This flick is from 1970 and it's an adaptation of an off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley and it's directed by the hardass General of ruthless badass motherfuckers in the cinematic arts, Mr. William "I hate fuckin' Mexican marimba music" Friedkin. I mean, at least that was his deal during his heyday, back in the 70's -- when this guy (according to Jewfro's book, at least) was foaming at the mouth while terrorizing his actors and firing crew members every few minutes, like he was injected with the Chinese Shit from Crank and in order to keep himself alive, he had to be a colossal prick to everyone else on that set who wasn't named William Muthafuckin' Friedkin.
This movie is about a group of gay dudes in New York, and we're introduced to them during an energetic hustle-bustle montage set to Harpers Bizarre's cover of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes", because you know how those gays are with their showtunes. The song features lyrics along the lines of "The world's gone mad today/Good's bad today/Black's white today/Day's night today" and it can all be taken like some fuckin' hetero bitching to his wife about how we have all these homos loving up on one another nowadays -- and blacks can sit in the front of the bus! can you believe that? -- or, since the singers of the song sound slightly sissy themselves, the use of the tune can be interpreted as the film kinda telling us "Yeah, man -- they're into guys. But we're getting into the homestretch of the 20th century, times are changing, and if you can't handle it, then tough titty". Or in other words: We're here. We're queer. Get used to it.
I think right off the bat, Friedkin wanted to let the audience know that while this is a filmed adaptation of a play, this shit ain't no "filmed play"; homeboy's combining French Connection-like handheld camerawork with slick dolly moves and quick cuts. During the opening sequence, we see our main dude Michael and he's busy getting shit ready for a birthday party he's going to throw for his bro-mo Harold. We also see this dude Donald driving his fast penis of a car through the cavernous anal opening that is the Holland Tunnel, we see this guy Larry taking model photographs of Maud Adams, we see Larry's lover Hank playing basketball (played by Sybok from Star Trek V), we see queeny-queen Emory closing up at the antique shop he works at (that sound you hear is me going into total shock at the idea of a gay guy working at an antique shop), and then there's Bernard, working at a bookstore and since this is the late 60's, he's wearing a suit to work.
So we watch these dudes have their fun at the party, they're being bitchy at each other while waiting for the chronically tardy Harold, having some laughs and drinks, and dancing to Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" ("Remember that dance we used to do at Fire Island?" one of them asks, reminding me of the time that I once confused Fire Island with Parris Island -- think about that one for a while) until some fuckin' breeder named Alan shows up to spoil their gay ol' time. See, earlier that evening, Alan called up Michael (they were college roomies back in the day) and he sounded pretty fucked up about something and needed to talk to him about it, but then later on, he called again to say Forget about it, it's cool. But here he is, even though he said he wasn't coming over. Well, what the fuck, Alan? Make up your fuckin' mind.
Part of the Alan problem is that he's straight, and because this play (and movie, obviously) was made/takes place before the Stonewall Riots, all these dudes actually appear to give a fuck about what Ultra White Conservative Man thinks of them. For reals, yo; Michael actually has to tell them about this, that Alan might be coming over and Please Don't Let Him Know How We Roll -- and they all agree/understand! Except for Emory, he's not having that shit, in fact, he somehow manages to go Super Saiyan with his flamboyance despite Alan's presence and in spite of Michael & company dialing it down.
I suspect that a lot of straights would love it for gays to live life like it was the pre-Stonewall era -- behind closed doors, on the down-low -- living as invisible men not worthy of human acknowledgement. But meanwhile, these asshole baby-makers can continue necking each other in the park in front of everyone because they're straight and only straights are capable of true public displays of affection or something. Me, I'm a hater, I don't want to see straights OR gays making out in public, that's some annoying show-offy "we're in loooove" shit, but whatever, that's my hang-up; it's a free country and no one should be kept from necking in front of Whole Foods while you're carting out tonight's lonely supper to your Prius.
The problem of having to keep where you like to stick your dick inside of under wraps is that it eventually makes a motherfucker feel like he is doing something wrong, because if it was "normal", why would you have to hide this part of your life from others? You can only live like that for so long before the self-loathing starts kicking in, and I think that's a big part of what this joint's about.
It's like that movie about the gay shepherds who wish they knew how to quit each other, I think it was called I Wish I Knew How To Quit You; in my humblest of opinions, the characters portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and The Joker were born gay and cursed to live in a time & place where people were too ignorant to accept/deal with that shit. It's a good thing we as a society have evolved past that kind of hateful shit and gays no longer have to worry about what others think about them, and more importantly, they no longer have to think that there's something wrong with how they were born, isn't that right, 14-year-old kid who recently killed himself?
Anyway, I bring all this shit up because it appears that our guy Michael is suffering the most from these kinds of feelings about his lifestyle. His problems at the beginning seem to consist of not being able to deal with getting older (don't I know the fuckin' feeling) and his unpaid debts, otherwise he's kind of in control of his shit. He starts off the party drinking only club soda, talking about how he's been off booze and smokes for a few weeks. But somewhere along the way, you'll notice him switching to vodka and downing that wonderful Liquid Amnesia like it was muthafuckin' ice water on a hot-ass day, and after a bottle or two, it turns out this dude can be quite the mean drunk -- mean, man, mean -- and it can't be a coincidence that this starts happening after a talk with Alan and certain assumptions that were made.
Suffice it to say, things get more and more fucked-up between the characters during this birthday party (OK, here's one example: Alan punches that bitch Emory in his Mary-ass face as a response to his fifty-caliber bitchiness towards him, which apparently works because Emory chills way the fuck out for the rest of the picture) and that's even before Birthday Boy Harold shows up.
Oh, but when he does, holy shit, do things get even more ramped up -- Harold's introduced like he's a badass hitman for the gay mafia, and you know why? Because he IS a badass hitman for the gay mafia, only instead of handguns and icepicks, he uses words and body language to take out his targets and watching him do his thing is just as FUCK YEAH-inducing as watching Jason Statham transport a motherfucker into the next life, because Harold, dear reader, is that fucking awesome. This Disco Stu-looking mofo is a genuine Character in a film full of them; he shows up in his queer pimp suit and purple shades, half-burned joint in hand and -- fuck it, check it out for yourself. He's like this during the entire movie and it never stops being anything less than Good Times whenever he's on-screen:
I'm not one for dress-up, but sheeeeeiiiit, I think I want to be Harold for Halloween. That guy and Omar from The Wire are like the hardest homos this side of the Castro district.
This was a good flick; sure, you can say it's dated but then so are flicks about race from that time period; it's expected and hoped for that over the years things would change, so perhaps being dated is a good thing for flicks like these. It has great performances, non-stop snappy theatrical dialogue, and there's definitely that William Friedkin intensity in full-effect here. It's like the drunker Michael gets, the darker this film gets; the lighting gradually changing from low-contrast to high-contrast, and the camera setups changing from wide shots that include everyone to close-ups that make the subject look like the whole world is waiting right out of frame to pounce on the motherfucker.
The thing I noticed the most with Crowley's dialogue is how it stays the same throughout -- mostly bitchy comments & the occasional epithet -- even though the tone of the piece is completely different by the end. I guess it's the context in which you say it -- not to mention the emotion behind those words. I mean, these guys are calling each other "fag" and "fairy" and a bunch of other stuff nonstop -- and that's not counting the additional shit that's being thrown at Bernard (Black) and Harold (Jewish), and it's ostensibly all in fun, you know, the kind of politically incorrect shit that only the closest of friends/most hated of enemies shoot at each other with. But somewhere along the way, the emotion behind those words and harsh statements is no longer the same, and the intention in using those words has completely changed. Or maybe they were always meant that way, and the real illusion was that they were meant in jest.
Next came Cruising. Man, this was an odd film. Some creepy dude with a creepy voice and dressed in creepy vaguely-Nazi leathers is hooking up with other similarly leather'd-out dudes looking to give/receive Man Love, and then he stabs them to death. At least the first on-screen victim managed to get his bang on, before meeting his maker, but the rest literally die hard. What a horrible way to go, with blue balls.
You have Paul Sorvino playing the Charles Durning role, an NYPD captain who's under pressure by the powers-that-be to find the killer, not so much because it sucks that some dude is killing other dudes, but because there's gonna be a political convention in town soon (I forget which party). So he gets police officer Al Pacino to take an undercover assignment that would require him to immerse himself in the gay S&M/leather scene, and his attitude to being presented with this task is surprisingly laid-back, considering what might be required of him. Or maybe he didn't think of that, maybe he was too blinded at the time thinking about the promotion to Detective he would get after the case.
So off he goes, our fair Pacino -- straight into the gay. He hits up the S&M leather clubs, aka the dark side of the Blue Oyster Bar, thinking he can find an In with these non-ironic mustache-wearers. Friedkin devotes long dolly shots to the standing-room-only dimly-lit smoky rooms filled with guys dancing and macking on each other, then there will be the occasional cut to someone getting whipped (I have a feeling little-to-no Black cruisers request for that particular kink) or to a small group gathered around to witness one of these guys getting fisted by a dude who in my uninformed opinion isn't using anywhere near a properly comfortable amount of KY for the job. There's also a special appearance by The Gimp in happier times, before he hooked up with Zed. Me, I have a small acceptable amount of homophobia, so I'd feel uncomfortable to find myself at a place like this, but at least I can dig on the music while sipping on my Diet Coke, wondering why nobody is hitting me up, probably because I'm too fat for the ladies and not fat enough for the bear-lovers.
At first, Pacino is totally lost, really lost; I mean, if you have to ask Powers Boothe -- one of the most macho motherfuckers in cinema -- what the different colors of bandanas mean in the gay community, then you are really out-of-place. But soon he finds himself getting more savvy in all things Male & Sweaty -- by the way, all these leather extras are the Real Deal, doing in front of the camera what they normally do on a Saturday night -- and he even starts getting himself into better shape, giving us a peek into Pacino's acting future as he repeatedly screams while lifting weights, it's hilarious. It's left up to the audience to decide how far he goes to pass as One Of Them; in my opinion, he does indeed go above and beyond the call of booty -- shit, all Keanu had to do was surf convincingly. There's a lot in this movie that's as ambiguous as Ace & Gary, and I'll give Friedkin credit for most of it, but some of it I'm just gonna chalk up to dropping the ball.
The main problem I have is that Pacino's character is absolutely cipher-riffic; there's really not much to this guy when the movie begins, and all we really know about him is what he goes through. That works for flicks like Spartan, where the plot is the character, but I'm not sure that was the intention here -- and the side characters are more interesting than the lead! I mean, it's kinda tough to figure out how much this assignment changes him when I don't even have the foggiest of what he's changing from. Or maybe that's the point; I don't know, maybe Friedkin wanted to tell us that this guy was pretty much an empty vessel going through the motions, and that the Scent of a Man (nature's amyl nitrate) has opened him up a whole new world of excitement and confusion -- perhaps a world he was always meant for. I don't know, but knowing Friedkin, he'd probably call me a moron for needing everything spoon-fed and then I'd tell him "Oh yeah, because Deal of the Century was really fuckin' deep" and then he'd start foaming at the mouth, demanding that I get an abortion, before stopping and apologizing to me, saying that he forgot where he was and had a flashback to being married to Jennifer Nairn-Smith for a second there.
Hey look, there's Karen Allen as the girlfriend! So full of awesomeness and pretty! What is she doing here? Hell if I know. Her role consists of showing up every 15 minutes to hug up with Pacino or get banged by him. By the time we see him show this chick his Big Boy Caprice, he's already exposed his sweet Sicilian ass to The Gay, and he seems to be fucking her rather rough; this is either his fierce way of re-establishing his love of the vagina or maybe he's banging her with yesterday's hard-on, and since yesterday he was knee-deep in Man-Ass, that tells you everything right there, doesn't it?
This flick has a lot of post-production dubbing, which was mostly due to gays protesting/disrupting the shoot and fucking up the sound, but I think it really adds to the creepy feel of Cruising, these voices that match the actor's lip-movements and yet seem...out-of-place. The killer is played by at least 2 different actors, but they have the same voice, giving the impression that maybe it's not the same guy, or it might be various different guys -- the Evil Murderous Spirit Of Homophobia is going in and out of various dudes, Fallen-style, and when it's not entering the closeted self-haters or the straight gay-haters, it's wafting through the air in any room where the term "family values" gets tossed around like so much salad. Jail salad. Whatever it is, it's fucking scary. I mean, these poor guys, they get dressed like a generic bad guy from any 16-bit beat-em-up video game, looking for some ass (or some lips) and the last thing they want is a fuckin' knife to the back. It's already tough enough to be gay in this town, what with fuckin' Joe Spinell and Mike fuckin' Starr fucking with you (right before they demand that you fuck them).
By the way, during at least one of the stabbing sequences, Friedkin intercuts flash-frames of gay porn, and while I'll give him points for Tyler Durden-ing the audience with that shit, I'm not gonna give him a full pat on the back for it either. Because it's not like he's schooling us with his Phallic Knife Plunging Into Flesh = Cock Plowing Through The Valley Of Feels-So-Good bit; anybody who's ever seen Psycho, or a giallo or a slasher movie featuring scantily-clad victims already knows about this kind of symbolism. Hell, I remember watching this documentary about Dario Argento, where the man himself goes into unsettling length about how murder scenes are erotic and that the killer gets off on sticking it in while the victim experiences her "death orgasm". Anyway, my point is that if anything, Friedkin probably thought he was putting it all together for us and I'm like C'mon, we're not that fuckin' stupid -- and by the way, I'm keeping the baby.
Friedkin had to cut out about 40 minutes from the film in order to get an R-rating; he says it was mostly sexual stuff, not plot points. Goddamn -- 40 minutes of more fisting and banging and young Ed O'Neill? Even for a 1980 Hollywood production, it's harsh enough as is, but I wonder how much of this stuff could've passed with an R-rating in 2011 -- or how much more would have to be taken out? I'm not sure, man, I mean, I just watched an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that featured two guys engaged in the romantic act of bare-ass hobo-buttfucking, and that's on a basic cable show! But then again, who knows, because as anyone who has seen This Film Is Not Yet Rated can tell you, the MPAA has always been harder on gay sex than on straight sex, and at this point I am fully aware I can't write anything without it sounding like Tobias Fünke was dictating it to me. Oh EFC, you blowhard!
I can understand the protests and hate this film received from gays; mainstream Hollywood finally decides to put some money into a film dealing with gay culture, starring a great actor and helmed by an Oscar-winning director -- and yet they choose to focus on an extreme underground subculture that feeds into every straight's worst suspicion/nightmare about homosexuals? Bitch, are you for real? But I honestly don't think Friedkin was on a I Hate Gays kick with this, because if anything, Friedkin is more of a I Hate All People motherfucker with his celluloid worldview, plus the Sorvino character even states that this heavy leather scene is not part of regular gay life (I watched the slightly Lucas'd version that is missing the opening disclaimer that insists this film only deals with a small portion of the gay community).
It's too bad that the negative buzz gave Cruising a reputation for being a terrible film, when it's actually pretty decent. It's very well-made, and I'd put Friedkin's work on this right up there with his work on The Exorcist and muthafuckin' Sorcerer, and the unsettling tone of the film is right on -- the shit gets genuinely scary at times (great ending, too) -- but it's definitely flawed with Pacino's thin-in-all-respects character and Friedkin's occasional lapse into what feels like inscrutability for the sake of inscrutability (aka The Southland Tales Special) and that's why I'd have to put this on the Appreciate More Than Like list.
But I have to give The Frieds credit for making something beyond the usual serial killer flick, especially when you consider the fact that he was just coming off a couple of flops and could have made things easier for himself (and his career) by making something more audience-friendly. Instead, he said Fuck 'Em in typical Wacky Willy fashion and made a film that features Al Pacino do a hysterical popper-enhanced dance and a big muscular cowboy hat-wearing black dude in a jockstrap giving people the mother of all pimp-slappings -- just because.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have crazy mad sex with lots of hot women, right after I take this sleeping pill.