Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Al boogies in  the gay bar 
CRUISING (1980). Director: William Friedkin.

INTERIOR: LEATHER BAR (2013). Director: James Franco; Travis Mathews.

Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is assigned to go undercover in the gay leather milieu to see if he can get leads on whoever is murdering the patrons of these bars. Burns feels uncomfortable in his assignment, but his superior (Paul Sorvino) talks him into continuing. Burns seems to have caught the killer when another murder occurs .... Modern-day viewers may wonder what the fuss was about when they look at this through 21st century eyes. But in 1980, decades before LBGT sections on Hulu and Netflix, there weren't that many films about the gay lifestyle, and it was enraging that the best that two major filmmakers (Pacino of The Godfather and Friedkin of The Exorcist)  could come up with was this mediocre slasher film that exploited the gay community, presenting one-dimensional characters to be slaughtered. Most of the film's opponents (which included this critic and activist) didn't object to the movie exploring the gay s & m scene (which was always more about role-playing than anything else) but to its complete failure in any way to positively illuminate that scene aside from sexual activity. While Cruising is well-produced, with a lot of atmosphere due to James Contner's cinematography, and Pacino's performance is okay, it is a much less effective* "slasher" film than, say, the original Friday the 13th,which came out the same year. (Fridaty the 13th was also much more influential, and while also excoriated by critics, made a lot more money than Cruising.)

Seen today, how is the movie? Well, it's still mediocre, not only due to its exploitation of gay men but to its penny dreadful script. Its use of multiple maniacs (which is apparent once you try to figure out who the killer is) only makes the pic much more confusing than it needs to be. Then there's that ridiculous early sequence where we see two men clad half in leather and half in drag -- like that ever happens (except maybe on Halloween)! At one point Burns expresses sympathy for a gay suspect beaten by police (in an utterly ludicrous sequence that was supposedly based on fact), which makes the implied ending more ridiculous. (This suggests that Burns murdered his friendly gay neighbor as the character did in the crappy source novel)  There's no point in trying to figure out who the different murderers are in that its clear that while Friedkin today tries to make it sound like he had some master plan all along, the movie is just badly structured and edited, a sloppy hack job in every sense of the word. Friedkin and company could have made a much more positive (and coherent and fascinating) film while remaining true to its thriller/slasher origins. [NOTE: I have more to say about Cruising in my book Al Pacino In Films and On Stage.

One of the cast members of Interior: Leather Bar
And now we come to Interior: Leather Bar, a silly documentary made by actor James Franco and Travis Mathews. The idea was to recreate the supposedly lost forty minutes cut from Cruising that presented more raw footage from the backroom gay bar scenes. The reality is that only a few minutes have been recreated; most of the film is about actor Val Lauren's discomfort in being associated with the project. In some sequences he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than in this movie. There's at least one gay sex scene, and James Franco admirably talks about why it's unfair that such scenes are often suppressed in major theatrical movies, which is not the case with straight sex scenes. The whole idea of this movie seems to be to get a group of both gay and straight actors in a room and have them interacting in a homoerotic manner, but I get the impression this is more about the filmmakers' fantasies than anything else. One can imagine this is one way the recognizable Franco can be in a gay bar without actually being in a gay bar!

[*Friday's shock/murder scenes are better handled, the film has more suspense, as much atmosphere, and its characters are no less dimensional than Cruising's. In addition, the movie's victims aren't members of a persecuted and marginalized community, unless you think camp counselors are a minority group.]

Verdict: Cruising: **1/2.
              Interior: Leather Bar *1/2.


angelman66 said...

Has been years since I saw Cruising, and have never seen the Franco film - I had heard something about it but was not aware that it was connected in any way to Cruising. Looks like a fascinating double feature, a curiosity if nothing else.
P.S. Just saw Franco in the comedy Why Him? with Bryan Cranston. He is still adorable, zany and does not mind doing nude scenes. My kind of gay-friendly straight guy!!

William said...

I don't know if I'd call Franco straight, but who knows, ha!