It is hard to believe that William Friedkin’s “Cruising” is already 30+ years old. What is amazing is that it has not been released on DVD but rumor has it that it will be soon. Friedkin
has recut it and is showing it again at this year’s Cannes Film Festival so I suppose that is a sign that its release is imminent.
When “Cruising” came out it created quite a furor because of the way it depicted gay men as “they are”. People saw masculine men dancing and kissing and participating in S&M activities and this was something that many had never seen before. The movie violated the picture people had of gay men as being effeminate and weak. The movie broke ground by showing that gay men, in particular the leather subculture, are real people and have some influence. The movie also showed the interiors of gay bars and the activity there as it was.
This is a brutal film and definitely affects the viewer as it combines murder, mystery, sex and subculture. Viewed today it still shocks and many still consider it to be homophobic by depicting gay men as being sexually obsessed whereas those many of the men who are members of the leather scene claim that it is accurate. It is important to remember that the movie was made before AIDS when sexual excess was extremely popular.
I do not think that people were fair to the movie—it is not a look at gay culture as a whole—it uses the leather scene to show how one man’s life is affected by his work. Al Pacino as a cop investigating a murder gives an outstanding performance.
William Friedkin is known for making mysterious, dark films and he has done himself proud with this film. The controversy around it brought about a dialog which led to a better understanding of the gay community and if had done nothing else, that would have been enough. But “Cruising” is also a good movie even with all of the controversy.
This is not an easy film to watch. The characters are not the kind of people that we like and for some reason the film seems incomplete. I have heard that 40 minutes of film were cut due
to censorship problems but some of that is being restored to the film with the new cut. This should clarify any ambiguity of the film. What the film really seems to be about is the thin lie between good and evil.
“Cruising” is more than a movie—it is an experience and a provocative one at that. It has no soul and it is dark and physical. It is a riveting ad dark look at something many know nothing about. It is a sexual thriller in which Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is sent undercover into the gay community to find a serial killer who stalks the leather bars. The grittiness of the film reflects the scenes it pictures. This is not a gay film—it is a horror film, a very tense thriller with remarkable performances. It is also important as it pushed the door wide open for others to come in and take up filming the gay community. The plot may ramble but then so does life—like the movie, life is all over the place.