Cruising (1980): What Motivated Oscar Winning Director William (French Connection) Friedkin

The controversial 1980 movie makes its DVD debut Sept 18, 2007 as a Deluxe Edition from Warner Home Video (WHV). “Cruising” also will receive a limited theatrical release in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco the first week of September, prior to its DVD release.

Directed by Oscar-winner William Friedkin (“The French Connection”) from his own screenplay adaptation of Gerald Walkers novel, the film has as its centerpiece Al Pacinos performance as an undercover cop who infiltrates New York Citys leather bar scene, and whose identity and relationships are hauntingly affected by his assignment. Pacino, no stranger to tough cop roles (“Heat,” “Serpico,” “Sea of Love”), currently can be seen in Warner’s “Oceans 13,” and recently received an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cruising incited New York’s gay community like nothing had since the rioting after the 1969 police raid on Greenwich Villages Stonewall Inn. The incident became a watershed event for the gay civil rights movement. The clashes during production centered on objections to the stereotyping of all gays.

Friedkin never intended any lifestyle generalizations. But that world did exist and I tried to portray it objectively without any moral comment, the director says today. Those murders happened in real life, and it was always my intention to make a film, set in that milieu, that would be an unsettling experience and to ask the question when you look at someone, Do you really know who they are

Notes critic Drew Fitzpatrick: Maybe now, with gay-themed movies and television shows permeating pop culture with a more or less even balance of characterizations, the time might finally be right for Cruising to wipe away 25 years of bad cultural karma and take its proper place in the oeuvre of one of America’s most consistently challenging filmmakers.

Audiences were stunned recently–and gave the film two standing ovations — at the end of a screening at this years Cannes Film Festival where Friedkin was part of the Directors Fortnight program.

Friedkin has personally supervised the creation of an all-new high-definition master and new 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track for the release with new director commentary.

Also included are documentarian Laurent Bouzerous two new featurettes containing interviews with actors and filmmakers who provide thorough perspective on the incidents surrounding the production.

In addition to Friedkin and producer Jerry Weintraub (“Oceans 11” series), participants include editor Bud Smith (“The Exorcist,” “Flashdance,” “Ladder 49”), actors Don Scardino (now a TV director) and James Remar (“48 Hours,” “TVs Sex in the City”) and real-life cops Randy Jurgensen and Sonny Grosso.

Special Features

*Commentary by Director William Friedkin
* Soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1
* 2 New Featurettes: The History of Cruising and Exorcising Cruising
* Original Theatrical trailer
* Languages: English & Espaol
* Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (feature film only).

Film review

Cannes Film Fest 2007–What motivated the programmers of the Directors Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival to have a screening of William Friedkin’s 1980 “Cruising,” a thriller about a serial killer set against New York’s gay S&M club scene. Perhaps the upcoming DVD release.

“Cruising” occupies one of the strangest positions in film history. A generation after its initial release, it has turned from a heated political controversy to a cultural document reflecting its zeitgeist. The movie offers an interesting look at a pre-AIDS gay subculture, one dominated by heavy-duty sex, drugs, and music (in that order).

Truth to tell, “Cruising” never had a chance for a fair play with either film critics or moviegoers. I have seen the film several times, including in Cannes last week, and my initial reaction has not changed. “Cruising” is a decent thriller whose subtext is more outr than its text. The movie is significant from a career standpoint, since it may be the last honorable work by Friedkin, once a Hollywood god (what with the Oscar-winning blockbusters “French Connection” and “The Exorcist” made back-to-back), before his precipitous decline.
Twenty seven years later, “Cruising” still comes across as lurid, sleazy, and crude in both positive and negative senses of these terms. What’s shocking is the film’s audacity for its times, since it was a mainstream studio movie. Looking back, “Cruising” is the kind of picture that could not have been made prior to 1980–or later.
You can dismiss “Cruising’ as a slasher flick since its deals with a serial killer who frequents S&M sex clubs that were popular in the late 1970s. The murderer follows a pattern: He picks up handsome guys (who all look alike), ties them up and then kills them during sex, either in bed or in public, like Central Park. Boldly shot, the first killing, presented from the likable victim’s point of view, is agonizing to watch.
“Cruising’ created an uproar when shooting in New York. To the best of my knowledge, it’s still the only mainstream film to use the gay S&M underworld as a backdrop, and depict is as an environment rife with menace but also possibility, where one can have the wildest sex with one’s fantasy man.
In one of his least coherent and least comfortable performances, Al Pacino plays a straight copwithout a gun–who goes undercover in pursuit of the killer. He plays a man on the other side of the looking glass trying to hang on to his hetero identity.
In the book upon which the movie is based, the main interest isn’t in the cop- and-killer saga, but in the hero’s mental state, in his “peculiar” attraction to the gay hardcore scene, which is repellent and shocking, yet alluring enough for him to be a peeping Tom. In contrast to the gay sex scenes, Pacino’s sex scenes with his girlfriend (played by Karen Allen) are short, dull, and unfulfilling, though it’s telling that after each gay scene, there is a counter-hetero scene.
Midway, the movie reveals the killer’s gay identity. Tall and thin, he wears biker leather jacket, black boots, and dark glasses. A graduate student at Columbia, he’s writing his thesis on the roots of musical theater. Invading into the killer’s apartment, Pacino finds a shoebox full of unmailed letters by a son to his father, and the film makes the mistake of offering a semi-convincing Freudian psychological explanation to the killer’s deviant identity and aberrant conduct.
Nocturnal scenes of wild, animalistic cruising and brutal murders are alternated with the daylight world, a nicer milieu, which depicts Pacino in coffee shops or walking down the street with his new gay neighbor (Don Scardino), the only positive gay man in the picture. Needless to say the one “normal” gay man soon finds his deathbrutally, too.
And then comes an eerie finale, which may be the most memorable shot in the whole picture. It’s a chilling close-up of Pacino’s reflection in the mirror, while shaving, with the mirror staring back at him with a good deal of ambiguityboth sexual and moral.

*After staring sadly at himself in a mirror, the glass fades away in a dissolve and Pacino’s sorrowful face is superimposed on New York’s tranquil harbor, bringing the film full circle to its beginning, where a corpse is found in the water.

“Cruising” came out and quickly disappeared without a trace. Caught between the emergence of gay activists, who protested the narrow depiction of their lives and the widespread homophobic reaction to the new lifestyle, the film eventually reappeared as an underground video favorite.


Al Pacino
Paul Sorvino
Don Scardino
Karen Allen
Directed by William Friedkin
Running time: 105 minutes

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