Tuesday, April 22, 2014
"Interior. Leather Bar": documentary about "finishing" the notorious film "Cruising" from 1980
The small feature (almost exactly one hour) “Interior. Leather Bar”, directed by James Franco and Travis Matthews, documents the effort (in 2012) to reconstruct the 40 lost “X-rated” minutes of explicit footage from the 1980 film “Cruising”, by William Friedkin.
The original film caused quite a controversy. It starred Al Pacino as undercover cop Steve Burns going underground to catch a serial killer praying on gay men in leather bars. I recall seeing it in far north Dallas that year, playing at just one theater (an AMC). I seem to recall it was rated “X” (or NC-17) and I think it included some of the lost footage. The “R” version (available from Netlfix) runs 102 minutes, and I think this film ran over two hours. IMDB lists it as shot in the unusually narrow (even for 1980) “1.37:1” aspect ratio. It was not a problem to show the film in Dallas, even though at the time there were problems with police harassment and false arrests for public lewdness in the gay bars – one acquittal stopped that. The film was distributed by United Artists, and I don’t recall if UA had become part of MGM yet.
The new documentary starts with Travis Matthews talking about his intentions with other actors, and mentioning his concerns with the implications of today’s political climate – he thought that legalization of gay marriage would result in an expectation that gay men actually get married and committed (Jonathan Rauch used to argue that in the 1990s). At the time of filming, Proposition 8 was still big news. The early scenes of the film show the actors driving around in LA in cool, perfect spring weather. It makes you want to be there, now, maybe in West Hollywood, maybe like in Venice.
In the middle part, some of the explicit sex (yes, NC-17) starts. Then there is more discussion of the filmmaking, and of the attitudes of the actors. Some of them are straight. One has a chat with his wife, another with his agent on why he wants to be in this. Travis tells the actors to make eye contact the way people did in the 1980s, before they could be distracted by cell phones. They pretend to use poppers. This film appeared shortly before AIDS was becoming known. Some explicit stuff returns at the end.
James Franco talks about his own attitude, saying he was brought up in a world with the narrow-minded views of the straight world. I hadn’t been aware of his interest in gay cinema. I remember his role as a hiker having to cut off his own arm!
It’s interesting to see a film about filmmaking, and how the roles affect the actors and production crew. I did see women among the camera staff and makeup.
The film is distributed by Strand Releasing, and can be rented “legally” on YouTube for $3.99, or from Netflix. Strand has tended to distribute eclectic foreign films in more recent years, but it used to be the most visible distributor of LGBT film (before Breaking Glass, TLA, Ariztical, and Wolfe). The official site is here.
I kept wanting to hear the song “Crash” from “Judas Kiss” as I watched this film. It struck me, in retrospect, how clean cut the “college boys” were in that film (even with one of the principal actors well known as a porn star), compared to the scene here.
Washington DC has temporarily “lost” the Eagle (to a real estate lease ending), which has to make do with parties in other places. I do recall seeing a barber chair at the Eagle, but I didn’t see one in the film.
I got an email recently from the Saint with some pictures from the final Roseland “Black Party” in NYC. I think the Saint should make a 70-minute film of the part, put it into the festivals and sell a DVD.