William Friedkin directs Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino and Karen Allen in the serial killer mystery where a New York City cop goes deep undercover at various Gay rough sex pick-up spots, gradually questioning his own identity.
Al Pacino poses as a Tom Of Finland hunk. A running joke on the Rewatchables podcast, Cruising is a kinda notorious but little seen cult classic. A bête noire even during production – activists picketed the location shoot with disruptive results, gay business owners withdrew their venues from filming and the press gave it a continual kicking. But it does appear the loudest voices weren’t exactly representative of the entire community. A thousand locals of “the scene” took part as extras – and, boy oh boy, are the populous underground club sequences convincing and electric. When anyone walks down into a basement or past a bouncer things go heated and heaving almost instantaneously. You can feel the mixed sweat, breathe in the poppers and get caught up in the sleazy thrust. Even by today’s standards Cruising is a pretty full-on, wholly unique cinematic experience. And modern commentators have suggested it was particularly the mainstream gay community who didn’t like being represented by the more extreme S&M / leather fringes of the nightlife recreated ever so luridly here… but that doesn’t mean these fringes didn’t exist and weren’t difficult to find. Friedkin revels in any imagery or act that would shock or disturb suburban straights without ever crossing a line and showing his box office draw partaking in more than a risky flirtation with it all. The director is drawn to the extremes but in a strange way because of this unflinching obsession the film almost now feels like an affectionate message in a bottle from a lost era. Watching the bears and the twinks of the Carter administration dance and fuck the night away in the meat packing district with tribal wild abandon has lost much of its initial freak show exploitation vibe. Now you just catch a glimpse of a happier, more carefree lifestyle and a generation that AIDS and political prurience sadly killed off pretty soon after. The real strength of Cruising is while you are being taken as a tourist into some pretty exotic territory, Friedkin documents it more convincingly than the awkward half hearted dashes into to the same clubs in Bohemian Rhapsody, or even the superior Pose. Four decades of acceptance and boundary breaking later and representation of homosexual lust rings more awkward and false now than in this horny overlooked genre flick. As a cop thriller, Cruising is a little too loose to be considered on a par with The French Connection but it does manage to pull off a similar coup to Basic Instinct by the end. As a withdrawn, shell shocked Pacino puts the case to rest, we aren’t very sure he has caught the real killer or if there ever was just one lone wolf among all these hedonists. Everyone remains a suspect. Awesome punk soundtrack too.
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