James Franco's been winking at gay audiences for years, and it's sometimes hard to tell if he's flirting or kidding. Both are possibilities in his latest project, Interior. Leather Bar., a "docufiction" that riffs on the idea of recreating 40 minutes of footage that were cut from William Friedkin's lurid 1980 film Cruising to avoid an X rating (it's in select theaters beginning March 5).
Friedkin's movie, which starred Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a serial killer in New York's seedy S&M demimonde, was once the target of furious protests by LGBT activists, who thought it presented gay sexuality in scary and stereotypical ways.
"There seems to be a generational divide," says Travis Mathews, whom Franco recruited to write and codirect. "Most guys in their thirties or younger are in some way amused by the murderous and homophobic content -- it's almost quaint. But for older men it still brings up bad feelings."
Only a few minutes of Interior. Leather Bar. actually reproduce Cruising's heady, sweaty atmosphere; instead, the bulk of the hourlong film follows actor Val Lauren, in the Pacino role, as he comes to terms with the project. Moments of cinematic pastiche -- and a smattering of hardcore gay sex, sometimes with Franco watching -- are nestled in a pseudo-doc that explores how sexuality can be depicted. "Our Val character is in a constant state of agitation and confusion," Mathews says. "We wanted the audience in a similar space." Confused or not, Francophiles should find plenty here to keep them looking.