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Hot Docs: Interior. Leather Bar.

Reports from the 2013 Hot Docs Film Festival

Paolo here. Because I tend to overreact to thing I proclaimed that last year's Hot Docs film festival here in Toronto was 'overtly sexual'! As it turns out, last year's crop had more diverse topics: death, culture, loss, legacy. And the same can be said about the documentaries this year but we won't abandon the docs about sex. Here's one now, James Franco's Interior. Leather Bar.

[NSFW Franco provocations after the jump]

One of the scenes in The Boys in the Band showed campy, pastel and short-short wearing, girly dancing characters. Seeing them, I determined that these people were a dated representation of queerness and therefore myself as a gay man. Strike one against the movie's director, William Friedkin. It didn't help that one of his other movies about gay men, Cruising, might have started the second (third?) wave of the "Faggots in Crime!" subgenre. The message was clear - Friedkin was bad.

James Franco shoots a sex scene in "Interiors. Leather Bar"


So it's stupid and/or brave for actor/multitasker/art-troll James Franco to follow Friedkin's foosteps with his new documentary, Interior. Leather Bar. He aims to recreate the 40 minutes that Friedkin had to cut from Cruising to avoid an X rating. This project might just be the ultimate documentary. One that shows the ultimate recesses of human experience and taboo - gay sex. Franco doesn't use Breillat-like prosthetics; all the dicks you see in this movie are real.

He enlists the help of Travis Mathews, who directed the pornographic indie drama I Want Your Love (interviewed right here). He also casts his actor friend Val Lauren, who bears a resemblace to both Al Pacino and one of Cruising's serial killer's victms. The doc's main tension is supposed to arrive by testing Val's (straight) limits within acting out the explicit (gay) subject matter.

Travis Matthews of "I Want Your Love" fame co-directs

Just like Franco's earlier forays into filmmaking, he's on both sides of the camera, a troublesome presence even when he's supposedly on the sidelines. Mathews and Lauren discuss his intentions in the work while he's just squinting his eyes and scratching his hair like the caricature that he's well aware of. He plays devil's advocate here, pushing for gay sex's mainstream recognition. He also puts Lauren and a mix of extras in a dark rat maze, asking them to anticipate the online reaction for or against this project, discuss the affect on the larger gay community, and find each other's sexual boundaries.

With Franco's avant-garde ambitions, we're meant to expect that this isn't a straightforward documentary. Interior. Leather Bar. has a script from which Lauren reads and reacts. Conversations are interrupted, rerecorded and directed. Val Lauren appears to be more of James' ally than his pawn and plays up his reluctance. Nevertheless, we the audence are resigned to the possibility that his silence during the footage reenactments do show the straight male gaze's ambivalence and fluidity. And his expressions during his encounters with the other extras might have just embodied deeper undercover than Pacino's character ever got into.

Franco's intentions might not be clear or present, but what I took from the doc is that this is what censorship does. It violently separates people into two schools of thinking. One is to accept that regulating art should be so deeply entrenched into our consciousness that it feels effortless, decent and traditional. The other, which is Franco's perspective, is to restart a revolution or recover an (imaginary?) utopic past where people accept that art should not be bound by rules. It frustrates Franco and Lauren and us because we have lost what was really inside that leather bar.

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Reader Comments (8)

Cruising is a great movie. Int. Leather Bar just sounds like an art house wank. I freely admit that I might not feel that way if Franco weren't involved, but he is, so I do, alas...

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I know what you mean, the work is just as good as the 'artist' behind it. There's also this ambivalence in me about the idea that the pro-queer yet straight Franco is commenting on anything gay. Okay, straight people has been doing that ever since we're allowed to be portrayed on screen. But there are arguments on both sides about him doing this.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I always find it so odd when people criticise THE BOYS IN THE BAND for its representations of gay men since, well, there are indeed flamboyant, "gay" gay men in the world. It was the times. As for CRUISING, however. I definitely think it's a brave piece of filmmaking by Friedkin and Pacino. And, if anything, it remains a stunning piece of cinema for its representations of homosexuals of various creeds whilst being interwoven with a serial killer thriller that overtly reappropriates gay culture. I think it's a far worthier film and a far worthier piece of gay cinema than any number of wishy washy romcoms or coming out dramadies.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Cruising is such a bad ass good movie. I really like it. Its dark, erotic and thrilling. Al Pacino is good but Friedkin is the king here. They should make more movies like this.

Everything James Franco touches Im out. He tries too hard to be cool, an artist....etc

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

I don't care much about "Cruising", too morbid for my taste, but I recently saw "The Boys in the Band" and I was very pleased. Not as dated as many claim and very well directed.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I think both "The Boys in the Band" and "Cruising" get a bad rap for the same reason that any major work about a traditionally marginalized group does, especially when it's the first of its kind. Any perceived negative portrayal draws ire from those belonging to said contingent because of the sensitivity regarding how the mainstream will view them. I believe there is value in both films, and "TBITB" has just as much validity and resonance now as it did over forty years ago.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I quite love Boys in the Band. Although I was not an uber fan when I was a youngin'. I believed my generation was more "serious" and "advanced" than the generation of gays before it. However, when Boys got released on DVD and I watched it again, I saw that Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. I was doing summers in Fire Island at the time and if you don't think people like the characters in Boys still exist with the addictions, the emotional dysfunction, the compulsions, the racism, the self-loathing . . . and a desperate imperfect desire to be happy and connect hasn't spent time in the Pines.

Cruising, on the other hand, I find incredibly offensive. The implication that gay sex contains some sort of contagion that leads people to murder really bothered me--esp. as Friedkin cast multiple actors as the killer and usually previous victims ended up playing the killer. I also found Pacino's performance incredibly camp--the scene where he sniffs poppers needs to become an animated .gif meme. As should the line "hips or lips."

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAle-Alejandro

I'm starting to see and listen to everyone's arguments about Boys and Cruising. I'll admit that I have my own issues that pertain to my sexuality and my sense of belonging in that group, and that I've encountered aspects of our culture that are admittedly not positive. It's still not easy for me to remember those films in a good light and I will give Friendkin's stuff a 2.67th chance.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

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