False in all the ways it shouldn’t be.
The beauty of movies is that through the magic of fiction, watchers can experience moments of uplifting or heartbreaking emotional truth. Computer-generated creatures which don’t exist in the real world, interact with actors pretending to be someone they’re not, in front of a green screen to simulate a location where the actually aren’t. Yet when the cgi character dies (i.e. the animator drew him to look like he has died), you shed a tear. Why?
Because while the movie may be fiction, the emotion is real.
It’s a loathsome thing, then, and a distortion of what cinema represents, when a film can show what is presented as reality, yet bear not a single shred of actual emotional truth.
Hollow, pretentious, overlong (even at 60 minutes), plodding, incompetent, tedious, and just plain FAKE, Interior. Leather Bar. is such an experience.
1980 saw the release of the psychological thriller Cruising. The movie’s plot involved a cop (played by Al Pacino) going undercover in New York’s gay S&M scene to apprehend a serial killer targeting gay men. The film was so controversial that 40 minutes of the film had to be cut before the film could avoid an X rating. These 40 minutes of footage were somehow lost and/or destroyed, never to be witnessed by those not intimately involved in the production.
Interior. Leather Bar. portrays the effort to recreate those lost 40 minutes. The “film” is actually about the production surrounding the creation of those 40 minutes, rather than the lacunal scenes themselves.
The brainchild of “director” James Franco, the film is stuck in some paralyzing limbo between documentary and drama. The audience watches “production meetings”, conversations between “actors”, discussions between the lead and Franco concerning the direction of the project, even graphic sexual acts (and all of these scenes last about five minutes longer than they need to). But so many of these scenes are permeated with this sheen of fakeness, from the way they cut to secondary cameras, to the stilted delivery of those conversations from the “actors”, that it becomes impossible to commit to the world; it’s just too fake to be real, and too real to be… no, no, actually, it’s just plain fake.
This would all be fine if the movie admitted its own outright falsehood. Instead, Franco attempts to blur the lines between reality and fiction, in a half-cocked attempt at intellectual relevance. A conversation seems like it might be authentic, until an unseen voice calls out to stop and do it again. A character sits in a car and reads lines from a script… which read “Interior: car. The actor reads lines from a script. He turns the page.”
The problem with this is kind of self-indulgent pseudo-intellectualism (see? This reviewer knows pretentious) is that it serves no real purpose, as Franco really has nothing to say: the closest he comes to a statement is bringing up hoary arguments about the unfair disparity in the depiction of violence versus that of sex in American film (an argument which might bear some validity if actual acts of violence were featured in film, like the actual frottage and fellatio on display in Interior. Leather Bar).
Franco tries to push buttons, to challenge, but it comes off as the puerile tantrum of a precocious youth, willfully rebelling against his own association with a squeaky clean public image. Like a spoiled teen drawing swastikas who, after being asked “What the hell, kid! Are you racist or something?” responds “No! The swastika is an ancient Indian symbol of power! You’re just ignorant!”
Not wanting to see men fellate each other does not make a person close-minded, any more than showing it in a movie makes the filmmaker profound. It does not challenge. It does not inspire thought. Yes, perhaps it does “push buttons”, but “pushing buttons” is simple and facile. Without emotional relevance, without context, it’s just two people having sex for the sake of displaying sex. That’s not good enough.
If there’s a throughline to be had in the tedium, it’s the story of actor Val Lauren, Franco’s friend who has been cast in the Pacino role. Lauren is straight (with a girlfriend, in fact), and has understandable misgivings about being on set with explicit homosexual sex going on around him. The audience empathizes with his frustrations regarding the artistic integrity of the work, if only because it shares them.
The one moment in the entire 60 minutes that even touches upon truth occurs in a protracted, explicit love scene. Two men make love as Van watches and the cameras capture it all. It’s still gratuitous and unnecessarily explicit. Yet the tenderness these two men show towards each other is genuine and undeniable: it’s obvious that the two are a real couple, and that the love that they have for each other is very real. It’s a shame that the presence of a film crew on screen makes the whole thing feel seedy rather than sweet.
Is this the point? Is this the message? “Gay men can love each other”? If you are someone who needs to be convinced that gay men can love each other, you likely have no interest in this movie and its subject matter. If you already know that gay men can love each other, you certainly don’t need to watch gay sex to convince you of what you already know. And if you just want to watch two men have sex, there are numerous websites dedicated to just that.
There’s doubtless a large audience out there that would like to see gay sexuality displayed more honestly on screen, without the unfair, stereotypical associations with sleaze and promiscuity.
That audience deserves a lot better than this garbage.
½ out of 5 stars. Yes, seriously.
Olufemi is a Mechanical Engineer by day, amateur screenwriter by night; hence a critical thinker who stays up way too late thinking about stuff most people don’t. He uses semicolons frequently.