Following the release of James Franco and Travis Matthew’s controversial feature Interior. Leather Bar, we sat down and had a chat with Travis about the making of the film and his views of social perspectives.
Florence Hinton-Collyer: What do you hope for the audience to take away from having watched your film?
Travis Matthews: The entire movie is a play with boundaries from the way it’s constructed to the issues we bring up around sexuality and cinema. Too often we accept boundaries -personal, creative, sexual- out of hand without questioning them. I’d like people to consider their own boundaries of what’s acceptable to them and why.
FHC: Do you think things such as queerness and unconventional sexual lifestyles should remain marginal and perceived as ‘other’ within society, because if we incorporate and domesticate them we jeopardise what alternative liberation they offer?
TM: Basically, I’d like to think that there’s room for everyone in the room. Traditional marriage is great for some people and it’s certainly been an achievement getting here, but there are other models of love, sex, and cohabitation that are being eclipsed by the race to the altar.
FHC: It’s mentioned in the film that mainstream cinema sex is often fetishized, but in Interior. Leather Bar. the sexually intimate sequences also seemed to hold a fetishitic gaze – the acts are comprised of fragmented shots of broken down body parts. Could this film too be considered fetishitic?
TM: There’s essentially two sex scenes in the film, the first which is at the leather bar and the second which is between a real life couple. The former is meant to be fairly in line with what our lead (Val Lauren) expects from this experience and could be described as fetishized. But the latter is meant to be intimate, tender and something which throws Val off with its surprisingly un-fetishized look at sexuality. It’s something he connects to unexpectedly.
FHC: Where did the idea to interpret and re-create the lost 40 minutes of Cruising come from?
TM: We knew that we wanted to revisit Cruising, and we were both well-versed on the film and it’s volatile history, but the missing 40 minutes was a discovery for us. We knew immediately that it would be a good launching pad for the journey we wanted Val Lauren to go on.
FHC: Straight men are the biggest prudes! – What do you make of this statement?
TM: They’ve been handed a set of cards that, generally speaking, gives them a narrowly defined space to explore their sexuality -or appreciate others. That said, I’ve been surprised by the number of straight men who’ve come up to me after screenings of ILB to tell me how the film made them check in with their own homophobia.
FHC: Could it be considered that the film is held back by cultural norms? There’s a feeling that the film needed to be justified – something done through James’ discussions with Val about the latter’s inhibitions, are they talking on a wider scope with Val as representative of heteronormative thought?
TM: The discussion you’re mentioning is largely for the audience. A lot of what Val is challenging James about re sex in movies is what the audience is thinking. He becomes a mouth piece for them. Later, when he’s in a position of defending the project, we’re asking the audience to stay with him and question their own ideas of norms and boundaries. I don’t think the film is held back by cultural norms, it’s James’ place in culture that allows the film to function as a little firecracker dropped in the middle of the party.
FHC: What advice would you give regarding the filmmaking process of controversial topics?
TM: By its very nature ‘controversial’ work will be polarizing so really know what and why you’re approaching this topic. If you have a smart framework for why this is important for you then be brave and unflinching about it.
FHC: What’s next for Travis Matthews?
TM: Next summer I’ll be shooting my next feature and in the fall James and I will be collaborating on another project sure to raise some eyebrows again.