Cruising for a Killer
In 1980, Academy Award-winner William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”) directed Al Pacino as an undercover cop sent into New York’s seedy underbelly in “Cruising” which has now been released on Blu ray for the first time. New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city’s underground bars. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) has young rookie Steve Burns (Pacino) infiltrate the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows but Steve immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld and risks losing his own identity in the process. “Cruising” was the subject of great controversy at the time of its release and remains a challenging and remarkable movie to this day, with a haunting performance by Al Pacino.
When “Cruising” came out it created quite a furor because of the way it depicted gay men as “they are”. People saw masculine men dancing and kissing and participating in S&M activities and this was something that many had never seen before. The movie violated the picture people had of gay men as being effeminate and weak. The movie broke ground by showing that gay men, in particular the leather subculture, are real people and have some influence. The movie also showed the interiors of gay bars and the activity there as it was.
This is a brutal film and definitely affects the viewer as it combines murder, mystery, sex and subculture. Viewed today it still shocks and many still consider it to be homophobic by depicting gay men as being sexually obsessed whereas those many of the men who are members of the leather scene claim that it is accurate. It is important to remember that the movie was made before AIDS when sexual excess was extremely popular. I do not think that people were fair to the movie—it is not a look at gay culture as a whole—it uses the leather scene to show how one man’s life is affected by his work.
William Friedkin is known for making mysterious, dark films and he has done so again with this film. The controversy around it brought about a dialogue which led to a better understanding of the gay community and if had done nothing else, that would have been enough. But “Cruising” is also a good movie even with all of the controversy. It is not an easy film to watch. The characters are not the kind of people that we like and for some reason the film seems incomplete. Originally 40 minutes of film were cut due to censorship problems but some has been restored to the film with the new cut. This should clarify any ambiguity of the film. What the film really seems to be about is the thin line between good and evil.
“Cruising” is more than a movie—it is an experience and a provocative one at that. It has no soul and it is dark and physical. It is a riveting ad dark look at something many know nothing about. The grittiness of the film reflects the scenes it pictures. This is not a gay film—it is a horror film, a very tense thriller with remarkable performances. It is also important as it pushed the door wide open for others to come in and take up filming the gay community. The plot may ramble but then so does life—like the movie, life is all over the place.
When the movie was released it was a box office failure. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that for the first time, we saw poppers, pierced nipples, uninhibited sex, slings and the inside of New York leather bars. What we get on DVD is a restored, digitalized edition of what was once considered “politically insensitive trash”. It is remembered because teenaged boys discovered, by watching the movie, that there are other uses for Crisco than deep frying.
When the movie came out, a mainstream slasher film set in the gay milieu and in one of the kinkiest aspects of the gay subculture was agonizing for the gay community and for the gay liberation movement. The gay movement of the time used the motto “We’re just like you” and the movie showed that they were indeed very different. The movie, from such a talented director like Freidkin, should have been spectacular and it was at first. Unfortunately, the weakness of the plot then took over and the kinky sexuality of the beginning of the film became replaced by little more than pedestrian gore.
About half of the film is so good is because it is honest and authentic. Friedkin shows us a New York City of sexual delights, mythical and magically sensuous. Central Park is a veritable smorgasbord of sexuality and the meatpacking district is loaded with adults finding and getting exactly the kind of sex they were looking for.
The movie totally infuriated the gay community at the time but now we see it as a fascinating glimpse of what gay life was, even if it was a Hollywood version of it. It is now a part of our history and a look at the way Hollywood treated us as a disenfranchised minority. Not many gay movies have the gumption or the audacity to show poppers in a leather bar and the film is executed with style and class and it is not nearly as offensive as some of the more recent films I have seen. It was not meant to represent the entire gay community but just one aspect of it. The movie was made way before its time.
Now with so people dead from AIDS in New York to date, it only stands to reason that many of the people that are in the club scenes are no longer alive. But in this movie, in the discos, in their flannel shirts and leather chaps, behind their mustached faces and mutton sideburns, they are smiling. They managed to find a place in the world where everything finally makes sense and this is what the movie is about if we ignore the serial killer aspect of it—it’s a movie about having fun. The days of “Cruising” and cruising are lost forever and at least we have the movie to remember them by.
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by writer-director William Friedkin
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Newly remastered 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supervised by William Friedkin
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Archival audio commentary by William Friedkin
- The History of Cruising – archival featurette looking at the film’s origins and production
- Exorcizing Cruising – archival featurette looking at the controversy surrounding the film and its enduring legacy
- Original Theatrical Trailer