Lauren (left) does his Pacino impersonation, with Christian Patrick.
This week in movies you missed:
This film features James Franco and explicit male-on-male BDSM. Not together.
What You Missed
In case you haven't visited the internet since 2005, let me take the time to inform you that actor James Franco has recreated himself as an all-purpose merry prankster and multimedia provocateur. (Here's a piece on his latest NSFW art project.
Ask Seth Rogen about that when he comes to town next week
.) As part of that effort, Franco is now a prolific director of short films, features and sort-of-features, like this one, which he codirected with Travis Mathews.
"Interior. Leather Bar." is the title of a scene in William Friedkin's 1980 thriller Cruising
, in which Al Pacino played a cop who went undercover in the gay club scene to catch a killer. To avoid getting an X rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, Friedkin had to cut 40 minutes of explicit footage, which was later destroyed.
Franco's mission? Recreate the missing reels using actor Val Lauren as a Pacino lookalike.
The result? A 60-minute movie featuring a few minutes of graphic sex and club grinding. The rest of it is a faux fly-on-the-wall documentary in which Franco tries to convince his uncomfortable friend Lauren — who reminds everyone repeatedly that he is very, very
heterosexual with a wife at home — that this project is totally worth his time and effort.
How do we know
this is a faux, scripted documentary? Well, we see the script. We see Lauren and other actors being coached on how to act and react when discussing the movie. In short, Franco pretty much flat-out tells us nothing here is real, even when it's presented as behind-the-scenes footage.
Why You Missed It
Played at Sundance, then at two U.S. theaters. Now on video and Amazon and Netflix Instant.
Should You Keep Missing It?
My 20-point, highly scientific scale for the assessment of indie films:
1-4 points: Does it look pretty?
2/4. It's a faux-doc about movie making. The scene where prospective actors stand against a wall and "cruise the camera" was kinda cool, I guess.
1-4 points: Does anything happen?
1/4. Franco's ego happens.
When Mathews describes the recreated footage to the actors, it seems to have some faint semblance of plot, but we never really see this play out.
1-4 points: Does what happens make sense?
1/4. See above.
1-4 points: Do the characters seem like real people? Failing that, do they look pretty?
1/4. Lauren is tasked with carrying the plot, such as it is, because his character is the only one with a conflict. In the film's most interesting moments, he tries to explain the film's concept to the other actors, parroting Franco's pronouncements ("If it's artistic expression, there are no taboos") despite his obvious suspicion that the whole thing is arty BS.
There's promise in that setup. Unfortunately, neither Lauren nor the script is capable of teasing it out. This dude is no young Pacino, to put it mildly, and his line delivery is stiff and obvious in key scenes. Unlike Franco, he clearly isn't convinced by his own persona.
1-4 points: Does the movie give us a reason to care about anything happening on screen?
1/4. Recreating the lost "transgressive" sex footage is a fascinating project — in theory. But I have to give the floor here to William Friedkin himself. Here he speaks with Randy Myers of the San Jose Mercury News
about Interior. Leather Bar.
and his dealings with Franco:
"I saw it," Friedkin says. "He sent it to me on my iPad. I don't get it.
"I don't know really what he had in mind with it. Perhaps he does. I did speak with him while he was working on it. He wanted to know what the missing footage from 'Cruising' was, and I said: 'I thought you were making a film about what the missing footage was.' And he sort of laughed on the phone and he said: 'Yeah, but I'm not sure what it was.'"
To my mind, that quote encapsulates Franco's apparent lack of interest in the project per se. He doesn't care enough to weave a new story from the fabric of Cruising
, or to comment on the differences between movies about gay culture then and now. Maybe that was his original intention, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside.
What he is
interested in doing, judging by the film, is challenging "heteronormativity" and America's preference for film violence over anything resembling real sex. We know because he tells Lauren and the camera so.
Those are worthy goals, ones I support — again, in theory. But how exactly is Interior. Leather Bar. fulfilling them with a half-hearted postmodern anti-plot that isn't going to lure any benighted Americans away from their superhero flicks?
Perhaps Franco imagines that people who don't normally watch art movies will stream this flick from Netflix because "Hey, that's James Franco, the dude my kids loved in Oz the Great and Powerful
!" Franco was shooting that big-budget Disney flick at around the same time he made Interior. Leather Bar.
, and he takes every opportunity to remind us of it. When Lauren suggests that family-film fans might find this project distasteful, Franco exults: "It's about
being in a Disney movie and doing it [making this film]. That's what's giving it half its power!"
If you say so, dude. What I see is a movie star who took a few critical theory classes and hasn't really processed what he learned there, much less how to make it play on film. If the movie's real subject is Franco's pretensions versus Lauren's prejudices, that's a good conflict — but it remains a mere sketch, not a full-fledged story that gets us somewhere.
To be honest, I don't think Franco has changed much since he played the high school slacker who won Linda Cardellini's heart on Judd Apatow's cult series "Freaks and Geeks." He still isn't a particularly deep thinker, even if he has been reading postmodern gender theory lately. He still has the same adorable shit-eating grin that will allow him to get away with anything. He's still so charming and wink-wink about his delusions of grandeur that it's impossible to despise him.
For me, though, it was also impossible to take this movie seriously.
See it … for the few minutes of explicit sex, in which, I should emphasize, Franco does not participate? For the bondage gear on display? Or as a curiosity? I dunno. If you want to see this, I suspect you already know.
This Week in Theaters
A horror flick (The Quiet Ones
), an action flick (Brick Mansions
) and a rom com (The Other Woman
). Also, Oscar-nominated animation Ernest and Celestine
plays this weekend only at the Savoy.
This Week in Your Living Room
The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Barefoot
, some other stuff.