Syllabus: Film 1980
By Nathan Lee
The gays can be forgiven for losing their sense of humor over William Friedkin's Cruising, the story of a New York City cop (Al Pacino) who goes deep undercover in the leather scene to catch a serial killer with daddy issues. Filmed in such legendary S/M clubs as the Ramrod, Anvil, and Mineshaft, the movie is a lurid fever dream of popper fumes, color-coded pocket hankies, Dionysian disco frottage, and Crisco-coated forearms. Easily the most explicit depiction of the homosex underground ever to come out of Hollywood, Cruising was vigorously protested by gay people fed up with the usual suspect (gay = killer) and embarrassed, perhaps, by the curtain being parted on the disreputable side of the sexual revolution. Nowadays, when the naughtiest thing you can do in a New York gay club is light a cigarette, it's exhilarating to travel back to a moment when getting fucked in public was as commonplace as ordering a Red Bull. Cruising is a mediocre thriller but an astonishing time capsule. Grotesquerie abounds, but so does a palpable sense of fun. Stalked by the killer among them, the leather dudes groove in the last gasp of uninhibited sexual abandon. The film was released in 1980, one year before symptoms of AIDS were diagnosed in New York City.