Cruising (1980)

Cruising (1980) movie poster

director William Friedkin
viewed: 11/12/2016

After re-watching William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist (1974) earlier this year, I was interested in seeking out other film’s of his that I’d never seen.  The notorious 1980 thriller Cruising hadn’t exactly interested me, but it seemed like a significant omission from my viewing history.

There is something of the Exploitation film about it.  Cruising is a crime flick in which a youngish cop (Al Pacino) goes under deep cover into New York City’s gay leather scene to hunt a serial killer targeting gay men.  It isn’t pure Exploitation, there is an aspect of sympathy toward the gay scene, though it’s fistfuls of titillation in the gay bars.

There are aspects of time and place and representation that are somewhat powerful.  I particularly have been interested in the New York of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the grittier pre-Giuliani New York.  I don’t know how many of the extras were locals of the scene or just actors, especially since the controversy around the film and its depictions of gay life even in the days of its production.  But there is something here, something of a time and place and people that is no more.

As a thriller, its effects are somewhat muted.  I’ve always had a problem with Pacino, though he’s quite low-key here.  The edginess of the question of his character’s “descent” into gay life seems the most continuingly problematic aspect of the film.  It’s also kind of bizarre that they just picked a guy to do deep cover because he “fit the look” rather than he had any skills and abilities to blend in or had psychological preparation for the work.

I guess it is curious to wonder how the film would have been with its excised 40 minutes of additional footage of the interior of the leather bar that were cut to escape an X rating.  I think that could have cemented the film one more significantly one way or another.

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