In 1980, Al Pacino starred in The Exorcist director William Friedkin’s controversial Cruising. The film focused 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’s famously rumoured that to avoid an X-rating, forty minutes of gay S&M footage was cut from the film and permanently destroyed. Inspired by this mythology, actor James Franco and Travis Matthews (I Want Your Love) joined forces to create Interior. Leather Bar (2013), their own personal interpretation of Friedkin’s 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 of 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 both explores sexuality and creative freedom. Franco’s mission, meanwhile, is to banish the boundaries of cinema and challenge the expectations of both his projected self and audience.
Interior. Leather Bar isn’t forty minutes of explicit lost footage, but a documentary on the making of the forty minutes. Franco features more than expected as we see him using his powers of persuasion on Lauren and also being filmed in action behind the camera. Lauren himself makes an excellent leading man. With his wife at home, he’s pushed into alien territory not dissimilar to the throbbing Rectum of Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible (2002). It’s uncomfortable to witness the scenes, not because of the graphic sex but because of what we’ve come to learn of the lead actor, whose unease emanates like a bad smell. Furthermore, the format used is reminiscent of Larry Clark’s segment of 2006’s Destricted, more about the process of creation as opposed to the scripted feature itself.
Intelligently, Franco and Mathews dispel any myth of the doc’s inhabitants being X-rated adult entertainers by humanising them with footage of auditions and an interview with the couple at the centre of the film’s most explicit scene. The pair go on to reveal themselves as a monogamous couple who are simply willing to consummate their relationship on camera. Elsewhere, 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 an intriguing work about filmmakers and their audiences – both outside of their comfort zones – whilst also challenging Hollywood ideology from numerous perspectives and questioning the very idea of sexual acceptance.
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