Interior. Leather Bar. A Pseudo-Breakdown of the James Franco Film.
If you haven’t heard of Interior. Leather Bar., it’s James Franco and filmmaker Travis Mathews’ re-imagining of the lost 40 minutes of the Al Pacino starring, William Friedkin created film Cruising. The film bleeds the lines between documentary, mockumentary, and cinematic narrative, and is an exploration of sexual and creative boundaries and freedoms put upon the creator and the observer. Needless to say, the film thoughtfully pushes lines far beyond expectation, and to various degrees of success.
To give some background, Cruising is a film about a cop who goes undercover as a gay leather “stud” in order to catch a killer. Leather bars are known for an “anything goes” vibe, and Friedkin aimed for a very authentic experience in the film. The bar scenes are very provocative and controversial even now, causing the MPAA to censor the hell out of the final film.
Interior. Leather Bar. takes those sexually explicit moments censored from the original script and recreates them in all of their glory – and then some. There’s boot licking, ass smacking, and yup, dick sucking. A lot of dick sucking. And Franco, who is straight, is right up in there filming and observing the scenes. The experience is engaging, and gives Franco the perfect platform to express some serious taboos of how different types of sex is often perceived by society.
It’s less of a shock that Travis Mathews is involved, given the fact that he’s gay and is likely familiar with the gay leather world, even to a small extent. These explorations, even from a way back voyeuristic POV are often a rite of passage for any gay boy worth his salt. The shocker is a mainstream, high-profile actor such as Franco even being near something like this, let alone creating it. It’s kind of incredible.
SPOILER: As Interior. Leather Bar. unfolds, you realize it’s about something far less obvious than the filmmakers let on, or maybe even care to realize. Of course, first and foremost it’s about Franco putting up his middle finger to the boundaries we are given as society’s children. And he does a good job of that. But the film is also about his personal power as a celebrity.
Franco was present the night of the screening and shared the story of how he called up Travis Mathews one day and asked him to collaborate on this project. Realizing the great opportunity, Mathews readily agreed.
Enter Franco’s long-time friend, Val Lauren. He plays the part of Al Pacino in the Leather Bar scenes, aka, the faux gay Pacino. What becomes immediately apparent is two things: Val is uncomfortable playing gay in any authentic way (even though he played Sal Mineo for Franco); and Val is most definitely acting. This irritated me at first, but I kind of fell into the groove of it all and accepted the blurred lines they were creating in favor of the experience.
Reluctantly, Val commits to whatever it is he’s told to do to make the project work, to “help Franco’s vision” come to life. He also repeatedly says he doesn’t get it, is uncomfortable with it, but goes along anyway.
Many men audition for the role of bar patrons, some of them expected to commit acts of fellatio, either give or receive. Those chosen readily accept when offered the roles, probably for a small sum of cash, eager to meet and please their new master, Franco.
He orchestrates this kinky gay sex scene in such a specific way and aims for absolute authenticity, and man, he hits it. It’s kind of like seeing Franco have a Caligula moment. Now saying Caligula might sound mean, but it’s not intended to. I just mean he’s giving orders for someone to fuck in this almost opulent manner, and then they fuck. Hence, Master Franco. He stands over these guys as they’re sucking each other’s dicks, booting licking in the dark, all writhing on each other in order to accomplish one thing: please him. An entire room of people, Val, director Mathews, the makeup and wardrobe girls, everyone – he lords over them in a way that is both sensitive and demanding, and ultimately, absolutely fascinating. He’s laid back, but he IS James Franco, and he’s demanded they take this journey with him, and for him.
Somewhere near the climax of the film, Franco is “called away” from set, never to return. This leaves Val alone with the unknown, the gay men, to explore these seemingly dark moments on his own with them. It all culminates into Val transcendence as he succumbs to the pleasures of letting go. This of course is a gift bestowed upon him by Franco.
It’s captivating, and perhaps more intentional than they might admit. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful addition to the grand work of art that Franco has so far created with his career.