More than three decades have passed since gay activists in New York, fearing the perpetuation of negative stereotypes, united to protest the filming of William Friedkin's Cruising. The graphic psychological thriller, which starred Al Pacino as a cop investigating a series of murders in Manhattan and finds himself lured into the underground S/M subculture, remains a cultural touchstone. Some gay men feel it does not accurately portray a segment of the LGBT population, while others view it as a glimpse into a scene that has somewhat vanished or been mainstreamed. For example, the city's Meatpacking District is now a fashion destination. Now James Franco and director Travis Mathews, whose no-holds-barred erotic drama I Want Your Love is currently a hit on the film festival circuit, have teamed to create an art project about the 40 minutes of footage that was excised from Friedkin's version and has since disappeared. Mathews speaks with The Advocate about how the two men found inspiration in Cruising, the possibility of protests, and why Franco is so fascinated with gay men.
The Advocate: James Franco’s Cruising is inspired by the controversial 1980 Al Pacino movie, Cruising. What exactly does “inspired” mean in this instance?
Travis Mathews: We are reimagining 40 minutes of footage that was cut from Cruising. The footage was lost after [Cruising director] William Friedkin had to cut it out to secure an R rating. When he went back to put it in for the 30th anniversary [DVD release] he was told it had been destroyed. That was where we started. But James Franco’s Cruising is primarily about the making of the 40 minutes of film that was eventually lost. No one will confuse it for a remake.
Is it correct to assume Franco is playing himself in the movie? Who is playing Al Pacino?
Franco is playing himself. I’m playing myself. Val Lauren gives an amazing performance as … I hesitate to say he’s playing Pacino because it’s more than that, but the short answer is yes, he’s interpreting that character and doing something all his own.
Which scenes in Cruising inspired you the most?
The bar scenes. If you edit all of those scenes back-to-back and eliminate the other dramatic elements in the film, it’s a nonjudgmental snapshot of a particular gay New York subculture in 1980. It’s part of what makes the controversy [about the S/M bar scenes] so fascinating from my 2012 perspective. As a whole it’s problematic, but in isolation I think those bar scenes are actually an important document that’s never given much credit.