Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Horror Of It All

This past Halloween night I decided to watch a real horror, the newly restored dvd of William Friedkin’s controversial movie Cruising. I didn’t go to see this piece of crap when it came out, but I did see it on video back then and didn’t care for it much. Well you might be asking why did I want to see it again. Since it was so many years ago I thought it might be interesting to watch it again with the wide space of time separating my initial viewing. I also love movies that take place in New York and enjoy seeing the city as it was in years past, even if it’s the fairly recent past. Unfortunately the movie still stinks. I should mention now that I was one of the many gay men and lesbians who protested the making of the film when Friedkin and his crew were shooting at night in the meatpacking district of Greenwich Village where many of the after hour leather and sex clubs used to be. I was 32 that hot summer and I was having an affair with a good-looking but very fucked up Italian schoolteacher. Gino was Intelligent and a lover of movies like myself and very politically aware so we got our little whistles and joined the protest to disrupt the filming. The gay community was torn and divided over this film. Many gay men took part in the filming as extras in the leather and sex bar scenes but there were also many of us who thought that this film would do the gay community great harm by presenting all of us as sex crazy perverts who did weird and strange things to and with each other in dirty ugly dark places. Now of course I know that there were many gay men who did do weird and strange things with each other in dirty ugly places, but most of us did not and we didn’t want the world to think of us in that way only. I think we did a good job of causing problems for Friedkin but of course we did not stop the film from being made. It was so strange for me to see the film again, because I recognized so many of the men who were extras in the bar scenes from my own days of cruising and hanging out in the village and the bars. Many of the men who were in the movie are more than likely dead from AIDS. Ghosts. Shadows on celluloid. I myself was never much into the seedier side of the gay scene. I was more of a disco baby and preferred going to 12 west which was a primo members only gay disco then the sex clubs like the mine shaft. I did however once go to the anvil late one night or early one morning gagging all the way there from the stench of blood that hung in the air from the meat packinghouses that once lined the area. I promptly got my pocket picked in the pitch-black back rooms, and that pretty much cured me of that scene. Once I asked Tom if I could go with him to the mineshaft and he very loudly said “no way.” The sleaze scene was ok for him, but not for me. He would protect me from all that. The film based on a homophobic novel by Gerald Walker a newspaper hack is silly but creepy with Al Pacino in the lead and starting in my opinion his sad decline as a once exciting actor who gave so many memorable performances in the early 70’s. His slow downfall may have begun with Cruising but for me it was really solidified with the dreadful remake of “Scarface” that Brian DePalma pooped out in 1983. I can't really understand why DePalma felt the need to do a remake of Howard Hawk's 1932 gangster masterpiece Scarface that starred the stunning Paul Muni in the lead. The original is so good and tough, lean and stark, short and to the point. This laughable mess goes on for an unbearable three hours, and has as its centerpiece, it's anchor, its star, Al Pacino who is simply dreadful. . All his recent roles & performances seem the same, they blend and melt into one. His performances have become lazy, fat and dishonest. At times it seems as if his performances are yelled at us, and this is usually mistaken by some as intense and powerful acting. When he tries to be subtle and quiet, he comes off as insincere and all method. He was fun in Dick Tracy, because he was playing a cartoon, and his overacting was exactly right for a comic strip. His performance was all make-up. His Oscar for the cheap & sentimental "Scent of A Woman" was undeserved, but as Oscar saw it he was long overdue. So in Scarface we have Al playing gangster with a bad Cuban accent which comes off as a bad Mexican accent. DePalma & the screenwriter Oliver Stone have changed the Italian criminals of the original to Cubans and instead of booze we have coke, instead of the fine subtle Hawksian direction of the original we have De Palma's over the edge Misdirection. To be sure DePalma has made some terrific original films.Carrie, Sisters, Dressed to Kill and The Untouchables immediately come to mind, but Scarface is not one of them. There is however one top notch DePalmian sequence and that’s the chainsaw in the motel bathtub scene, but that’s only a few minutes in a three hour flick. The violence and gratuitous cursing wore me out, and after awhile it all becomes meaningless and stupid. I envy Michelle Pfeiffer who in the film gets to walk out on this mess. Also in the cast is F. Murray Abraham, one year away from winning a best actor Oscar and oblivion, & Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who in the flash of a snort goes from being a good sweet girl to a raging party girl, not very convincingly I might add. Not exactly a highpoint of American cinema, but Cruising makes it look like a minor masterpiece. Some years later I happened to catch William Friedkin on some late night interview show where he said he was sorry he ever made the film, and apologized to the gay community. I thought on the extras that are on the dvd that he would once again apologize for making this garbage, but he came off as arrogant and proud that he made this drek. I wonder what it is about the gay life style that so appeals to him? I mean he also made the hateful screen adaptation of the play “Boys in The Band” that is so full of self-pity, loathing & anguish that when I first saw it in a theatre I was embarrassed and humiliated by what I was seeing. Is he a closet case or what? And what was Jeanne Moreau thinking when she married this hack? True the marriage lasted 15 minutes but still I just can’t figure out what one of the great actresses in the history of cinema would see in this Hollywood crap filmmaker. The plot of Cruising is simple and blunt. A cop (Al) goes undercover to find the killer of gay men and becomes seduced by the leather scene and slowly starts to loose his identity and some would say his mind. There is a horrible murder at the end of the film of the most sympathetic character in the movie, and we are left to ponder the possibility that hey maybe Al did it. I’ve had two Al Pacino sightings; one was in 1975 at a party the weekend before the Oscars when he was nominated for I think Dog Day Afternoon. It was a large art world bash, and it was crowded but no one recognized him, except of cause me. I went up to him and started to chat him up, telling him how much I loved his work (which I did, think of him in The Godfather films) and wished him good luck on getting an Oscar. He was warm and friendly, and even asked me about myself. The second time was the day his mentor Lee Strasberg died, and I was sitting on a bench on 5th avenue near Central Park when he walked by me with a friend looking very distraught over I guess Strasberg’s death. Two honest moments in his real life that I wish he somehow would convey in his screen life.


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