Interior. Leather Bar.

Interior. Leather Bar. ★★★½

Interior. Leather Bar., the latest in Franco’s ever-gayer projects, is ostensibly a documentary about Franco and documentary/art-porn film maker Travis Mathews’ efforts to recreate forty minutes of footage that was censored from William Friedkin’s highly controversial 1980 film, Cruising, but it is clear from the outset that this premise is the little more than an excuse to prompt conversation between the actors (some gay, some straight – again with the labels) about their comfort levels with the material and their own personal artistic boundaries. Seeing as the censored footage consisted almost wholly of explicit sexual content that Friedkin was hoping to use to flesh out the underground leather bar world that Al Pacino’s character descends into in the hunt for a serial killer, it makes for an extremely confronting project for many of the actors. On top of this, the esoteric nature of the project and its almost structureless starting point (the censored footage has never been seen, seeing as it was lost or destroyed by United Artists, and the cast are working from a barebones script) only fuel the actors’ apprehension.

To pull their experiment into some kind of digestible shape, Franco and Mathews’ focus the bulk of their attention on Franco’s long-time friend, Val Lauren, who plays the “Pacino-inspired” lead role. Lauren fits right into the aesthetic of the film; he’s intensely focused on his acting craft and eager to be led by Franco, who he trusts implicitly, but he’s also exceptionally wary of both the gay intimacy and the seeming lack of point to the film. Of course, capturing his reactions (and to a lesser extent the reactions of those around him) is the film’s primary purpose and amplifying his anxiety only serves the directors’ purpose. To this end, Franco is constantly in discussion with Lauren, pressuring him to justify his discomfort and to re-evaluate his personal boundaries.

The dynamic between the two men is actually quite difficult to watch. The struggle of Lauren, who comes across as having been ripped unceremoniously out of Jersey Shore, to keep faith in the artistic and professional merit of the project is painful; the ideas are just beyond him. It isn't made any easier to endure by Franco, who is clearly more educated, constantly prodding at him as if he's his personal lab rat. Of course, just how much this represents the pair's actual relationship is up for debate.

There is a clever, boundary-confusing fusion of documentary and narrative film making at play in Franco and Mathews’ film. The interviews with their cast members never feel anything but immediate but a couple of barely disguised meta-narrative triggers signal Mathews’ conceit. At one stage Lauren lays back against a fence reading his one page script out loud and the lines he reads say lays back against the fence reading script out loud and at other times Lauren’s phone calls from friends, who vent their displeasure at his involvement in a "gay" film, curiously capture both sides of the conversation. Rather than undoing the film's hard earned reality, these well placed fictional flourishes help to consolidate film's preoccupations into a more rounded argument...

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