This film takes as inspiration the 1980 film Cruising, which I've only seen clips of (e.g. in documentaries about film), and the idea that there's 40 minutes or so that was destroyed in order to achieve a more favourable rating. (I'll assume you know all about Cruising because you can look it up here on IMDb).
Yet this film is not a replacement of those supposed 40 minutes, nor is it a documentary about how Franco and Mathews attempted to re-imagine them. Instead, they play fictional versions of themselves, so doing. So they get two shots at re-imagining those 40 minutes.
On the simplest level, there is the scene of actor Val playing Al Pacino's character Steve from the film Cruising, which to me seemed entirely believable, and could have fit into the original film. Then there are more sexual scenes, including scenes of oral sex between men. Together, these form a vivid re-imagining of what might have been shot and destroyed. Maybe.
But the story is where the actual re-imagining is. Val (the character) is straight, like Steve in Cruising. Through his work, he is put into an in-your-face gay sexual environment, and overcomes initial hesitation, to become comfortable with the people in that environment. (I can't compare further with Cruising, not having seen it).
I think there's a third layer, which is the audience who is also taken to a place cinema doesn't usually go to. The film doesn't interact back with us, but it's a sense of what Val and Steve experienced.
In the film, James makes some interesting points regarding the explicit sex, and there's no doubt that's the big discussion topic for this film. I think he might be just a year too late to be correct about what audiences watch, but still his point that intimate love and sex should be shown without timidity in film, including same-sex, is correct.
An earlier film that I really liked was 9 Songs (2004). A large portion of that film is the leading man and leading woman making love together. But it told a story about the course of that couple's relationship, and I don't think it could have been done any other way. There should be room for this kind of film in cinema, so these stories can be told without being dumped in with the porn, and then overlooked.
But specifically regarding explicit gay sex in the telling of a story, it's already happened, via Shortbus (2006). Other audiences have seen I Want Your Love, a short and then a feature-length film by director Mathews (of this film) and including explicit sex between men. And the recent Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, I'm told, includes explicit sex between women. So this film is a bit late to break truly new ground.
But more generally (and in stark contrast to television) cinema, and even this film oddly, has been afraid to show much in the way of male couples having the anal sex everyone thinks they're having. I don't think since Brokeback Mountain (2005) there has been a major male film star do this until this year's Kill Your Darlings. Hollywood ought to be able to do a lot better than that. Everyone is already thinking it, so just show something appropriate to the film.
On the theme of missing same-sex film scenes, a (much, much tamer) scene from the film 54 (1998) was recently leaked online showing a kiss filmed between its stars Ryan Phillippe and Breckin Meyer. So apparently old footage does sometimes find its way to audiences.
Part of the experience of seeing this film, I think, is the locale in which you see it. Much as I never expected to see a Bruce LaBruce film series at a mainstream festival in the middle of 1999 Dallas, I wouldn't have expected to see this in Windsor, Ontario. That's how it should be seen.
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