Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hot, hard, and rather enjoyable: James Franco and Travis Mathews' INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR

After making the rounds of some festival circuits (Sundance, Berlin, in Turkey and Taiwan, and then various GLBT fests), INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. -- the Cruising-inspired sort-of documentary from our current Renais-sance "Entertainment" Man, James Franco (below, second from left), and the upcoming video doc writer/director who seems to specialize in full-bodied, hard-core gay couplings that appear as real as they do genuinely interesting, Travis Mathews (shown at left, below) -- finally opens theatrically here in New York City. (It played in Los Angeles back in early January.)

Because this film lasts but 60 minutes, its distributor Strand Releasing, has added to the program a worthwhile shorter "short" by both men: Franco's five-minute The Feast of Stephen and Mathews' 15-minute I Want Your Love. Overall, this adds up to a worthwhile look at the work of both men, while providing -- for those who appreciate this sort of thing -- some hot, gay sex experienced by real characters. For those new to gay sex or who may want to find out more about it, as well expand their viewpoint on the coupling possibilities in this great wide world of ours, the program may be an eye-opening (or -closing), as well as a mind-expanding experience.

The filmmakers seem interested in all of the above, and while the largest audience for this will undoubted by gay and bi-sexual, Franco and Mathews make it clear that they intend (in fact, they do outright) to question things like the western word's great interest in depicting violence on screen, along with its great fear of doing the same thing with sex. This, of course, is not a new idea. TrustMovies himself has been asking that question for decades, with the major answer arising from the stranglehold that organized religion, followed by (or incorporated in) the effect that "tradition" has on the general public.

The two shorts, which I presume (as at the press screening) will be shown first, lead us nicely into the heart of the matter. In The Feast of Stephen, Franco, who directed and wrote the screenplay (inspired by a poem by Anthony Hecht), takes us quickly and effectively into the masochistic wet dream of a gay young man as he watches a group of his classmates play basketball. He disrobes them and has them attack him and finally fuck him and then rub dog-shit in his face. This could also perhaps be the sadistic wet dream of one of the boys who attacks our "hero." Either way, the movie is short, sharp and entirely credible look at the forbidden.

In I Want Your Love, on the other hand, two young men (Jesse Metzger above, right, with Brenden Gregory), obviously good friends, lounge about  in one of their bedroom, chatting about life and friends and what not. Slowly, it becomes clear that one is sexually attracted to the other but that they have not, up till now, acted on that. They do, and what follows is around ten minutes of pure sex. It is a delightful, sexy turn-on to view, and because we've gotten more than a whiff of who these guys are, it also seem like watching a couple of friends at play in the fields of the lord. Well, someone's lord, anyway. Mathews avoids the "sleaze" angle that so many porno films, gay or straight, insist on and instead gives us two people exploring and enjoying sex. Gosh, how riveting and transporting. And unusual.

Interior. Leather Bar. ostensibly wants to explore by some sort of re-creation, the said-to-be 40-minute segment from the movie Cruising that went missing in order for the film to be released theatrically back in 1980. But there is more going on than mere re-creation. So we meet the "cast" of this new footage: some gay, some straight, some perhaps still closeted. Chief among these is actor Val Lauren (above in close-up and below, left), a long-time friend of Franco who explains that, though he doesn't fully understand what his friend (and maybe idol) is doing, he so believes in Franco that he will play his part the best he can.

Lauren tells us that he is indeed straight and that he is not playing Al Pacino, the star of Cruising, but rather the character that Pacino was acting -- which was a straight cop going undercover to ferret out a murderer in the gay community. This works on a couple of levels, for Pacino presumably is straight, and so both actors were/are forced to come to grips with getting up close and personal with a community composed of the "other." Both performances reflect this to some degree, and Lauren's as well as the filmmakers' exploration of this -- in talks with his girlfriend, another good friend, and some of his fellow actors -- is pointed and unsettling.

There are a couple of hard-core sex scenes within this hour-long film featuring actors in the cast of the "new footage" doing things pretty normal for a leather bar back in the day -- some cocksucking, a little S&M -- but likely to curl the toes of newcomers to the scene. Yet the reigning input here would seem to suggest to viewers, not to mention the actors, "Man up, honey; it's good for you!" I think Mr. Franco would subscribe to this, though Mr. Mathews has clearly moved far beyond that hurdle.

Overall, this program's a good one: expansive and ground-breaking for some; interesting, hot, funny and plain enjoyable for more seasoned veterans. Interior. Leather Bar. opens today in New York City at the IFC Center, along with the ongoing James Franco festival. Click here to see showtimes and which other Franco films are scheduled for that day.

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