Interior. Leather Bar. Is Travis Matthews’ and James Franco’ take on the outtakes of the 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising. Cruising tells the story of an undercover cop (Pacino) on the hunt for a murderer who’s killing numerous gay men through various S&M activities, from this film 40 minute had to be cut in order to lower the rating from X to R. Interior. Leather Bar. Is Matthew’s and Franco’s exploration of what those 40 minutes could’ve been like.
Interior. Leather Bar. Is massively psychoanalytical in its filming structure, created in layers the film tells the story of Cruising’s missing minutes alongside how Matthews and Franco make Interior. Leather Bar. The latter part of film follows straight and unsure Val (Val Lauren), the young actor set to play the part of Pacino on set of Matthews’ and Franco’s shoot, as he interacts with the other cast members (in various states of S&M getup) and watches their overt homosexual intimacy in front of the camera. This gives half of the film a homemade movie effect that seems authentic that this really is Val Lauren’s reaction to the filming and its contents, a psychological twist because we have to remember that although it looks authentic this half of the film too is scripted and staged.
The other half of the feature is the interpretive cut of Cruising, full of explicit gay relations in a smoky S&M environment (no explicit penetrative intercourse).
The result of this complex narrative structure is reflective of the film as a whole in that the boundaries of each story overlap and become one in their queer ambiguity – essential for conveying the film’s subject matter in that life and perception shouldn’t revolve round nor accentuate on rigorous categories of definition and confinement, and that instead individuals should be free to engage in carnal desires without the pressures of social opinion.
The film is portrayed as being James Franco’s desire to transgress social norms in regards to sexuality and the act of sex. He rightly proclaims, while having a heated discussion with Val regarding the latter being uncomfortable with the project’s content, that indeed we have all been brought up as a subordinated mass, spoon fed a diet of ideological notions of normality and acceptability. Ideas that are not our own, but rather those of power (politicians, corporate CEOs, the bourgeois etc.) and as such we should reconsider queerness, gay sex acts and S&M as not “too much” or “wrong” but rather an area of thought and activity we have been subconsciously made to formulate negative preconceptions of.
Franco and Matthews set out to instigate sexual liberation through this film, using the aforementioned dual narrative structure to contrast heteronormative views (portrayed through Val) with progressive views of sexual acceptance and queer exploration (portrayed through James and gay cast members). This narrative structure works alongside shocking (but then again, is it really shocking or have we been influenced to think it as shocking) scenes of gay intimacy (graphic blow jobs, hand jobs etc.) with the aim of opening the audience’s eyes to their own perceptions of society, sexuality and subordination, but also that through their own subjectivity they can resist supposed cultural norms.
One hour in length the film covers a lot of scope, although this isn’t massively evident as the journey is one of psychological development as opposed to physical (the entire film takes place on the film set). The contrast of the two narratives is further conveyed through beautiful cinematography, switching between handheld cams and off screen voices for the filmmaking story and the professionally lit and choreographed sequences of the interpretive 40 lost minutes of Cruising.
All in all, Travis Matthews and James Franco touch on various controversial topics, but because they do so through a form considered ‘art’ is can be seen as ‘tasteful’ and maturely handled.
A must watch for those of you interested in queer perception, psychoanalysis and the works of Michel Foucault, alternatively if you’re curious about filmmaking or S&M Interior. Leather Bar. Is an important watch!