27 years after being pounced upon by critics and demonstrated against by thousands of protesters, William Friedkin‘s "Cruising" gets a standing ovation at Cannes, a deluxe DVD edition and a small theatrical re-release. The film, which stars Al Pacino as an undercover cop chasing down a serial killer in the New York leather scene, is also getting plenty reconsidered. "Cruising" is exactly the type of film that begs to be called an unfairly slighted masterpiece; controversial, derided and financially unsuccessful in its time, it stars an iconic actor in his prime (even if he stays silent on the subject of the film) and was directed by someone whose filmmaking reputation is critically appreciating. Still, most critics are finding it more cultural curiosity than lost masterpiece.
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon writes that "Viewed from almost three decades’ distance, ‘Cruising’ now looks like a masterly work of psychological disorientation, guilty only of a certain insensitivity — in putting the most extreme imaginable example of gay sexual subculture into a mainstream film — but innocent of any homophobic intention." Michael Koresky at indieWIRE disagrees, claiming that "’Cruising’ remains a work of unparalleled, unedifying discomfort," and offering this rebuke:
Some may let "Cruising" off the hook today–looking at it through a 2007 filter, its schlocky score, dated characterizations, and gritty ’70s New York time-capsule feel make it safely irrelevant. Yet it’s also far too easy for its filmmakers to now plead innocence, painting the 1980s as some dark unenlightened age during which they were stunned by the gay community’s organized protests. Recouping this one amounts to nothing more than taking part in a Friedkin vanity project. "Cruising" has been freshly dug up for a new generation of luckily clueless viewers; but, as we know, children shouldn’t play with dead things.
At the Village Voice, Nathan Lee tallies the protests and furor that met the production in 1979 (led by Voice writer Arthur Bell), concluding that "Cruising is a mediocre thriller but an amazing time capsuleâ€”a heady, horny flashback to the last gasp of full-blown sexual abandon, and easily the most graphic depiction of gay sex ever seen in a mainstream movie." Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club
agrees, adding that "In a strange way, Cruising has come full circle
and become a part of gay history, a creepily affecting time capsule of
a subculture the mainstream otherwise ignored completely," while Armond White at the New York Press sees doom and gloom: "Cruising is the antecedent of such hideous, self-loathing contemporary gay films as Mysterious Skin. Our worst fears have become a cultural average."
[T]he murders in Cruising are not solved. Thereâ€™s more than one
killer. I say that right upfront now. I never said that when the film
first came out, and so people were confused and angry because the
murder that happened at 9 oâ€™clock wasnâ€™t solved at 12 oâ€™clock.
Today, I just reveal the truth: thereâ€™s more than one killer. Most of
the murders are unsolved, just as the murders that I based this film on
Paul Wilner at the LA Times excavates a quote from MPAA ratings chief Richard Heffner on first seeing the film: "What did I think of it? That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t have enough Xs to go around to rate this movie."
+ Beyond the Multiplex (Salon)
+ REVIEW | Return of the Repressed: William Friedkin’s "Cruising" (indieWIRE)
+ Gay Old Time (Village Voice)
+ PANIC IN THE STREETS (NY Press)
+ My Year Of Flops Case File #63 Cruising (AV Club)
+ Stormy leather (SF Bay Guardian)
+ Who’s Cruising Who?: A Talk with William Friedkin (SF Bay Guardian)
+ ‘Cruising’ ventures into lion’s den (LA Times)