Crossing the Line – Cruising

We’re back! You can also see the new Crossing the Line at Theoretically Evil!

Cruising is a charming little undercover police story where Al Pacino has to infiltrate the seedy and dangerous world of gay S&M clubs to stop some gay murders.  As a film, it’s a bit of a mess and the protests by gay groups did not make a huge impact on the straight public.

Tagline: Al Pacino is Cruising for a killer.

Synopsis: A serial killer brutally slays and dismembers several gay men in New York’s S&M and leather districts. The young police officer Steve Burns is sent undercover onto the streets as decoy for the murderer. Working almost completely isolated from his department, he has to learn and practice the complex rules and signals of this little society. While barely seeing his girlfriend Nancy anymore, the work starts changing him.

Interesting Fact: Most of the nightclub scenes were shot in real New York S&M clubs and the extras were largely actual patrons directed to act like they normally would in the club.

Objectionable material: Tons of dude butt, ass-less chaps, implied anal fisting, aggressive straight sex, a fairly bizarre idea of the psychology behind the gay leather community, a whole lot of shirtless hairy sweaty dudes being very sexual, Paul Sorvino, a poor understanding of the rules of pool, innuendo all over the place, somewhat graphic murders, jock straps, drug use, the implication of lots of homosexual sex and sex acts, cross-dressing

Disturbing Quote: All [smoking] is is anal regressive. If you want to quit I suggest you try another form of childhood stroking.

Screaming Girl: It’s been awhile since I have written one a Crossing the Line entry and what a movie to start with! Cruising is the story of a police officer trying to climb the ranks by going undercover in the gay S&M community in order to catch a murderer. After the movie I have a few things I feel obligated to point out…

Number 1: Now I’m not a police officer, nor have I ever been one but I’m pretty sure that going undercover in the gay community (or any community for that matter) means establishing relationships with members of said community and gleaning information from them. Not making friends with one gay guy and then using the rest of the time to have a bunch of gay sex with random men. But that’s just a hunch.

Number 2: As I have referenced before in the Salo or 120 Days of Sodom post written in the very beginning of our little controversial adventure. I have some background with the S&M community. This movie only encourages the stereotype that sadomasochists are cruel, torturous, murdering, creepers. This is in fact not the case, and as my past research and interviews have confirmed the sadomasochistic community is a very loving and welcoming, if not litigiously aware group of people.

Number 3: I’m pretty sure that having a giant black guy in a police cap and thong beating the hell out of suspects (who later turn out to be innocent) is considered police brutality. Likewise, going into a person’s apartment and rummaging through their psychotic letters to their long dead father would be considered illegal search and seizure. Both of these things are inadmissible in court and can cause your case to be thrown away.

Number 4: Now, I’ve heard a lot of stereotypes about where gay men like to meet up to have sex: bath houses, airport restrooms, Lady Gaga concerts, parks, etc. While you can find some truths in stereotypes I really can’t imagine that once the sun goes down every park across the country becomes a big gay sex free-for-all for every gay person in a 100 mile radius. I mean seriously, these fields were so packed with gay men that I was fully prepared for a musical number.

Finally Number 5: I know that in the 80’s the general public was not as informed about the gay population as it is now. But I don’t think that I am asking too much when I request that my film writers/directors/producers/actors do a little research about the population that they are going to portray. If I knew nothing about gay people and I used this as my gauge I would assume that all gay people go to bars or parks every night to have nameless, faceless sex. Gay people have jobs that allow them to be either musicians, actors, dancers or prostitutes. Every gay man likes to dress as women or cops. Gay men scream like girls. And all gay men live in a part of town that only gay men live in nor do they associate with non-gays.

On the whole, cruising was psychologically dull. I find it mostly controversial because of it’s glaring stereotypes (see Soul Man) and less because of it’s content. It may have been a much bigger issue 30 years ago but looking at it now it’s just sort of insulting. I really believe that society as a whole (except Tea Partiers) would look at this movie and laugh at it’s glaring inaccuracies. I’m sure it was unintentional but I feel as if the film writer caused more harm to the gay community by encouraging these stereotypes.

Mind Fuckability Rating: College experimentation may cause you to become a murderer.

MBRFT: William Friedkin’s “Cruising” takes us wrist-deep (literally) into the ‘70’s New York leather scene, where the only part of the body anyone tries to keep covered is their upper lip. Beyond the endless scenes of dank dungeon bars and brawny mustachioed men, there’s a loose framework of plot involving an undercover cop and a lot of dead-eyed staring. Pacino’s methods of probing this underground sub-culture include standing in a corner and occasionally making eye-contact. He acts more like a pubescent boy at a 7th grade dance than a seasoned police officer. A more accurate title for the film would be “Creeping.” At one point he might even partake in a back-alley BJ with another leather-clad fella. I say “might” because the film makes all of this as ambiguous as possible and effectively muddies anything that the original story might have been trying to convey. Friedkin seems to be more interested in documenting the leather scene than trying to effectively develop his main character. And he’s clearly very good at it. The gritty urban cinematography makes you almost smell the ball sweat. But it seems like an awful waste of Al Pacino in his prime. And if I just wanted to see homoerotic photography, I’d go to a Mapplethorpe exhibit.
The controversy over “Cruising” stems from its portrayal of the S&M culture. Critics at the time doubted any film could tackle the subject of this specific fragment of the homosexual community without generalizing and creating a homophobic backlash. The film never outright claims that it’s representative of the entire gay community, but it also gives such little guidance that it becomes entirely unclear what anyone should take from this. Pacino is supposed to be the ordinary guy whom we can identify with in this strange world, but his actions become increasingly obsessive and bizarre, alienating the viewer. There are thought-provoking ideas in this film that are largely discarded by the time the credits roll. A moralizing serial killer, seducing gay men before he kills them, is an interesting dichotomy that should be explored, but this is largely brushed aside for more shock scenes of anal-fisting in a club. The few tidbits of back-story and character development we get are often surreal and disjointed. There’s no need for any spoiler alerts because I’m not sure I even understand what happens in the last ten minutes.

PsychoLarry1: Cruising is a movie with nothing to say and a whole lot of time to say it.  Sure it was only 1 hour and 40 minutes long, but the movie is content to plod from grungy bar to grungy bar with an aimless inertia rather than build up any kind of suspense.  At some point Friedkin and the producers must have decided that actually make a coherent and engaging film was to much work; opting instead for a vague sort of meandering parade of attempts to shock and scandalize hetero-American viewers.  The nightclubs are indistinguishable and all look like a collision between a Judas Priest show and a white power rally.  I dunno, maybe the S&M culture really was just a bunch of dudes fisting each other in a bar while wearing Freddy Mercury’s mustache, aviators and a traffic cop hat, but as a visual theme it became kind of dull and boring. Most movie is shot in a smokey blue haze, and the only color you get is black leather, black hair (apparently leather daddies can’t be blonde?), and pasty sweating skin.  I suppose some people might have been scandalized by the intense and aggressive sexuality or by the depiction of the subculture as a bunch of perverted deviants and murderers, but in all the film just seems lazy and completely lacking depth.

If you wanted a police thriller you won’t get it.  Pacino is dropped into the S&M scene without any sort of introduction or even a basic 1980s training montage.  From there he sulks his way through a bunch of nightclubs until he stumbles on the real killer almost entirely by accident and without engaging in any sort of real undercover work.  The killer’s motive is some sort of half explained nonsense about a dead father, and in the end he’s given a deal to plead down 5 or 6 cold-blooded murders to seven years in prison.  There’s a sub-plot about abusive patrolmen who sodomize cross dressers that never comes close to resolving, and a half-assed teaser that doing dudes has turned Pacino into a copy-cat killer.  The movie is doused in so much ambiguity and half-formed plot points that create far more questions than answers, and the filmmakers seem terrified of actually making any sort of meaning from the events on screen.  You could call it subculture porn: a trip through the meatpacking (no, really) district and all the steamy dude on leather on dude action it entails, with no depth or reason behind it.


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