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Interior. Leather Bar.

2013 | 60 min | Not rated

Interior. Leather Bar.


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Theatrical release date

 19 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Interior. Leather Bar.


Interior. Leather Bar. Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 3, 2014

Although it was never a success, William Friedkin’s 1980 effort, “Cruising” (starring Al Pacino), has inspired a cult following over the last three decades. A deeply flawed but fascinating vision of the gay club scene in New York City, “Cruising” was reportedly shredded by the MPAA to achieve its release, shorn of 40 sexually explicit minutes that have never seen the light of day. Enter James Franco and Travis Matthews, two filmmakers out to flex their creative muscles by restaging this lost footage with an eager cast of background players and a hesitant star in Val Lauren, spending a few days in a Los Angeles theater dissecting the motivations of the moment, using the shoot as a way to challenge personal fears.

Although it promises a recreation of the missing “Cruising” sequences, “Interior. Leather Bar.” actually has little interest in the subject. A docudrama, the feature captures the execution of the shoot, studying Matthews and Franco as they hash out the logistics of the production with little in the way of a budget and time. There’s disappointment to be found once the curtain is pulled back on the picture, as any opportunity to explore “Cruising” and its dated, possibly destructive depiction of gay life in 1980 is valuable, helping to understand the film’s impact and interpretational qualities. “Interior. Leather Bar.” hints at such a conversation, with Franco imagining the do-over as a commentary on the gay marriage issue and his own programmed thinking, questing to create a charged homage to help snap viewers out of their intolerance. It’s ambitious thinking, laudably so, but an experiment like this requires a certain sense of focus. Franco and Matthews would rather linger on backstage mood.

Mixing straight and gay actors to portray leather bar patrons, the extras are highlighted as a motivated bunch ready to perform sexual acts on camera, a few particularly happy to take part in such challenging work. Mostly, the gang is primed to be around Franco, with rumors (perhaps dreams is a more accurate description) about the extent of his participation buzzing around the set. At the very least, “Interior. Leather Bar.” is a fascinating study of star power, with Franco’s name alone attracting willing actors, while Lauren (a dead ringer for a young Pacino), a longtime pal, suits up for duty out of loyalty, putting heterosexual trust in his friend’s hands, while his own discomfort rises as paddles are distributed and lovers are instructed to consume each other as strangers watch. For the record, Franco never steps in front of the camera, content to play the part of director, boasting about the deliciously itchy contrast between his time with “Interior. Leather Bar.” and his work on the squeaky clean Disney production, “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

At the core of the feature is a discussion of creativity, with philosophies and hesitations shared, watching the cast and crew express themselves as they figure out a way to capture the raw emotion of the moment. The authenticity of “Interior. Leather Bar.” is punctured midway through, exposing Matthews directing a casual conversation between Lauren and an extra, revealing the artifice of filmmaking in a manner that surprises and deflates, taking the sting out of the movie as it works deeper into discomfort. The illusion of reality should’ve been maintained for the duration of the picture, which skillfully generates a riveting depiction of self-expression and the steps of character submersion. In its quest to be mischievous, “Interior. Leather Bar” ruins its greatest trick, though Lauren’s particularly strong performance manages to repair most of the damage.

“Interior. Leather Bar.” is short (60 minutes) and anticlimactic, finally taking time to screen a few minutes of the “Cruising” mimicry, which doesn’t look genuine, but the spirit of the scene is revived, summoning the heat and chemically-induced spasms of dance floor flirtation. As a work of restoration, it fails, barely tending to the Freidkin details. The effort is stronger, more effective as an inspection of backstage planning and the reins of phobia, isolating and confronting modern prejudices via the reverse engineering of old ones.

Starring: James Franco, Val Lauren, Michael Lannan
Directors: James Franco, Travis Matthews

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