Interior. Leather Bar

Movie Information

The Story: James Franco and Travis Matthews document their attempts to reimagine the cut footage from William Friedkin's Cruising. The Lowdown: Straddling the fence between documentary and narrative film, Interior. Leather Bar can't find a consistent tone but is occasionally of interest to a fairly narrow market.
Genre: Hybrid Docsploitation Think Piece
Director: James Franco, Travis Matthews
Starring: Val Lauren, James Franco, Travis Matthews, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory
Rated: NR

First off, the title of James Franco’s latest passion project, Interior. Leather Bar, is intended to call to mind the instructions seen on the page of a movie script. Unfortunately, nothing else about this curiosity can be explained so easily — including just how passionate Franco’s passion is, how much he actually had to do with the 60-minute film and what the point of the whole thing is. Oh, it’s easy enough to say what it purports be — a reimagining of the legendary, supposedly destroyed (or lost) 40 minutes of footage that was allegedly cut from William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in order to obtain an R rating. As you might guess from my phrasing, there’s a good chance that the whole story of the 40 minutes worth of cuts may be apocryphal. Messrs. Franco and Matthews, however, take (or claim to take) the story at face value. The movie is supposedly an attempt to create that lost footage. That isn’t exactly what it is.

Most of Interior. Leather Bar is about Franco and gay documentarian Matthews (a man with the worst haircut in the world) making the film. It’s also about Franco’s friend, nervous straight-boy Val Lauren, and his reservations about being in the film. Franco also spends some time trying to explain why he’s making the damned thing in the first place. Very little of the finished product actually presents us with the recreated footage. To say that the film is going to be of somewhat limited interest to general audiences is understating the case severely. (This is perhaps why the Fine Arts has booked it for their Friday and Saturday late shows only.)

I can’t say that the film is bad or badly made, but I also can’t say I like it. It’s not that I am in the least bothered by its presentation of unsimulated gay sex. (There was a lot more — and more explicit — gay sex in John Cameron Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus, which was one of my favorite films of its year.) At the same time, I find all the theoretically intellectual discourse about normalizing such footage a little unpersuasive. The fact that Franco is the primary spokesman doesn’t help. Franco’s hazy pontificating leaves me feeling like it’s 1973 again, and I’m stuck in a dorm room with some seriously stoned dude who imagines he’s being profound. My immediate impulse in such matters is to seek the nearest exit.

That said, some of the recreated or reimagined or completely fabricated footage is well done, and while the point is pretty transparent, Val coming to terms with his feelings about his involvement in the project is not without interest. Whether any of this makes the film worth seeing is your call. Not Rated, but contains explicit sex and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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