Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
Cruising“How’d you like to disappear?” The question is posed by NYPD’s Captain Edelson (Paul
Sorvino) to Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino), whom he wants to go undercover, to flush out
an apparent serial killer preying upon young men who frequent the city’s hardcore leather
and studs scene. Edelson chooses Burns because Burns fits the profile of the killer’s victims.
Edelson flatly enquires into Burns’ homosexual experience; Burns insists he’s never
had any. Yet as Burns burrows deeper into the S&M underworld, that initial question—
specifically that word, “disappear”—assumes various shades of meaning. Something in
Burns—in fact something in Cruising, the movie he inhabits—wants to become lost
in that underworld, to not only taste but to devour the unknown pleasures once taboo and
now, thanks to occupational circumstance, permitted. As a crime thriller, Cruising has its
points of interest, but as a study in masculine sexual-criminal curiosity—not to mention as
a glimpse of a New York that no longer exists—it’s an exceptionally fascinating document.
Which is presumably why Metro Cinema has programmed it for this month’s Cult Cinema.
Though made from an original screenplay written by its director William Friedkin—who
seemed drawn above all to the milieux—Cruising had its roots in the true story of Randy
Jurgensen, a New York City patrolman who took an assignment very similar to Burns’ more
than a decade earlier. The based-on-a-true-story clause would eventually be taken up by
the film’s producers when New York’s gay community learned of the film’s premise and
violently objected to what they regarded as its demonizing representation. They began to
stage large-scale protests and acts of sabotage, making loud noises and flashing mirrors
during location shooting. Yet however dubious the film’s political agenda may have been—
and I strongly suspect that Friedkin had no political agenda whatsoever—time has made
the notion of Cruising as being slanderous to gays seem fairly obtuse: as Pacino himself
said, he didn’t regard the subculture depicted in Cruising as representing the entire gay
community anymore than he regarded the mafia family in The Godfather as representing all
Still, things get hazy when one begins to consider the note of ambiguity the film lands on.
I don’t want to give everything away if you haven’t seen Cruising, but let’s just say that
the identity of the film’s killer remains elusive—elusive in such a way that it could be any
number of the leather boys Burns encounters in the Ramrod or the Mine Shaft. Which
kind of implies that the evil is perhaps ubiquitous, even inherent in the very desire to seek
sexual thrills and camaraderie among flamboyantly liberated men in aviator glasses and
chaps. So, viewed from a certain stance, Cruising a troubling film. But it’s also, I argue,
regardless of the filmmakers’ intentions, all the more valuable for it.
Tue, Feb 26 (7 pm)
Directed by William Friedkin
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally Released: 1980
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