Cruising

Yep, it's still plenty hateful
Released:
1980

Director: William Freidkin

Starring: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Don Scardino

The Setup:

Al Pacino goes undercover in New York’s leather scene to hunt a serial killer. But can he enter this world so completely without eventually wanting a leather daddy to pork his hole?

Discussion:

Having just watched The Fan [and Hellbent the week before], I guess I had killer homos on my mind. And I started thinking “Do I DARE ask the highly-gay video store down the block if they carry Cruising?” And then an hour later a found a VHS copy for $3 at the flea market! It is so obvious that Jesus himself wanted me to watch this film.

Before we begin, another story: My friend Howard has a very clear memory of standing in line with a bunch of gay men waiting to get into this film, as the bored teen usher walked up and down saying “That line is for Ghandi, this line is FOR CRUISING ONLY.”

Okay, now for those who are just tuning in, this movie stirred great controversy in its day for essentially saying that being gay turned people into killers. And I guess we’ve ultimately won, as this has been out of print for years and sells for up to $26 on Half.com [that’s cash for me!]. So anyway, the movie opens with a disclaimer saying that it is exploring a small segment of gay society and is not meant to represent the whole. Which might make one hope that something more exciting than what actually follows were to be here, but oh well.

The movie begins with cops finding a severed arm in the river, then we quickly move to two cops who are complaining about what bitches women are—only they never actually identify the sex they’re talking about. They then harass two trannies and force the girls to blow them in their police car. And at this point I was like; “wow, maybe this movie is going to be pretty interesting, showing how macho attitudes and dislike of women can lead straight men to harass/be attracted to gays.” Which, now that I think about it, ties very strongly into the ending.

So Al Pacino [introduced fairly late into the film] is a young cop who is asked by his commander Paul Sorvino to pose as a gay man in the leather scene and try to draw out the killer. Paul actually asks him, rather out of the blue: “You ever been porked? Or have a man smoke your pole?” He then describes the scene of “Heavy leather. S&M. It’s a world unto itself.” Hey, thanks for the exposition, Paul, and if I ever get my pole smoked, I’ll let you know.

So Al agrees, and after leaving his whiny-as-shit girlfriend [played by Indiana Jones’ girlfriend Karen Allen], and heading into the West Village, he meets Ted, a gay guy living down the hall. Ted is played by Don Scardino, who canny viewers will remember as THE HERO OF SQUIRM!!! Go Don!

Then we have what is really the highlight of the film, which are the many scenes set in the West Village leather bars of the late 70s. Big Sigh. I moved to NYC in 1998 [and visited many times before], so I was able to catch the tail end of the leather scene here, back when men had mustaches [and sometimes BIG mustaches!] and weren’t afraid to wear full leather and try to look mean. Now of course everyone wants to look like Jennifer Love Hewett with a five-o’clock shadow and a baseball cap. Anyway, the best thing about this movie is the footage of the leather bars and the HHHOT men who frequented them, and there are multitudes on display here. What’s more, the bars looked like FUN, and the Village had crazy street life, and everything just looked like a blast. I asked Howard if it was really like that back then and he said he remembered the bar scenes in this film as being pretty realistic. Ahh, happier times.

What’s NOT realistic is the LUDICROUS gay-bar-pickup dialogue Friedkin has his characters say. Okay, I wasn’t there in the late 70s, but I feel quite sure that NO ONE talked like that, and if they did, you would high-tail it away from them pretty fast. Unless they were really hot, of course.

So it goes on, as Al is slowly drawn deeper and deeper into the leather scene. The movie is pretty explicit that he never actually has sex with a man, and he seems unable to really get into the scene. There is one scene where Al is on the dance floor, and does poppers and begins to loosen up… and he still can’t dance. I didn’t know whether this was characterization, or if Al really just can’t dance.

At one point they catch someone they think is the killer, and he's being interrogated, and all of a sudden the door opens and there’s this huge black muscle daddy in nothing but a jock and cowboy hat, who comes in and smacks Pacino! And apparently he’s hired by the police! Good thing I didn’t know the police were using these unusual interrogation skills, or I’d be on a killing spree in no time! Then the five cops make the gay suspect jack off and cum [not shown] in front of all of them! And this is supposed to DETER crime?!?

Then Karen Allen shows up to whine and whine and whine some more. And by the way, how is it POSSIBLE that she has such a huge apartment?

 SPOILERS > > > So Pacino finally catches the killer, but then they find that Ted has been killed while the killer was in custody… and the best explanation is that Pacino did it. There is an alternate explanation that perhaps there were different killers all along, but the more I think about it, I think we’re supposed to think that Pacino did it, which also makes sense with the many scenes of how hatred of women and repressed sexual attraction to men leads various cops to attack gays. Which leads to all sorts of interpretations, from that being gay and into leather is just a breeding ground for psychopaths, to that the more you get into it that… you turn into a killer, or whatever.
< < < SPOILERS END

Pretty much everywhere you turn, however, the message is pretty noxious. I was all like; “okay, let’s approach this with an open mind and see if this is actually a good film, and people are just being too politically correct, or this is a good film even though it truly is offensive,” but I think ultimately it is quite offensive and it’s really not that great a film. Aside from what it’s saying, the scenes repeat themselves and the whole thing just gets dull and shapeless after a while. We never really feel Pacino’s attraction to the gay world or leather sex, and the leather world is not presented as mysterious or alluring, just weird and alien.

I would still definitely say it’s worth watching at least once, though, if only to see WHAT straights [at least, at one time] made of the leather world, what they think of the psychology of gays, and the scenes capturing the heyday of a leather world now pretty much gone.

Should you watch it?

Yes. It’s hateful, but it’s still definitely something to see, and it’s valuable to know the enemy. And that’s not even to mention all the hot hot guys.

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