James Franco isn’t done teasing the gays: The Oscar-nominated actor-director has teamed with I Want Your Love director Travis Mathews on James Franco’s Cruising, inspired by the controversial queer thriller Cruising.
The original Cruising, directed by William Friedkin, sparked outrage before it even hit theaters in 1980: In it, Al Pacino plays a conflicted cop assigned to investigate a series of murders in the seamy underbelly of New York’s gay sexual underground. (Is there any underbelly that’s not seamy?) As Pacino delves deeper into the case, he finds himself drawn into a world of gritty S&M.
Cruising was released at a time where gay men were still sterotyped as pathological sex fiends, and protest groups demonstrated while it was still shooting, (Extras had to be picked up from a remote location and co-star Karen Allen was kept in the dark about the full nature of the film to protect her from the backlash.)
Franco (above with camera) had originally wanted to update the film, but couldn’t secure the rights. He turned to Mathews, who featured explicit sex scenes in his gay drama I Want Your Love, to collaborate on an experimental homage. After some initial discussions, Mathews turned over an initial cut to Franco after just two months.
“[James] knew he wanted real gay sex in it,” Mathews tells Indiewire. “His people went looking for a filmmaker who had filmed real gay sex, and I suspect someone who would complement his vision. We talked about why we would be interested in still looking at this film. We talked about his interest in the film and his interest more broadly in so many gay-themed stories and visionairies. He’s worked with so many in front of and behind the cameras over the years.”
Mathews (left) and Franco both appear in the movie, a fictional re-creation of 40 minutes which was originally cut from the film to appease the MPAA and secure an R rating.
“[Friedkin] cut the film down at his own expense,” Mathews said. “Recently, when he was getting ready to do an anniversary edition, Warner Bros. told him that the footage was destroyed. It’s possible those 40 minutes implicate Pacino’s character in the gay S&M culture. That was the place we started from as a launching point: James Franco’s version of those lost 40 minutes.”
With the passage of time and changing views of gay sexuality, Cruising has been reevaluated by queer film historians as a significant piece of LGBT cinema. Mathews calls it “an insightful, important document of an important subculture, right before AIDS hits, in 1979 New York.”
Having starred in the gay films Milk and Howl, directed the gay bio-pic The Broken Tower, released the queer short The Feast of Stephen, and dolled up in drag for the cover of Candy magazine, Franco obviously has a serious interest in gay-male culture. But is he using his fame to champion an underrepresented facet of society or just cashing in on his appeal?