I have a habit of binging without purging - but rather than tell you how much pasta I can eat in one sitting or how it takes me about a commercial break to eat lunch, I’ll let you in on my recent TV binges.
Most days the television is ALWAYS on - mostly on daily garbage, meaning nothing that I really need to pay attention to - court shows, Cops, Love it or List It. A look or two up from my computer is all I need to get a better picture and then I can continue to grade, write, or whatever. It has become a habit of sorts - a quick way to de-stress and think “What the fuck is happening to popular culture?” before going back into the confines of my computer screen (aka playing Criminal Case on Facebook).
Once classes ended, I started catch up on shows I wanted/needed to finish. I went through about six seasons of Law and Order: SVU, two seasons of The Wire, and the most recent season of New Girl.
Law and Order: SVU
It started when I ran into a marathon on USA and realized I needed to start creating my own marathons. While KB and I still roommated, we started to go through all the episodes of SVU, chronologically. After a hiatus, I went back to it and unearthed an entire world of a Stabler-less sex crime investigation and D-ramamama
The concept of the show is bizarre - at some point, Dick Wolf had to sit down and tell NBC execs, “Listen, you know what I think I could sell in that 9pm block? Sex … crimes. The sponsors will go wild.” Yet, every time I hear that BONG BONG, I get settled in, ready to solve some crimes like a goddamn German Shepard. Stabler and Benson are such a great team, and then you have the crustiness of Richard Belzer and Ice-T that really rounds out a pretty great cast and sets up solid relationship structures. Flawed, complex characters within a fairly formulaic, simplistic narrative.
Once season 8 hits, the world of SVU gets a bit weirder. The producers and writers try to milk as much drama as possible - at the end of the 9th season, a lot of the final episode is dedicated to the jaws of life cutting Stabler’s pregnant wife out of a totaled car - and the will she/won’t she death predicament (of course she didn’t, because it’s NBC and America). Once Stabler leaves things get weirder - the narratives becomes more complex as we introduce more characters and go into their rabbit hole narratives. They must have also gotten a new crew, because even aesthetically the show has changed - weird filters, flashbacks, shaky tracking shots - somebody just got down watching some Bunuel films and they have some things they’d like to try. The show also relies more on spectacle than it used to, which for a show about sex crimes, gets a little iffy. For a program that uses “escalation” to discuss dangerous behavior, it seems like they should follow their own advice. Sometimes these spectacles work - like the Pablo Schreiber’s creepy serial stalker which reminds us all of chaos and broken systems (though my mother disagrees, ignoring the his return this season. I admit, I may be a bit dickmatized by Pablo Schreiber - which considering his characters, reminds me that I need to set up an appointment with my therapist).
I am television scholar. I have a PhD. I only started watching The Wire last year. I feel like the Keyser Soze of scholarship right now. It’s like studying film without having seen anything made before 1980 or saying “You know what FUCK Citizen Kane. Orson Welles can suck dese nuts!” I didn’t really care when The Wire was initially on - I was in my room watching Terror Firmer on repeat like a sicko - not watching quality television.
What kept me from watching The Wire? People who LOVE The Wire. There are those who love the show and those who are denial that the show ever ended. I was at a conference where we were discussing racial diversity on television and this dude spoke IN THE PRESENT when talking about The Wire. It had been off the air for four years. I acknowledged that it was important show - helping to usher in “quality” to television - that television had the capability of addressing institutional problems - broken politics, broken schools, racism, sexism, challenging stereotypes - but not in a “very special episode” type of way. I started watching last year, but this past two weeks I blazed through the last three seasons.
I get it. When it’s great, it’s great and even when it’s ok it’s pretty good. I can imagine watching it ten years ago and thinking “holy shit,” but starting after watching contemporary shows build off the legacy alters the viewpoint. It’s solid, but does indulge in some Sorkinesque pedantic proselytization. I also hate McNulty - the central figure from which the narrative pivots - I hate him as a character, I’m not a super fan of Dominic West (I guess… I’ll have to do more research)…and shhhhhheeeeeeeeiiiiiitttt there needs to be more hon talk and filth.
It only took a day to get through the most recent season of New Girl. I was going to watch it as it happened, but the first episode put me off that it took me awhile to get back to it. I loved the crushing that went on between Nick and Jess - mostly all things Nick I’m a fan of (because who isn’t in love with Jake Johnson. I called it after watching Paper Heart, folks…so get in the back of the line).
But the first episode this season, was a bit disappointing, mostly because it moved the narrative to surround their status as a couple. It was no longer about Jess as a individual, nor Nick as a dude, but more about their coupling. It’s just a slight difference, but one that makes the entire series’ focus shift. The series eased up a bit on their romance, though most scenarios placed stress on them, causing them to deal with it by the end of the episode, hug it out, make out, and go to bed. It also seems as if they upped the fat jokes this single and also made a caricature of Winston being a single dude. I kind of just wish he and Ferguson were just the happier ever after we wanted, though Winston and Ferguson ARE pretty much me and my cat, so perhaps this critique is mostly a knee jerk reaction for “SHUT UP, MERIWETHER AND LEAVE US ALONE.”
Their breakup by the end of the season has some potential fun for next season with whole range of awkward emotions like lingering lust, jealousy, and pretend “give a fucks” that turn to secret range. Hopefully this doesn’t lead its way into Ross and Rachel: The Millennial edition.
I’m obsessed with SZA’s Z. It came across my desk a few weeks ago and I can’t stop. It has become my 2014 staple.
From the get-go you’re positioned into a strange ethereal place - there are so many elements coming together, all familiar, but their convergence makes them strange. As a whole, the album is like walking through a dimly hallway with an array of open doors into narrative fragments. I think some may think it lacks cohesion (Pitchfork), but they’re wrong. The album and its songs need to be thought more of as part of a more significant surreal “experience” as opposed to an iTunes pleasure machine.
I find myself having kaleidoscope feelings during individual tracks. “Child’s Play” with Chance the Rapper is full of bittersweetness, but with cheeky lines (Chance’s 30s Cagney impression = A+). On one hand, the song is fully fragile. The first line “Ripping the heads off of my Barbie dolls, toss them to the side” opens up a brutal forerunner to what it means to lose love - the physical and emotional tears. The irony is there is nothing aesthetically brutal about this song; in fact, it’s full of fragility. SZA’s affected lightness, airiness combats the violence and tragedy of references to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Othello.
The song transitions into upbeat jam (and best song of 2014 as far as I’m concerned) “Julia” - again there is contrast between the raucous, infectious dance beat with and the understated frustration of not getting what you want, when you want it, and the despondency associated with rejection.
The whole album is full of these rich and layered pieces. It doesn’t need to be full of power vocals or ridiculous overblown sentiment. Its contradictions in its instrumentation, vocals, are full of jabs, cuts, and smirks. Every time I’ve listened to this album, a different song captures my imagination, a new moment catches me and thrusts me into creative reflection as I pair images with lyrics - short scenes.
Z is reflective, self-deprecatory, and yet full of hope. I’m just full of love for this album.
My original life plan starting last August was to take one day off every week. No checking e-mail, planning lectures, grading, reading for the sake of teaching - and while it worked alright for six months fell apart pretty quickly in the New Year. A lot of it due to mismanagement of workload, but a large chunk goes to the lackluster assortment of films coming out this season. I know a bunch of people have hard ons in their twisted panties for Spider Man or Captain America, butI would rather eat farts. I did see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made my heart aflutter in sad whimsy, but the pickings have been relatively slim. Not having an excuse to leave the house makes working a little more obligatory. “Just a moment tinkering with this presentation” turns into an entire day. Checking e-mail turns into a labyrinthian search for that movie starring that one guy who was playing that character who also checked e-mails.
After a bittersweet week of wrapping things up and entering a period of liminality, I threw a proverbial FUCK IT, and sat and watched movies all day. The only tinkering I did was with my Chinese take out order.
Bad Words (Bateman 2013)
There is something wonderful about adults treating children like shit. For that alone this film is worth seeing. Overall, the film is fine. I think it’s an attempt for Bateman to shed his recent representations as the put-upon guy - who can get mean if he wants to, but for the most part is a decent, upstanding citizen, who gets caught in the muck. His character Guy Trilby does have a redeemable quality about him cements him as moralistic in spite of his apparent amoral behavior. It also tricked me into its sentimentality. I thought it was ok, but by the end was invested in the friendship (with shades of father/son) that develops throughout the narrative.
I give it three Bad Santas
Grudge Match (Segal 2013)
Am I proud of myself? Absolutely not. I wasn’t proud of myself last year when I saw the previews and thought “Oh man…yes. YES” and even less so while I kept watching these jabronis carry on. But I’ve somewhat come to terms with the fact that I love an old person story. I’m still charmed by Grumpy Old Men AND Grumpier Old Men. I saw this film as opportunity for more grumps but this time with more Stallone’s marble mouthery. “THE SHENANIGANS!” I thought.
It’s funny how life long Pittsburghers sound like they’re from Brooklyn or Long Island. There wasn’t one “n at” or french fry salad n dat dam film.
We need to have a serious discussion about Sly’s face. What the fuck happened, gang? It looks like somebody made a face out of Velveeta, poured vodka on top, and set it ablaze. Did somebody confuse his face for a block of cheese and try to grate it for nachos?
The tone is just too much. PICK SOMETHING - it’s either got to be Grumpy Old Men fighting or Cocoon with more punching. Cut the middling bullshit. I was not full of chuckles, nor were mine eyes full of tears. I don’t care if you’ve come to terms with the fact you’re a shitty dad/dude - just beat the shit out of each other and call it a day.
It was frustrating to watch a shitty film about two old dudes who are no longer relevant, featuring actors who refuse to fucking retire (and are barely relevant). $40,000,000 was invested in this and yet films featuring complex women are left on the back burner. C’mon Hollywood, get your daddy issues in check. See a therapist like everybody else.
I give it 2 feathered haired “Gimme a Breaks”
Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams 2013)
I saw the first part of the reboot twice in theaters. I thought it was able to balance origin stories with action, be a little cheeky, and still play with the size and scope of spectacle. I held off on the sequel. Not for any political reason, but just caught up and missed my chances. It was time to see Cumberbatch in all his villainous glory.
I know people talked pretty explicitly about the Alice Eve underpants scene, which as much as I would love to stomp my feet about don’t really care enough. Kirk is a skeaze - that’s like point #1 to his character. Also, those high cut briefs were too weird to be sexy. Unless you like thinking about your ripped grandma undressing, then you were probably hot and bothered. I was more troubled by the blatant racism from the get-go. We already knew Abrams and co replaced Kahn, played by Ricardo Montalban, with the whitest white dude to ever be white, Benedict Cumberbatch - which completely erases the implications of white imperialism of the Starfleet who “explore” and “conquer” space - already starting in questionable territory. But to start with that beginning - of “savage” “dumb” indigenous people in need of saving is full of problematics as the white people “sacrifice” themselves. Now granted, not everybody in Starfleet is white - but most of them are pretty damn white.
Also - there are so many eyerolly parts. I get that Spock/Kirk slash fiction is a thing and the idea of them kissing is something that gets folk a bit excited - but this? Jesus - just have them fuck already. This sentimental bullshit is too much as the forced sense of intimacy between two characters who are intimate negates any sense of ACTUAL care the two could have for each other. What made Kirk and Spock so great together was the SUBTEXT. You didn’t need them to dry hump to get that they were partners, best friends, soul mates. They just were.
I also thought the movie was pretty dull. I’m not quite sure if it had something to do with translating it from the big screen to the small, but as much as people were yelling, nothing really seemed to happen.
I give it 3 Shatner Chokes
A couple of unnecessary lens flares
and two “have you even kissed a girl?”s
Is it just me or has the past three year within film been chock full of daddy issues? Fathers take your sons out for more ice cream cones and pick them up after soccer (ON TIME) like you promised. I didn’t realize there was a theme to these films until all the examples of absentee, figurative, bad, and dead dads converged together into one psychotic mess. Hollywood has always had a thing about surrogate fathers, but it seems like I’ve seen more stories about how sad dudes are and how much they want hugs from their dads. I also admit that this could be the case forever, but I’m just now noticing it.
In need of a necessary shining jewel in a mediocre crown, I ended my night with
The Double (Ayoade 2013)
I have been jazzed for this film since it was first teased about a year ago. I love Ayoade’s work in television, his music videos, and his first feature, Submarine (2010) is weird and wonderful. Submarine was full of play and that transitions into full blown style in this film.
Full disclosure - I also have a weird thing for Jesse Eisenberg. I can’t explain it. I don’t quite understand it. His face is weird. He seems full of awkward. But I’d still make the beast with two backs.
There is no filler in this film. Every shot has its place and each frame is remarkable. I wanted to screen capture everything, then print them all out, and just spread them all over town: nail them on neighbor’s doors, post them on lamp posts, put them in wallet and show strangers, glue them to walls.
The film is weird and how can it not be when taken from Kafka. It’s also a great film for those invested in Ayoade (assholes like me) who find pleasure in seeing his network of folk paraded in front of them. The cast of Submarine is scattered throughout in bit parts, as are Chris O’Dowd and Chris Morris from It Crowd (and don’t you nerds think I forgot about Nathan Barley). The narrative also hit me in weird places. I was totally engorged by everything in front of me. I tell you what, the Brits killed it in 2013. Between Ben Wheatley and Richard Ayoade, British films have provided some great unsettling narratives. It got me in all the right places and at just the right times.
Several signs converged to prompt me to cut off my research regarding James Franco’s directorial ventures. The first was my father telling me how much he loved Oz: The Great and Powerful, which he reminded me, starred “my boyfriend” James Franco. The second was the hullaballoo surrounding Franco’s flirtation with a barely legal fan. I give credit to that lady. When I was seventeen if Dave Grohl offered me a ticket to Pound Town, my bags would be packed and my folks would have seen nothing but a trail of dust following my lusty ass. But that is neither here nor there.
Finding Franco: Directing Edition
Franco’s directing is much like his writing - full of concepts without any sense of “giving a shit” for emotional depth. I only watched The Broken Tower (2011), Sal (2011), Interior. Leather. Bar (2013),As I Lay Dying (2013), and his short film Feast of Stephen (2009). They were films that were relatively accessible and covered a variety of topics, most of which center on how much James Franco knows about stuff that we may not know about as if to say
oh…you haven’t heard of Sal Mineo? The other guy from that James Dean movie [who by the way I played in a tv movie…again, not to brag]? Well, let me take you on a cinematic journey
Already, his films are intellectually masturbatory, an attempt to offer new insight into people we presumably have never heard of, books we’ve never read OR a completely different perspective on how either can be represented through the magic of CINEMA
It can be somewhat easy to become lost in scenes. Broken Tower is beautifully shot and there are images that easily stand on their own (plus Franco and Michael Sheen make-out. My dream journal has once again been hacked!). As I Lay Dying nicely represents the grime and sweat of Faulkner (so I’ve heard). The problem is Franco has a hard on for experimenting with techniques which turn neat ideas into eye-rolling “give me a breaks”.
In focusing too hard on being different he forgets the point of his narratives, which are often tragic and require empathy from the audience. Sal is about the last day of Sal Mineo’s life, but we aren’t permitted to know anything about him, because this period is filmed predominantly in close-ups. Surely, there’s something arguably poetic about this, the idea that no matter how close we get we never TRULY KNOW him. I strongly doubt that was the goal.
The film remains artificial, as do the majority of Franco’s narratives, with character motivations unclear, incomplete plots, and relationships in a state of “so what? who cares?”. In Broken Tower the narrative is pieced together through moments that seem to be significant for Franco, but aren’t developed in ways that elaborate on why we should care or add to the emotional complexities of its subject, Hart Crane. While beautifully photographed, it hardly matters as nothing goes deeper than the image itself. The Kuleshov Effect can only do so much to convey a story.
As I Lay Dying employs the the split screen the whole goddamn time. The split-screen can be great in forcing the viewers to choose between competing viewpoints which leads to further contemplation regarding what it is we are experiencing and why. Doing it throughout the entire thing allows for no stability, which is fine to some extent, but in a narrative about death, family, abuse, rape, abandonment, and poverty - stylization actually detracts from representing these emotive elements. There are some directors who can tug the ol’ heart strings while being fancy with editing or mise-en-scene (Gus Van Sant, Wes Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese - I guess list a favorite here). I’m not sure if this is an issue of style = art - that you can’t make something comprehensible that is referential AND meaningful. It’s all about the aesthetic, creating something that’s visually interesting, but this work offers nothing of value or significance. It’s like eating ice cream for every meal. It’s great at first, but leaves you cramping and pooping for days - this is perhaps the best way to describe the experience of watching a Franco film.
Perhaps reliance on style is the sign of an insecure filmmaker, one who is afraid a film without gimmicks would belie a sense of genuine emotion that if criticized would become too hurtful and personal. Much like his literature, there is a refusal to commit and put himself out there for fear of being rejected and laughed out of both art and commercial worlds. With his current trajectory he can rely on arguments that A) the audience doesn’t get his wavelengths (and if he keeps targeting 17 year old girls who don’t know better, then he’s absolutely right) B) His failure is part of a larger life piece he’s working on that audiences still don’t understand or C) trick question: there is no argument, just a shrug of the shoulders with that Cheshire grin and a moment waiting for panties to drop. Well, Carlos, nice try, but it’s not going to work this time.
But for those of you who are interested in seeing what’s trolling around in my brain, I made this for you:
Tis the season! As I’ve gotten older and realized awards are all a bunch of industrial hooey, this day has mostly turned into a reason to shove dip in my face and watch the parade of dreams enter the house where most will be crushed. Mostly…about the dip.
But here are some predictions for what will happen this time around.
Gravity will win all technical awards. I mean, duh. I think whatever technology Jared Leto uses to maintain his face is the only competition.
I mean, fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Jordan Catalano will also win, because Rayon is pretty damn stunning. Fassbender should be the next contender as he’s incredible in 12 Years a Slave. Frightening, chaotic, unstable… but I think people are too afraid of his big ol’ dick. He can’t swing that AND an award.
This will be AMAZING, because that means the dude from 30 Seconds from Mars will be an Academy Award Winner forever. You know who won’t?
What was that?
Who do you see, DiCap?
This will be the best. THE BEST. While I think DiCaprio deserves it more - I think MM will win it because everybody has a big ol’ boner for True Detective. As MM gets up to “Alright Alright Alright” his way through the speech, the camera will cut to Leo meticulously picking at flaws in his suit, folding and refolding his pocket square, and quietly talk-giggling to himself. He’ll eventually make his way to the stage, probably during Blanchett’s speech, just pop a squat, and SHIT all over that stage. Just an emotional five minute poop. We will never see him again.
Cate Blanchett will win best actress because there really is nobody else. Nobody. Amy Adams will smile through gritted teeth. In eight years, she’s been nominated for five. Another year, another loss. She’ll move further and further into the DiCaprio line of performance (and closer to onstage defecation). If Blanchett wins, expect a cut to a few people refusing to clap due to the Woody Allen controversy - a la Ed Harris and Nick Nolte when Elia Kazan won his honorary Oscar.
I’ve already mentioned I don’t understand why everybody’s tongues are wagging over Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. She’s good in a mediocre film - but that’s about it. Nyong’o is phenomenal both onscreen and off. Let’s just split the difference and give it to June Squibb - fuck the McConaughnessence - it’s a fucking Squibbulution. I’ve seen her so many places this year and loved each one.
Cuaron for director - which I get, but his work is so much better than the glitzy, gimmicky Gravity.
12 Years a Slave is tipping the scales for best film. Out of all of those nominated, I lean toward Wolf of Wall Street because it was so ripe with discomfort, everybody in that theatre was affected (you could feel it), and better yet everybody felt fucked by that film. I love a good “pulling the rug out” and that’s what Wolf does to those who thought it was going to be a fun ride. 12 Years provides a different experience and one that will make Academy members feel good about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and at these awards.
The dude from Dumb and Dumber (AKA THE BEST) meets this whack job and Demme plays with conventions to explore intersections of fantasy/escapism/pleasure/consequence.
AND TIIIIIIIIIIIIITS. TITS. TITS.
Branded to Kill (Suzuki 1967)
TRIPPY. Reminds me of some Tarantino shit - except for the amount of layers and the extent in which we are forced to question our sense of reality in a highly mediated form with untrustworthy narrators.
Lot more bush than I thought. Tits pretty good all around too.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda 1962)
What an emotional trip. Side boob though.
Exterminating Angel (Bunuel 1962)
Dude..I don’t know … something about how the only thing that restricts us our ourselves?
Repulsion (Polanski 1965)
holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit. Just a hint of nip. I don’t get what’s so scary though…patriarchy?
NOTE: By “young people,” I mean tweens, teens, and people who should know and be better.
I went to the store to pick up a salad mix, because I hadn’t had a vegetable in about six years. Turning toward the avocados I hear the shrill voice of giggles. To my right are two teen stockers, a bored looking chick and an equally bored dude. The squeals are from neither, but two girls picking up nuts. They want to know where the pistachios are and through their ear-splitting voices, ask the dude to show them. As he drops everything to help him and be generally polite, they vomit words - mostly berating him, but in a squealing, sickening, “I THINK YOU”RE CUUUUUUUUTE, SO I MUST DESTROY YOUR SELF ESTEEM” sort of way.
For an instant, I hated pistachios and this motherfucker LOVES pistachios.
I have not experienced that much flash loathing in a long time - and I realized that everything about that scenario - the voices, vomit, and chiding were intolerable. Here’s a list of things I’d rather do than overhear any of that.
I would rather
1. Tear my uterus out, throw it against a disgustingly white wall, and watch it slowly smear its way to the newly redone hard-wood floors.
2. Listen to Aubrey tell me every instance he had his heart broken. TWICE.
3. Convert entire books from one citation style to another. Have you dealt with the nuances of comma - IT’S BULLSHIT.
4. Watch Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Once straight through. Another with commentary. Another with extended scenes. Then once again + every bonus feature and easter egg. In a row. Completely sober.
5. Never watch another Law and Order. None of them. As if they never existed. I don’t wish that anyone.
6. Give myself paper cuts along the webs of my fingers and toes.
7. Listen to Joe Francis explain how Girls Gone Wild doesn’t exploit women, without the ability to interject OR roll eyes.
8. Have Shia LaBoeuf read me Anna Karenina and provide his own footnotes, including each piece of symbolism he thinks he sees, all thematic interpretations, commentary about Tolstoy’s artistry as a writer, and funny anecdotes from working on A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
9. Be held captive by slugs, who would would ooze all over my face in order to make me one of their own.
10. Do a Scrooge McDuck dive into a vat of shit and piss infested quarters and drown.
After a morning of Toddlers and Tiaras, I sat myself down for a Cruising (Friedkin 1980) and Interior. Leather Bar (Franco and Mathews 2013) double feature. Don’t worry - this won’t spoil an upcoming Franco entry - consider it a tiny taste of what’s to come (get it? like semen).
It’s clear why gay activists took issue with this film during production. Here you have Friedkin, infiltrating leather bars and exposing a subculture that could further marginalize. First, it’s not isolated as a subculture, which promotes the idea that all gay men leather up and have sex in underground clubs. Second, Friedkin approaches the subject more like an anthropologist than an insider or ally. He is fascinated by the going ons, but it’s a morbid curiosity that pervades the screen. He approaches clubs and people in medium long or long shots, an observer in a club of curiosities - clearly interested but afraid. The homophobia is potent. There is no sense of intimacy or pleasure within these clubs, despite the amount of sex and drugs being had by all. It betrays Friedkin’s seemingly obsession with gay sex, treating it not as something that occurs between men, but as some sort of tawdry secret that he can’t stop trying to expose.
What is perhaps most impressive is Friedkin’s ability to make a serial killer targeting gay men about a straight white guy’s fear of penetration. The scenes within the bars are graphic by early 1980s standards, and quite frankly, even today. I can’t think of studio films that feature men flirting with each other, let alone going down on each other in a sweaty underground club. These scenes, however, lack any hint of eroticism. They are simply background used to underscore how horrific this undercover is for Al Pacino, who waffles between fear and titillation the entire film. At one point, he confesses being afraid of the expectation of having sex with a man…welcome, white dude, to the problems everybody else seems to have but you. Nut up, cupcake. Yet, this seems to be the sole dilemma of the film - not the injustice of a drag queen being forced to go down on a cop who used his power to rape and we know won’t be held accountable. Let us also not concern ourselves with the serial killer who is terrorizing New York City. Let’s all be concerned about the possibility that you might be approached to have sex and you may have to and shit, you may even like it.
Rather, non-hetero sex is approached as a dangerous oddity without any sense of pleasure. In fact, the most eroticized the film gets is during the murder scenes. The scenes are Peeping Tom-esque, in the way it equates murder with orgasm - which added to fears of penetration and fascination with gay sex takes the film into even more problematic territory.
Also, Pacino is supposed to be playing somebody in his late 20s.
Was Scott Baio not available?
Interior. Leather Bar seeks to expose and amend. The goal, according to the filmmakers, is to recreate the scenes Friedkin was forced to cut by the MPAA. The scenes were of leather bars and included sex. The point, according to Franco and Mathews, is to highlight fears and attitudes of sex, especially when dealing with non-heteronormative sex. They still work with straight men’s fears of male intimacy and penetration, but make it their problem as opposed to those in the club. In true Franco fashion, the film is a blend of reality of fiction, posed as a documentary of the re-imagining, but with a few reflexive moments of Mathews directing what we assumed were to be “real” that we are reminded that somebody watched Truffaut’s Day for Night, maybe a few times.
The main framing device deals with lead actor Val’s own issues being in the film. The conversations with his agent, who refers Interior. Leather Bar as “Franco’s Faggot Film” underscore the discomfort those in the industry have with “gay films”. The agent tries desperately to convince Val to not do the film. Though Val is not dissuaded, he is not necessarily on board. He believes in Franco’s art, but continually admits he doesn’t understand it, nor is he comfortable. This awkwardness eventually leads to a frank conversation with Franco about sex in films, fears in representing sex in film, and particularly gay sex. I don’t disagree with Franco, but he is always walking this thin martyr line - He admits to being bothered by the fact that the world has skewed his vision about sex and kind of acknowledges his privilege. It seems to some extent he uses these opportunities to apologize for his privilege or to try and absolve himself of privilege. Which is not how any of that works. On one hand, it is an important conversation to include. They also mention Franco’s association with Disney at this time, with Oz the Great and Powerful making this project a bit more dangerous for him - I think this is a bit of an overstatement and I refuse to slow clap for his braver. I do think, however, it is important for him to state, as he rarely does, the point for him. To be honest. He actually strips down the bullshit a bit is honest with why this project is important, at least for him, but I think he justifies why projects like this are important in general.
The film does a few things right. First, is providing depth to those having sex onscreen. Each person has an opportunity to speak, provide their subject position. Most self-identify as gay, but a few are straight. Some have cruised, others are consider themselves part of the bondage scene, others consider the film an interesting opportunity. The film also shows Mathews ethical approach to direction. As opposed to just a “hey do whatever you would do in a club” approach, Mathews encourages the actors to communicate and negotiate the scene - to discuss their limits and ensure that each person is comfortable with what they do onscreen. It’s clear there’s not a desire to expose or exploit, which already strays from Cruising.
Though we don’t get much of the “footage,” from the brief moments included within the film, it’s already better. Rather than shooting from far away, Mathews relies on close-ups and medium close-ups on writhing, sweating, dancing bodies. The focus is on producing pleasure more so than discomfort or fear. The film celebrates the community as opposed to further cloaking it in mystery. The sequences are much more about making physical connections, not dealt with in Cruising. The leather bar is much more of invitation than a warning and we can better understand how the character played by Pacino and Val could be swept up in the moment. The scenes shot by Mathews strip away the “Straight” divide which isolates Pacino from other men and instead shows the fluidity of sexual identity once societal norms are forgotten.
While Franco is attached to this project, it is mostly in the sense he produces and directs the framing documentary narrative while Mathews directs the actual footage. This is smart, considering it’s unclear whether Franco could push past his own discomfort to produce something more intimate or erotic.
It’s not a film to necessarily enjoy, but I think it accomplished its goal. It also provided a much needed response to Cruising.