CIFF 2013 Review: INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. starring James Franco
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Interior. Leather Bar. (2013) – No Stars

Interior. Leather Bar., director Travis Mathews’s mock-doc (co-directed by James Franco) covering the filming of his re-imagining of 40-minutes cut from Billy Friedkin’s Cruising, boils down to this: A faux-intellectual exercise in queer theory that works more in concept than in practice. As it stands, the film feels like a second year film school student’s attempt to make a statement about the biases and prejudices of our hetero-sexist society in the most superficial way.

The film follows actor Val, the story’s literal straight man, as he takes on Al Pacino’s character in Cruising for his buddy James Franco. He is constantly confronting his own discomfort with the gay sex that we see on screen and he sees in production. And this is the film’s fatal flaw. It’s too aware of it’s own mission to make the statement it really wants to make.

Yes, as gay life becomes more normalized it loses some of its queerness. But this movie isn’t going to change that. In fact, the lack of substantial criticism makes this film as benign as Kurt and Blaine’s relationship in Glee. A full remake of Cruising would probably have made the point, better.

As far as James Franco’s participation goes, it’s simply distracting. Franco might have at one time been described as “brave” for making this film with Mathews. However, the actor who has already starred as gay icons James Dean and Allen Ginsberg, as well as gay rights activist Scott Smith in Milk; this just seems like an overreach.

Interior. Leather Bar. was screened at the 37th Cleveland International Film Festival. More info: www.clevelandfilm.org.

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