Cruising (1980)

Director: William Friedkin

I must say, Cruising may be a bit of a failure but it’s one of the most fascinating failures I’ve ever seen. This was about as controversial as mainstream Hollywood cinema got in 1980, as detailed at some length in the film’s Wiki entry, so I won’t get into its vicissitudes too much here. Holy SHIT, though. This was actually a cinema viewing, a digital presentation at Golden Age in Surry Hills, convened by young Mr Chris Elena, up-and-coming local filmmaker, and the look of utter confusion on Chris’ face at the end of the film was worth every cent. I haven’t seen such a “what the fuck did I just watch” look on another person’s face since I showed my friend Nick Death Bed (which I’ll be showing Chris soon as well).

Cruising is notorious, among other reasons, for having had some 40 minutes cut from it to satisfy the MPAA’s requirements for an R-rating. Friedkin has said that material was basically just more gay club scenes that may or may not have made a difference to the film (depending on which interview you read). Whatever, though, there’s definitely a feeling of stuff missing and post-production fiddling, too many jagged edges that didn’t just feel like stylistic decisions, and that go somewhat beyond the avowed intentional ambiguity of the film’s ending. There did seem to be a sort of disjunct between the first part of the film (up to the interrogation scene) and the second part in which Pacino’s undercover cop reckons he’s finally latched onto the killer he’s been pursuing; the feel of this latter part is somewhat different to that of the first.

Once Chris could say anything about the film at all, he made what I thought were some astute observations, one, that the film wasn’t homophobic (as it was widely condemned for being at the time) but it certainly was misguided—personally I felt there was something kind of tabloidesque about the film’s understanding of the milieu it depicts, that it was basically well-meaning but not terribly intelligent or subtle—and two, that much of the film actually plays like a horror film, particularly the first half. Which I would go along with. As I said, it’s not exactly a success as such—too lumpy and weird to really be able to fully defend it—but the more I think about it, the more I think I respect it despite that (though I do think the big-screen viewing made me feel better disposed towards its oddness than a TV viewing might have done). However much its ambitions may have been frustrated, at least it clearly had some beyond merely ghoulish exploitation. And whatever else may be said for or against it, I can’t think of any film of this sort with anything like that moment in the interrogation where the giant, near-naked black guy abruptly steps in and thumps Pacino, a genuinely astounding moment of “what the fuck did I just watch” almost as surreal as the fact that STEVEN SPIELBERG OF ALL PEOPLE was considered as director at one point…

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