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
As part of the BFI’s remit to archive the films of all British artists comes the DVD collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome – probably the most risqué of all of the BFI’s archived film material as it contains some the earliest examples of gay porn.
Little known outside underground film circles, Peter de Rome made over 100 male erotica films over a 50-year period, with only around 40 of them actually finished. The Ramsgate-born director ended up settling in the US in the mid-1950s working at Tiffany’s in New York, at the same the time the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tifany’s was made – he even makes a cameo. Unschooled in film-making, de Rome’s Super 8mm films followed in the tradition of Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger but were much more risqué – so much so, they ended up being shown in underground cinemas in Europe. De Rome continued with his ‘hobby’ until the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis hit.
In 2012, de Rome was the subject of a 42-minute documentary (which accompanies the release) exploring his completed films (which he keeps in an old storage box) and also the ones he has lost over time, including the only known footage of Greta Garbo at the end of her life. This short by Ethan Reid has now been expanded into a new 97-minute documenary, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, which explores the pioneering film-maker’s newfound fame following a retrospective of his work at the BFI back in 2012 (watch the Vimeo trailer below).
De Rome’s films (12 are included on the DVD release) might be rough and ready around the edges, but it’s their historical nature that make them so unique – especially the ones of Fire Island, a New York landmark that has since become a gay tourist mecca. De Rome’s cinema is also a window on a pre-AIDS era, a time when the gay liberation movement was just beginning to have its voice heard.
One of Peter de Rome’s shorts is also included in the BFI DVD, Encounters, featuring four ground-breaking gay shorts, which artfully show guys hooking up in ways that were unthinkable when they were filmed back in 1965 and 1970.
First up is Dream A40 from 1965. Filmed two years before the Sexual Offences Act ended the criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, Lloyd Reckord’s gritty drama shows two young men refraining from public demonstrations of affection during a car trip; Andy Milligan’s Vapors from 1965 uses a infamous New York bathhouse as the setting for a wordy two-hander as two strangers meet; while Southend pier is the location for Bill Douglas’ 1970 student short, Come Dancing, in which a pick-up turns dangerously dark. The collection ends with de Rome’s 13-minute short, Encounter, a wordless erotic fantasy set on the streets of New York.
Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn screens at BFI Southbank on December 9 2014 (click here for tickets)