The American crime film follows Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a heterosexual New York police officer who goes undercover in the gay leather scene. Burns is on the hunt for an elusive serial killer who is luring homosexual men from nightclubs with the incentive of sex. Friedkin intertwines scenes of hedonistic underground clubs with the murders that are continuously committed in the city.
For the director, well known for his seminal depiction of The Exorcist (1973), Friedkin split audiences with his vision of a primarily taboo topic at the time, which concentrates on the gay leather scene and their preoccupation with sadomasochism.
Quite famously, many of the LGBT community protested the making and release of this film as they thought it would depict gay men as sexually violent and promiscuous, in a society which already discriminated against them.
Part of the anger may derive from the 1972 Gerard Walker novel, from which the film was loosely based on, which deals with underlying themes of homophobia and racism. Friedkin was aware of this, and acknowledged that Walker’s writing was long outdated. Therefore, the film can hardly be seen as a forthright adaptation of the novel.
In hindsight, it seems that homosexuals may not have been protesting the honest depiction of the leather scene but the stereotype it may monger when viewed by a heteronormative audience, an audience which often homogenises gay men, rather than seeing the diversity that exists within the community.
On a separate note, James Franco and Travis Matthews released a fictional documentary based on the deleted footage from the film. Many of the sexually explicit scenes from the original film were cut from the final piece in order to push it from an X-rated to an R-rated film. Franco and Matthews reimagined these scenes and aimed to reconstruct the aura which Friedkin had initially generated. Quite frankly, the conscious recreation did not have the same energy that was so organically created in Cruising, making it a somewhat poor homage.
Overall, the film stands as a documentation of the thriving ‘70s and 80s leather and sadomasochism scene in New York, themes which are rarely touched on in the mainstream media. Therefore, it’s a given, that when you are exploring subversive and transgressive ideas like these, it’s bound to provoke political interest.
director WILLIAM FRIEDKIN
director of photography JAMES A. CONTNER
cast AL PACINO, PAUL SORVINO, KAREN ALLEN, RICHARD COX and DON SCARDINO
words PRIYESH PATEL