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Has gay culture finally caught up to Cruising?

At a time when gay and lesbian characters were virtually invisible in mainstream film and television, a movie like Cruising -- about an undercover cop (Al Pacino) who infiltrates the hard-core S/M leather bar scene in New York City on the hunt for a killer targeting gay men -- was guaranteed to stir up anger in the relatively young pre-AIDS gay rights movement. Besides its sleazy milieu and gay-on-gay violence, the movie features fairly explicit (by Hollywood standards) scenes of sex acts that even some purveyors of gay porn would consider beyond the pale. Gay protesters picketed the film during its production and then again when it appeared in theaters in 1980. But now, 27 years later, as the film makes its DVD debut, is it time to reevaluate Cruising's place in queer cinema history?

Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The Boys in the Band) reveals on the DVD extras that he was drawn to the film because the New York fetish bars made a great setting for a murder mystery. He also points out that there were plenty of gay men at the time who didn't protest--namely, the leather bar denizens who happily participated in the film's production as extras.

The featurettes also include insights from producer Jerry Weintraub, actor and former police officer Randy Jurgensen, and other cast members discussing matters such as the on-set protests (lots of the dialogue had to be redubbed later because activists blew whistles and made noise to ruin takes). But there are two gaping absences among the interviewees: Pacino himself and a single gay person.

One queer champion of the film they could have interviewed is filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (Hustler White), who says the film's dark tone influenced his own work. "It was so far outside the comfort zone for Hollywood cinema, and it really had a big effect on me in terms of making me want to explore sexual boundaries and taboos in both my life and my films." For gay audiences who still find the film politically incorrect, LaBruce adds, "I say if you don't like it, Dorothy, go back to Kansas."

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