I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Breathless (1983)

I gotta confess coming to this one from a place of cinematic ignorance. I’ve seen the original Godard movie, but I don’t remember jack shit about it. I thought it was pretty good, I believe. That’s about all I got. Still, I’m sure less people could tell you anything about the remake than everything about the original. So this makes me smart.

In the remake from director Jim McBride (PRONTO) and co-writer L.M. Kit Carson (PARIS TEXAS, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) Richard Gere plays Jesse, a car thief who seems to have a supernatural knack for finding classic convertibles parked and ripe for the picking. Another character at one point describes Jesse as a “Vegas boy, thinks he’s cute.” He’s full of annoying energy, always talking to himself, or sometimes to a dog. He’s Nicolas-Cage-esque in his shameless attempts to embody old time rock ‘n roll. He wears tacky clothes, sings in the car and shower, dances while thumbing a ride, listens to and rhapsodizes about Jerry Lee Lewis, gets a girl’s attention by playing air guitar outside here classroom window.

On the way from Vegas to L.A. he won’t stop for a cop, runs himself off a road and somehow the cop gets shot. (I’m not clear how – Jesse left his gun in the car, and seems surprised that it happens.) Oh well. He still goes to track down Monica (Valerie Kaprisky), the gorgeous French architecture student he had a fling with in Vegas. She has a thing with her teacher now and at least acts like she doesn’t want Jesse around, but he keeps following her and picking her locks, and she doesn’t tell anybody.

He’s a fairly obnoxious, deluded character. He seems to think if he just ignores reality then things will get better. He goes between two of the more artificial cities in the world, and there’s a visual emphasis on neon signs, giant donuts, bus stop bench ads for the Hollywood wax museum, and shit like that. To a certain extent ignoring reality does work for him, because Monica does give in to him. But it doesn’t change that his picture is in the paper with an article calling him a cop killer. That makes it harder to woo Monica and do business and everything.

Who does this guy think he is showing up out of the blue, showering affections on this girl, then when she gives in and is gonna fuck him he gets jealous that she gets a phone message from another dude he already knew about? A few minutes later he has a sudden change of heart thanks to the King. He interrupts her shower to serenade her with “Suspicious Minds,” and is nicer to her from that point on.

Another thing that’s odd about this guy, he’s really into the Silver Surfer (the comic book, not the movie). He shows it to Monica and tries to explain how romantic it is. He also argues with some kid at a newsstand who tells him Silver Surfer sucks. It’s a pretty big issue for him. The kid doesn’t understand why the Silver Surfer wouldn’t use his cosmic surfing powers to leave Earth when the going gets tough, but Jesse insists that it’s because he loves a girl so fuck you you little weiner you don’t know what you’re talking about. This romantic notion parallels his life and encourages him to wait around for Monica instead of running the hell to Mexico before he gets caught. (The opening credits are done in a comics font, calling attention to the significance of the comic book.)

Jesse brings his hot cars to this sleazy guy named Birnbaum. In one scene they meet in a junkyard and Birnbaum is wearing short shorts and a hat with a pinwheel on it and won’t stop sucking on a popsicle. Suddenly I realized that this disgusting sight was Art Metrano, a.k.a. Mauser from POLICE ACADEMY 2-3. Man, the boys at the Academy would love to get him to the Blue Oyster in this getup.

Jesse is way more of an interesting character than a likable one. But I like poor Monica, with her thick accent, her sudden bursts of intense sexuality and her unfortunate attraction to dirtbags. I know movies love spontaneity and romance and all that shit, but you gotta figure she would’ve been better off following hxczxer first boring instinct and just trying to do well in college rather than going on the lam with a lying, mood-swinging criminal because he sang Elvis to her and fucked her in the shower.

But something about their reckless, stupid love is convincing on film. It fuels it as it winds down from a loose, meandering story to an inevitable showdown. I like this movie.

The movie was widely panned at the time though and of course when you say “remake of BREATHLESS with Richard Gere” now it doesn’t sound very respectable. As far as I can tell it doesn’t have much of a reputation, but a buddy of mine tipped me off to it as a major inspiration for Tarantino that hasn’t been talked about as much as some of the other ones.

And man is that correct. So much of what we associate with Tarantino is in this 1983 movie. I believe that Tarantino liked it so much he kinda idolized Jesse, bit his style in his personal life, and then that became Clarence in TRUE ROMANCE. They dress like each other, they talk about the same shit, they try to make it cool to show a girl the romantic part of an old Marvel comic book. Near the beginning of this movie you got a process shot of Jesse driving in an old Porsche, listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, and he puts a gun on top of a copy of Silver Surfer. That’s Tarantino right there!

Even Tarantino’s music seems influenced by BREATHLESS. There’s a prominent use of “Jack the Ripper” by Link Wray and the Wraymen during a chase scene, in much the way Tarantino uses other Link Wray songs in PULP FICTION (and Tarantino’s pal Robert Rodriguez used the same song in DESPERADO).

I’m not bringing this up in that moronic “this proves that Tarantino is a fraud!” way that has been popular for decades on the internet. I think it’s cool that he was obviously influenced by this mostly forgotten and disrespected movie. I can understand why people don’t want to give it a chance, but it’s a pretty good one.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 at 1:11 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Breathless (1983)”

  1. BREATHLESS was very popular here in Scandinavia in the early 80’s, and I remember that it was a lot of talk about the fact that American movies had finally gotten around to having male nudity in them.

  2. Is there a review of the original on the cards?

  3. wow, the original gets a fucking CRITERION blu ray whereas the remakes get an old MGM dvd, if that doesn’t point out the difference in respect for those movies nothing will

    I wonder, does everyone have an obscure, disrespected or unloved movie that they nevertheless love? (and not in a guilty pleasure kind of way)

    I have two, Miracle Mile (which Vern has reviewed) and Toys

    Miracle Mile is such a great damn little movie, it’s weird just how obscure it is given how awesome it is, it’s a movie that begs to be rediscovered in a big way

    and Toys usually gets bad reviews from critics even though it’s a brilliant (and eerily prophetic) satire with eye popping visuals, sure it requires a tolerance of Robin Williams, but I happen to like Robin Williams and I think he’s great in it, he’s silly and funny without going TOO over the top and becoming annoying as he does in many movies

    it was one of my favorite movies as a kid and I think was actually hugely influential on both my personality and political beliefs (how many family films do you know have very biting anti-war satire? you’re not gonna see that today)

  4. I rewatched the original Breathless a year or so back when the rereleased it into the theaters. Shortly afterwards I came across the fact that there was a remake with Richard Gere, and, as you would expect, my reaction was not positive. However, this review makes it sound kind of interesting. The male characters in both the original and the remake don’t seem all that different. Of course, in this one you can’t chalk up his odd behavior to his Gallic heritage.

  5. Yeah, this movie is pretty awesome. I bought it blindly on VHS around the time Pulp Fiction came out when I saw QT on TV saying it was a masterpiece. I was not disappointed. Also, I always wanted to see it just because there was a local theater that closed in ’83 and the poster for Breathless remained out front aging and fading in the sun for years after.

  6. Jareth Cutestory

    August 21st, 2012 at 6:54 am

    I don’t know about being a “masterpiece,” but I guess this version of BREATHLESS is more entertaining that the remake of another French classic from ten years later, Clouzot’s DIABOLIQUE. Gere’s BREATHLESS feels like a riff on the Godard classic and captures something of the spirit of the original; Sharon Stone’s DIABOLIQUE feels like a desecration, especially the decision to change the original’s brilliant ending for something really, really boneheaded.

  7. I really like this remake. I think it does something all its own, while harkening back to the spirit of the original. McBride also made a couple of really fun follow-up films with Dennis Quaid – the neo-noir “The Big Easy” and the Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pic “Great Balls of Fire”. After that he kinda dropped off the map. Before that, back in 1967, McBride was partof the early generation of kids like DePalma to make an influential riff on the French New Wave when he directed “David Holzman’s Diary”. Like a lot of artifacts from the early indie and arthouse scenes it doesn’t hold up all that well (hello “I Am Curious”) but it’s still an interesting piece of cinema history.

  8. for the record, I’ve never actually seen a Jean-Luc Godard movie and I can’t say I have a strong desire to

    my tolerance for “arthouse” movies is a little random, I like David Lynch, but I like strange, surreal stuff in general

    however someone like Godard seems too high-falutin even for me, my golden rule is that a movie should always be entertaining in some way, that doesn’t mean there have to be gunfights and explosions in every movie, but it does mean that there has to be SOMETHING about the movie that makes you want to watch it, I don’t like movies that feel like a big “fuck you” to the audience for even watching it (like the movies of Harmony Korine or Gaspar Noe) or films that scream” look how artistic I am!” (like I suspect the films of Godard must be)

    I can guarantee you Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are better than any of Jean-Luc Godard’s films anyway

  9. Griff: If only there was some way you could find out for sure if you liked them. But I’m not sure if the technology will be available in our lifetimes.

  10. Vern – haha, what I’m saying is I don’t have the interest to watch them in the first place, there’s thousands of other movies on my “to watch” list

  11. Sad thing isa, you’re basing your dislike on a bunch of old and lazy clichés, Griff.

  12. @Griff:
    Godard is the most innovative and brilliant filmmaker of the last 60 years. Maybe ever. He completely changed the way I watch and think about movies. I was kind of befuddled, annoyed and bored initially by the first few movies of his that I saw, but when I saw Pierrot Le Fou I started to get it. Then I went back to the ones I’d seen and got way more out of them, and from there proceeded to plow through everything else by him that Netflix had in stock. Now I’m a disciple. He does pull perverse and aggravating stuff, and is unapologetically brainy in a distinctly French way and after a certain point barely interested at all in telling a conventional story. Even the ones that do tell semi-conventional stories don’t necessarily hang together in the way you expect movie stories to hang together. But if you can get into the spirit that motivates his work–a belief that movies have the potential to be an all encompassing art form where pop and high culture combine and recombine with jazzy abandon–he’s exhilarating, hilarious, and wicked cool. And if you think he’s pretentious that has more to do with your cultural prejudices than anything in his movies.

  13. Griff,

    I have mixed feelings about Godard myself, but I do think he’s a unique and fascinating talent. And honestly, as difficult as some of his work is (difficult enough probably not to be worth for the casual viewer), much of his early stuff is actually pretty entertaining. Although his work has grown increasingly abstract, noncommercial & difficult, early on he was at least vaguely interested in telling a coherent story with characters, and his work can be pretty funny as well. If you’re ever curious, I’d recommend checking out BREATHLESS or A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, two of his funniest and most accessible films.

    I agree with JF that his work tends to improve with multiple viewings, and that’s probably just not worth it for most folk.

    Godard’s an interesting cat. His films can be maddeningly impenetrable, irritatingly didactic & self-righteous, off-puttingly political and worse. But they are also often bold, stylish, witty, provocative, dense and original. I’ve never seen a Godard film I’ve wholly loved, but even the ones I kind of hated were interesting and worthy of my time and contemplation. For what it’s worth.

  14. Griff— just want to echo what others say above about Godard. I am by no means a scholar on the dude’s work, but I do know he wasn’t interested in saying ‘Fuck you’ to the audience for watching his movies. If there was anything he was saying ‘Fuck you’ to, it was preconceptions in general. I’ve only seen a few of his movies, but there were plentiful moments of entertainment and exhilaration to be found in all of them.

  15. Speaking of Godard, does anyone know how one might be able to see GERMANY YEAR 90 NINE ZERO? That one always sounded interesting to me but doesn’t seem like it’s available to buy or watch anywhere.

  16. Griff, I’m not a Godard fan and I did not like the original Breathless. Having said that, I still appreciated it, but appreciation and entertainment are not the same thing.

    Having said that, I think even the most die hard Godard fan should be able to groove on what McBride did. He flip-flopped the setting and the nationalities of the characters and updated it, but kept it thematically the same.

    I still think Godard did an OK job on that Masters of the Universe movie. Oh wait, that was Goddard, never mind.

  17. @ Dan Prestwich:

    GERMANY YEAR 90 NINE ZERO was on YouTube, dunno if it still is. I watched it once, found it impenetrable (the subtitling isn’t ideal and even if it were it would still be elusive) but very beautiful. Which is pretty much my uniform reaction to seeing a later Godard the first time around. Except For Ever Mozart. In that one those accusations of him being a bitter crank (usually way overstated and a cheap way of avoiding having to understand what he’s doing) are entirely founded, though I really like the part where a girl screams “oui” in the wind.

  18. I just say pride yourself on trying out different things instead of the other way around. I used to always say that people should give a shot to Jean-Luc Godard AND Jean-Claude Van Damme. I hate when people look down on the “lowbrow” shit that I prefer, but I also think people on my side should be open to appreciating the other stuff. I don’t know much about that new wave that the French had, but I’ve sampled a little of it and have an idea what I like and don’t like about it, and am open to seeing more. I understand if it doesn’t seem interesting to you or worth your time, but being close-minded to it shouldn’t be a point of pride. Around here let’s try to learn new shit and grow as people.

    Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, or even the movie it’s remade from, and also refuse to see any movies even by the director of the movie that it’s remade from, that would be a time when you wouldn’t necessarily have to add a comment. You can just comment on the ones where you have something about the movie you want to say. Unless your goal is to be shamed into watching PIERROT LE FOU.

  19. @Griff – I’d like to see a review of Hercules Returns – the Australian film. Underappreciated and underseen.

  20. oh ok, you guys are right, I’m being too hard on the old Frenchman

    I still say Harmony Korine is a pretentious douche though

  21. and for the record, I tried watching both Julian Donkey Boy and Gummo once and both movies really rubbed me the wrong way and they just screamed “look how arty and subversive I am!” (although I will admit parts of Gummo were unintentionally funny)

    however, I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I really even know what it is, but anyone that names a movie “The Diary of Anne Frank Part 2” and think that’s some kind of clever, subversive joke is a douche in my book

  22. Griff if you thought GUMMO was warped (and it is) you haven’t seen anything till you’ve seen Korine’s TRASH HUMPERS. That is such a bugged out piece of WTF that it makes ANTICHRIST & A SERBIAN FILM seem conventional. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell it was even about and I’ve seen it twice.

    Harmony Korine is interesting to me because it truly seems like he doesn’t give a shit. He just points and shoots; there is definitely a lot of pretense for the sake of pretense in his work though. With that said I really look forward to seeing what the hell his new movie will be like on account of it having 2 former Disney Channel princesses (including Mouth’s dream girl) and James Franco playing Riff Raff. I can’t even fathom what type of shit he’ll came up with for those mainstream actors to do. He probably traumatized them.

  23. I saw this one so long ago the only things I remember is when Gere accidentally shoots the cop (I liked how the window shattered and it took a few seconds for him to find out exactly what he did) and the part where someone (Art Metrano?) sees Gere’s plaid pants and asks if he’s in disguise as an asshole. I still use that line. I hope it’s close to the way I remember it. Nothing is worse that loving a line or scene forever and finding out you totally embellished it in your mind. Well, a lot of things are actually worse than that, but it’s still pretty bad.

  24. The Black White Shadow

    August 21st, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Finally! It’s long been my dream to voice my feelings about Jean-Luc Godard (I set my bars as low as humanly possible).

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Godard, as he is one of the greatest directors in the history of the medium, and yet he annoys me to no end. His early stuff is extremely inventive and fun, and shot through with a film nerds’ love of cinema. His later stuff is… beyond concepts of good and bad. They exist in a void, totally indifferent to the idea that anyone might actually watch them.

    So if anyone out there is reluctant to get into his stuff… I understand that completely, but you’re missing out. I humbly recommend ‘Band Of Outsiders’ to anybody who hasn’t seen it before. And ‘Alphaville’, though I’m told ‘Alphaville’ is an acquired taste.

  25. Griff, to your first question, I have tons of movies i love that are or were at the time generally maligned:

    Hudson Hawk
    Mr. destiny
    Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    Heart and Souls
    Hero (the Dustin Hoffman one)
    The Chase (no longer holds up though)

    All from the same era it seems.

    My favorite Godard film is WEEK END. That was meta and I was disappointed more of his films weren’t like that. I didn’t care for BREATHLESS but I’m fascinated by the idea of a Godard remake. It’s in my long Netflix queue. One day maybe.

  26. Jareth Cutestory

    August 24th, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Griff: Maybe start with Truffaut’s SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. It’s pure pulpy goodness with a melancholic heart and will lay the groundwork for Godard’s stuff, none of which is as arty or difficult as you might think. I think you’ll be surprised how watchable Godard is, especially if you appreciate the technical aspects of film; his innovations aren’t stuffy and difficult like Renais. ALPHAVILLE in particular is a hoot. And WEEKEND is a masterpiece.

  27. As for Godard.
    Breathless has a great Film Historical Relevance,but i cant say that i love it.
    I used to like some of Godards Work when i was younger.Pierrot le Fou and Weekend for instance.
    But today i rate the Classic French Directors higher than the Cahier Boys.I love Films like “Pepe le Moko”
    and “Le Salaire de la Peur”.
    I saw McBrides Breathless Remake when it came out.Dont remember that much about it,so i guess i have to rewatch
    it.
    But i used to love McBrides “The big Easy”.It Introduced me to Cajun Music and The Neville Brothes.

  28. To Griff, who this thread seems to be about at this point:

    1. The original Breathless has more in common with the macho action films that you gravitate toward than you have any idea of, being too proud to watch it. It’s about guns, girls, and cars, for pete’s sake, and stars Jean Paul Belmondo, the coolest dude who ever lived. He makes Steve McQueen look like, well, Harmony Korine. Refusing to watch Godard’s Breathless is hollowing out a huge gap in your own life. The only one to suffer for it is you.

    2. If you think the funny bits in Gummo were unintentional–i.e., that you’re so much smarter than Harmony Korine that you can see more clearly what he’s doing than he can–once again, you’re making a false virtue out of ignorance. Like him or hate him, Korine is pretty fucking skilled at twisted humor. Your deciding that his twisted humor is unintentional and is therefore more to be scoffed at that enjoyed is, again, no thang at all to anyone but you. If ignorance is the only thing you have to be proud of, you should spend some time looking inward.

    3. Breathless 1983 is worth watching if only because it was directed by Jim McBride, whose Glen and Randa is one of the weirdest naked-hippie postapocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. Whether his Breathless succeeds or not (I think it does, on its own surreal terms), clearly McBride is a director whose unique vision makes him more interesting than 99% of the thoughtless hacks churning out the garbage that clogs the media landscape, to coin a pretentious phrase.

    4. Seriously? You’re gonna write 5 posts in a thread about a movie you’ve never seen, a remake of another movie you’ve never seen, just to boast about how refusing to see either before you criticize them somehow makes you smarter than everyone who’s been gullible enough to actually watch the movies before discussing them? Seriously? This snobbery of prideful ignorance baffles me, almost as much as it entertains me. Please continue.

  29. ok, jeez, I’m sorry, I take back what I said about both Godard and Harmony Korine, I’ll check out Breathless one day, ok?

    I’m not an anti-arthouse guy, I love Eraserhead and The Holy Mountain for example

  30. I LOVE Harmony Korine, and I think, “The Diary of Anne Frank Part 2” is one of the funniest titles ever. The title is its’ own story. There’s actually a lot going on in those six words and one numeral.

    Also, Godard is brilliant and *you* are the pretentious one for dismissing him so summarily.

    Give Week End, Contempt and Breathless a chance. If you like Tarantino, you should like Godard. Literally everything QT does stinks of the Frenchman.

  31. Except the foot fetish. I think that’s a Tarantino original.

  32. Guys, Griff doesn’t have to watch Godard or Korrine movies if he doesn’t want to. I, personally, have never seen any of either of their films because they don’t interest me. Maybe someday that’ll change. Until then, though, I’m not gonna talk shit about them because I’d be coming from a place of ignorance, and I’m gonna look like an asshole when somebody who knows what he’s talking about shows up and shuts me down.

    So maybe that’s the lesson. You don’t have to watch a movie just because everybody tells you you should, but if you’re not interested in it, leave the discussion to the people who are. Maybe you’ll learn something.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>