Tuesday, 17 December 2013
In 1980 Al Pacino starred in controversial cult film Cruising, directed by William Friedkin. The film focuses on undercover cop Steve Burns (Pacino) who is sent onto the streets as a decoy for a serial killer who has dismembered several homosexual men in New York’s gay district. It is famously rumoured that to avoid an X rating 40 minutes of gay S&M footage was cut from the film and permanently destroyed. Inspired by this mythology, James Franco and Travis Matthews joined forces to create Interior. Leather Bar (2013) their personal interpretation of the lost footage.
Franco, against the backdrop of a hectic film set, teams up with frequent collaborator and actor friend, Val Lauren who reluctantly agrees to take the lead role as Pacino/Steve in his film. Uncomfortable at first and warned by his friends and relatives to avoid the role, Val is forced to negotiate his boundaries both personally and professionally as he finds himself surrounded with gay men partaking in unsimulated sex acts. The high gloss and graphic film project is framed within a documentary about the art of filmmaking, that dually explores sexuality and creative freedom. Charged by the fact that he was simultaneously starring in a Disney movie at the time of filming, Franco’s mission is to banish boundaries in filmmaking and challenge both the expectations of his projected self and his audience. Interior Leather Bar successfully achieves these things in it’s intriguing 60 minute running time.
This is not a whole 40 minutes of explicit “lost footage” but a documentary on the making of the 40 minutes. Franco features more than expected as we see him using his powers of persuasion on his lead actor friend and being filmed in action behind the camera. Val Lauren makes an excellent leading man. With his wife at home, he is pushed into an alien territory not dissimilar to the throbbing Rectum of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (2002). It’s uncomfortable to witness the scenes, not because of the graphic sex but because of what we have come to know of the lead actor whose unease emanates like a bad smell.
The documentary format is reminiscent of Larry Clark’s Impaled segment of the 2006 film Destricted, as it makes feature more about the process of creation as opposed to the scripted feature itself. Rather intelligently, the filmmakers dispel any myth of the bar's inhabitants being X rated creatures by humanising them by including “real” footage of auditions and interviews with the actors and an interview with the couple at the centre of the film’s most explicit scene. The pair reveal themselves as regular loving and monogamous couple who are simply willing to consummate their relationship on camera. A conversation between Franco and Lauren raises the topic of the enforced idea of normalcy and from here, the film challenges that. Interior. Leather Bar is a fantastic documentary, about a man and his audience, outside of their comfort zone. It challenges Hollywood ideology from numerous perspectives and through Lauren via Pacino via Franco, questions the idea of sexual acceptance and our largely rigid preconceptions of Hollywood’s leading men.