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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Steve does not tell to his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) his mission and he needs to learn the behavior of this community. During the investigation, Steve is affected by the discoveries in this new world, but Captain Edelson does not want him to quit his assignment.
In the 70's and 80's, Al Pacino was among my favorite American actors with his magnificent performances. "Cruising" is an original movie that discloses part of the society unknown to straight persons like me: the gay S&M world of New York in the late 70's.
I have seen this film at least four time and today for the first time on DVD, and my greatest question is how far a person would go to be promoted. Steve Burns dreams on having a golden shield and when he has his chance, he accepts a dangerous psychological mission to find the serial-killer that is killing gays and affects his personal life and his relationship with his girlfriend. The conclusion is one of the most ambiguous that I have ever seen in an American movie, when Steve looks at his image on the mirror. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Parceiros da Noite" ("Night Partners")
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.
I had never seen this film until just a few weeks ago but I was looking forward to it as I remember it being one of the movies that was reviewed by critic Mark Kermode on his `cult corner' he used to do as a weekly part of a radio 1 show - he liked it and generally I trust him. The film opens with a similar enough premise: cop goes undercover to try and catch a killer. We have all seen this genre before and think we know where it is going to go - cop will start to `go native' gradually and will struggle with it even after he has caught the killer - right? Well, yes and no. The film tries to do this but it manages to make a real pigs ear of it throughout, coming across like it really didn't know what it wanted to do. I am aware that there is another version of this out there somewhere and that this was mercilessly edited but I cannot know that that would be any better without seeing it.
The film is all over the place. Burns' investigation goes nowhere for the vast majority of the time and just seems to focus on gay clubs with lots of men in leather or jock straps. Meanwhile the killer continues to carry out his murders and the rest of the police sort of float around in the background. It is difficult to really get into the film because the narrative is so very disjointed and it is almost impossible to have anything to follow or care about: basically the first 90 minutes is `there's a guy out there killing and a cop going to gay clubs - oh, look what they do' and then the final 20 minutes is `oh, we got him now' - and that's it! So with no traditional narrative I assume that the film wanted us to follow the character of Steve. However, Steve is a nonentity, even being played by Pacino! He has no character and we see nothing to suggest that he is really being either attracted or repulsed by the life he sees. The end of the film is so open in regards him and just doesn't make sense. With these two threads going nowhere, all that remains is a film that looks at the gay scene in the city.
In this regard I was worried that it was going to be all PC when the film opening with a disclaimer that I assume was put on to placate gay groups. However I immediately understood why the makers had put this caption onto the film - and it wasn't even enough! The homosexuals in this film are, to a man, deviants who all hang out in clubs having anonymous sex with multiple partners in clubs and parks. I know the film apologises for this but it doesn't excuse the sheer lazy clichés that it wheels out and seems to just hope that we are shocked by the repeated graphic image. The seedy nature of the film means that it hasn't lost it's shock ability (even with gay relationships no longer a taboo in the media or normal life) - but if this is all it has then it is hardly worth it. If Friedkin had a vision then it has been lost because there is no sign of life in this film - by the end of the film everyone seems to have given up on it and it just, well, grinds to a halt. I won't even go into the various threads that just seem to go nowhere - DiSimone turning up all over the place for no reason for example.
Pacino is a great actor but he cannot do anything with a character he cannot understand. He is absent from the film and is given nothing to work with. Certainly the `slow burn' he is required to do is not fitting his style, but it is made harder considering the script doesn't know about Steve either and Pacino has nothing to build to. Sorvino is OK but has nothing to do, likewise Allen is just floating around as well. The only thing that really kept my interest was how many famous faces were in early roles here - Powers Booth, Mike Starr, Spinell and Weeks to name a few.
Overall I was looking forward to this film and wanted to enjoy it. I was not let down when it failed to do the usual things I expected from the genre set-up, but I was letdown by the fact that it did nothing else with it. The plot is all over the place and the performances are poor simply because they have no characters - Steve is impossible to understand and every gay character is a cliché. An amazingly inept film when you consider the names attached to it.
Based on the novel of the same name, CRUISING might best be described as a sexual thriller. Police officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is sent undercover into the gay community to attract and identify a serial killer who stalks New York City S&M bars, slashing and sometimes dismembering his victims with a serrated knife. But even as the killer strikes again and again, Burns becomes more and more entangled in this extremely dark world, comes to identify with the killer, and eventually self-destructs in a particularly nightmarish way.
From an artistic standpoint, CRUISING has several things going for it. Director Friedkin has an interesting eye, and the film has an unexpectedly gritty, at times almost documentary-like style. It also has tremendous atmosphere; it is adept at making the viewer feel unsettled. The cast is also effective in heightening the disturbing tone of the film as a whole. What the film does not have is a coherent plot, nor does it have anything approaching a decent script, and it is grotesquely insulting to the gay community in several ways.
CRUISING equates homosexuality with an extreme sexual lifestyle, and what emerges is a portrait of "nasty men doing nasty things in nasty bars." Does such a subculture exist in the gay community? Of course it does, just as it does in the heterosexual community--but CRUISING posits this as the norm for homosexuals. Even more distastefully, what ultimately emerges is the idea that a heterosexual man can be seduced into the gay community in which (at least according to the film) extreme sex, insanity, and violent death all go hand in hand. And it was precisely this that so outraged many in the gay community when the film was made. Film shoots were repeatedly disrupted by protests, and director Friedkin tried to calm the matter by stating that CRUISING was not "about" homosexuals--an extremely bizarre statement that only fueled community ire.
A number of gay organizations greeted the film with boycotts, but as it happened their efforts were unnecessary. Few critics and even fewer moviegoers liked the film and it soon faded from view. Seen today it reads very much like a snapshot of American homophobia in 1980 and little more. But CRUISING does have a certain historical significance: by and large it would be the last major Hollywood film to present the entire gay community in a wholly negative light.
The very outrageousness of the film seemed to prompt American film makers to a much needed reevaluation of the way in which gay characters were portrayed on screen. Although "gay man equals bad man" characters have cropped up in a few films since--Kevin Costner's NO WAY OUT and several of Mel Gibson's films come to mind--the overall reaction to CRUISING killed the stereotype. And so the film, in an accidental sort of way, is significant from a historical standpoint; film historians and movie buffs will find it interesting, and I give it three stars for their sake. But just about everyone else should leave it alone.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
The fact that the film does take place in a world very few people know about,at least not me,is one of the element that makes this movie so special and unsettling and original,because it's done in a very down-to-earth,realistic way.I think the film presents the S&M gay sub-culture for what it is,not more,not less.People who are offended by the sight of homosexuals having contacts with each other will be offended by this movie,of course.But if you're willing to go along,to let yourself be open about all this,you just might found out that this film is not about exploitation or homophobia.It's much more about the psychological path followed by one man who has to immerse himself in a culture unknown to him,because of a murder case,and the effects this culture and this case have upon him and his life.In the course of the movie,we see this evolution through Pacino's character,and it's rather quite compelling and captivating,Pacino being very subtle in this movie.
Of course,"Cruising" is not only a psychological, undercover cop movie,it's also a thriller.And as a thriller,this movie is also very captivating,and pulse-pounding,although it still is flawed.Apparently,the version most of us saw is not the complete version of the movie,and sometimes,it shows.I like ambiguity in a thriller,but I think "Cruising" is sometimes too ambiguous for it's own good,and that some elements could have been just a little bit more developed and explained(the ending,for instance).That being said,Friedkin still shows with this movie that he is a very accomplished director.There's nothing artificial in this movie,nothing superfluous in terms of the cinematography or the music or the art direction,and for me,this just helps the movie to be more realistic for the viewer.There's a rather raw feeling emanating from this movie,and it suits perfectly well for the tone of this film.Also,I think the supporting cast gives very honorable performances,especially Paul Sorvino as Pacino's boss and Karen Allen as his girlfriend.
So,in conclusion,do yourself a favor: if you like thrillers and/or if you like undercover cop movies with great psychological input, if you're willing to be open-minded and if you want to watch something different than most Hollywood movies,just find this movie if you can and watch it,and never mind all the bad critics.
William Friedkin's early-80s shocker, CRUISING, has been called one of the most despicable and offensive films ever to be put out by a major motion picture studio. It's been voted as one of the most homophobic films ever made, along with Paul Verhoeven's trash classic BASIC INSTINCT and Gaspar Noe's experimental revenge thriller IRREVERSIBLE. While I can certainly understand where the hatred for this film is coming from, I still find it to be a very effective and haunting piece of film-making.
I found the scenes involving Al Pacino at the clubs to be so full of realism and so raw that, at times, it was difficult to watch. These scenes are where the true horror of the film come to life. So much of what he sees disturbs him and, indeed, it disturbs us as well. The several glimpses of public sex(oral sex, anal sex, fisting, BDSM, etc) in these leather clubs are stomach churning in how different the world of these places are to everyday life.
The whole film is quite disturbing and fascinating to watch all the same, but the explicit nature of the scenes, as well as Al Pacino's reaction to them, give the film a real documentary-like sense of realism. The scenes in which the serial killer strikes are equally disturbing in their realism. They come off extraordinary in the blunt and heartless way they are shown. The fact that multiple frames of gay pornography are spliced into the gory violence further makes clear the idea of the knife penetrating the body and, at the same time, will probably raise a few eyebrows from many folks who are offended at such gestures.
Indeed, this is definitely a film that tends to be gleefully tasteless at times. I am certainly not surprised that many folks found the film so offensive. The gay lifestyle is not depicted in a particularly positive light. Most of the gay characters in the film are either perverted, violent, rude, or insane. The sole gay character who seems to be a shining light of purity is Pacino's neighbor in the film, Ted Bailey (Don Scardino) a rather young and sweet-natured writer who is terrified of the leather bars. Ted is the one lamb in the crowd of vicious billy goats, so to speak.
Despite the Ted character and despite the raw visual style of the film, the scenes of actual police procedure come of a tad weak when juxtapose with the scenes in the leather bars. While they do have just as much an uncanny realism to them as the undercover scenes, they feel a bit lifeless and ugly. In addition, Karen Allen in the role of Pacino's wife comes off slightly overshadowed alongside the other bizarre and interesting characters in the film. Despite this, however, she does help make the climax of the film far more terrifying and shocking.
Despite the homophobia and despite the flaws, CRUISING is a fascinating film. It remains one of the darkest and most challenging mainstream films I've ever seen. I loved the realism of the film and I loved how shocking the last hour was in particular. It is definitely a film that works! While I can't say that I would be able to fully stomach a second viewing, I can safely say that it is a film that will affect you whether you love it or hate it. You will not forget this film very easily.
One thing is certain. Gay men were and are being murdered in many cities, sometimes by closeted men, other times by those who hate homosexuals and get away with it because homophobia still resonates in police departments and these deaths aren't always a top priority to solve. Arthur Dong's brilliant film "Licensed To Kill" was powerful in letting us simply watch these kind of felons explain their horrific crimes in their own words. "Cruising" is a murder mystery where no form of justice can punish the guilty.
Al Pacino turns in his darkest work here, showing Patrolman Steve Burns as a young cop given an assignment no one should envy. Pose in clubs where men who looked like him met a man that butchered them. Paul Sorvino indeed shows what Friedkin calls "profound sadness" and is Burns' sole police contact for this incredibly dangerous mission. Burns, undercover as "John Forbes", meets people he likes and others he doesn't and they all have one thing in common. None know who he really is and that is the ultimate mystery of "Cruising". Watch this to see a New York that doesn't exist today.
I actually felt worse watching Al Pacino look painstakingly uncomfortable in leather pants and a tank top than by the movie's highly provocative sexual content. Perhaps the notion of Steve Burns wanting to bolt out of the underground gay bar and go home to his girlfriend wasn't just acting. At the time rumors were that Pacino actually wanted out of the movie after he learned about its offensiveness.
What bothered me the most was that Steve Burns was given no leads. He practically had nothing else to do than mingle in various gay bars of the S&M, B&D scene and hope that sooner or later the killer will start hitting on him. Indeed, the detective seems to randomly point a finger and pursue suspicious-looking figures (and let's face it, at the places he shows up in, there are plenty of things to point fingers at). Therefore it is no surprise that when he actually stumbles upon the real killer, Stuart Richards (Richard Cox), it is by a mere coincidence (namely that Richards was in one of his victim's classes).
Meanwhile Burns is struggling in his personal relationship with girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen), as he is not allowed to tell her about his secret assignment and finds this continuous exposure to the underground homosexual club scene affecting his physical relationship to her. I wish there would have been a bit more time spent on developing this couple's relationship, because all the viewer gets to see from them are seemingly brief scenes during and after they have sex. There is no strong connection between them, though it is evident that Burns finds comfort in Nancy's company and her cozy apartment that is miles away from the dark places he has to go to every night.
I also hoped to see the character of the killer being more developed. We do get a glance at his disturbed relationship with his father, but other than that he seems like a faceless figure stabbing his victims while reciting nursery rhymes. Sure, that is creepy enough for a thriller, but it is not enough for a credible character.
Did anyone see the point of having a barely dressed huge black male police officer randomly show up at Skip's questioning and slap the guys around? To me that was hilarious, but I am kind of worried that I may have missed out on the deeper meaning of this truly memorable scene.
Though the movie does start with a disclaimer, it does little to nothing to avoid portraying gay men as leather-clad freaks lurking around in some shady basement and engaging in orgies. The only glimpse the viewer gets into gay relationships is a couple strangers agreeing to have some form of sex (in a motel, park, middle of the bar, anywhere really), which of course is very offensive to the homosexual community. It is said that the "leather bars" shown are actual gay bars in New York and the extras are its real guests who were instructed to act natural yet tone down their sexual activities for the movie .
Now, I am well aware that this might have been a realistic portrayal of underground homosexual phenomena. My problem is that the movie exclusively resides to this portrayal, which is not only offensive for gays, but also makes the movie rather shallow and flat. It could have been made into a real nail-biting thriller, but instead Friedkin delivered a ridiculous freakshow. I really am going to take a shower now, but I wish the makers of this movie would have taken a cold shower before releasing it.
When "Cruising" recently became available in a remastered disc with features and commentary by director Friedkin, I decided to take a chance and watch it, and I am very glad I did. I think it is a masterful film that works on every level, as a murder mystery, as a psychological thriller, and as a social commentary of sorts since the film takes place in a millieu seldom seen on mainstream screens at that time.
Is it violent? Oh yes, graphically so. Some scenes are very hard to watch, but so compelling that you cannot turn away. The violence is not gratuitous and is in fact important to both the atmosphere of the film and sequence of the plot. Friedkin creates tension in the film from the very first frames when you see what appears to be a severed arm floating in the river, and continues to ratchet up the tension throughout the film. This tension drives the murder mystery. The solution to the murders could be considered ambiguous,yet emains compelling through the very last shot. The ambiguity of the film lets you draw your own conclusions in a way that causes you to think more deeply than you would if it was all spelled out. I think this is a real strength in the film.
Is the film exploitive of gay men? No, I don't think so. The film is realistic in it's locations which are gritty and stark. The bar scenes feel real. The bars are leather bars, and the men in the bars are there to engage in what you would expect to see in a gay S/M bar. If you don't like what you see, that is your choice, but I don't think that Friedkin films what you see in a way that is exploitative of the patrons. It is what it is, and you see it. In other scenes in the film you see the police exploiting some of the men, and that feels authentic to me too, for the most part, because that is also the way it was, like it or not.
It is in this backdrop that Pacino's character of a young cop must find a killer. Pacino's performance is both subtle and affecting. It is simply one of his best. Given that, I wonder why he did not appear with Friedkin in the features of the disc, or as a contributor to the commentary. I found this to be both strange (is he disavowing his performance by not appearing?) and a real disappointment.
Pacino's character is changed forever by his experiences in the film. How much he has changed is ambiguous. A careful viewer will see Pacino change throughout the film, though most of the change is implied, and not directly stated. Since Friedkin was willing to show us so much authenticity in the bar scene, and in subsequent scenes, he should have shown us more authenticity in the development of Pacino's character, and by that I specifically mean, at the very least a kiss between Pacino and one or more of the men he meets and or confronts in the film.
The weakest character in this film is Pacino's girlfriend, who is played by Karen Allen as if she is completely comatose, if not downright stupid. The role is both badly written and underplayed. The changes in Pacino's character need to be mirrored more clearly by the reactions of his girlfriend, otherwise, why is she in the film at all? Friedkin has dropped the ball here.
See this film, regardless of whatever you have heard about it. See it and draw your own conclusions. It is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of Friedkin's work.
Dismembered corpses are found in the Hudson River in New York. The police believe that the deaths are the work of a serial killer who is preying upon gay men, luring them from gay bars in the city, raping them, then killing them and throwing their cut-up remains into the water. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) of the New York Police Department appoints rookie cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) to crack the case. Burns a straight guy with a steady girlfriend - is approximately the same build as the victims. Edelson hopes that he will go undercover in the gay underworld scene and attract a little attention upon himself perhaps even lure the killer into the open. Determined initially to take on the case to win promotion, Burns gradually finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the unfamiliar gay culture. His relationship with girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) suffers, and he finds himself uncertain of his own sexual identity and orientation.
The film aroused a large degree of protest when released, partly because it was ahead of its time and partly because gay activists were afraid that the film might set back their cause. Sometimes such controversy inadvertently generates extra box office for a film, but in the case of Cruising the film was a flop. Pacino gives an acceptable performance as the emotionally and sexually bewildered cop, though the script does him few favours. In a city as big as New York, it seems almost unthinkable that an undercover cop could be chosen to ensnare a serial killer merely because he is roughly the same build as one of the killer's preferred victims. It is such an unconvincing plot point, yet so important to the whole story, that it wrecks the film's credibility. On the plus side, the gay bar scenes seem fairly accurate, but less agreeable is the way some of the anti-gay characters who people the film are presented too over-the-top (for example, the police interrogator who assaults a gay man in his custody whilst wearing a jock-strap and cowboy hat.) The film's climax also sits awkwardly, especially the way that it hints that maybe Pacino himself has committed one of the murders. If we pursue this line of thought, are we to assume that the film is saying that indulging in gay activities will ultimately turn you into a killer? Cruising is a confused, repellent thriller. It treads ground that many movie makers are afraid to step upon, but sadly it never tells us much about the places and people it attempts to explore and emerges as a somewhat disappointing film.
Al Pacino plays Steve Burns, a detective offered an assignment to go undercover in the gay underground to find a serial killer who preys on gay men. As the film progresses, the movie becomes less about the search for the killer but more about Burns' search within himself to find his true sexual identity. He has clearly been affected by his assignment in ways which are not explicitly presented to the viewer, only conveyed through subtle mannerisms by Pacino in what is surely his most underrated performance.
Crusing works as both a tense thriller and as a slasher film. And includes scenes that would probably make the filmmakers of Brokeback Mountain blush. But mostly, the film is a statement on society: a world where nobody really knows anyone except themselves. Who is the killer? Everyone is a suspect.
People like Senator Larry Craig have lived a lie their entire lives and will continue to do so because they feel society, the career path they have chosen, and the image they are expected to project leave them with no other choice. For some, doing their best to hide who they truly are is the only rational alternative. Steve Burns goes through a similar dilemma during the course of Cruising. And in the film's final scene, it is left to the viewer to decide whether he has come to that conclusion or not.
A daring film. Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Shocking. Unexpectedly funny at times. Al Pacino's most courageous performance. William Friedkin's very best. Highly recommended.
I happened to catch "Cruising" on IFC for the first time since it came out in 1980 and was rather surprised at how engrossing I found it while at the same time finding it so thoroughly hollow. With the controversy of it long past (I remember the atmosphere in Los Angeles was so tense at the time that once in West Hollywood several friends and I were treated to the sickening sight of a bunch of homophobes in a passing car screaming threateningly to a group of bar patrons, "Are you waiting in line to see 'Cruising'?") one can look at the film somewhat more dispassionately. Unfortunately, such remove makes one see the film for what it is; a routine detective thriller that plays out a little like "Basic Instinct" in the way it tries to divert from its pedestrian plot by shrouding it in a world of titillating sleaze.
Nothing wrong with that, but after viewing the film I can't fathom what the whole thing is supposed to add up to. It seems to have very little to actually say about homosexuality, homophobia, violence or even sex. Like the 1968 film "The Detective" it seems content to let public curiosity/repulsion to homosexuality (in this case, the S&M leather subculture) provide the atmosphere and mystery.
I don't find the film to be either more or less homophobic than most of what comes out of Hollywood, it just strikes me as sensationalistic and out of touch.
SPOILERS Other posters have pretty much covered all that needs to be said of the film which holds an odd interest despite not being very good, but here are a few points I haven't read anything about yet:
1) Did anybody else notice that during the first murder and the one at the film arcade, the director (who demonstrated his fondness for subliminal shots in "The Exorcist") inserts shots of anal sex? I wasn't sure if I saw what I thought I saw and so I replayed the DVD copy I made and sure as shooting there are close-ups of a penis entering a backside inter-cut with shots of a knife going into the victim. Not only is this cinematically irresponsible but truly a case of overkill (no pun). There are few weapons as phallic as a knife, the inserted shots (What are we to make of them? Are we to be repulsed? Stimulated?) strikes one as merely abusive of the subliminal power of film.
2) Am I the only one who remembers the handsome Arnaldo Santana (the first murder victim) as the 70's porn actor Malo, who appeared in 1979 film "Dune Buddies" under the name Pepe Brazil and later (a much heavier version, but unmistakable) as a henchman in Brian De Palma's "Scarface"?
3) What the hell was that scene in the interrogation room with the guy in the cowboy hat and jockstrap? It seemed like a personal fantasy sequence Freidkin wanted to shoot and have the studio foot the bill for. Even in this loony film that scene stands out as soooo over the top!
There's a story told by a survivor of Dachau, about how every morning, no matter how cold and miserable, the inmates were forced to stand at attention and listen to harangues by the Führer. This anti-Nazi said that in the end he found it almost impossible (like Dr. Strangelove) to keep his arm from springing to a Nazi salute. (Note that Strangelove is close to Stranglelove, and those who remember the movie know the scene I refer to.)
Notwithstanding its status as "legal for consenting adults," S&Mlike Nazism, with which it shares behavior, æsthetic and paraphernaliais inherently pathological. Thus, setting the location for a series of grisly murders among the gay S&M scene is quite plausible. Cunanan, the serial murderer of Versace and others, was an "S&M queen"; John Wayne Gacey's murders were B&D (bondage & discipline) rituals; SMBD "communities" exist in Silverlake (L.A.), South of Market (S.F.), the West Village (NYC) and (surprise!) all over Germany. Of course, S&M isn't just a gay phenomenon (one need only think of the BTK killer), but the ubiquity and openness of the gay SMBD milieu make it more accessible for filming than the somewhat more furtive heterosexual S&M scene.
As for the artistic merits, I like Friedkin's pacing, the way Al Pacino's character gradually changes as it becomes of rather than just in the milieu. This is a familiar theme: the undercover cop who "goes native," first empathizing with, then becoming the subject he's trying to bust. In this role Pacino pretty much plays Pacino, which isn't bad, if you like Pacino. In the beginning he seems to reach for Serpico and in the end for Michael Corleone. Interestingly, the three characters' wives all see their husbands gradually consumed by their mission. And maybe a little Tony Montana is thrown in, with S&M rather than cocaine as the hook. ("Never sample the product.")
And, yes, the depiction of the gay S&M world is spot on, from the archetypes to the music and fashions. In fact, the research that went into the scenes, which consisted of visiting real-world S&M venues, was one of the grievances of the gay protesters, who thought they had been "betrayed" after having given Friedkin access to their habitat. (Of course, if he had not done such research, Friedkin would have been pilloried for never having set foot in a gay bar.)
Cruising is a dramatization not a documentary, so of course the characters and situations will be dramatized. But for anyone who has ever ventured into the netherworld of gay S&M, Cruising has the ring of truth, which has obviously touched the nerve of those who, truth be told, regard the issue of Cruising more as turf war than social or philosophical debate.
I agree with other reviewers who have called Cruising brave film-making. Gay author Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On, which cautioned the gay community about self-destructive behavior, was skewered by the same crowd that skewered Cruising. I remember when Cruising came out (no pun intended), there were nasty demonstrations by the gay equivalent of the Fundies who picketed The Last Temptation of Christ before they even saw the movie. (Even after seeing it, how many would have the honesty to admit they were wrong?) These two crowds, though they are loathe to admit it, have the same mindset.
The mindless charges of Cruising's homophobia and TLTOC's blasphemy are based on perceptions, informed by overwrought sensibilities, of the movies' depictions, respectively, of all gays as S&M and of Jesus with a sex life, perceptions so ludicrous they make me wonder if these folks really care what the films are aboutmake me suspect that what they really care about is that "their" stories, which they think they own, are being cast in an unfavorable light by unauthorized parties.
While Cruising is absolutely not homophobic it does suggest, I believe, that S&M is unhealthy, a not terribly far-out suggestion, and to that extent it is a polemic. But I think that S&M is only a vehicle for the wider moral of Cruising's story, which is this: sexual games can easily become serious, and the line between the two is so hard to discern that by the time one has crossed it, it may be too late.