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William Friedkin is a mysterious, often mystifying film-maker. Although
he rose to prominence at the same time as the rest of the so-called
'movie brat' generation of directors (Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese,
DePalma, et al.), he stands apart, even from a group as essentially
disparate as this one. For one thing, his films lack the intertextual
references and cinematic stylisation common to most of the other
members. If he has an over-riding aesthetic, it would be the ugliness
of the majority of human existence. He's not interested in prettifying
his images or indulging in style-for-style's sake; which is not to say
that his film's don't exhibit inventive and effective technique, just
that this technique is always at the service of the story he's telling,
and is often blunt and brutally effective in it's employment. All of
this no doubt arises from his start in documentary film-making.
Friedkin is particularly good at depicting the menace of urban
environments, and the locales of a lot of his films are frightening,
tangibly real places. Witness the sequences involving Karras' aged
mother in 'The Exorcist', which for me are the most disturbing scenes
in an often terrifying film. As we observe the elderly lady living
alone in her shabby apartment in a crime-ridden neighbourhood, we
realise that this is the existence that many millions of people are
forced to endure, and it's oppressiveness adds immeasurably to the
psychological impact of the film as a whole. We share Karras' fear and
traumatising guilt that she died alone in such circumstances, and the
special effects trickery of the climax is lent a genuine resonance.
Because of the stark, seemingly 'artless' force and apparent misanthropy of much of his work, a number of otherwise perceptive commentators dislike Friedkin intensely. Pauline Kael was extremely cool about 'The French Connection' and absolutely hated 'The Exorcist'. David Thompson described him as "essentially incompetent", bludgeoning the audience with blatant and obvious effects. In fact, Friedkin's best work is highly sophisticated in it's use of sound and music, and employs often visceral imagery to telling and subversive effect. However, some of his films ARE genuinely bloody awful, or at least depressingly mediocre. The very inconsistency of his work lies at the centre of the mystery that is his career. He seems to me to be a fiercely intelligent man whose art is driven by his life rather than the culture of film, and whose reportedly quixotic, often self-destructive personality in no small measure accounts for the expansive peaks and troughs of his cinematic achievements.
Friedkin has reassuring or comforting his audience way down the list of his priorities. In the case of 'Cruising', he neglected to add them at all. Because of this, 'Cruising' is a very difficult film to watch. Most film-makers, were they making a film set in such an alien and frightening environment, would go overboard on providing us with at least one protagonist we could identify with. But Friedkin takes the very opposite route and presents us entirely with characters who are abhorrent, sleazy or totally ambiguous. Indeed, ambiguity is the film's raison d'etre - we are never sure of anything, and this becomes both the pictures great strength and source of much audience frustration. It seems that unlike, say, Spielberg, who continually seeks the approbation of his audience, Friedkin actively resents his (or rather, their preconceptions and certainties), leading him to consistently challenge and upset them. This can be exciting to those who value such seditious manouveres, but dispiriting and destabilising for those that don't.
The major problem with evaluating 'Cruising' is that the film as it currently exists is seriously incomplete (apparently having been shorn of some 40 minutes of footage by the censors!). I suspect that a 'directors cut' should it ever emerge, although no doubt clarifying certain issues, would overall fail to dispel the central ambiguity that is so infuriating and troubling to the majority of the audience, and that lies at the heart of Friedkins vision. "What interests me is the very thin line between good and evil", the director once said when asked to provide a thematic overview of his work - and this is the core of 'Cruising'.
I would urge you to watch the film. It is a uniquely dark, brave piece somewhat compromised by well documented production difficulties and the censors scissors. It has a sinister, compelling momentum and wonderfully ugly, grainy textures that seep into your pores leaving you uncomfortable and unsettled. Sometimes a feel-bad movie can be as bracing as a winter morning. 'Cruising' is such an experience, and a fascinating, provocative one at that.
This is a FRIEDKIN movie. Consequently, it is soulless, dark and physical. There are no heroes, the range goes from unclear/mixed up/tortured souls/loonies to the dephts of hell. It is also highly interpretative, you can not expect a logical script and a "I did it" smile or a "walk towards the sun" type of ending. So, it's a question of taste if you like his movies or not. I DO. I very much doubt that Pacino or Sorvino regret making this film. It is riveting. For one, characters are not even gray, they are a mystery. Sorvino's character, for instance is so blank, that you even wonder if he cares about anything, including Burns' fate. Pacino's character is pretty ambitious, but other than that he is completely controversial. Although he shows some kind of goodness (towards his neighbor, for instance), the ending even kinda questions that (was it because he had sexual intentions with the guy or that he just wanted to do some good?). Also, he sometimes feels overwhelmed by the undercover job ("I don't know if I can do this") but then he starts to adapt. One of the possible ideas of this movie is: you dance with the devil and then you start to like it. In any case, it leaves conclusions to the viewer. The atmosphere and especially the music are truly amazing and original. 9/10
Viewed today, "Cruising" still elicits intense responses from both Gay and
straight viewers alike. Mainstream Gays lament, as many protestors of the
film at the time of its release, that it shows a homophobic image of Gay
life, depecting them as sex-obsessed. Straights are put off by the frank
look at the Gay sex "cruising" culture.
Interesting, however, some of the people involved in the Leather/SM subculture at the time this film was made have praised it for its accuracy of this particular lifestyle -- a pre-AIDS lifestyle concentrated on quick sex that was (and still is) pursued by a segment of the Gay community.
The film does not pretend to depict Gays as a whole. It is just a drama about a police investigation that uses the scene as a background and catalyst for an exploration into how one cop is affected by his work.
Not the greatest film ever made, but certainly a good springboard for discussion about the Gay community's politics, when one fully examines the controversy surrounding the film and the continued debate over public sex and body image in the community.
The strengths of "Cruising" are its use of locales and documentary-style cinematography, as well as the interesting performance from Paccino. In the end, it is hampered as a drama by problems with the narrative structure of the piece that seems to fizzle out in the last act, leading to an intriguing, but inconclusive, finish.
Despite all the mega-negative publicity before and after the making of
film, I have to say that I find "Cruising" a masterpiece of ambiguity.
is no clear-cut narrative, no definable character motivations, and the
obligatory "cop-entering-the-killer's-mind" scenario gets drowned in an
atmosphere of violence and dread that sort of saturates the entire movie.
But what a descent into Hades it is!
I've admired William Friedkin's work since "The French Connection" presented to me a cop film with an unsympathetic protagonist as well as a collection of amazing action setpieces unaccompanied by any noisy, thumping Kenny Loggins or Michael Kamen tunes in the background. Plus, there's that downbeat conclusion where the movie basically STOPS rather than ends. No clear resolutions, nothing. What nerve this guy has.
I admired "Sorcerer" and "To Live and Die In L.A." for a lot of the same reasons, primarily their edgy and stark determination to tell stories with no answers. So what are we left with in "Cruising"? Friedkin's exceptional yet manipulative film technique and a lot of sweaty men dancing in West Village dungeons, popping amyl nitrates, and moving to some of the scariest Village-People-on-P.C.P. dance music that I've ever heard (try cranking this soundtrack up at a party).
But "Cruising" is a true experiment in movie suspense. It uses some fantastic atmosphere (sound effects and the late Jack Nitschze's superb score) to unsettle the audience. Friedkin's use of multiple actors to play the same killer, the switching over mid-film to tell the killer's story instead of having him remain an ominous presence (a technique Michael Mann used to similar effect in "Manhunter"), and the film's ending with its peaceful music serenading shots of the New York City harbor--the dump site for many of the killer's victims--all function as a sort of test. Can we be absorbed by a movie that makes it clear that there really is no certainty or logic to what we're watching? That there is no firm ground to stand on? It's almost like watching a sinking ship.
It seems to me that Friedlkin always wants his audience on edge, and he wants us to be constantly challenged by not only the tough subject matter, but where Pacino's undercover detective figures into the whole sordid mess. The novel explains more about the homophobia and hostility in Steve Burns, but the film keeps all of these elements surface; we're almost numbed into a kind of voyeuristic fascination (or revulsion) at the ugly sights. And we're left out in the cold regarding Burns' true feelings. Maybe some of the film's detractors would have preferred a voice-over? Not too much suspense there.
Luckily, Pacino's performance is low-key as well (a luxury we don't enjoy these days with any of his post"Scent of a Woman" exercises in Circus Vargas acting) and this further causes us to distrust our own "hero".
So amidst all this confusion, what is there left to recommend? "Cruising" is a risk-taking thriller with the audacity to shock, revolt, and confuse without losing any of its intensity or pace. It's merits lie in its unique respect for the audience, thinking that we don't need everything explained to us. Just as the gay leather underworld is its own surreal type of subculture, so should our approach to viewing the film remain unbiased by red herrings or should we have any expectations that the film will lead us along, "keep our interest", or enlighten us in the end. I mean, after all, this isn't "Agatha Christie".
I know this film got bad reviews when it was first released but I have always thought it deserved much better than it got. The film is a very tense thriller with a terrific performance from Al Pacino. The film is filled with memorable scenes and characters. The killer is one of the most interesting villains I have seen.....attractive with a complex character that is both mesmerizing and frightening. The film has a creepy quality that sometimes reminds me of the feeling I got watching "Silence of the Lambs." The scene in which Pacino goes to the shop and views the different colored bandanas for sale provides some brief humor that gives your nerves a chance to calm down.
I had the pleasure of seeing this movie recently and I highly recommend
it to any people who savor the darker things in life. If I had never
seen this movie the reviews left about it everywhere on the net would
surely have made me miss it at every opportunity but luckily I only
came across them looking for more information after its viewing.
The first thing that really got me was the fantastic soundtrack. This is American punk rock at it's best and most glorious and I cannot think of a more apt context for it than the New York gay S&M scene. This my friends ... is punk-o-rama.
This is not a gay film ... nor is it a porno film ... this is an in your face horror much like William Friedkin's other classic "The Exorcist" ... but not a hammer horror nor a gore filled voyage through some fiery "kissing the devil's ass" hell but a very real slice of a very real life that exists in every major city in the world as well as some smaller ones. This is a film about a world so few know anything about that it is far above common criticism ... yet at the same time the directions and nuances are all too common. I would say that any fans of the movies of David Lynch might enjoy the somewhat lost disenchantment of this flick as it slides further and further into the darkest realms of the grotesque. As well anyone who's enjoyed the backwards pleasures of watching the cult classic "Je'Taime ... Moi Ne Plus" starring Jane Birkin would also find a little gem here.
"Cruisin'" is pure subversive genius.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was ten years old and an old movie house not far from my home was playing a double feature. It was Empire Strikes Back and Cruising. After nagging to my grandma for days she took me and a friend because we were huge Star Wars fans. The matinée was at 12:00 p.m. and they started with Cruising. The movie starts, the place is packed and the bar scene were the killer picks up his first victim plays and my grandma storms out of place with me and my friend and I don't know if the guy my grandma confronted was the manager or the ticket seller but she ripped him a new one. She told him that he was trash, that she was going to call the cops, that he was not a man, everything. My friend and me were stunned and beg my grandma to calm down and wait in the lobby till Cruising was over. We waited and we saw Empire. It is disturbing that the place was full of little kids and nobody else walked out. Anyway, I tracked the movie down when I was in college and watched it.It still is a shocking experience and the bad reputation that this movie earned is a little uncalled for because I think Friedkin captures the reality of that world as it is. My cousin had a friend who was homosexual and part of the S&M leather gay culture. He was a flight attendant and whenever he flew to New York went to this clubs and my cousin tells me that the things his friend told him pale in comparison to what Friedkin shows us. The flight attendant died of AIDS in 1983. Pacino and his perm realistically portray the confused cop that ultimately becomes a killer out of the brutal repression his gay feelings suffer. This movie after 25 years continues to provoke discussions among film fans and any movie that does that is a good film. I really would like a DVD of this movie with a few extras to witness the backlash this film created. Watch it and witness the closing of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s in this murder mystery that will no doubt open your eyes to the brutal, the cruel, misunderstood and innocent sides of human beings. P.S. Nobody complained in 1984's Police Academy which the Blue Oyster Bar about the portrayals of leather gay men. BA BA BA BUM BA BA BA BA BA BUM BA BA BAM PARARARARARARARA.(theme song). I know I'm an idiot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoiler Alert I write this because this film was one of the most
engrossing and powerful films I have seen in recent memory. I also
write about this film as its pedigree is amazing. And finally I can't
believe I've not heard of it, even in a Heavens Gate, this must have
been professional suicide sort of capacity.
The film is from 1980 and it is directed by William Friedkin (Exorcist & The French Connection). It stars one Al Pacino (no C.V. required). It is called Cruising. Basically it is the story of a gay serial killer and Al Pacino is the cop who must go undercover to try and find him.
I was a bit drunk, a bit stoned and a bit bored when I was channel flicking one night in UK. I came across the start of this movie. The story starts in a club in New York that is very much like the Blue Parrot in the Police Academy movies, except there is nothing funny about this place. It is a proper underground S & M gay club where anything goes. A young Italian Stallion picks up a guy who is in the full leather get up. Cap and glasses obscuring his face and chains that clink whenever he walks. They go back to the stallions flat. Off screen sex occurs. The next shot is the young guy, naked, having his hands tied behind his back. He doesn't like this but is being talked into it by Chains. Next Chains draws a thin knife from his boots and starts playing with it. Young guy is frantic now and begs to be let out but Chains is now teasing him. Chains then stabs the young guy repeatedly in the back. This is graphically shot and you see the knife going in and the young guy screaming. This was a really, really intense scene. I was now hooked on the story and had to know where it ended.
I am not gay and I am liberally minded. Having been to Thailand, Ibiza and Amsterdam I have had my arse felt a few times in dance clubs. I am not bothered by this as long as it stays each to their own, but I have no knowledge of the proper underground gay scene. The closest I get is working with a gay man at work, and enjoying watching Will & Grace. Like the brilliant 8 Mile this film was an introduction to a world I knew nothing about. The depiction of the activities in the Gay Club left nothing to the imagination. Never shown but implied were scenes of fisting and watersports. This, as well the very graphic violence meant this film was still quite close to the bone (no pun intended!) in 2003 so I could barely imagine what an impact this had in 1980's America.
The police are now on the case, but more gay men start turning up brutally stabbed. A Harvard professor has already been murdered and a Hollywood stylist gets brutally stabbed in a cheap peep joint when he had been picking up a stars dress for an awards ceremony. These are respectable people who were not known to be involved in this extreme scene, so the political pressure gets turned up.
In comes Al to the proceedings. He wants to be a detective but hasn't been given his chance yet. He is offered accelerated promotion to Detective branch if he agrees to go undercover as he is the same type of Italian Stallion that the perp seems to target. What comes next is a wonderful example of both acting and directing as young, naive, straight Al Pacino starts his undercover role. Reporting only to his chief (Paul Sorvino) and getting set up in a flat in a gay area of New York, it is riveting stuff to see Al Pacino learn from his mistakes when he visits the gay club. He learns that different coloured neckscarfes worn in either the left back pocket, or the right back pocket mean a different sexual taste! It is funny in a black comedy way watching him try to pick some one up to see if they are the killer, when it is quite clear he doesn't want to pick them up because he is not gay.
Al has a girlfriend played by Karen Allen who only knows he is undercover but she doesn't know where or what he is doing. Al's character starts to go deepcover and begins to lose himself in the culture. He starts to empathise with the gay community and even gets hassled by prejudice cops. This is brilliantly handled by the director and the actor. A sympathetic approach to hardcore homosexuality in 1980? No wonder it disappeared.
Meanwhile the killer is still on the loose. You see Chains picking people up in parks and by toilets or you see him visiting the bar. You can never see him properly. You can only hear the distinctive clink of his chains. This started to make me apprehensive whenever I heard the rattle of his chains. Now that's good direction!
Al Pacino starts to lose himself as he goes deepcover but starts making progress on the case. I wont give away anymore in case someone watches it.
I found this movie to be a really rewarding experience. It reminded me why I love movies in the first place. It is not an easy movie to watch and its subject matter is made to make you squirm, but this movie really got to me! To watch all the way through when all I was doing was channel flicking is a real test of a movies quality in my humble opinion.
So there you go. Not a new movie but a bloody good one that most people may have missed. IMDb has not been too kind to it but hey, what do I know?
First and foremost, Cruising is not a film about gay men in general.
Friedkin explains this perfectly on the DVD -- it's a murder mystery of
a cop going undercover that just happens to have a gay element in it.
To those familiar with the 70s Italian giallos, Cruising is a "U.S.
giallo" -- a successful combination of murder mystery, sex, alternative
lifestyles and subcultures with that, and how getting into something
too out of your element can affect you. Unlike the Italian giallos that
often featured a gratuitous lesbian tease, Cruising gave us a masculine
leather theme instead.
The controversy and protests surrounding Cruising were based on misinformation and unfairly gave the film a bad reputation, though lately many critics that originally panned it have since recanted their negative comments, finding more to appreciate about the film.
Two things factored into why people were uncomfortable with Cruising: First, the murder story was not the real reason. Frankly, they saw not effeminate stereotypes, but masculine gay men dancing, kissing, and experiencing S&M activities. When gay characters are weak and fey, many heterosexual men feel safe. They want non-threatening characters that will be kept in their place. The disclaimer that appeared before the film (that has thankfully been removed on the DVD) was to appease gay men that felt the film would be perceived as a representation of the whole gay community. If that's the case, then films like The Birdcage and TV's Will & Grace should have disclaimers as well that say not all gay men are effeminate finger-snappers that watch Desperate Housewives, are drag queens, nor are FABulous well-groomed clean-shaven cutie boys.
Second, the locations and activity in the bars was as it actually was (and still is to a degree) in many places. The characters and extras were "real" for this story -- bearded leathermen enjoying what they do, instead of buffed party circuit boys dancing to the latest diva tunes. To add to the darkness and mood of the story the bars were blasting with serious hard-driven songs by Willy DeVille, John Hiatt, Rough Trade, The Germs, The Cripples and others instead of loopy diva dance music. Some gay men as well as straight had a problem with this, thinking it was not a decent representation of what gay men "should" listen to. To date this is still one of the coolest soundtracks around, I cherish my vinyl LP copies of it.
Yes, this film was brutal. It will leave an impression on you. THAT'S A GOOD THING! It's what film is supposed to do. Amidst all this the journey of Al Pacino's "out of his element" slip into a different mindset was a great touch. It affected his whole being, his treatment of his girlfriend, his whole outlook. And it wasn't just because he got to dance with some leathermen, it was because the murder investigation he was doing was so horrifying. What, you were expecting a sweet ending? The only reasons Pacino distanced himself from this film was because footage was cut that he felt fleshed out his character better, and the protests during filming distressed him.
And think of it this way: if this were a film about lesbians, it would be hailed by hetero guys as an erotic masterpiece. But when it's about masculine gay men, it seems hard for some of them to handle it. This may sound cliché, but I know many straight guys that actually understood Cruising and have told me (on IMDb as well as in person) they thought it was quite a cool film.
After all these years, Cruising still packs a punch and does what it sets out to do: unnerve you. It's a taut thriller and a mindblower in its complexities. That's quite an achievement and while many films are forgotten, this one still seems to be well remembered no matter what. I for one love this film and think Friedkin and company deserve much praise for their effort.
The DVD released in 2007 can be considered a bit of a "director's cut" since Friedkin made some additions and changes. For a thorough article on the exact changes and where they occur, check out the magazine Video Watchdog #152, November 2009.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A serial-killer is attacking homosexual men in New York and the police
have no leads. An ambitious young cop goes undercover and hangs out at
the gay bars and nightspots to lure the killer out, but finds himself
being changed by the scene he becomes part of.
Based on a book by Gerald Walker, this is an intriguing (and daring for the time) delve into the NYC homo underground of leather bars and pick-ups in Central Park, and is a great pre-Aids snapshot of a particular era of the city's history. Unfortunately, as a crime thriller it's pretty pedestrian; the murders are bland, the investigation boring and the suggestive ending just plain confusing. Friedkin is a very stylish director, but here he deliberately abandons that for a documentary-like approach; this adds to the drama but kills any suspense, although James Contner's ultra-dark photography is terrific. Pacino is likeably believable, Sorvino does a gritty textbook job of a police captain who hasn't slept in a week and the supporting cast are good. Ultimately however, this film is more interesting as a pre-political-correctness depiction of a particularly sordid corner of society. As with other urban-ghetto films of the time (Busting, Fort Apache - The Bronx, etc) it was crucified by the white liberal arts media as queer-bashing propaganda, but of course it's not - they just didn't like the way it depicts the specific social scene the story is set amongst. An important document of a time, but not really a very good movie.
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