SAN DIEGO – How will “Cruising,” which caused such a ruckus when the film came out in 1980, play in 2011? Will it be viewed as controversial as it was 31 years ago?
Fans of FilmOut San Diego monthly series will be a rare chance to watch “Cruising” at 7 pm Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the historic Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave. Tickets are $10 (cash only) at the door or can be purchased online.
William Friedkin, who won an Academy Award as Best Director for “The French Connection,” directed this murder mystery set in the gay leather bars of New York City circa the late 1970s. At the time, which was only a decade after gay liberation was born out of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the gay leather scene was not familiar to movie audiences, who were shocked by the S&M subculture portrayed in the controversial film.
The R-rated “Cruising” stars a young and studly Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a New York police officer who goes undercover in an attempt to catch the serial killer who is preying on gay men. By the time he made “Cruising,” Pacino was a hot commodity in Hollywood for his portrayal of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather: Part II” (1974), as the tough cop in “Serpico” (1973) and as Sonny Wortzik in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975).
In “Cruising,” Pacino gives another memorable performance as a man whose identity and relationships are greatly impacted as he goes deeper undercover. Karen Allen and Paul Sorvino are Pacino’s co-stars.
Friedkin, who is straight, has said that he was fascinated by the leather scene. He also directed the landmark gay drama, “The Boys In The Band,” as well as the horror mega-hit, “The Exorcist.”
The director has digitally restored “Cruising,” which has been released to DVD.
Ironically, some of the biggest critics of “Cruising” in 1980 were from the LGBT community, who feared the lurid topic of the film would damage the fledgling gay rights movement. In interviews, Friedkin has confessed to being confused by the negative reaction to the film.
“It's just a murder mystery, with the gay leather scene as a backdrop. On another level it's about identity: Do any of us really know who it is sitting next to us, or looking back at us in the mirror? But the vitriol that the film was greeted with still confounds me,” Friedkin said in one interview.