CRUISING (Arrow Video Blu Ray) – released August 20,2019 Color. 102 min.
$39.95 U.S. REGION A/1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aezm39HOBY
Original Theatrical Release February ,1980 Lorimar /U.A. (production cost estimate: $11 million .domestic gross – $19,784,223) Rated R.
Ten years after directing THE BOYS IN THE BAND (National General ,1970), director William Friedkin took on another controversial gay themed subject, CRUISING. In the years since THE BOYS IN THE BAND, Friedkin had established himself as a director of thrilling films, such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Fox,1971) and the box office mega-hit THE EXORCIST (WB,1973).
At first, when producer Philip D’Antoni (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) broached the idea of a film based upon reporter Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, CRUISING (Stein & Day, hardback), the director was not interested. D’Antoni then tried to interest an upcoming new director called Stephen Spielberg, but who finally also gave the project a pass.
The novel deals with an undercover cop named John Lynch (renamed Steve Burns in the later movie adaptation). Lynch is asked to go undercover into the leather bar s&m scene of the gay bars in Greenwich Village. We learn that a serial killer who cruises the leather bars has already killed four men. A straight male who is repulsed by the gay lifestyle, he sees the assignment as one that can help him advance in his career quickly, so he accepts.
The Stonewall Riots were less than a year old at the time, and before then, homosexuality had been treated as a perversion, with police regularly rounding up homosexuals . Indeed, it wasn’t until 1980 that the NY Court of Appeals abolished laws against private consenting homosexual conduct between adults (New York v. Onofre). That this was the same year as CRUISING was released probably added to the tension/controversy of the film but more of that later.
Lynch has a relationship with a woman, but while he is undercover, he starts to develop feelings for one of his gay neighbors. Will he be able to solve the murders and prevent further killings, while he deals with his own personal confusion?
As a mystery, CRUISING the novel let’s us know who the killer is early on so it is just a matter of when Lynch will cross the murderer’s path. Also, Lynch seems to be a bit of an Archie Bunker, with a lot of stereotypical comment by our “hero” against Gays (“fags”), Puerto Ricans, blacks, etc. The picture it paints of New York City seems to be the same one that Travis Bickle would cruise in his vehicle years later in TAXI DRIVER (Columbia ,1976).
Indeed, New York had begun a decline that it took several decades to climb slowly back out from. Drugs, murders, homelessness, prostitution, rape, and urban flight caused the city that never sleeps to become what many viewed as Hell On Earth, an image not helped by films like DEATH WISH (Paramount ,1974).
The rights next went to agent turned producer Jerry Weintraub (NASHVILLE, Paramount, 1975) who approached Friedkin with the work. This time, the director was more receptive to a cinematic re-imagining of the novel.
In the intervening years, a series of murders of homosexual men had occurred in New York that were chronicled in The Village Voice by reporter Arthur Bell.
Friedkin was acquainted with undercover police detective Randy Jurgenson (who acted as a consultant on THE FRENCH CONNECTION). Jurgenson, a purple heart awarded veteran who had fought in the battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953, told the director that he had served uncover investigating the gay culture of New York.
Another odd co-incidence was that Paul Bateson, a doctor’s assistant who appears in THE EXORCIST (the hospital exam scene, which many find more frightening than the more supernatural occurrences) was charged in the murder of Variety Reporter Addison Verrill.
Friedkin worked upon the screen adaptation himself in consultation with Jurgenson and Salvatore “Sonny” Grosso (whose exploits with Eddie Egan inspired THE FRENCH CONNECTION, on which they also provided consultation). Both detectives took small roles in the film . The writer-director, along with several of his team, made several trips to the various notorious hardcore gay clubs ,such as the Mineshaft and the Anvil, both located in the meatpacking district of the city. It was known as that as during the day that is where beef and other meats were delivered, while at night it became an area that most people stayed far away from. The clubs were closed during the height of the AIDS crisis in the Mid- Eighties, and now the district is gentrified and high priced shops, restaurants and hotels.
The Liberty Inn now occupies the space of the infamous Anvil.
Friedkin says all the details was accurate, no matter how far fetched they may have seemed. Friedkin gave camera operator James A. Contner (THE BRINKS JOB) his first chance to be Director of Photography. Contner wanted to shoot the film in black and white but drained the color down in most of the scenes in the clubs while shooting at night nearly accomplished the same effect.
Friedkin also brought on editor Bud S Smith (with whom he worked on SORCERER (Universal/Paramount ,1977 and THE BRINKS JOB (DeLaurentiis /Universal, 1978). An under acknowledged part of filmmaking is casting. Friedkin turned to Louis Di Giaimo who had worked with the director in the past. He presented the director with a short list of actors who he felt would be right for the roles, and Friedkin seemed to agree with the choices of mostly stage trained New York performers for the featured speaking roles. The people who are members of the club scenes are actual people who frequented the clubs, and as Friedkin said, they realized the filmmaker was not being judgmental but merely working almost as a documentarian in those scenes. The sex scenes were to give the MPAA and the filmmakers major headaches when it came to a rating.
The filmmakers had originally wanted Richard Gere for the lead role, probably due to his role in the 1979 Broadway production of BENT, wherein Gere had portrayed a gay man in a concentration camp. Al Pacino expressed interest and finally won the part. This would lead to some problems for the filmmaker, as he felt that Pacino came to set unprepared. It might have been that Pacino wanted to approach each scene like the character, surprised by what he experienced.
Filming was often disrupted by protests. Arthur Bell, whose articles had somewhat shaped the events within the screen play, somehow got a copy of the script and he urged the gay community to protest. To this end , production was disrupted by loud noises, requiring massive ADR work (dubbing). This may have worked to the film’s advantage, as several suspects and characters were dubbed by the same actor, helping to throw off audiences guesses as to who the killer was. Also, the sounds of keys and leather were amplified, both items of importance in this sub section of gay culture.
Several times there was need of police protection and escort for the actors to get to and from locations. Luckily, though there were a few arrests, there is no record of any violence or injury to anyone involved.
The plot involves several body parts found floating in the Hudson River. Fingerprints from one of the hands found leads them to discover that the killings are of several gay men. The police decide to send an officer deep undercover to see who is killing these men. Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) an ambitious officer sees this as a chance for advancement when he is picked for the assignment.
He moves down to the Village, and sets up a false persona, becoming friends with his next door neighbor, Ted (Don Scardino, SQUIRM, AIP ,1976).One of the people that Burns suspects of being a suspect gets brutalized by the police. Burns almost quits, but his captain (Paul Sorvino, THE BRINKS JOB). convinces him to stay and chastises all who harassed the hapless falsely accused man.
What Burns discovers during his investigations starts to play games with his mental well being ,as well as hurting his relationship with his girlfriend ,Nancy (Karen Allen, who would leap to international recognition for her starring role alongside Harrison Ford in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ,Paramount ,1981).to whom he cannot tell what his assignment is or what it entails.
The film drops a lot of suspects and clues, but many find that the ending is a cop-out, leaving many frustrated as to who indeed is the killer. Revisiting the film again ,I now find that the ending is a perfect finish for this unique production
The cast includes a fine selection of character actors, including Joe Spinell (the same year he would also make New York extra creepy as a psychopath killer in MANIAC (Analysis,1980),appearing here as a cop who abuses the transvestites ; Ed O’Neill (tv’s long running MODERN FAMILY, ABC,2009- still running as of this writing) ,here as a detective, James Remar ( Dexter’s father on the long running tv series DEXTER ,Showtime, 2006-2013), portraying Ted’s abuser lover ; and Powers Booth (SIN CITY, Miramax ,2005) as a store owner who explains the significance of certain handkerchiefs and how they are worn in the gay world. Except for Karen Allen, women hardly exist in this society.
The attacks upon the film didn’t end with the end of production, as the MPAA kept slapping the film with an X, a kiss of death at the box office. Friedkin submitted about 40 minutes of graphic sex that he knew the MPAA would want cut, so he cut keep the majority of what he wanted as a compromise. There are subliminal flashes of gay sex during the murder sequences, with the idea of sex and the knife melded into one (two forms of penetration).
The critics also for the most part savaged the film, with few exceptions ,so it is surprising that the film, that cost nearly $11 million to make, nearly doubled its cost, making it, if not a hit, at least not a money loser.
It is also interesting that 1980 was also the year that Brian DePalma mixed sex and violence in his DRESSED TO KILL(Filmways/Orion). While there were protests about the combination in this film, audiences were more willing to be titillated by heterosexual love mixed with slashing, becoming an international hit, making about 5 times it’s budget.
By the way , did anyone ever notice that the 1982 Paramount film PARTNERS , written by Frances Verber, who created the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (French ,U,A,,1978) seems to be a buddy picture reworking of the plot of CRUISING? In PARTNERS ,Ryan O’Neal is a straight cop assigned to go undercover to find a killer targeting homosexual men , only here he is paired with an actual gay officer ,played by John Hurt channeling Kenneth Williams.
Over the years, opinions have changed upon how the film is viewed, with many feeling it is among Friedkin’s best works.
It was released to VHS and seen widely at video stores, first released in a large box, and then a small box when it was reissued.
It became perhaps viewed when it was released to HBO cable, showing at midnight or later.
Finally, in 2007, it was released on DVD by Warner Brothers (who had acquired Lorimar) in a special edition version with extras like
• Commentary by director William Friedkin
• The History of Cruising
• Exorcising Cruising
• Theatrical trailer
and then later a burn on demand without extras from Warner Archives in 2013.
Arrow Video has now given us what may be the definitive version of this film.
First off, this is a Director Approved Special Edition with a 4K Scan H9 Def (1080p) Blu-ray of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by William Friedkin .
The sound has also been given a newly remastered 5.1. DTS-HD Master Audio track again supervised by Friedkin.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. This follows the dialog and indicates sounds quite accurately for those wishing to use this captioning.
A new audio commentary with Friedkin and film critic Mark Kermode. Friedkin is very frank about the film, talking about how the opening title card has been removed for this release, since it was only put on as a sop for those who might have been squeamish or offended by the film. Kermode knows the director’s body of work pretty well, and prompts quietly the conversation, often commenting on actions on screen while diverting effortlessly of the behind the scenes problems and joys of the production.
Friedkin mentions that he felt Pacino would arrive seemingly unprepared for the day’s set ups, while talking about how he tried to keep the actors unbalanced and on their toes. It could be that Pacino, method actor that he was, wanted to go into the scenes with the same wide-eyed innocence that his character would feel walking into the strange new world that has such people in it.
Also original to this release is an enclosed booklet with an excellent overview by film historian F.X. Feeney, who talks about seeing the film on it’s opening day.
Reversible Blu Ray cover
Ported over from the 2007 DVD release are
An archival audio commentary by William Friedkin. It is interesting to compare the two commentaries. The original is fact filled but a bit dry, while the newer one as stated the director seems a lot more engaged and relaxed. Both are definitely worth listening to, so kudos for Arrow for making the extra effort.
The History of CRUISING -interviews with several of the people involved in the film such as Friedkin, Grosso, and many others.
Exorcising CRUISING -examines the controversy and aftermath of the film’s release. Many of the same people from the previous featurette appear, as well as actors like actor Richard Cox.
Original Theatrical Trailer- the trailer tries to avoid mentioning the homosexual aspects of the film, which makes the film seem more like a generic police procedural (though with lots of leather!).
CRUISING is not a film for everyone. It is a challenging film on a subject that many people will not wish to explore. The film’s ending is not an easy clear cut one, open to debate as to its meaning .
Those reason though also make the film Highly Recommended to those who appreciate films that challenge you and your perceptions .
In an age of superhero franchises, CRUISING is a film that no major studio would even consider creating, making it all the more unique and worth seeking out.
Another Arrow Video must buy release.
For fans of
NY BASED THRILLERS
ORIGINAL,THOUGHT PROVOKING FILMS
-Kevin G Shinnick
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