Rev Fest 2013 – Interior. Leather Bar

Interior. Leather Bar

Directed by: James Franco, Travis Mathews

Starring: Val Lauren, James Franco, Travis Mathews

Five stars

Review by: Julian Wright

With between three and eight on-screen appearances per year since 2002, James Franco must be one of the hardest working actors of his generation. Or any generation. Dividing his time between the blockbuster Spider Man trilogy, Oscar bait Milk and 127 Hours, Julia Roberts vehicle Eat, Pray, Love, low-key fare The Company and dude comedy Pineapple Express (to name just a fraction) – his filmography looks like the work of a career experiment. Then there was that bizarre stint on TV show General Hospital. His unusual and unpredictable choices have also made him one of the most intriguing actors working today.

Perhaps his most experimental and out-of-left-field project (even more so than his sincere appearance in a soapie) to date is Interior. Leather Bar, which he filmed with his mate Travis Mathews. Passing it off as a personal and experimental project for their own creative fulfillment, Franco and Mathews gather a few mates and amateur actors to recreate the missing 40 minutes of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). Hollywood legend has it that the envelope pushing, gay themed film starring Al Pacino was hacked up by the ratings board, that deemed the gay cruise bar footage too racy and so it was excised, never to be seen or screened.

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But not only are the adventurous duo going to recreate the scenes, but put their own interpretative spin on it – which leaves many of the cast and crew nervous as to what will be required of them. Straight actor Val Lauren, who takes the Al Pacino role – or at least a version of the Al Pacino role – begins to sweat bullets over what he has gotten himself into. As an actor he knows is it his job and part of his craft to become another person for the story being told – but never before has he been in a position where he might have to draw a line. And what would that mean to draw a line on art?

It doesn’t help, either, that Franco and Mathews don’t really have much of an idea of what will happen when the cameras roll, or at least none that they are willing to share. They want to capture something organic in their little rented studio mocked up to look like a dark, sleazy underground cruise club – which may include actual penetrative sex between men.

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But is this an exercise in art or is it simply a pornographic short film? What is art? And is this project only unsettling because it is dealing with homosexuality? These are just a few questions that will be buzzing around your head hours after the swift 60 minutes is over. Franco – often operating the camera during the sex scenes – admits to being taken aback by what he sees, then asks “but why?” Is he really just challenging himself, and everyone else just a pawn in his project? Or is this his way of changing attitudes towards homosexuality in cinema? He makes a point that he is sick of every commercial and film featuring a man and a woman – never two men or two women.

Interior. Leather Bar is less about performance and more about ideas, which it has bursting from its seams. Deliciously layered, bold, daring and thought-provoking, Franco and Mathews’ meta-centric film will, unfortunately, never be accepted into mainstream where it would make the greatest impact. But this tiny in-your-face step towards changing negative attitudes is an admirable and unprecedented achievement. Franco wants to shake things up a bit. Maybe we need to be woken up because watered down versions of homosexuality on-screen like Brokeback Mountain (2005) or Philadelphia (1993) aren’t quite cutting it. Franco may be right. Can’t wait for his next “experiment”.

Interior. Leather Bar screened as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

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One Response to “Rev Fest 2013 – Interior. Leather Bar”

  1. […] Interior. Leather Bar. – James Franco’s fascinating, meta, multi-layered 60 minute feature film slash […]

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