Berlin Joseph Walsh

Berlin 2013: ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ review

★★☆☆☆

Polymath James Franco and director Travis Mathews take it upon themselves to re-imagine the lost 40-minutes of William Friedkin’s controversial drama Cruising (1980) in new film Interior. Leather Bar. (2013). The absent footage was reputedly cut due to its sexually graphic content by the MPAA, so that Friedkin could secure an R-rating upon Cruising’s theatrical release in the States. The original plot of Friedkin’s thriller followed an undercover cop (Al Pacino), who cases out gay bars in the search of a serial killer plaguing the West Village. Mathews, however, shows little concern for the contents of the exorcised material, as is plain to see.

Instead, the LA-based filmmaker prefers to shift his focus onto main star Franco – and ultimately detracts from what few merits this strange and indulgent project might have once had. The raison d’etre is never comprehensively explained, but loosely hangs on Franco’s own feelings that Hollywood instils an almost purely hetero-centric approach to sexuality on-screen, leaving audiences indoctrinated and uncomfortable when presented with gay intercourse in mainstream cinema – a fair point. Sadly, this is at best a half-realised central conceit, with Franco sitting in the wings of every frame encouraging those attached to the two-day shoot that they are ‘making an important statement’.

Structurally stale and overly-scripted interviews with those involved, mixed with Mathews’ re-imagined footage, pour from within during Interior. Leather Bar’s brief 60-minute runtime, rapidly diminishing audience interest as the seconds tick by. When we do meet actor Val Lauren, who will play Pacino’s original character, we get precious little from him other than several contrived, cringe-worthy phone conversations with his friend about how participating in a ‘gay scene’ will ruin his potential career. This is followed by talking head interviews between Lauren and Franco, debating back and forth as to the very reason why they are making this film. Not that we’re left with any clearer idea.

The cast for the shoot is assembled from both gay and straight non-professional and professional actors, most of whom do close-up interviews to-camera, again explaining why they have agreed to be involved (main argument – Franco is on board). This leads clumsily into the central, sexually graphic shoot – all bar room blowjobs and full penetration – making Mathews’ film appear more like a porn production than worthy, challenging art. We sadly never do get to see the fully-constructed scene, which is instead spliced together with some rather unsatisfying ‘behind the scenes’ footage.

Interior. Leather Bar.’s concern was never with Friedkin’s plot, nor, deep down, the representation of gay sex/sexuality in mainstream cinema. Instead, the entire film revolves around the preening figure of Franco and his interest in fornication on film – a preoccupation clearly demonstrated in his past short, The Feast of Stephen (2009). Disappointingly, the entire project possesses little actual merit as a whole, hindered greatly by a contrived arc with minimal persuasive gumption and desire to properly inform.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh