Cruising | William Friedkin’s controversial gay serial killer thriller gets a director-approved restoration
William Friedkin directs Al Pacino as an undercover cop pitched into New York’s gay underworld in Cruising – available for the first time on Blu-ray in a brand new director-approved transfer from Arrow Video.
New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city’s fetish clubs. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) tasks young rookie Steve Burns (Pacino) with infiltrating the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows – but as he immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld, Steve risks losing his own identity in the process.
Taking the premise and title from reporter Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, Cruising was the subject of enormous controversy at the time of its release (filming and screenings were picketed by sections of the gay community) and remains a challenging but deeply powerful thriller to this day, with Pacino’s haunted lead performance as its magnetic centrepiece.
It is also still the only Hollywood feature to shine a light on the gay fetish scene – just before another deadly killer struck the community – AIDS – with all of the poppers-fuelled club action being shot on location in New York’s Meat Packing District, with the club’s members all consensually appearing as themselves in the film’s most notorious scenes.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative supervised and approved by writer-director William Friedkin
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supervised by William Friedkin
• Optional English subtitles
• New audio commentary with director William Friedkin, moderated by Mark Kermode (PF: An incisive look at the film’s production, themes and legacy, this is a must-listen and will make you want to watch the film all over again with fresh eyes and ears — I never knew how important the sound effects were or that there are subliminal shots of anal sex inserted in the murder sequences — and Friedkin also clears up a few long-asked questions, including the supposed lost footage and what that closing shot really means)
• Archival audio commentary by William Friedkin (PF: Having listened to the moderated commentary first, where Kermode bounces off ideas off Friedkin, I found this a bit too scripted – though its still insightful)
• The History of Cruising: archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production
• Exorcising Cruising: archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy
• Original Theatrical Trailer
More (1969) & The Panic in Needle Park (1971) | Love and heroin create a deadly cocktail in two cinema greats that will have you hooked
First up is Barbet Schroeder’s More, which created quite a stir on its release back in 1969, and has since gained a cult following – notably because of its Pink Floyd soundtrack and Ibiza setting. Next up is director Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic In Needle Park, which came out two years later and starred Al Pacino in his breakout role, and was equally controversial because of its realistic portrayal of heroin addicts in New York City.
Despite their different geographic locations and cinematic approach, the two films are both about wildly passionate love affairs fuelled by a shared addiction to heroin, and both explore the characters’ relationship with their particular setting.
In More, the island of Ibiza, a picture-postcard paradise of azure blue skies, emerald seas and dazzling white-washed houses, becomes the backdrop for German student Stefan (Klaus Grunberg) to seek out Estelle (Mimsy Farmer), an enigmatic young woman he briefly meets in Paris. Despite warnings to stay clear of the secretive girl, Stefan is spellbound and tracks her down on the island. When Estelle steals a stash of ‘horse’ (the street name for heroin at the time) from local bigwig Wolf, she convinces Stefan to try some. But just as Stefan’s love for Estelle is all consuming, so is the drug. Soon Stefan is hooked and when Wolf hunts the couple down, he is forced to work for Wolf to pay back what Estelle stole.
In stark contrast to Ibiza’s sun-drenched beaches, The Panic in Needle Park takes place in a real-life section of New York City’s Upper West Side, which was infamous for being a haven for drug addicts in the 1970s. Here, with car horns blaring and people racing about, small time hustler Bobby (Al Pacino) introduces the naïve, restless Helen (Kitty Winn) to his world of dealing and scoring. Helen’s growing addiction is played out in coffee shops, seedy hotels, back alleys and the local jail where she and Bobby both end up spending time before returning to life on the streets. But where More ends abruptly, and tragically, The Panic in Needle Park shows an addict’s life is a constant cycle of big ups and major downs.
Being phobic about needles, the hardest thing for me to watch were the scenes involving actual drug injections (it was these scenes that made the films so controversial when they were first released). And they still retain their power, especially Panic with its inventive documentary approach and all-too realistic performances from Pacino and Winn (who won a Best Actress award at Cannes for her role).
The Panic in Needle Park and More may be relentlessly grim in their outlook, but they still fascinate and their themes are just as valid in today’s society. In fact, they should be mandatory in any anti-drug campaigns in schools.
The 2011 dual format BFI release of More contains a re-mastered print of the film and a newly commissioned 17-minute documentary on the story behind it; plus trailers for Schroeder’s films other including La Vallée and Maîtresse, illustrated booklet, biographies, and notes on the Pink Floyd soundtrack.
The 2011 Second Sight release of The Panic in Needle Park is the film’s first-ever UK widescreen release, and includes some very informative interviews with director Schatzberg (who originally tested Robert De Niro for the role of Bobby), cinematographer Adam Holender (who lensed Midnight Cowboy), and writer Joan Didion (who talks about what is was like researching the script in the actual locations which have now been totally gentrified).[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-M-ryiDJw%5D [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNeN9ZU2CSM%5D