BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO opened its first stores in the 1980s, renting movies as both Beta and VHS cassette tapes. Standard procedure then was to remove the cassette from the original cardboard box and insert the tape into a black plastic box. Blockbuster then wrapped their own covers around the box: the company name was on the front, the movie title on the spine, and a brief synopsis of the movie on the back.
When Blockbuster moved into my neighborhood, they effectively put out of business all the mom-and-pop video stores in the area.
Consequently, I did all my business at Blockbuster—it was right across the street from my apartment—and I was a very good customer indeed.
In fact, I was a conscientious customer: when I read the back of a box and saw an error, I took the video to the front and showed the error to an employee. This may have been a simple typographical error, or it may have been the review getting the movie wrong.
Remember this, the generic Blockbuster box? The Blockbuster reviewers had to summarize the film and make the customer reading the review want to march the copy in hand to the register and check it out—all in the itty-bitty space on the back of the box! Once a ubiquitous presence in American life, this box is rarely seen now—unless one does a lot of garage sales, where its presence is always accompanied by a story of how it accidentally came into the possession of the seller.
Blockbuster didn’t give a damn
The latter were my faves: I continually found reviews of movies that clearly indicated that the reviewer had not watched the movie; that he knew nothing about the movie. Among many other boners, there were:
• Horror movies described as family comedies!
• Family comedies described as tearjerkers!!
• Documentaries described as murder mysteries!!!
And so so many others! I also noticed that most of the outrageously wrong reviews were of older movies: I don’t recall seeing a current blockbuster like The Titanic or The Bourne Identity being burdened with factually incorrect information.
But find a lesser-known gem from the ’50s and anything was possible. From this I inferred that the majority of the company’s reviewers were younger than I.
I don’t recall seeing a current blockbuster like The Titanic or The Bourne Identity with factually incorrect information.
By 1992, I was a father checking out movies for a pre-schooler. I tried to make it clear to the Blockbuster associates that parents did not want to take a comedy home to their kids and then find them watching a slasher flick an hour later.
Of course, I was wasting my time: Blockbuster didn’t give a damn. Nor did its employees, which was quite understandable from people doing a $9-an-hour job.
So I gave up. I stopped criticizing the company’s critics and just let it be. 1
This is the box that the DVD version of Fading Gigolo comes in off the racks—or today, from Amazon or whatever other online seller you use. Allen’s presence and the blurb that calls this movie “Laugh-out-loud funny” doom thousands of customers looking for some light entertainment to an evening of confusion and possible disappointment.
A 2013 American comedy film
These anecdotes about Blockbuster were kindled by looking up a movie on Wikipedia. Berni and I had just watched Fading Gigolo, which we had picked off the wall at the library because it starred Woody Allen. I was curious about its critical and popular reception, and a few of the actors
The first eight words in Wikipedia’s entry are, “Fading Gigolo is a 2013 American comedy film.”
Well, yes, it is a film.
It was made in America.
And it was released in 2013.
But it is not a comedy.
It is a warm, affectionate story about loneliness.
Different kinds of loneliness.
And how different people deal with their different kinds of loneliness.
But you would have to actually watch the movie to know that.
In Fading Gigolo, Woody Allen seems to be appearing in two movies at once: in one, he is a shop-owner-turned-pimp in a drama co-starring John Turturro. In the other, he is the adopted uncle to four boys in a comedy co-starring Tonya Pinkins.
At least they read blurbs
After writing the above, I realized that I hadn’t done something important: I hadn’t read at the back of the box for Fading Gigolo. So I did, and here is what can be found there:
“VERY, VERY FUNNY”
Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
“WOODY ALLEN in his FUNNIEST ROLE
in TWO DECADES”
Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News
“A FILM with LAUGHS,
HEART and ROMANCE”
Marshall Fine, Hollywood & Fine
“Murray talks his friend Fioravante into becoming a gigolo as a way of making some much-needed cash after an out-of-the-blue request from his dermatologist. With Murray acting as Fioravante’s manager, the duo quickly finds themselves caught up in the cross-currents of love and money.” 2
Reading that led me to believe that Wiki’s reviewer had only got that far with the movie and then wrote his review. That is, he saw that Woody Allen was one of the stars, read the blurbs (“funny,” “funniest,” “laughs”), and arrived at his conclusions and wrote his review. But I was wrong: in fact, he did watch the movie.
Writer and director John Turturro as Fioravante, the reluctant but capable “ho.” Turturro’s taciturn, non-committed look—even when he’s smiling—makes me think of him as a kind of ‘Gary Cooper of Studs,’
This is Fading Gigolo
Consider this a Spoiler Alert! and yourself warned that elements of the plot are about to be revealed—although it really shouldn’t affect your ability to appreciate the movie. You can read on and still watch the movie and enjoy it.
There are two main protagonists in the story: Maury “Mo” Schwartz (Woody Allen) is an old man who just closed his family’s rare book shop in New York.
Fioravante (John Turturro) is a middle-aged, under-employed plumber who works part-time for Mo at the bookstore, and part-time at a florist’s, where he does Zen-like floral arrangements.
Sharon Stone as the sexually curious dermatologist looking for a stranger to fulfill a fantasy or two.
Mo offers Fioravante as a gigolo!
With reservations, Fioravante allows himself to be talked into the arrangement.
Needless to say, neither man has any real experience in the field of procuring and providing. Their main assets are Mo’s gregarious; he is the quintessential New Yorker who talks with anyone and everyone.
This gets them the initial gigs.
Fioravante has a quiet, understated, but effective way with women.
This gets them the return engagements.
Sofia Vergara as the dermatologist’s ready willing and able accomplice in a threesome with a high-priced stranger.
Fioravante plays the “ho” reluctantly at first, but finds he is rather good at it and he gets into it. Aside from his skill in bed, he is observant, thoughtful, attentive. He is a good lover, not merely a good lay.
And he is successful in his new career.
In a pivotal scene, Fioravante gives a massage to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who has been a widow and alone for two years. According to Wikipedia, she allows him “to massage her back and that touch, the first ever of that kind in her life, brings her to tears.”
Avigal does cry, and for a very important reason.
Just not the reason that the Wiki reviewer gives—that Fioravante’s touch was “the first ever of that kind in her life.”
That is not why she cried.
And Avigal explains later in the movie exactly why she cried, so there is no reason to infer anything into the scene, either the touch or the crying.
Vanessa Paradis as the widow of a respected Rabbi, whose loneliness catches Maury’s attention. While Maury has taken to his new role as a pimp, he is not interested in the widow professionally, but as one human reaching out to another.
A few facts about the movie
Here are a few random facts that may or may not touch on the rest of the article above but will hopefully encourage you to watch the movie:
1. Fading Gigolo is not a comedy; it is a drama.
2. Woody Allen does give a boffo performance that may be his best in years. Because of Allen’s performance, there are indeed some real laughs in the movie. 3
3. While the two male leads received most of the critical attention, the three female co-stars carry their own: Stone is sophisticated, cool, and sleekly sexy, while Vergara is earthy, funny, and kinkily sexy. Paradis has a calm, contained beauty that radiates strength, despite her loneliness. 4
4. There are a lot of smiles to be had by watching this movie. Those quiet smiles we have that make us feel human as we watch the kinship the characters feel for one another, and the steps each takes to salve the damage caused by loneliness to others.
Finally and personally, it’s easy to be mostly happy and still be sometimes lonely. So if you’re mostly lonely and only sometimes happy, know that there may be far more peas in your pod with you than you image.
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this promotional poster. As for the title of this article, at my age that’s exactly what some of us want to think at this time: that we were once ‘hot’ and coulda been a contender if only we’d given it the ol’ what-ho!
Now we’re just we’re all fading gigolos and fading gigolettes, at least in our minds.
Hoping I don’t have to tell you why what this picture is and why it’s here . . .
POSTSCRIPT: I just did my final read of this before ticking the publish button and certain words jumped out at me:
And I exclaimed aloud to no one in particular: Holy Hallmark, Batman! It’s a chick-flick! 5
Fortunately, I like chick-flicks.
1 In hindsight, I wish that I had made photocopies of the back covers of hundreds of Blockbuster boxes. I could compile a book out of the best/worst of them that would be hilarious casual reading matter, a perfect bathroom book.
2 The big, bold, short statements are blurbs. “A blurb is a short promotional piece accompanying a creative work. Movie blurbs are part of the promotional campaign for films, and usually consist of positive, colorful extracts from published reviews.”
The New York Times noted “the blurbing game is also evolving as newspaper film critics disappear and studios become more comfortable quoting Internet bloggers and movie websites in their ads, a practice that still leaves plenty of potential for filmgoers to be bamboozled.” (Wikipedia)
(No, my quoting Wikipedia in an article criticizing Wikipedia is not ironic: as I said, many entries in Wikipedia are very accurate and worthy of respect. Just not necessarily those dealing with pop culture.)
The two sentences make up the plot summary or capsule review that can be found on the back of most home movie boxes.
For Fading Gigolo, the gorgeous Tonya Pinkins was dressed down to play a dowdy if savvy urban mother possibly living in sin with a much older man. This photo is a publicity shot from 2013, the same year as Fading Gigolo.
3 There is a strange subplot running through the background of the story where Maury lives with a middle-aged black woman (Tonya Pinkins) and what appear to be her four sons. Maury is the apparent father-figure to the boys, who call him Uncle Mo. The whys and wherefores of the relationship are never explained.
Stranger still is that Allen appears to be in a different movie in these scenes, a movie that is a comedy but is only peripherally related to the main move about Fioravante the gigolo.
And there’s a third subplot involving Lev Schreiber as a fundamentalist Jewish thug, and a secret trial presided over by Hasidic elders that most non-believers would probably consider a ‘kangaroo court.’
4 Vanessa Paradis did not ring any bells for me, even after Berni informed me that Johnny Depp was her squeeze for years! And we are such BIG Depp fans that we even enjoyed The Lone Ranger! I guess I ain’t paying enough attention to those magazines that we encounter while waiting in line at the grocery store to pay for the beer and barbecue chips and ice cream!
5 If the names Adam West and Burt Ward don’t mean anything to you, then the reference/allusion in my exclamation won’t make much sense.
The almost naughty poster for the movie bares—er, bears—more than a passing resemblance to a box of Valentine chocolates.
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