Audiences were shocked when the Al Pacino film "Cruising" was released in 1980. In the film, the Oscar winning Hollywood legend played a straight police detective in New York who goes undercover in the gay leather scene to find a killer. As the dark, disturbing story unfolds, he becomes more immersed in that world than he ever imagined he would.
"Cruising" was shot on location in some of New York City's most popular and notorious leather bars and sex clubs of the period. Actual leather men appeared as themselves in their full regalia, sniffing poppers and licking each others bare chests . There were implications that a great deal more was going on just beyond the camera's range. And as a whole, the film was critiqued for it’s shock value — by both the straight and gay communities.
Director William Friedkin ("The Boys in the Band", "The Exorcist") was reportedly forced to trim 40 minutes from his final cut just to achieve an “R” rating and be able to keep the movie in the public eye. Legend has it that the director shot hardcore scenes in Pacino's presence, though Pacino did not participate in any sex acts.
"Interior. Leather Bar" (the dot after the word "Interior" is a reference to "Cruising's" shooting script) finds actor James Franco producing a documentary on the shooting of "Cruising's" lost scenes. Franco, who is straight, put the new film together with openly gay director Travis Matthews. Lesser known actor Val Lauren, an old friend of Franco's, plays the Pacino role. He's straight as well.
As the film progresses, a mix of gay and straight actors agree to appear in the production, each speaking openly about their sexual preferences. As they get into their make-up and costumes, each of them speaks openly about their sexual identities and what they’re willing to "do" on camera. In a series of interviews, a somewhat manic looking Franco questions society's sexual and gender norms, and wonders when Hollywood's aversion to showing gay sexual relationships is going to end.
Under the guidance of the filmmakers, two men shoot an explicit sex scene surrounded by cameras and lights. Yes, they really do it.
Presented as though it were an actual documentary, "Interior. Leather Bar" is in fact a "mockumentary,” a fictional film pretending to be factual. It's a fascinating and daring work which raises many questions about who we are and the labels we place on ourselves and each other.
"Interior. Leather Bar” is now available on DVD.