Interior. Leather Bar | James Franco quenches his artistic curiosity in an explicit cinematic experiment

Interior. Leather BarHollywood star James Franco’s call for artistic freedom pays homage to Warhol, Jarman and Kenneth Anger.

In order to avoid an X-rating, 40 minutes of footage was rumoured to have been cut and destroyed from William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller, Cruising, a controversial film which saw Al Pacino playing a New York cop who goes undercover in the city’s S&M scene to unmask a killer targeting gay men. At the time of its release, the film was met with protests from the gay community over its alleged homophobia.

Inspired by the mythology of these lost 40 minutes, Hollywood star James Franco and I Want Your Love film-maker Travis Mathews set out to re-image the footage with Sal actor Val Lauren playing the lead. The resulting footage follows Lauren as he is forced to negotiate his boundaries both on and off camera as explicit S&M gay sex happens around him.

Val Lauren in Interior. Leather Bar

If you come to this film expecting 40-minutes of hard gay sex being played out in the steamy backroom of a neon-lit lit New York bar with the hunky James Franco in attendance, then you’ve come to the wrong place. There’s certainly some explicit footage – the kind that would have sent 1970s censors into apoplexy – but there’s only two brief sequences and neither feature Franco going mano-a-mano with his naked extras. The remaining 30-minutes of the ‘lost footage’ is made up of scripted scenes in which Lauren’s Pacino-esque actor questions his taking part in the project and shots of Franco polemicising over the portrayal gay sex on screen (can it ever be seen as anything but pornography?).

Interior. Leather Bar

Franco and Mathews’ docu-drama experiment plays like one of Andy Warhol’s improvised Factory films while seemingly channelling Derek Jarman, whose oeuvre addressed gay activist issues throughout the 1990s and helped expand cinema’s aesthetic language from a Queer perspective. Like Jarman’s poetically political films The Garden or Edward II, Interior. Leather Bar is fascinating, provocative and challenging, but equally, its just as hard to decipher unless you know what you are looking for.

Interior. Leather Bar

The film, however, does give you an insight into Franco’s artistic mindset. The Hollywood actor, who has done more gay characters and gay projects than most straight actors, isn’t on any committed New Queer Cinema crusade or ‘quenching his sexual curiosty’ (which Val Lauren suspects in the course of the film), he’s merely following in the footsteps of the visionary artists he admires (like Jarman, Warhol and the Magus of underground film, Kenneth Anger – who gets a dedication in the queer bashing short that accompanies the release). A group who have all sucessfully broke down the boundaries of traditional cinema and who just happen to be gay. In the end, isn’t this what lies at the dark interior of this leather bar?

Interior. Leather Bar is available on DVD and VOD in the UK through Peccadillo Pictures and can be rented on BFI Player (£2.50)


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on December 18, 2013, in American Indie, BFI Player, Documentary, Might-See and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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