28 March 2014 | StevePulaski
The sights are locked on conversation and emotion rather than basic shock and awe
In 1980, Exorcist director William Friedkin made yet another movie that found another great way to stir up controversy and etch itself onto the front page of newspapers. His directorial effort Cruising was a film about Al Pacino's cop character going undercover in seedy gay bars in order to catch a series of murders in the specific area. The film divided critics, enraged the homosexual community, who even held boycotts and sent Friedkin death-threats over the film, and the film forever lived with a looming cloud of infamy over its head, with more comments being made about its impact over its quality.
As someone who has recently sat through Cruising, I fully understand why. It's an only adequate little thriller that is levied by the fact that it is such a curious piece of film history. There's not too much special about it other than a decently ambiguous Pacino performance and some well-photographed atmosphere, specifically inside the gay bars. Adding to the curiosity of the film, legend has it that forty minutes of the film had to be cut for it to achieve an R-rating rather than the ominous X-rating films were being stamped with during this time. The forty minutes are rumored to contain graphic gay sex as well as intimate scenes in the gay bars between its patrons.
This brings me to Interior. Leather Bar., a sixty-minute film by the likes of James Franco and Travis Mathews. The film is a mockumentary, following the Franco and Mathews as they attempt to assemble, cast, and reimagine the lost forty minutes of Cruising themselves. From the way Franco acts and interviews, one can easily see he's intrigued on how actors create an image once they begin and how they go about enforcing or affirming the image throughout careers.
Evidently, Franco has used his fascination for public personas and celebrity images as the basis for Interior. Leather Bar., a thoroughly intriguing and deeply-contemplative film that possesses lengthy dialogs on the public's perception of sex as well as mumblecore-esque aesthetics and structure. I walked in assuming I was going to see the full forty minutes from Cruising recreated to fit Franco and Mathews' idea of how the scenes were actually conducted. Instead, both men recreate the experience of working on the set of a film with graphic scenes of gay sex when a majority of the actors - at least the main ones - are straight males, many with wives and kids. We get the opinions of all the actors working on recreating this lost footage to Franco and Mathews' liking. This provides for a feeling of seeing unseen parts of a film without seeing the specific parts, if that makes even an inkling of sex.
A masterful scene comes about halfway through the film, with Franco talking to the project's main star Val Lauren, assuming the role of Al Pacino's character from Cruising. Lauren is a longtime friend of Franco, willing to help him out even on the most uncertain and unpredictable project thus far, but is having a hard time going through with a lot of the heavily gay scenes. He also has a difficult time understand the project's significance and Franco has a hard time explaining it. When Lauren and Franco (who, I believe, is playing himself here) sit down to talk about the scene, Franco goes into a discussion similar to the one I've had many times about how in many pieces of media, even something as minute and as trite as a commercial for toothpaste or toilet paper, we see a man and a woman. When we do see two men or two women together, presumably in a relationship, it isn't uncommon for there to be some uncomfortable vibes oozing through, to which Franco (and myself) blame on our exposure to one particular lifestyle for much of our life.
Franco then dives into a discussion about how censorship boards shiver at the thought of graphic sexual content but barely flinch when they see explicit violence on screen. 'So violence is natural but sex, something everyone does, thinks about, and even views, isn't?' is a question he asks Lauren. Franco basically settles on the idea that he is making this film to try and steer us away from the thought of one particular lifestyle, as well as breaking down his own personal apprehension and uncomfortableness around this kind of material.
Interior. Leather Bar. also seems to be acceptable to view as a time capsule for how gays are portrayed in cinema. Cruising wasn't blatantly homophobic in my eyes, but did possess somewhat understanding apprehension and caution to the lifestyle it greatly involved itself with. Interior. Leather Bar. presents its club scenes (when we do get a chance to see them, though they make up less than ten percent of the film) and even one major gay sex scene with a beautiful tenderness that would be given to an explicit sex scene between two women. Franco and Mathews' depiction of gay sex is a harmonious and wonderfully raw approach and an experience that could very well emphasize the theme of equality in the regard of how gay sex and straight sex are depicted.
What a beautiful film Interior. Leather Bar. is, centering its sights on conversation and emotion rather than basic shock and awe. I'm still not one-hundred percent show I know what to make of it, but to speak fairly, I don't believe Franco really is either. However, I believe he has made something that he will likely look back on as one of his most audacious and daring films ever, which says a lot for an actor in his thirties who, judging by some risky choices recently, is just getting started.