You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Interior. Leather Bar.

An infuriating stunt that misrepresents itself as James Franco and co-director Travis Mathews' reimagining of the 40 minutes William Friedkin claims he was forced to cut from "Cruising" to get an R rating.


With: Val Lauren, James Franco, Christian Patrick, Travis Mathews, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge, Colin Chavez, A.J. Goodrich, Michael Lannan.

Proving that a movie shot over a day and a half can premiere at Sundance if it has James Franco’s name attached, “Interior. Leather Bar.” is an infuriating stunt that misrepresents itself as Franco and co-director Travis Mathews’ reimagining of the 40 minutes William Friedkin claims he was forced to cut from “Cruising” to get an R rating. Yet it would seem “James Franco’s 40 Minutes” don’t exist either, leaving only this hastily tossed-off companion piece, a partly authentic, partly scripted behind-the-scenes featurette that never quite conveys the star’s “high/curious” interest in all things taboo. After Sundance and Berlin, relative obscurity awaits.


On paper, the project echoes Franco’s earlier “Memories of Idaho,” two experimental films made from scraps that Gus Van Sant discarded during the making of “My Own Private Idaho.” A notorious embellisher, Friedkin has often said that he brought “Cruising” to the ratings board 50 times before they relented and gave him an R, despite still-graphic footage and talk of bondage and numerous other fetish acts, nearly all of it unsimulated.


In his DVD director’s commentary for “Cruising,” Friedkin explains how he recruited actual members of Gotham’s leather-bar scene: “Of course, I filmed all these activities in their entirety, but all the other film that I shot has somehow disappeared.” With or without the lost X-rated material, “Cruising” was an important and controversial film in its time, serving as a time capsule of a pre-AIDS sexual subculture, while conflating its play-acted aggression with a series of ripped-from-the-headlines New York murders.


As such, it’s a rich text to reopen, though Mathews (an openly queer director who shook up the LGBT fest circuit with his art-porn feature “I Want Your Love”) makes no effort to investigate what went missing or query Friedkin, but instead focuses on Franco as the pic’s more marketable meta-subject. Recognizing how the “is he or isn’t he” debate has dogged nearly all of Franco’s recent art projects (beginning with his blatantly homoerotic NYU student short, “The Feast of Stephen”), Mathews attempts to shift the attention onto Franco and his creative process.


None of the young actors who agree to participate in the film, least of all Val Lauren (a longtime Playhouse West cohort and star of Franco’s directorial debut, “Sal”), would have enlisted if not for Franco’s involvement. Although Franco appears in the film, his role is mostly that of the man behind the curtain, stirring things up with half-baked opinions, such as his complaint that the MPAA is to blame for his hetero-normative upbringing: “Why don’t they gives us violence in a little more palatable way, and amp up the sex?”


Franco really should have agreed to take the pic’s Al Pacino part himself — a Kinsey Zero assigned to go undercover and blend with an extreme queer subculture — but instead delegates it to Lauren, asking the actor to “play” a version of himself. To the extent that this sloppy assembly has a shape, the film constructs an arc in which Lauren constantly questions his participation in the project (different from the controversial tension underlying “Cruising,” where exposure to leather bars may be turning Pacino’s cop aggressive and/or gay). Lauren is seen debating his choice with the other actors, most of them straight, and improvising calls to a homophobic friend (performed by one of Franco’s producers) and his supportive wife.


The “Cruising” re-creations make up only a small portion of the pic’s running time, shying away from Crisco-covered forearms and the other extreme acts that caused Friedkin so much grief, while trying to portray barroom fellatio and a random, unrelated rough-love scene between three bears as “just right.” This last act pushes the underlying insult to new extremes, cutting between “dirty” closeups and the expressions on Lauren and Franco’s faces as they watch from the sidelines, pretending that witnessing this act of outre lovemaking has somehow broadened their minds.

Popular on Variety

Interior. Leather Bar.


A Rabbit Bandini production. (International sales: The Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by James Franco, Vince Jolivette, Travis Mathews, Iris Torres, Keith Wilson. Directed by James Franco, Travis Mathews. Screenplay, Mathews.


Camera (color, DV), Keith Wilson; editor, Mathews; music, Santiago Latorre; sound, Kit Bateman; sound designer; Chase Keehn; assistant director, Michael Lannan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier), Jan. 23, 2013. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama.) Running time: 60 MIN.


With: Val Lauren, James Franco, Christian Patrick, Travis Mathews, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge, Colin Chavez, A.J. Goodrich, Michael Lannan.

More Scene

  • Gaby Hoffmann, Albert Cheng, Alexandra Billings,

    'Transparent' Team Reflects on Series Finale Without Jeffrey Tambor

    Friday night’s premiere of the series finale of “Transparent” at L.A. Live’s Regal theater felt like a family reunion for the Pfefferman clan. Matriarch Judith Light embraced each one of her TV children (Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass) and guest stars from previous seasons (Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, Bradley Whitford) who also turned [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Pom Klementieff poses at the launch

    Marvel Cinematic Universe Star Pom Klementieff Talks Disney-Fox Merger, X-Men Dreams

    Pom Klementieff may have entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing Mantis in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” followed by appearances in the last two “Avengers” movies, but that wasn’t her original superhero plan. “My dream was to be in X-Men,” she told Variety on Thursday at the Chanel dinner for its new fragrance Gabrielle [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    Gwyneth Paltrow to Be Honored at amfAR Gala Los Angeles

    Gwyneth Paltrow and art dealer Larry Gagosian are set to be honored at the 2019 amfAR Gala Los Angeles. The American Foundation for AIDS Research announced that the two honorees will receive the Award of Courage for their commitment in the fight against HIV and AIDS as well as for their other humanitarian efforts. Christina [...]

  • David Mandel Sam Richardson

    'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Veep,' 'When They See Us' Writers Honored at Emmy Nominees Reception

    Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us”), David Mandel (“Veep”) and Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) were among those honored at the Television Academy’s Emmy nominees writers reception on Tuesday night in North Hollywood. There, ceremony hosts, “Escape at Dannemora” star Eric Lange and “Veep’s” Sam Richardson, kept the show moving by tossing in [...]

  • Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen

    Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart Return for 13th Annual Stand Up for Heroes

    Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj will again Stand Up for Heroes. Comedian Ronny Chieng will join the multi-talented group on stage for a night of music and comedy in honor of military veterans and their families at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4. The 13th annual event [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content