we are each of us a fading gigolo or fading gigolette

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.

 

This is the poster for the movie Fading Gigolo.

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.

Much younger.

 

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 as the 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.

Cir­cum­stances in­spire Maury to try his hand at playing pimp for two at­trac­tive, wealthy women (Sharon Stone and Sofía Ver­gara). They want to try a mé­nageà trois, but not with any man they know.

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.”

Huh?!!?

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 imagine.

 

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.

 


FOOTNOTES:

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.

 

 

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I’m sorta tired of chick flicks. But, I never tire of Woody Allen! It’s going on the play list.

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