Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 10 Best Films Of 2001 The 10 Best Films Of 2001 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Exclusive: Matthew Gray Gubler Has Flashbacks In Clip From 'Suburban Gothic' Exclusive: Matthew Gray Gubler Has Flashbacks In Clip From 'Suburban Gothic' The 10 Best Films Of 2000 The 10 Best Films Of 2000 "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: James Franco's 'Interior. Leather Bar' Does Justice To His Eclectic Artistic Ambitions

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist January 3, 2014 at 5:03PM

So let's clear up a few misconceptions about this film—and of course there are misconceptions, it's a James Franco project. Firstly, "Interior. Leather Bar" is not a recreation/reimagining of the "censored," never-shown 40 minutes from William Friedkin's "Cruising," nor even footage inspired by that missing footage. Instead it's a semi-scripted, hour-long documentary about the production of that reimagined footage, in which much less of the actual recreated footage appears than the stories around its making, the concept behind it and the utterly self-conscious, self-referential approach. Hope you're still with us?
23
Interior. Leather Bar

So let's clear up a few misconceptions about this film—and of course there are misconceptions, it's a James Franco project. Firstly, "Interior. Leather Bar" is not a recreation/reimagining of the "censored," never-shown 40 minutes from William Friedkin's "Cruising," nor even footage inspired by that missing footage. Instead it's a semi-scripted, hour-long documentary about the production of that reimagined footage, in which much less of the actual recreated footage appears than the stories around its making, the concept behind it and the utterly self-conscious, self-referential approach. Hope you're still with us?

Secondly, while Franco is credited throughout with being the guy who came up with the "Cruising" angle, it quickly becomes apparent that this film ends up being less an homage to an existing film than, like many other Franco projects, an examination of the creative act and a meditation on the nature of his own personal brand of celebrity, albeit one with a higher than usual erect penis quotient. And the last misconception we'd like to address that may have arisen during points one and two above, is that the film is therefore unwatchably precious. It's not. It's actually pretty good.

Interior. Leather Bar

If we sound surprised, we were. But after a shaky start, featuring Franco, co-director Travis Mathews and reluctant lead actor and longtime friend of Franco's, Val Lauren, "talking through" the project and in the process revealing they have no real idea what they're doing, we go straight into an audition sequence and the film actually starts to take shape. In fact, the most beguiling aspect of it may be the frequent references by all of the principals to just how little they understand what the end result of their labors might be, and yet here we are watching it, and it is so much more interesting than the thing they are struggling to even loosely describe. There is some weird alchemy going on.

Anyway, the to-camera profiles of the actors who get cast as the extras in the scene are really great, and while some are gay, some are straight, and some are willing to have full sex on camera, others are squeamish about even kissing, and their personal reasons for being there vary wildly, there is a throughline and it is Franco. Some of them just want to meet him, others are hoping to see him naked (that does not happen), and still others are really sold on his "vision," whether or not they themselves fully understand it. In fact, Val falls into that last category, but as he has known Franco so long, he is the one who challenges him about it. In the film's best scene, he and Franco emerge, flushed and a little dazed, from being onlookers at a scene of graphic gay sex they had been filming inside. Their conversation feels utterly authentic, as though the ideas and arguments they generate, prompted by what they've been watching, are truly occurring to them for the first time: they seem like men feeling their way along the darkened passage of the creative act, with only the faintest far-off glimmer of light to guide them. And if Franco's own reaction reveals the edges of a perilously large ego, along with his behaviour throughout (walking off set, giving utterly useless, non-committal direction to his friend who is struggling to help him achieve his "vision"), we then remember that actually he must have had close involvement in the edit, so he chose to leave those bits in. And that makes us kind of like him all over again.

Interior. Leather Bar.

But actually that touches on the other main narrative that we were impressed by—for all the talk about sexuality and censorship and art and societal norms, the film is not just intellectual onanism (thought here is a fair bit of that). There are some real emotions on display here—Val Lauren emerges as a kind of model of a great friend, someone who challenges Franco when he disagrees with him ("You gotta be careful with this stuff, man, you're making a fucking Disney movie right now"), but ultimately believes in him and will help him out even when others are advising him not to, and telling him rightly that a disaster here would be so much more injurious to his low profile than to Franco's expanding fame. And between the extras there are nice revealing moments of getting-to-know-you-because-I'll-be-spanking-your-leather-chaps-in-five-minutes conversation. And of course there are a lot of shots of blowing, masturbation, bootlicking and gratuitous body-oiling, so best not take your mom unless she's into that.

So how much of this is set up, and how much is actually real? The "spontaneous" phone conversations and a scene in a car park in which Val reads from a script that he's sitting in a car park reading from a script, are just some of the elements that draw attention to the artificiality of what we may have thought was real. But ultimately we can't know the answer to that and it doesn't matter because the more intriguing questions have already been provoked. We have been critical of Franco before, and probably will be again for the times his experiments cross the line from personal exploration into pretentious exercise. But with "Interior. Leather Bar." that line is walked cleverly (are Mathews and Lauren perhaps a good influence as collaborators?), and Franco has finally delivered a side project that does at least some justice to his eclectic artistic ambitions.[B]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.


This article is related to: Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates