them through a fetish dream of LA. Cars are fire-engine red Thunderbirds, summer dresses and even telephones pink. I've been going this month through a phase of cinematic vacation in Los Angeles, and this one has the best sense of place of anything I've seen yet. The dark joint with the jukebox, the empty streets blowing with hot summer wind.
But it's more than a ride of pure, exhilarating movie pleasure, there's something to talk about here.
It's peppered throughout, but centered in a scene by a pool. The girl wants to know what is behind the man's face, what kind of nothingness. He blurts something about love, no doubt cribbed from some magazine. A little later an aging architect, who no doubt has been where she is and has come to understand the world, tells her that nothing that is built lasts.
And the best part, taken from the pages of a Silver Surfer comic. I won't go into details, but it says something about us, the sentient beings narrating our story, removed from our heart yet discovering it in every reflection. It makes for perfect Zen.
So we have this hip-swivelling, rock'n'roll Zorba the Greek, who is empty inside in the best sense possible, so that he is filled with everything. Like only a blank sheet of paper can be clearly written on.
And he's on the run for a fateful mistake of shooting a cop. How the scene is edited is important; we see a windshield shatter, then Gere looking with astonishment at the pistol in his hand. Elements crucially missing from the edit (the action itself) reveal the emotional state; how many mistakes can we look back on and be perplexed how we let them happen?
There's more to it. There's a marvellous love scene in a movie theater playing Gun Crazy (which the film is reversed from). The two lovers roll around as behind them loom huge footage of the fictional couple in Gun Crazy discussing what pertains to the two lovers.
And before the climax, we ride all the way up to a property overlooking the LA nightscape. Errol Flynn's as we find out, again movieland.
It is better than the Godard film, miles better. It's as much about the old tropes of sex and violence as that film, except it's filled with actual heart. It is about kitsch elevated into noble gesture, about reality dismantled into fiction and the opposite. Novice film buffs discovering a sense of importance with Tarkovsky and Malick will find little in this simple film to appreciate; but those who've done their rounds and are looking for specific things may be strangely fulfilled by this.