Color, 1983, 100 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Jim McBride
Starring Richard Gere, Valérie Kaprisky, Art Metrano, John P. Ryan, William Tepper
Fun City Editions, Shout! Factory (Blu-Ray) (US RA HD/NTSC), Capelight (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Around the same time critics were wringing their hands over the audacity of remaking The Thing (from Another World) or Cat People and sequelizing Psycho II, another film drew more outrage than those two combined: Breathless, the first mainstream film from director Jim McBride (David Holzman's Diary, Glen and Randa) and a neon-soaked, stylized sort-of-remake of the Jean-Luc Godard classic. A sexed-up joyride with a sensibility lifted from comic books (called out explicitly with frequent Silver Surfer appearances), the film took a while to find its audience on home video after the pop culture-drenched screenplay by McBride and L.M. Kit Carson left many viewers scratching their heads.
While zooming through the desert to L.A. in a stolen car listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and planning to whisk away the girl of his dreams to Mexico, small-time Las Vegas car thief Jesse Lujack (Gere) gets in over his head when a cop pulls him over and gets shot when Jesse uncovers a pistol in the vehicle. Finally arriving in Los Angeles, Jesse scrambles to get paid for a previous job and doggedly pursues the object of his affections: Monica (Kaprisky), a French architecture student he met during a memorable Vegas weekend. With the law closing in, Jesse and Monica ignite a full-scale romance as he tries to convince her to come with him south of the border.
Though it follows the basics of the French classic, this radical riff on Breathless has a completely different attitude complete with vivid plashes of color (especially red), a rockabilly-infused soundtrack, and appealing performances by the two leads with Gere (right in between An Officer and a Gentleman and The Cotton Club) at his most grandiose playing nicely opposite the smoldering Kaprisky, known to VHS fans for the insane softcore epic Aphrodite and later films like Andzej Zulawski's La femme publique and the nude beach extravaganza L'Année des méduses. Many critics over the years have taken the film to task for its unabashed nude scenes involving Kaprisky (including a particularly ridiculous review from Slant), somehow oblivious to the fact that Gere is equally sexualized and undressed throughout. The film definitely fits well within the vivid, scuzzy strain of '80s L.A. neo-noir films around the same time like Body Double, To Live and Die in L.A., and 52 Pick-Up, even if this is far less violent by comparison. Apparently McBride enjoyed playing in the noir sandbox, too, since he followed this up with his biggest hit, The Big Easy, and returned to Jerry Lee Lewis again with the sanitized biopic Great Balls of Fire!
Initially released in theater by Orion, Breathless first hit VHS from Vestron but has long been the property of MGM including a full frame DVD in 2001 (with only the trailer as an extra). Shout! Factory bowed it on Blu-ray in 2015, featuring a 1.85:1 presentation and again just the trailer. The 2023 Blu-ray from Fun City Editions finally gives the film the special edition it deserves, featuring a fresh 2K scan from the 35mm interpositive. The framing of this film has varied over the years; the DVD featured a lot of extra room at the top and bottom but lost quite a bit on the sides, while the Shout! Factory disc was an okay release at the time with the 1.85:1 framing looking fine throughout while cropping out some nudity viewers had grown accustomed to seeing over the years on cable, VHS, and DVD. Whoever supervised the new scan for Fun City was obviously aware of that fact since the 1.85:1 framing stays intact here but, a Code Red-style move, shifts down during some of the nude scenes with the two leads to give you the full celebrity skin experience. In other words, you easily chuck both of the earlier disc editions out now, and the a/v presentation here looks great with the snappy DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounding solid. (It's a real shame Orion didn't spring for a Dolby stereo mix for this one as it really would have killed.) English SDH subtitles are also provided. In addition you get an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono music track, which is fascinating for the way it allows you to study how the songs are mingled with the sparse but interesting score by Jack Nitzsche. McBride appears here for a quick 27s video intro and a 31m8s interview covering his entry into filmmaking, the "known quantity" factor that led him to choose Breathless as a project, the casting process (which included approaching Robert De Niro and a move from Universal to Orion), the brief period when Franc Roddam was assigned to direct instead, and the actual production process. Critic Glenn Kenny delivers a thorough new audio commentary balancing film analysis of the recurring visual motifs and pop culture nods with facts about Orion, the original film, and all the major players here; there's barely a moment to breathe here, and it's a very solid listen. Also included are two deleted scenes (1m30s and 4m26s), which have no surviving audio but come with optional McBride commentary to fill you in; the one with the flaming palm tree is actually quite striking and could've been a nice visual flourish in the final product. Most interesting here is an alternate ending (3m57s), which is shorter than you'd think given it comes with a lengthy text intro and the end credits; basically it extends the action a little longer to show what happens after the freeze frame in the final version. They definitely made the right call ending the film where they did as this option doesn't really work, but it does have a really nice piece of Nitzsche music you can also hear as an isolated option. McBride delivers another bit of brief commentary here, too, explaining all the grappling over how to wrap up the film on just the right note. Finally the disc wraps up with the trailer and a 2m57s gallery, while the insert booklet comes with new essays by Margaret Barton-Fumo, deftly tackling the film's dense and complicated soundtrack music assemblage, and Cristina Cacioppo, who appraises the film's attributes from its use of L.A. locations to its cinephile adoption of French New Wave and classic noir predecessors.
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on March 15, 2023.