In 1980, the MPAA forced William Friedkin to cut out forty minutes of his gay thriller, Cruising. They had deemed the footage pornographic and insisted he remove it if he wanted an R rating for the movie. The material was given to folks at United Talent Agency, who destroyed it, allegedly because it featured the film’s main character (played by Al Pacino) engaging in sexual activity with other men.Cruising was released over thirty years ago.
Whenever something vanishes, we tend to endow the missing object with larger-than-life qualities. Regardless of whom or what the person or item is, the very nature of absence seems to trigger the human imagination. Maybe this tendency of ours to romanticize the lost is why James Franco and Travis Matthews were inspired to recreate Friedkin’s missing material.
Interior. Leather Bar. is a docudrama that chronicles the journey of Val Lauren. Franco and Matthews have hired Val to play the Al Pacino character in a reimagining of Cruising’s lost forty minutes. Though Val is loyal to Franco due to their long-term friendship, he has no qualms about expressing his concerns with the project.
Val is not alone. His agent cautions him against what he calls it “Franco’s fag project” and says everyone will think it’s porn. Val’s wife asks if he expects her to buy a strap-on. At one point, Val raises his concerns with Franco: “You’re in a Disney movie!” Val says, as if family values and queer-ness are incapable of co-existing.
I’d imagine that Val Lauren is not actually a homophobe. He was just in Franco’s previous directorial adventure, Sal where he played the openly gay actor, Sal Mineo. In Interior. Leather Bar., Val Lauren is playing a caricature of himself, and he’s doing so with great specificity.
The character Val has created is a symbol of the many young men who populate the underbelly of the industry. Val (the character) is the male actor’s “everyman.” He’s moderately handsome, moderately fit, moderately masculine and sort of successful. He strives for normalcy—always trying to be palatable, always trying to be strategic.
Homosexuality is not strategic. In many parts of the country, it’s still not palatable. Associating oneself with a non-normative lifestyle is risky if you’re trying to be the next James Bond or Clark Kent.
Val’s everyman fears he will lose the respect of his wife and his agent by appearing in Interior. Leather Bar. He wonders if this will be bad for his career.
Friedkin examines the same fear in Cruising, although he does so in a more literal way. This is the thematic link between the two films: the fear straight men have of homosexuality. Interior. Leather Bar. isn’t as concerned with accurate depictions of historical footage as it is interested in deconstructing Friedkin’s ideas and reassembling them in a contemporary context.
One would think that we’ve come to a point in Hollywood’s history, where homosexuality is widely accepted. Zachary Quinto is gay. Ian McKellen is gay. Even Raven-Symone is gay. Interior. Leather Bar., however, suggests that the industry is not as comfortable with homosexuality as it seems.
Thirty years ago Friedkin cut forty minutes from his film because the industry thought depictions of gay sex were pornographic. This only becomes questionable when you think of other late twentieth century films that depict graphic heterosexual intercourse (The Last Picture Show , 9 ½ Weeks) which were not treated in a similar way.
Matthews and Franco suggest that this opinion hasn’t changed. At one point, Franco asks Val why he’s uncomfortable watching gay sex, while he’s perfectly comfortable watching straight sex. “I don’t know,” Val shrugs. “I guess I’m used to it.”
So is the rest of the country, Franco seems to say, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ourselves.
Director: James Franco, Travis Matthews
Starring: James Franco, Travis Matthews, Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge
Release Date: Jan. 2, 2014