Saturday, February 17, 2007
Written by Gerald Walker
Written and Directed by William Friedkin
Both book and film have the same basic premise: a serial killer is stabbing gay men to death in NYC. The boys in blue, apparently unfamiliar with the concept of gaydar, decide to send a sexually confused officer undercover in the seamy world of *gasp* ho-mo-sexuls! It's a pretty ludicrous premise, I know. The movie ups the ante, and the potential for disgust/offense, by localizing the murders in the pre-AIDS leathersex community.
The book's chapters alternate between the thoughts of the killer, the undercover officer, and the police captain leading the investigation. No one's thoughts are particularly illuminating. The killer hates his dad and likes stabbing gay guys. His homophobia is caused by his own sexual confusion; we know he's gay at heart because he's a college student writing a thesis on American musicals. The officer is a racist ex-army shitkicker who also happens to be a closet homosexual. The police captain likes to make some sort of reference to his Jewish ethnicity about once every paragraph (imagine Mel Brooks as a cop with a yarmulke and you wouldn't be far off). It's a gloriously ridiculous parade of stereotypes and we're all invited to watch the feathers fly!
In the book, the killer never actually engages in sex with men. He leads them to secluded areas, then stabs and sexually mutilates them. In the film, he has sex with them, ties them up, then stabs and (presumably) disembowels them. In case the Freudian segue from penis to knife wasn't clear enough, Friedkin even splices in scenes of anal sex during the knifings. Meanwhile, the progress of undercover cop Al Pacino from hesitant homophobe to bisexual leather-clad slasher is shown with all the meticulous disgust of watching an Ebola infection work its body-fluid-soaked course. The film gives Al a girlfriend, which makes it seem that his sexual fruiting (pun intended) is less a consequence of the closet doors being hewn down, but rather that all the time spent amongst homosexuals is giving him a bad case of "gay."
And what a nasty strain of "gay" it is! Friedkin shoots scenes within real NY leatherbars with real NY leathermen. We get the types of mustachioed perversion imaginable only in the feverish nightmares of Jerry Falwell. We even get an actual fisting on screen! There's an obstruction in the foreground to hide the point of contact, but from what I've gathered it's real and it's happening! And, in case our delicate sensibilities haven't been bothered yet, we have the late, great Joe Spinell (best known to gorehounds as Frank Zito from splatter classic Maniac) as a dirty cop who likes to harass the more femme looking boys and get free BJs. We're talking degenerate greaseball city here.
It's horrific, it's sleazy, and I love every second of it!
The biggest concern that audiences, particularly gay audiences, had/have with the film is the depiction of homosexuals. We don't get any stock cross-dressing, Judy-Garland-singing, delightfully swishy sissies here. Oh no. Just some hardcore guys looking for a little (well, maybe not a little) of the rough stuff. If this imagery was somehow counterbalanced with any sort of positive "acceptable" behaviour, I would agree with the charges of homophobia. But the movie posits the familiar crime/noir Weltanschauung of an infinitely corrupt universe populated by beings who are a hairsbreadth away from acting out their most base tendencies. Call it dirty existentialism.
If the preceding hasn't frightened you away, I highly recommend Friedkin's Cruising. As I write this, the movie is only available on VHS. (Rumors of an imminent R1 DVD are circulating though.) You can skip the book; it lacks the gratuitous filth that so invigorates the film.
Besides, you don't know what you're into until you give it a try....