September 5, 2007


Cruising "Cruising's lasting legacy isn't political but archival," argues Nathan Lee, and it's a teriffic piece, one of his best for the Voice so far; as it happens, he's able to work the Voice's role into the background story of the film's raucous making as well. "Cruising is a lurid fever dream of popper fumes, color-coded pocket hankies, hardcore disco frottage, and Crisco-coated forearms," he writes one paragraph up. "Nowadays, when the naughtiest thing you can do in a New York gay club is light a cigarette, it's bracing - and, let's admit, pretty fucking hot - to travel back to a moment when getting your ass plowed in public was as blasé as ordering a Red Bull. Elaborating on the infernal urban horror show of Taxi Driver, [William] Friedkin imagines the entire West Side of Manhattan as an expanse of sticky asphalt swarming with tumescent Honcho sluts. Grotesquerie abounds - leering sex fiends, freaky bondage weirdos, fugly trannies - but so does a palpable sense of fun. Nothing at the orgy is as shocking as the smile on everyone's face."

Updated through 9/6.

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Matt Sussman maps the lines in "the battle between the respectable gays and the fringe gays," as Marc Huestis, "one of the cofounders of the city's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now the SF International LGBT Film Festival)," puts it, when Cruising first hit the Bay Area in early 1980. And the movie returned in 1995:

In contrast to the largely positive reevaluations in the local press, David Ehrenstein implied in the Bay Area Reporter that the Roxie's revival was tantamount to screening the notorious anti-Semitic film The Eternal Jew (1940). Representatives from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation showed up to hand out protest literature. "It was hilarious," former Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine recalls. "There was a line around the block, and 90 percent of those waiting were in the leather crowd, and these GLAAD folks are trying to persuade them not to see the movie."
On that same page, Jason Shimai notes that, "For some reason [Friedkin], whether or not he's welcome, has clearly thrown in his lot with the queers." It's not just Cruising and The Boys in the Band, which preceded it by ten years, but also bits of Bug and even The Exorcist. As for the film at hand, "Were Friedkin's murder scenes - overt visual associations of anal and violent penetration, blood sprayed across the screen in a porn booth - intended as an extension of his conception of S-M play? Would it be wrong for him to do so, or for the audience to be duly turned on?"

"Reactionary late-70s politics aside (Cruising's pre-AIDS fear of urban promiscuity is simply the gay flipside to Looking for Mr Goodbar, and just as crass), what is Cruising today other than a cultural curio?" asks Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Recouping this one amounts to nothing more than taking part in a Friedkin vanity project. Cruising has been freshly dug up for a new generation of luckily clueless viewers; but, as we know, children shouldn't play with dead things."

"One of the not-so-hard truths about Cruising is that it's a boring muddle, a quality that some have sought to redeem as subversive ambiguity along with Friedkin's sleight-of-hand about the serial killer's identity and voice," writes Nicolas Rapoldfor the L Magazine. "But in draining the cop's trajectory of narrative interest, the film simply pegs its thrills to what Steve will encounter next in a bar and just how much he will experiment in the course of his duties."

"All told, the movie's just a big hot gay mess of macho homo panic. And, golly, if StinkyLulu doesn't just lurv it... Every filthy bit of it."

Earlier: "Friedkin 07."

Updates, 9/6: "Cruising remains as problematic now as when it was released before an infuriated gay public in 1980," argues Bus Station John. Friedkin's "present claim that contemporary audiences are more sophisticated and therefore more receptive to Cruising doesn't mitigate the damage done to our community at the time. It actually comes across more like a retroactive condescension, trivializing the gut response of the thousands of people who protested the film's appearance across the country."

Also at Pixel Vision, Johnny Ray Huston talks with Friedkin about Cruising, then and now.

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Posted by dwhudson at September 5, 2007 8:30 AM