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Interior. Leather Bar.

You may not remember Cruising, the 1980 film directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), and you’re not likely to see it on TCM: In its day it was quite notorious. A murder mystery starring Al Pacino as a cop who goes undercover into Manhattan’s S&M scene to find a serial killer targeting gay men, it was criticized for (in the words of its detractors, not all of whom actually saw the film) seeming to characterize gay lifestyles in terms of the worst possible excesses. Obsessed with authenticity, Friedkin filmed scenes in actual clubs, documenting otherwise unseen parts of New York in the pre-AIDS era.

A rumor exists that there are 40 minutes of footage Friedkin shot showing actual S&M sexual activity that have never been seen. That rumor is the basis of this film credited to James Franco and Travis Mathews, the latter probably serving as the actual director. Franco, who is fascinated by films of the 1970s, proposes to re-imagine and film those 40 minutes. For the role of the Pacino character, who is straight but drawn into gay activity, he hires Val Lauren, an actor he knows from theatrical circles. Lauren is straight, but feels that a part like this will do a lot to advance his career. Unlike the other performers, who are not so much acting as doing, he needs direction, but all he gets from Franco is “Fuck scripts. Just get in there and get into it.”

The result is both less and more interesting than it initially sounds, with minimal graphic sex (though enough to ensure that some viewers will be less than comfortable). Mostly it’s a sustained attempt at keeping viewers uncertain as to whether they are watching a scripted story or an improvisation, and another volley in the ongoing performance art project known as James Franco.

Interior. Leather Bar will be screened this Friday night (11/15/13) at Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Ave., at 8:00 pm and Midnight. If a midnight show is a bit late for you, bear in mind that the film is only an hour long.

Watch the trailer for Interior. Leather Bar.

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