Interior. Leather Bar.

Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews re-imagine the lost 40 minutes from "Cruising" as a starting point to a broader exploration of sexual and creative freedom.


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  • ★★★★ review by Marcissus on Letterboxd

    Going into film clean works out for the best pretty much 99% of the time, even here I'd thought this was to be some super serious foreign acted-out-play as opposed to the delirious atonement of a handsome Hollywood curly-haired spring breaker. Maybe it turned out for the best; among Franco's obsession to appear as a culturally unoppressive liberating free-thinking artist there's a lot of interesting vibrations working sinisterly in the backlot. The actual cinematic idea takes an immediate backseat to Val Lauren who accidentally becomes the protagonist of a film where he isn't quite sure why the fuck he does the things he does for James Franco. Making things weirder is how this is all woven, Lauren comically states how he's insecure with pretty much everything that's going on and his statements—"I wouldn't fuck [on camera] period."—always seem to carry the aura of absolute unsureness. Better yet is the ending that seems to, in some ridiculous way, profoundly affirm that Lauren's character has irrevocably changed, that some things that were seen can never be unseen, that some perverse and ominous things might have been accidentally awoken inside him.

    Still this isn't the authentic pro-gay film Franco seems to think it is—which in his defence is a fact that seems to have been realized all too hastily in post—and rather just the tribulations of the straight guy way outta depth. What can be said is this: Franco and Lauren watching the live gay porn ensue as if they were watching the executions of innocent civilians is one of the greatest scenes of Franco's filmography so far. Francos overly-liberal politically correct please-don't-let-this-offend-the-gays monologues are just baffling, like a white school-kid apologizing to a black school-kid for slavery. It appears he's actually just one step away from coming out as homosexual just to appease some kind of inborn facade of insincerity that isn't even there to begin with. Pretty gay, overall. Pretty gay.

  • ★★★½ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd

    Interior. Leather Bar., the latest in Franco’s ever-gayer projects, is ostensibly a documentary about Franco and documentary/art-porn film maker Travis Mathews’ efforts to recreate forty minutes of footage that was censored from William Friedkin’s highly controversial 1980 film, Cruising, but it is clear from the outset that this premise is the little more than an excuse to prompt conversation between the actors (some gay, some straight – again with the labels) about their comfort levels with the material and their own personal artistic boundaries. Seeing as the censored footage consisted almost wholly of explicit sexual content that Friedkin was hoping to use to flesh out the underground leather bar world that Al Pacino’s character descends into in the hunt for a serial killer, it makes for an extremely confronting project for many of the actors. On top of this, the esoteric nature of the project and its almost structureless starting point (the censored footage has never been seen, seeing as it was lost or destroyed by United Artists, and the cast are working from a barebones script) only fuel the actors’ apprehension.

    To pull their experiment into some kind of digestible shape, Franco and Mathews’ focus the bulk of their attention on Franco’s long-time friend, Val Lauren, who plays the “Pacino-inspired” lead role. Lauren fits right into the aesthetic of the film; he’s intensely focused on his acting craft and eager to be led by Franco, who he trusts implicitly, but he’s also exceptionally wary of both the gay intimacy and the seeming lack of point to the film. Of course, capturing his reactions (and to a lesser extent the reactions of those around him) is the film’s primary purpose and amplifying his anxiety only serves the directors’ purpose. To this end, Franco is constantly in discussion with Lauren, pressuring him to justify his discomfort and to re-evaluate his personal boundaries.

    The dynamic between the two men is actually quite difficult to watch. The struggle of Lauren, who comes across as having been ripped unceremoniously out of Jersey Shore, to keep faith in the artistic and professional merit of the project is painful; the ideas are just beyond him. It isn't made any easier to endure by Franco, who is clearly more educated, constantly prodding at him as if he's his personal lab rat. Of course, just how much this represents the pair's actual relationship is up for debate.

    There is a clever, boundary-confusing fusion of documentary and narrative film making at play in Franco and Mathews’ film. The interviews with their cast members never feel anything but immediate but a couple of barely disguised meta-narrative triggers signal Mathews’ conceit. At one stage Lauren lays back against a fence reading his one page script out loud and the lines he reads say lays back against the fence reading script out loud and at other times Lauren’s phone calls from friends, who vent their displeasure at his involvement in a "gay" film, curiously capture both sides of the conversation. Rather than undoing the film's hard earned reality, these well placed fictional flourishes help to consolidate film's preoccupations into a more rounded argument...

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  • ★★★★ review by Martin Jensen on Letterboxd

    I think the key to this, like everything Franco-related, is to just not take it too seriously? I mean, this film is actually a behind the scenes of this recreation, but the behind the scenes is also scripted. We even see the script at one point, seconds before the line of dialogue the page is open to is said in conversation!

    This is an interesting way to explore sexuality, screen sexuality, performance and sexuality, etc. I read an interesting defence of Cruising, I can't remember where, but it basically said that the film captures a gay scene that changed drastically if not vanished post-AIDS. With this recreation, as Franco himself explains, the association of murder with that scene is removed, and instead it's about what it was really about all along: a straight guy uncomfortable with what's going on around him, most of all how enticing it is (Franco calls it "beautiful") and that his sexuality might not be as rigidly defined as he'd like to believe.

    Except this time it's got a meta presentation, and I think the "Val Lauren" character is pretty much an analogue/surrogate for Franco himself, who through making this film is confronting this discomfort in himself (in one of their conversations Franco tells Val how everyone's been brought up with a world view that's twisted about sexuality, and that the film is an attempt to combat that).

  • ★★★★½ review by Julius Kassendorf on Letterboxd

    So, is Interior. Leather Bar. merely deconstructing Cruising in an attempt to attach college-level sociological language to what people will actually experience while watching Cruising? Or, is Franco and Mathews actually creating more of a safe space for Val to explore what it feels like to dive into gay sexuality, and gay culture? Did Franco and Mathews create a movie that expands upon the inversed fish-out-of-water story that was Cruising, or did they merely simplify and deconstruct? That may depend on where you're coming from.

    Which brings us to the problem of Interior. Leather Bar. Who's the audience? If I had my way, I'd force every straight person in America to watch this. Every single one of them. It provides a hard look at the culture they live in, and maybe some will be self aware enough to realize that the feelings they're feeling are felt every day by the people who don't share their sexuality. But, it is hardcore gay sexuality as well. So, most straights won't go out to see it. So, is it for the gays? Certainly, gays will go see a movie about gay leather sexuality, especially if it is explicit. But, most gays don't need to be versed in sociological wankery about heteronormative lifestyle, and the straight guys' reactions become more of a comedy than a mirror for their own lifestyle (especially since most of us have had decades of being surrounded by straights). So, will the straights see it just because of James Franco? Who knows.

    What I do know is Interior. Leather Bar. is a peculiar provocation of a film that is penetrating and asks the same old questions in new ways. Even if its intended audience will skim over it in the search for their next Adam Sandler film, Mathews and Franco have tried to advance the culture simply by peering into the soul of everyday straight person, and asking them to do the same. By inverting the question, they're simply asking for acceptance of that which you may not like. And, that, is all the difference.

    Required viewing.

    Full Review at The Other Films.

  • ★★★½ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd

    Ostensibly Mathews and Franco got several mostly unknown actors together to re-create some of the 40 minutes that William Friedkin was forced to cut from the 1980 film Cruising in order to avoid the deadly X-rating. Their idea was that the missing footage consisted of hard-core man-on-man sex (unlikely), or at least men in compromising cruising mode and S&M leather drag which would be too hard for the general public at the time to accept. But what the film delivers is only a couple of short, overtly sexual scenes in the bar (with actor Val Lauren, who played Sal Mineo in Franco's Sal, rather convincingly playing Pacino's role.) The rest of the film is a super-meta documentary about how the (straight and gay) actors, including Franco, felt about playing gay characters so candidly. It's an interesting concept...sort of a filmic bait-and-switch: promising titillation, but going all philosophical about acting method. In any case, it's an intriguing glimpse into the ambiguous intersection of serious filmmaking and gay porn.

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