BOY CULTURE REVIEW: *** out of ****
Last night was the NYC NewFest premiere of the James Franco/Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) unusual ficto-documentary Interior. Leather Bar. I had thought the film would be a recreation of the infamous 40 minutes that director William Friedkin had to lose from his controversial 1980 Al Pacino movie Cruising in order to avoid an X rating, but as Mathews promised in a pre-screening speech, Interior. Leather Bar. wasn't about what I expected.
The film wound up being much more in its own head than simply being an artistic re-creation. Rather than being about the re-creation of those scenes (which are suggested with only a few minutes' worth of shots), this work was much more about what happens when superstar James Franco decides to make a movie in which actual gay sex occurs. Interior. Leather Bar. takes pains to show the negotiations with actors—in particular with lead actor Val Lauren/Al Pacino doppelganger (Sal), who was reluctant to take part in a film that promised to feature real sex. Far more interesting than the too-stylish imagining of what those X-rated scenes would have looked like are scenes featuring actors, some amateurs, speaking amongst themselves about real sex as artistic expression, what they themselves divined the movie itself would be "about" and what they were willing to do.
I hated the movie initially. It felt like the directors were just so pretentious in their goals, documenting every aspect of the endeavor as if it were some important cinematic experiment. Hearing a gay actor say he felt that the Cruising controversy had been about gay people not in touch with their own kinkiness was infuriating. Did he not realize it was not a puritanical issue, but an issue with how that movie explicitly demonized gay sex? The protests against Cruising were not sex-negative, they were gay-positive. Could he have even seen the film if he did not recognize that it equated homsexuality with murder?
The movie took a turn for the better for me at a point when Franco articulated that he knew the original film, intentionally or not, was a work that did, in fact, take for granted that homsexuality was evil. Once I got over the idea that everyone involved thought Cruising was just some sexy leather movie that had been before its time, it was easier for me to focus on what Franco and Mathews seemed to be after, which was cataloguing everyone's comfort level with a bizarre project featuring gay sex, and poking the viewer's own comfort level at the same time.
The most important scene in Interior. Leather Bar. is not when James Franco and Val Lauren, as themselves, watch (or in Franco's case, film) two real-life lovers having sex (yes, you see actual blowjobs in the movie), which seemed to exist mainly to say, "Why not?" The most important scene for me is one in which Franco earnestly, self-righteously and sheepishly (all three!) explains why the fuck he wanted to do this movie, why sex should trump violence in movies, why real sex should be an available tool in filmmaking (I'd have liked that first Spider-Man a lot more if real sex had been an option) and why he is annoyed that sexuality bothers him in any way thanks to his heteronormative upbringing.
I think Franco is a new Warhol and has fans/haters accordingly. But while his head is up his own ass and a lot of his stuff is nonsense, I like that--unlike the still superior Wathol--Franco knows it. But still does it.
P.S. As entertaining as it is watching Val Lauren, straight and married, semi-gamely navigate his way through a project he does not understand with actors whose real sexuality he can't help asking about, special props must be given to real-life leatherman/pornstar Christian Patrick. If Cruising made the gay kink scene seem lethal, Patrick, with his movie-star looks, steely gaze and calm coaching of his co-stars, makes it look worth dying for.
At the Q&A after, Franco arrived late, thanks to Fashion Week traffic. He and Mathews spoke at length about the film's process from idea to completion, with Franco giving amusing anecdotes about talking with Cruising's still-gunshy director William Friedkin. I think acknowledging that gay activists were right in determining that Cruising was anti-gay, intentionally or not, allows us, 30+ years later, to reassess it with new eyes. To that point, I think Mathews was spot-on in saying that one part of Cruising to revisit should be its utterly realistic (or just real!) leather-bar scenes, which accidentally document a subculture on the verge of virtual extinction mere months before AIDS would begin to take its toll.
After the brief session (no audience questions allowed, meaning our safe word was BOO!), Franco lingered to meet and pose with many of the audience toward the front. His cult of personality got the movie made and attracted people willing to suck cock in it, so it's not surprise that Franco does not ignore the people who made that power possible.