Dir: William Friedkin, 1980
Undercover cop thriller or attack on the gay community?
William Friedkin’s brilliant film is a rarity among the mainstream. It had a troubled theatrical run, limited video release and is very rarely shown on television, and, then, never in its uncut version.
Al Pacino is New York police officer Steve Burns. Heterosexual, in a relationship and totally naive to the gay scene.
After a spate of murders of gay men, Burns is sent undercover to leather bars which are S&M orientated gay clubs.
Surrounded by anal fisting, voyeurism and urolagnia, Burns has to immerse himself in a world that he knows nothing about, all the while clinging on to his own real identity.
A very unusual film for Pacino. After the Oscar dominating The Godfather and The Godfather part II, Al was hot property and working with the best. His output in the seventies and early eighties is hailed as some of the best movies of his career, if not, ever made.
No stranger to the undercover police world, Pacino had previously starred in Sidney Lumet’s much celebrated Serpico.
To star in this was a brave move. It was clearly going to be controversial from the outset and could have, potentially, damaged his career.
Heterosexual in real life, Friedkin was asking a lot of Pacino. To put himself into the role where men caress him and an assortment of gay sex is all around him, Pacino does a fine job.
For authenticity, Friedkin many hours of actual, hardcore gay sex that was taking place at the clubs. None of the footage ever made it to any distributed prints and is now thought lost or destroyed.
Pretentious pratt, James Franco, made an effort to recreate the lost footage in a short film he made, titled Interior. Leather Bar. The aim of the short is not to remake the lost footage but to revisualise it. The plot is of a director attempting to make Cruising. Yeah, it’s as simple as that. And crap. Franco does take the plunge, though, and shoot the sex porno style, penetration et al.
It’s sad that this doesn’t get the views it should because of it’s gay theme. There are so many straight men out who refuse to watch it and that’s a shame. It deserves to be seen.
Very provocative on it’s release, the film was subject to boycotts and protests from the city’s gay community. A march was executed through the streets in an attempt to force the city to withdraw support for the film. Gay residents and activists were encouraged to disrupt filming.
This is an unfortunate circumstance of showing anything gay in a negative light. The film is not anti gay in the slightest. It’s a murder mystery where the murderer is homosexual. There are plenty of movies with a straight serial killer. Does that make them anti straight? No. Gay murderers do exist. The book this film is based on, is a true story.
Or maybe I missed the point of why they were upset. There was a similar uproar when The Silence Of The Lambs was first released. Perhaps, I’m just ignorant. I certainly don’t mean any harm or offence.
An eerie coincidence that links this and Friedkin’s previous film, The Exorcist, is that one of the real life nurses who made a cameo in the film was later arrested, tried and convicted of killing multiple gay men. It was his case that inspired the book, Cruising, that eventually led to the making of this picture. Strange, but true.
For showing in the UK, the British censors insisted on cuts. Several cuts to the scenes of S&M and a patron smearing his hand and arm in lubricant and the subsequent implication that another member of the club is being penetrated with it.
Not unsurprising, as Great Britain had the strictest censorship laws in the Western world. Even today, with the massive relaxation of the laws, we’re still held back by the antiquated Obscene Publications Act. Fisting and watersports/golden showers are still forbidden to be shown.
The board had, and still does, a fear of showing sexual violence. A scene where a knife is traced along a naked body was removed. Also of note is that during a particularly vicious murder scene of someone being stabbed through the back, the director intercut a couple of single frames of anal penetration. With the boards reluctance to pass anything sexually violent, coupled with the fact that pornography was outlawed in Britain, it was no surprise that the scene had to be snipped.
The cuts were also replicated for the 1987 UK video release:
Over the years, the video was released numerous times and the subjected to less and less cuts. In 2008 the BBFC waived all of it’s cuts and was passed ’18’ uncut.
It wasn’t only the UK where the film suffered. The MPAA objected to the hardcore sex, and the violence and, possibly even, the gay theme. The association is notorious for having an anti gay agenda. The rating of a film can go from PG-13 to R purely because of a gay kiss or gay love. Pathetic when you think about it.
After cuts were made the film was released overwhelmingly negative reviews. It’s a blessing that, in these enlightened times, William Friedkin’s classic thriller has been reassessed and is now held in much more worthy regard.
Personally, I think the film was ahead of it’s time. Homosexuals were still unfairly ostracised in society and a tale of this magnitude was a bit of a shock to the system. The senses were affronted and prejudices challenged. The masses were not ready.
The ambiguous ending may have put critics off as there is no tying up of the loose of the ends and no satisfactory pay off. If you add it all together, the director was on to a loser with the critics.
It’s good that the film can now be judged on it’s merits and not through prejudice. It’s a superb film.
Put any prejudices aside and give it a watch. A thoroughly good film.