Butler County Times Gazette
by Garon Cockrell
Film Review - @PolariFest AGLIFF "Interior. Leather Bar."
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Oct. 20, 2013 5:20 p.m.

By David Massey
In 2013, James Franco sets the gold standard for
self-indulgent Auteur and on a scale that rivals even Andy Warhol. ‘Interior.
Leather Bar.’ (Co-Directed with Travis Mathews) is just one of many Franco-projects
that I’ve found myself viewing this past year (see also: ‘Child of God’, ‘This
is the End’, ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’, ‘Lovelace’, ‘Maladies’, ‘Tar’,
‘Spring Breakers’, ‘The Iceman’ - and those are just the ones I managed to
catch at various festivals). Looking forward to 2014, the man has an entire
lifetime of projects (for some actor/directors) in varying stages of
production. My take on his absolutely madding and eclectic trajectory; Franco
has found a new type of celebrity excess and, be it a creative excess or not, I
can’t really purport its value to anyone except Franco himself. The films vary
from insightful to entertaining, slow & introspective to over-the-top and
self-aware. There is not a solid through-line to this career but there is no
denying that Franco has an unquenchable thirst for experience and you gotta
love him just a bit for sharing it with us.<>
 
Experience has to have been the impetus for the documentary
‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ which followings a film crew (Franco included) as they
attempt to reimagine the 40 minutes of footage censored by the MPAA from
William Friedkin’s 1980 film ‘Cruising’. The film stared Al Pacino as an
undercover cop and follows his investigation of a series of murders in New York
City’s gay underground. ‘Cruising’ explores the darkest corners of gay culture:
anonymous cruising for sex in public parks and notorious S&M clubs with
names like the Eagle’s Nest, the Ramrod, and the Cock Pit. It’s unclear what
footage was actually cut from the original film as it has never been viewed
publically but the general assumption is that it consisted of actual gay sex shot
in explicit detail as was true to life in these pre-AIDS-era clubs. <>
 
The set up for ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ is a desire by
Franco to expose this suppression and to face what it is that’s considered
subversive in our culture and explore why it is taboo. After speaking to a
number of different people at the Polari Film Festival after party (at Austin’s
best attempt at a leather bar), I gather that few people actually believed that
the film achieved this; I, myself, being one of the skeptics.<>
 
Instead of placing himself in the Al Pacino role – the
straight man posing as gay in the most salacious environment imaginable –
Franco recruits long-time friend and acting colleague Val Lauren (‘The Salton
Sea’ / ‘Live from Baghdad’). Lauren struggles with the content (which his agent
outright refers to as pornography and begs him to decline involvement for the
sake of his career), he is given no script, and only the slightest direction as
he is plunged into a darkly lit set, surrounded by men in the throes of
passion, punishment, and partying. <>
 
Franco makes appearances, gets up close with his camera, and
we get a few asides with him and Lauren as they step away from set and try to
come to terms with what they are doing and why; there is a genuine sense that
both are disturbed by what they’ve accomplished and, for Lauren, this
single-day shoot might be a life-changing event. Here lies the crux of this
film - Franco seems to have a legion of pseudo-sycophants at his disposal who
are willing to indulge his every whim. ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ seems to be
nothing more than one such whim with Lauren as his proxy, playing out the
experiences that Franco is too frightened to touch. Alternately, this could be
a truly elaborate practical joke directed toward Lauren for reasons unknown –
or, perhaps, for no reason but as a salve for Franco’s boredom with his own
normality. Regardless of its intention the film is an exciting experiment in
documentary filmmaking and as mixed as my feelings are concerning the
filmmaker, he has accomplished something truly intriguing.
 
<> 

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