An examination of how even today people have issues with gay sex in film.
Interior. Leather Bar.
James Franco has been on an experimental film kick as of late with his rendition of the classic 1930 Faulkner novel As I Lay Dying and his upcoming project Child of God (another novel adaptation), so it really comes to no surprise that Franco (and Travis Mathews) have decided to exercise their creativity by reimagining a graphic gay sex segment that was cut from William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising. Though the way Interior. Leather Bar. actually plays out is more of a docudrama than a straight forward imagination of Friedkin’s scene. Whole experience ends up getting pretty meta in certain parts like when a camera is filming another camera which is filming the re-imagined footage. It becomes impossibly hard to tell what is actually unscripted and what is being presented as being unscripted, which at times is as intriguing as it is frustrating.
As I mentioned above, the source material for this film comes from the 1980 film Cruising, which William Friedkin famously had to cut a 40 minute scene in order to avoid getting the dreaded X rating from the MPAA. Cruising starred Al Pacino as an undercover police detective who is assigned to catch a serial killer in New York’s gay S&M and leather scene. At first Pacino’s is taken aback at what he sees, but curiosity eventually settles in. The scene that was cut had graphic depictions of gay sex and was titled Interior. Leather Bar. Considering even today we are not completely immune to such critical observation of gay sexuality (take Blue Is The Warmest Color for example), just try to imagine the level of taboo towards homosexuality thirty years ago.
An interesting part of Interior. Leather Bar. (as noted in our coverage during the Berlinale premiere) is how the extras justify their reasons for signing up to for the film. During interviews for their roles, a lot of the candidates openly admit that they are doing this project because of the prospect of working with James Franco. One person even mentions he hopes for the chance to see Franco naked. Most do agree that the subject matter is exciting enough to warrant interest. However, Val Lauren, the man depicted to play Pacino’s lead character of Steve Burns, says he is unsure about what this is hoping to accomplish, but that he simply trusts that Franco is onboard with the film. Although these motives are completely frank, they come off as a rather shallow reason to take on such a controversial role. The fact the film chooses not to edit these parts out is enough to raise the audience’s suspicions that there could be more to this than meets the eye.
The filmmakers admit in the early minutes of this film that trying to present the 40 minutes as if were the actual lost footage is the wrong way to approach it. Instead both Franco and Mathews chose to interpret the scene with artistic freedom as they see fit. Adding a layer of complexity to that, they frame the film as if it were a documentary about a leading straight man that has reservations about the homosexual acts he is about to witness. So when the films reveals itself to be more of a narrative, it almost becomes an interpretation of the actual film Cruising, rather than just a scene from it. But more importantly, it is an examination of how even today people have issues with gay sex in film.
Without question the most interesting part of Interior. Leather Bar. is not the actual recreation of the scene that was cut, but rather the “behind-the-scenes” of making the scene. However, due to the fact Interior. Leather Bar. ends up being somewhat fictionalized, certain components become less fascinating. For example, at first it is baffling that some of the people involved have supposedly never even seen Cruising, but then becomes much less absurd once it is realized it is scripted. It works best when the film is somewhat self-aware, because when attempts are made to completely disguise its actual intentions the film is essentially talking down to the audience. Thus, the way the film is presented slightly diminishes the meaningful purpose and powerful messages found within it. But only slightly.