Forgotten Films: Cruising
February 26, 2009 in Forgotten Films
If you’re anything like me (and I know you are) you often think “I wonder how Al Pacino would play a voracious power bottom?” and “Why didn’t Bruno Kirby do more gay S&M?” Well your prayers are answered today my lil’ filthy monkey with a hidden gem that I like to call Cruising. Starring Big Al as the cop, Krazy Karen Allen as the cop’s girlie and a pre-Arby’s Paul Sorvino, Cruising takes you through the early ’80′s pre-Aids gay S&M subculture in a serial killer story that has multiple narrative viewpoints and no clear cut character motivations.
In fact, it’s one of the few movies where the protagonist is never presented to the audience as someone to identify with because director William Friedkin is that big of a misanthrope! Sounds confusing? It probably is on first viewing, but it is also a refreshing story that doesn’t fall into a cliche of cat and mouse cop chases killer nonsense that passes for plot these days.
Never heard of Cruising? It was poorly received when released in 1980, primarily because a number of gay and straight people thought that the S&M subculture was a poor representation of the GLBT community. As a result, the Community disrupted filming with protests and other wacky tricks when it was shot in New York throughout the summer of ’79. Also, Al and Karen didn’t like the way Friedkin presented them in the movie, so both rarely publicly acknowledge Cruising at all. Poor lil’ Cruising, all alone on that dirty boulevard, unloved and selling itself for an Denny’s Grand Slam©, it pretty much disappeared after universal rejection by everyone including the art-house crowd.
Well Hells Bells no I say! Cruising got released on DVD in late 2007 to little fanfare but I’m going to single-handedly bring it back with this one stupid blurb that I quickly wrote out today! Ha! There is so much to love in this film. Cruising presents old timey New York in all of its urban menace and actually goes into some of the real S&M clubs of the day. And ladies and gentlemen, what a show at the Ramrod©! Most of the extras are real life “leathas” and these guys knew how to party! Also, check out all the cool New York actors from yesteryear – Joe Spinell, Ed O’Neil and even Powers Boothe as hankie salesman. Cruising was loosely based on a novel by Gerald Walker who was the former cultural editor of The New York Times Magazine. The book focused more on the self loathing that the gay characters felt and a killer’s association with the “lifestyle” to violence and Friedkin definitely translates much of that into the movie but through the use of different cinematic devices. If you have time, read the book too because it’s actually pretty weird.
So okay, I promised you Al as a power bottom. Well it’s even better than that, you also get to see him hogtied, gagged and playing with poppers! I also promised you Bruno Kirby doing rough trade stuff. Well okay, maybe it’s not Bruno Kirby, but maybe it is in an uncredited turkeystuffer role! There are simply too many fantastic and chaotic scenes for one guy to describe. In one WTF moment (that’s also allegedly “true”) that rivals the spaceship scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a large black man walks into an interrogation room at a police staion wearing nothing but a Stetson, cowboy boots and jock strap and proceeds to smack a confused and astonished suspect into a confession. Why a large black man in an athletic supporter? You’ll find no exposition in Cruising which is one of the many reasons why I love this film. So because I love it so much, and I really think that you should experience the movie, I am not going to reveal any more plot details to you other than this suggestion- if you are looking for conventional ending that presents you a killer in the end you will not find it here. But don’t sweat it. Break out of Silence of the Lambs brainwash and enjoy a visceral movie about some guys who knew how to let go. So what are you waiting for? A leather bound invitation? Netflix it now.
Image via www.collider.com