copyright 2016, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 57, fall 2016

Cruising celebrity: James Franco’s queer stardom, performance art,
and Interior. Leather Bar.

by David Church

“How’d you like to disappear?” the fatherly Capt. Edelson (Paul Sorvino) asks aspiring young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) when offering him the undercover murder assignment that forms the center of William Friedkin’s controversial film Cruising (1980). Chosen due to his physical resemblance to the victims of a serial killer haunting New York’s gay leather scene, Burns soon descends into a queer underworld of SM fetishism, pornography, and recreational sex.

A generation later, the documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present (Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, 2012) captures a discussion occurring among the spectators of the famed performance artist’s eponymous retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (March 14–May 31, 2010). A handsome, thirty-something man stands among the other museum attendees, casually chatting and watching from the wings as Abramović performs in the center of the large gallery space. Attempting to explain the difference between “performance art” and “acting,” the young man suggests (with considerable oversimplification) that the only similarity between performance art and traditional stage/screen acting is the physical presence of other viewers during the performance itself. “Are you an actor?” an older museum patron replies—unaware that the younger man is, in fact, movie star James Franco, who responds affirmatively with an amused smirk. In the presence of Abramović’s nearby performance, the white male Hollywood celebrity has himself “disappeared,” much to his apparent delight.

Franco’s star image over the past decade has hinged upon not only his reputation as a creative polymath and career student, but also on his thematic interest in both queerness and performance art. These creative threads unite in his quasi-documentary metafilm Interior. Leather Bar. (2013)—a behind-the-scenes riff on attempting to recreate sexually explicit “lost” footage cut from Cruising’s gay SM club scenes—which he conceived and co-directed with filmmaker Travis Mathews. Franco’s initial interest in revisiting Cruising via a short gallery project featuring unsimulated sex led him to Mathews, whose independent feature I Want Your Love (2012) profiled in sexually explicit detail the personal relationships of a gay performance artist. Meanwhile, Mathews contributed many of Interior’s metafilmic aspects through a loose script that allowed considerable space for on-set improvisation between the cast and crew, negotiating the limits of what they would or would do sexually on camera.[1] Rather than a mockumentary per se (as it has sometimes been deemed), the resulting film more closely resembles a blend of what Bill Nichols terms the “reflexive” and “performative” modes of documentary: a deconstructive metacommentary on the epistemological claims of traditional documentary cinema, achieved via semi-scripted performances, on-camera discussion about the ethics of representation, and depictions of the filmmakers themselves as authoring agents.[2]

Much as Cruising’s Burns agrees to the undercover assignment as an aspirational shortcut from beat cop to full detective, but perhaps also to indulge his ambiguous, repressed (homo)sexuality, Interior depicts aspiring actor Val Lauren (playing himself) struggle with his casting in the Pacino role, worried that his (professional) identity will be compromised by similarly adopting a fictional personality that requires him to inhabit spaces where unsimulated gay sex occurs.[3] Echoing how Franco’s embrace of graduate-level education and multiple creative avenues beyond acting (visual art, poetry, short fiction, screenwriting, directing, etc.) confounds conventional expectations of what a Hollywood celebrity should do, Interior deliberately blurs the boundaries between documentary and scripted fiction through its collaboration between a debatably “straight” movie star and an up-and-coming gay filmmaker. Hence, more than illuminating Cruising per se, Interior becomes a meditation on how actors like Franco might publicly perform beyond the bounds of their private sexual identities through embodied acts that would seemingly transcend mere “acting” and instead aspire to a higher artistic strata distanced from crass Hollywood commercialism. As Mathews notes in the film’s press materials, he and Franco began by “gaug[ing] how willing [Franco] was to acknowledge his celebrity—incorporating how he’s talked about in relation to gay-themed material—in the making of this film.”[4]

Less generous critics have dismissed Franco’s off-Hollywood extracurriculars as the vanity projects of a narcissistic dilettante[5] (and there is perhaps some truth in those claims). But I find such judgments of aesthetic value to be less compelling than asking what the twin axes of queerness and performance art might offer this fan-turned-friend of Abramović as a means of negotiating his own mainstream celebrity status. Indeed, Franco is perhaps the most famous of several white, hetero-male movie stars (also including Joaquin Phoenix and Shia LaBeouf) to have recently adopted the rhetoric of “performance art” as a method for challenging public images that, in their own eyes, seem too closely aligned with banal Hollywood cinema. In other words, Interior is notable as not only a reworking of a much-maligned Hollywood film with a cult following among contemporary gay men. It is also an extension of a larger cultural moment in which two different media, performance art and (Hollywood) acting—both united by a focus on the performer, but separated by their respective aesthetic strata—have converged around the figure of the celebrity.

Much as Cruising’s detractors denounced Friedkin as a straight director voyeuristically peering into and exoticizing a gay ghetto from a privileged outsider position,[6] Franco and his hetero-male celebrity peers could be accused of co-opting the label “performance art” to serve their own purposes. This has been accomplished in part by their tendency toward discursively reducing the very large and diverse medium of performance art to a particular subset of gallery-based body art that emerged in the 1960s-70s. Amelia Jones notes how the label “body art” was developed by critics

“who wished to differentiate it from a conception of 'performance art' that was at once broader (in that it reached back to dada and encompassed any kind of theatricalized production on the part of a visual artist) and narrower (in that it implied that a performance must actually take place in front of an audience, most often in an explicitly theatrical, proscenium-based setting).”[7]

As Jones continues, many of performance/body art’s biggest names of the 1960s-70s (e.g., Vito Acconci, Yves Klein, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, Chris Burden) were white, straight-identified men who inherited Abstract Expressionism’s masculinist ethos of virile, normatively male genius.[8] Although performance/body art also became a space for feminist artists (e.g., Abramović, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Hannah Wilke) to interrogate gender norms, it has in more recent decades become a privileged space of expression for people of color and sexual minorities.[9] Artist Holly Hughes suggests that “Prior to 1990, few Americans outside of the big-city art ghettoes had even heard of performance art,” but following right-wing attempts to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, “even people who’d never seen a show began to get a sense of what performance art is: ‘queer.’”[10]

If the very label “performance art” has increasingly become associated with both gallery-based body art and queer politics, then white male Hollywood celebrities’ use of that connotation to describe their entry into a different realm of performance surely retains an air of cultural appropriation. And yet, following Cruising’s more recent critical reappraisal, I will argue that Interior may also be compromised by its status as an exploratory vehicle for hetero-male anxieties, but nevertheless retains a queer complexity that cannot be simply written off as cynical cooptation. My reading therefore focuses, for better or worse, on how Interior functions within Franco’s larger interrogation of his own celebrity—even at the risk that I also reproduce the film’s own biases by marginalizing Mathews’s creative role in the following discussion. After all, it is doubtful that without Franco’s prominent involvement in the project—especially a project featuring unsimulated gay sex—it would have garnered as much attention, regardless of whoever actually did the heaviest lifting in the production process. As B. Ruby Rich reported from the film’s Sundance premiere,

“Only the hope of seeing Franco in an X-rated scene could explain a theater packed to the gills for a late-night screening of a one-hour experimental movie.”[11]

If Cruising’s spurious correlation between homosexuality and serial murder has contaminated its latter-day reputation, then Interior. Leather Bar’s yoking together of performance/body art and Hollywood celebrity is another correspondence whose very speciousness reveals the political stakes of performing sexual-cum-professional identities at different moments in LGBTQ history.

Marina and the boys

Mannered eccentricity among Hollywood stars is, of course, virtually as old as the mainstream film industry itself. But when a small cadre of postmillennial movie stars began promoting a series of public stunts in the late 2000s under the imprimatur of “performance art,” the media covered these activities through cross-reference to each other, and some of these stars even began publicly commenting on the artworthiness of each other’s unconventional performances—thus begging the question of what this rhetorical foray into another performance medium might offer these celebrities. Detailing and evaluating these varied efforts is well beyond the scope of this essay, but the following offers a brief précis of notable moments in this recent trend.

Although Marina Abramović’s concurrent celebrity as one of performance/body art’s most visible and venerated faces during these same years was a primary influence upon these movie stars (as I will elaborate shortly), it is also possible to trace a loose genealogy of eccentric-performance-as-Hollywood-rejection back to character actor Crispin Glover. While not commanding the same A-list celebrity status as the more recent crop of stars-turned-performance-artists, Glover’s famous repudiation of his breakthrough role in Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)—including his refusal to appear in its sequels and his successful lawsuit against the producers over their unauthorized use of outtakes and stand-ins to replace him—set the mold for these later stars’ public rejection of Hollywood blockbuster cinema. From Phoenix’s (fake) “retirement” from acting in the wake of his Oscar-winning role in Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005) to LaBeouf’s criticism of his own participation in the Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007- ) franchise and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008),[12] the major star’s well-publicized withdrawal toward more “artistic,” less commercial projects owes much to Glover’s lead. It is no coincidence, for example, that Phoenix’s much-mocked January 2009 interview on The Late Show with David Letterman (featuring the bedraggled and recently “retired” star awkwardly mumbling his way through an otherwise standard promotional appearance)[13] mimicked Glover’s notoriously high-kicking 1987 interview with Letterman, in which Glover was similarly (and unbeknownst to Letterman) “in character” as the protagonist from his then-unreleased independent comedy Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris, 1991).

But beyond the realm of gimmicky late-night interviews, Glover’s more recent side career touring in support of his self-directed cult films What Is It? (2005) and It is Fine. Everything is Fine! (2007) evinces more direct affinities with performance art as traditionally understood. In her influential theory on the ontology of live performance, for instance, Peggy Phelan suggests that performance art cannot be wholly considered “somehow ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’ the art market,” but its traditional focus on the ephemerality of the performer/ audience interaction marks its political “resistance to the commodity form.”[14] Although we might question such claims, given the various forms of (cultural/ symbolic) capital nevertheless accrued by even those artists who don’t sell copies/ records of their work, the emphasis on live performance’s ephemerality as resistant to capitalist commodification persists as an ideology undergirding much of the medium. Because Glover does not circulate (piratable) screeners, his feature films, filled with “shocking” content in the 1970s midnight-movie tradition of Alejandro Jodorowsky, et al., can only be viewed with Glover present in person, as but one part of live shows that also include Q&A sessions and theatrical readings from his books.[15] By requiring that his films be viewed beside the liveness of the actor/ director’s physical presence—and with his penchant for generously conversing with each night’s audience—Glover’s public performances thus associate liveness with a repudiation of overly mediatized blockbuster entertainments. His overtly independent films attempt to challenge the viewer’s sensibilities with taboo imagery deliberately opposed to mainstream Hollywood cinema, while his onstage presence recalls his Back to the Future lawsuit by actively resisting the very divorcement of the actor’s corporately circulated onscreen image from his lived being.

Indeed, it is notable that the three stars most often linked to performance art discourse—Phoenix, Franco, and LaBeouf—all began acting from a very young age, suggesting a difficulty in separating themselves from their media images. In the early scenes of the mockumentary I’m Still Here (Casey Affleck, 2010), for example, we see local news footage of the Phoenix siblings performing as children—and then cut ahead to present-day Joaquin ranting that he doesn’t want to play “the character of Joaquin” anymore.[16] Moreover, both Joaquin and Casey Affleck are linked to a sort of “second-hand celebrity” status as the younger siblings of more famous brothers, River and Ben. Although Phoenix’s supposed “retirement” from acting and turn toward a rap career were all an elaborate fabrication captured for I’m Still Here, this project intentionally used the celebrity media machine against itself, seeding lies into the gossip mill of rumor and speculation surrounding Hollywood stardom.[17] Of course, calling attention to the factual lapses between celebrities’ star images and their actual selves is hardly a groundbreaking insight. Nevertheless, there is a certain pathos in watching celebrities struggle with the inescapability of their own media selves—as attested by the frequent media speculation that such antics are less a deliberate performance than symptoms of psychological meltdown in the face of fame. LaBeouf’s wearing of a paper bag, reading “I Am Not Famous Anymore,” over his head at the Berlinale premiere of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomanic (2013), is a case in point. Even Franco himself penned a New York Times op-ed wondering if this was “a nervous breakdown,” “mere youthful recklessness,” or “a piece of performance art, in which a young man in a very public profession tries to reclaim his public persona.” For Franco,

“Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on. Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être.”[18]

In other words, public expressions of wanting to be “not famous anymore” become, intentionally or not, fodder for still more celebrity media coverage—which is why these stars’ forays into performance art tend to be centrally concerned with interrogating their own celebrity status. After all, performers like Franco have reached the point where celebrity watchers begin wondering whether any tiny public indiscretion might be read as an unannounced attempt at “performance art.”[19]

Perhaps the most common thread in these stars’ adoption of performance/body art rhetoric is the desire to “inauthenticate” a public persona already constructed around fame in one cultural form. For Franco, this largely consists of spreading his celebrity image across a variety of artistic media, both culturally “low” and “high,” beyond cinema alone: from his 2009-12 stint playing the murderous performance artist “Franco” on General Hospital (which coincided with a real-life show of the fictional Franco’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles), to his lackadaisical co-hosting of the 2011 Academy Awards, to a variety of smaller (and often more sexually provocative) art projects themed around “James Franco.”[20] In one critic’s words,

“As Franco adds layer upon layer, wink upon wink—as he slides further along the continuum from Gyllenhaal to Warhol—his entire career is beginning to look less like an actual career than like some kind of gonzo performance piece: a high-concept parody of cultural ambition.”[21]

For another,

“Franco’s recent image seems to subsume all media and cultural strata…in a perpetual deconstruction of the very possibility of ‘high’ or ‘authentic’ performance. […] [N]ow it is the knowing wink of the meta-celebrity that bears the stamp of quality, rather than the improvisational effects of an actor who is ‘living the part.’”[22]

On some level, a move into other performance media may represent a narcissistic bid for more acclaim—particularly if it must be earned against stronger art-critical opposition—but it may also serve as an earnest attempt to reshape one’s self-identity without sacrificing the idea of oneself as a creative professional. Furthermore, such moves resonate with a longer tradition of male body artists who may “confuse and complicate masculinity” by masochistically opening their displayed bodies to the art-critical gaze.[23] In this case, this may be an especially masochistic move if critics are already predisposed toward skeptical dismissal of these Hollywood actors’ artistic motivations—but the recuperation of masculine identity is also all the easier to recover for white male celebrities with such preexisting social privilege. 

For LaBeouf, for instance, the supposed inability to reconcile Hollywood stardom and creative originality found expression in his series of plagiarized artworks and equally plagiarized apologies.[24] One especially notable example was his plagiarism of Abramović’s famous performance piece Rhythm 0 (1974). In the Abramović original, she presented an audience with 72 objects, from the innocuous to the potentially deadly (e.g., a loaded gun), and invited them to use them on her in whatever way they saw fit over the course of six hours.

In the multi-day LaBeouf version, #IAMSORRY (2014), gallery visitors were likewise presented with a variety of objects (including a Transformers toy and an Indiana Jones bullwhip) they could use as they wished on the bag-headed LaBeouf. Created with LaBeouf’s art-world collaborators Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner, the piece also recalled Abramović’s The Artist is Present (2010) in requiring each patron to sit individually before the silent performer during their encounter with the famous artist.[25] His piece thereby literalized not only the public’s potentially sadistic curiosity in spectacles of celebrity self-destruction, but also Hollywood’s reliance on cultural derivativeness (to say nothing of the art world’s own post-postmodern derivativeness, as seen, for example, in the “metamodernist manifesto” that inspired LaBeouf’s performance work).[26]

Abramović’s place as the central touchstone for both LaBeouf’s and Franco’s interest in performance/body art is perhaps little surprise, given her own celebrity within her respective cultural sphere. Between her Guggenheim show Seven Easy Pieces (November 9-15, 2005), in which she re-performed a series of seminal 1960s-70s pieces (including one of her own) by famed performance artists, and her own career retrospective The Artist is Present five years later, Abramović became the public embodiment of “performance art” as a whole (despite her body works still representing only a subset of a much more diverse artistic field). In Seven Easy Pieces, for instance, the physicality of her body concretized the earlier, more ephemeral history of live performance/body art through her re-performances: by funneling the past through a single (heterosexual) person, she effectively became the body art canon. The behind-the-scenes documentary about The Artist is Present, an exhibition that also featured art students recreating her past works, further heightened her public profile.

Although Jay-Z and Lady Gaga are among the other media stars who have capitalized on Abramović’s heightened celebrity through collaborations with her, none have such close associations with A-list movie stardom as Franco, who directly sought out her friendship and mentorship in 2009. (At the time of this writing, Abramović is even making a film about Franco, further suggesting their mutually beneficial relationship.) Yet, as the New York Times notes,

“some performance artists and critics are accusing Ms. Abramović of cultivating something suspiciously like a cult of personality…[becoming] in danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole of her own mythology, betraying not only her own roots but also, perhaps, the true nature of performance art itself.”[27]

Although this sort of backlash potentially attends all manner of artists who have reached a mature stage of critical renown, performance art’s ideology of purported resistance to commodification makes the specter of “sell-out” celebdom all the more acute.

 But if Abramović’s blossoming celebrity has inspired some measure of critical backlash for seemingly “selling out” as performance art’s biggest brand name, this reaction pales compared to the vitriol earned by Hollywood celebrities encroaching on the same aesthetic territory.The rote art-critical response writes off these movie stars’ performance works as cynical put-ons by hyper-privileged individuals with neither the training nor the discipline to fully embrace performance art proper:

“While experimenting with performance art might be a nice way for them to deal with their own feelings about celebrity while entertaining their fans, it’s not yet worth examining as art for art’s sake.”[28]

Of course, this criticism downplays the extent to which the art world’s major classes of constitutive subcultures—from artists, dealers, and collectors to critics and museum curators—are all complicit in performing their own highly privileged, micro-celebrity statuses.[29]

Although there is no doubt that these Hollywood stars and the oft-insular world of gallery art mutually benefit from the shared publicity (much to the dismay of some artists and critics), more troublesome are the accusations of cultural appropriation attending such crossover moments between popular celebrity and elitist obfuscation.[30] From LaBeouf’s unattributed copying of Abramović to Franco’s widely-panned 2013 recreation of Cindy Sherman’s iconic series Untitled Film Stills (1977-80),[31] their collapse of cultural distinctions is more specific than contaminating the realm of high art with the allure of celebrity, pop culture, and mass reproduction (à la Warhol). Rather, it seems to bespeak a small group of wealthy, white, heterosexual men’s cultural privilege in “colonizing” a medium that has since the 1980s-90s become associated with embodied minority self-representation. Yet, while I am not so quick to flatly reject all such works as merely “performance art” in heavy quotations, the cultural-appropriation criticism remains worth highlighting since it impinges upon Franco’s use of Cruising in Interior. Leather Bar.

Although some critics have accused Franco himself of “cruising” gay culture for disingenuous reasons, his appropriation of queerness has generally received more critical acceptance than his appropriation of performance/body art. Perhaps this has more to do with a film actor remaining within his chosen medium—and a medium more readily associated with crass commercialism—than venturing into the realm of high art. From his eponymous breakthrough role in the made-for-TV biopic James Dean (Mark Rydell, 2001), to his queerly charged bromances like Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008) and This is the End (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan, 2013), to his overtly gay roles in period pieces like Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008), Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010), and The Broken Tower (James Franco, 2011), Franco’s stardom has long been tied to queer themes. Rejecting the Franco-as-dilettante criticism, Michael Bronski observes that

“in a little over a decade he has created a larger body of work on gay male themes, and manifested a political sensibility queerer than most other performers or directors, gay or straight, working in the United States today.”[32]

But, again, such praise adheres more to Franco’s cinematic output than his varied efforts at poetry, visual art, and performance pieces.

In a humorously deprecating self-interview between “Gay James” and “Straight James” about his “queer public persona” and the accusations of “exoticizing of gay lifestyles,” Franco posits,

“I like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life. Although, I’m also gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I’m straight. So I guess it depends on how you define gay. If it means whom you have sex with, I guess I’m straight.”

He explains that he seeks to make “queer art that destabilizes engrained ways of being, art that challenges hegemonic thinking.” At the same time, cultivating rampant speculation about his lived sexual identity becomes a “great shield” for protecting the truth of his actual private self from public exposure.[33] In effect, Franco capitalizes on increased LGBTQ political acceptance by highlighting the mutability of both sexuality and celebrity as epistemological barriers to reifying his “true” identity. He thus reverses the old smokescreen that closeted Hollywood stars once used in asserting a stable public heterosexuality to deflect attention away from their private lives. Jameson Fitzpatrick, for example, suggests that Franco’s sincere interest in transcending gender norms—but not participating in gay sex—might qualify him as a “‘heterosexual queer’ by virtue of a non-normative sexual or gender expression that nevertheless fails to transcend the categories of straight and cis.” Yet, Franco’s outsized hetero/cis privilege as a celebrity “demonstrates an obliviousness to why anyone for whom queerness is a central and/or compulsory identification might be bothered” by queer equivocations that sexually tease his gay male audience.[34] As Jane Ward argues, “white male heterosexuality…draws on the resources of white privilege to circumvent homophobic stigma and to assign heterosexual meaning to homosexual activities,”[35] which allows Franco to safely occupy a sexual gray area in his professional (if not personal) life as a Hollywood celebrity.

Cruising and its discontents

Because Cruising was likewise accused of appropriating gay subcultures for voyeuristic heterosexual entertainment, teasing out the connections between Friedkin’s film and Interior. Leather Bar. helps elucidate how Franco’s film becomes an extension of his performance art about the nature of celebrity. Although Cruising’s tumultuous production and reception history has been detailed elsewhere,[36] a brief overview is necessary for understanding what drew Franco and Mathews to this source material. Friedkin had initially turned down the offer to adapt Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel of the same name, but later signed on after transposing the story into the SM clubs that had subsequently emerged over the post-Stonewall decade. For Friedkin, then, these club scenes were the film—a supposition that more recent critics and fans have reinforced. Nearly all latter-day readings of Cruising have observed the neorealist tenor of these scenes—filmed on location in actual New York City leather bars, with extras who were members of that subculture—as documenting a bygone, pre-AIDS heyday of public sex that a younger generation of gay men did not live through.[37]

Moreover, the story that Friedkin had to remove about forty minutes of unsimulated sex from these club scenes in order to avoid an X rating (and this “lost” footage was, conspicuously, not restored for the film’s 2007 theatrical and home video reissue) has only added to the scenes’ notoriety—as explained in Interior. Leather Bar.’s opening titles. One of Interior’s extras for the club scene recreation, for instance, explains that he loves Cruising because men back then were living a “gay dream” that he himself has not been able to recapture in his own life. This cult repute has allowed the leather bar scenes to become metonymic of Cruising as a whole, overwhelming the police procedural narrative that once generated much of the film’s initial controversy. As D. A. Miller suggests,

“Once we move from the [SM] background to a murder mystery starring Al Pacino, we say a decisive farewell to neo-realism, and hello again to the celluloid closet, with all its strictly epistemological excitements.”[38]

Although Cruising’s police honcho Capt. Edelson explains to Pacino’s Burns that the SM milieu is “not in the mainstream of gay life,” a militant group of gay protestors representing a soon-to-be-mainstream stripe of assimilationist identity politics launched the most vociferous protests against Cruising, whether by picketing theaters, actively disrupting the shooting, or even making bomb threats against theaters playing the film. At issue was not only the thematic linkage between gay cruising and serial killing (though David Greven astutely notes that “the potential for violence that adheres in cruising has to be at least part of its illicit thrill”[39]), but also the film’s suggestion that exposure to homosexuality might breed murderous tendencies. In both the source novel and the film, Burns feels his heterosexuality compromised by his undercover exposure to the gay world; his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen) suffers as a result, for example. But, whereas Walker’s novel ends with Burns discovering the true killer, Friedkin’s film goes further in its “strictly epistemological excitements” by suggesting that Burns may have actually become one of several largely indistinguishable killers stalking the leather scene. Much as we never actually see Burns sexually engaging with any of the men who cruise him while undercover (these implied moments are always elided with fade outs, etc.), the film ends without a clear resolution to the murder mystery.[40] By interchanging the same actors to play both the victims and their killer(s) from one scene to the next, and even post-dubbing a never-seen actor’s voice (James Sutorius) into the killer’s mouth during the murder scenes, Friedkin makes it virtually impossible for the viewer to definitively ascertain who has committed any of the murders.[41]

Driven by an obsession with his long-dead, homophobic father, the killer (or at least one of them) targets gay men who resemble the killer himself, thereby compelled to externalize and kill the parts of his sexual identity that he cannot openly acknowledge. In one of the film’s few early appreciations, Robin Wood argues that Cruising is fascinating in direct proportion to its ideological incoherence, since the multiplicity of potential killers suggests the endemic violence of internalized homophobia, as decreed by the Law of the Father in a patriarchal society.[42] But whereas Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), one of Cruising’s primary intertexts, offers a notoriously longwinded psychoanalytic explanation for its dead-mother-obsessed killer’s aberrance, Cruising deliberately evades any clear answers about either the killers’ or Burns’ (sexual) identity.[43] For example, Burns reacts strangely when Nancy tells him that his father called, and he ambiguously whispers,

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”

Because Burns’ father is never mentioned elsewhere in the film, this seemingly throwaway moment from the opening scenes only retrospectively becomes significant once we later learn more about the killer(s), casting further doubt on Burns’ sexuality and sanity alike. Moreover, Burns is not the only cop who moonlights at gay clubs. We see other cops cruising for inter-male sex in these spaces, seeking erotic contact that might be described as properly queer in the contemporary sense of eluding fixed identity categories like “gay” or “straight.” Indeed, for Guy Davidson, the cruising men’s returned gaze into the camera during these scenes self-reflexively implicates both Burns and the (straight) viewer, creating moments of paranoia where the viewer is suddenly interpellated by queer desire, and thereby “suggest[ing] that the disorder of identification he is undergoing may extend outside the world of the film.”[44]

Unsurprisingly, “contagion” is the key metaphor that latter-day critics have used in discussing this ambiguous treatment of sexuality and identity, since the impending catastrophe of AIDS lends Cruising’s hedonistic, pre-AIDS sex club scenes a retrospective poignancy. Indeed, the metaphor of contagion also inspired the film’s controversy over the “contagious” media effects of cinematic violence against gays.[45] Bill Krohn argues that the film’s almost supernatural logic of contagious violence more closely resembles that of a demonic possession film like Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) than a noir narrative. This parallel is emphasized by the similar use of a post-dubbed voice emitting from multiple killers’ mouths (a là Mercedes McCambridge’s voice work for the possessed Reagan) and the subliminal shots of pornographic anal penetration flashed during the murder scenes (like The Exorcist’s flashes of a demonic face). And much as The Exorcist was rumored to be a cursed film—evangelist Billy Graham even claimed that a demonic force lived within the celluloid reels themselves(!)—a similarly supernatural logic undergirded the denunciation of Cruising for its supposed capacity to inspire real-world violence against gay men.[46]

The hypermasculine “clone” look dominating the SM clubs may help explain and accentuate the visual interchangeability of Cruising’s killers and victims, but it was precisely this apparent inability to tell “evil,” murderous gays from honest citizens that caused so much initial controversy. If even a “straight” cop like Burns could seemingly “turn” gay/murderous through contamination by a gay subculture, then how might straight viewers respond to such images circa 1980, when media representations of gay people were otherwise rare or very stereotypical? In the protesters’ eyes, the film’s derogatory depiction of gays was liable to incite homophobic violence,[47] although Miller opines that the sheer eroticism of the film’s leather bar scenes were “much more likely to have sent closeted gays running to the clubs to confirm [their] verisimilitude.”[48]

In any case, the film’s latter-day reclamation as a cult object among younger gay men surely hinges on the fact that gay visibility in the media has since become de rigueur, with Cruising’s depictions now carrying far less capacity to “misrepresent” gay men to ignorant straight viewers. Some of Cruising’s early detractors may have accused the clone look of commodifying an oppressed subculture,[49] but in today’s homonormative political climate (in which many gays adopt an assimilationist project modeled upon traditionally heteronormative prerogatives like monogamy, the nuclear family, and overall bourgeois privatization), such signifiers have become nostalgically tantalizing as cinematic time-capsule fodder. Indeed, for Greven, the original backlash against Cruising represented the death of New Hollywood itself: whereas the financial disaster of Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980) may have become a production-side cautionary tale about overspending auteurs, the same year’s Cruising controversy saw popular reception turning against New Hollywood’s ambiguous protagonists in the name of aesthetically simpler films that might be more easily legible through a facile form of identity politics that continues to this day.[50]

Interior. Leather Bar.

From Interior’s very first vérité scene, its creators[51] express their interest in pushing back against the latter-day inheritors of assimilationist identity politics which damned Cruising and have since evolved into the post-AIDS push toward same-sex marriage. Casually conversing with the other filmmakers during preproduction, James recalls reading Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal during his graduate coursework at Yale. Lending his project a theoretical impetus, he roughly paraphrases Warner’s argument that the gay marriage debate is “normalizing a queer lifestyle that is incredibly valuable.” Travis concurs that Warner’s ideas will “help to inform [creative] choices” because homonormative politics are “erasing the radicalness and the queerness” of the subcultural world so vividly portrayed in Cruising. For Warner, mainstream gay/lesbian identity politics has marginalized more radically queer lifeways (including cultures of public sex) through its privatizing embrace of monogamy and traditional family forms.[52] Small wonder, then, that the latter-day “documentary” value of Cruising’s SM club scenes would make them such an appropriate topic for a quasi-documentary project about mining the past for sources of creative-cum-sexual expression. Yet, by acknowledging that they lack the resources to actually recreate the forty minutes of missing Cruising footage and must therefore use that mythical footage as a jumping-off point for a reflexive/ performative documentary about the independent filmmaking process, Franco and Mathews also implicitly acknowledge that nostalgia alone cannot will a bygone queer past into existence.

If Robin Wood once suggested that Cruising’s ideological incoherence could be resolved with a clearer commitment to “gay liberation,”[53] then Interior’s own structural incoherence as a vertiginous blend of documentary style and scripted fiction refuses the sort of easy categorization amenable to politically assimilationist arguments about respectably “stable” gay identity. In other words, the epistemological barriers that Cruising erects around the “truth” of Burns’ awakening sexuality and/or the killers’ identity becomes paralleled in Interior’s epistemological barriers over whether we are watching “reality” or fiction at any given moment. Although focused on the process of filming unsimulated inter-male sex, Interior’s “play of boundaries” as a (quasi-)reflexive/ performative documentary thus strives to be less a “gay film” than what Mathews dubs a “queer [film] in subject and form.”[54] As we learn, nearly everyone cast for the recreated Cruising scenes (including Val, one of James’s longtime friends and acting colleagues) is unsure what Travis and James’s film is meant to become. Many actors simply responded to a cryptic casting call about a “Gay bar scene / James Franco project.”

As such, Interior is more about documenting the semi-scripted process than the resulting re-creation (the latter of which only comprises a few minutes of film-within-the-film at Interior’s conclusion). The very fact that Franco and Mathews did not know what exactly Friedkin’s excised Cruising footage contained (beyond unsimulated gay sex)[55] gives them considerable leeway in reinterpreting the source film—even as this lack of a clear historical blueprint ultimately maoriginal leakes Interior less about Cruising than about Val’s (and James’s) faith in the artistic process. Interior’s central conflict thus becomes Val’s homophobic paranoia over the potential damage done to his career by playing the one-time Pacino character in his famous friend’s project—echoing Burns’ own paranoia over what his undercover persona will do to his lived identity. But whereas Cruising largely depicts the “contagion” of queerness as horrific possession, Interior reclaims its source material’s contagious queerness as perversely desirable (if only for James and his gay extras).

This revisionist approach comes across most forcefully in early scenes featuring the on-set extras conversing about the project’s relationship to Cruising. For instance, Travis asks a series of extras to “cruise the camera” as test footage for later shooting the leather bar scenes. Framed in (medium) close-up while standing against an outdoor wall, each man erotically gazes into the camera and also says something about what attracted him to the project. In addition to the aforementioned man who loves Cruising’s bygone “gay dream,” others want to use Interior to explore something about sexuality that they are afraid of; to be in an “out-of-the-box” project compared to the blandness of contemporary Hollywood productions; or even to hopefully “make out with Franco.” Although these casting moments may be self-serving attempts to play to Franco’s queerly inclined modus operandi and thereby earn more screen time, those comments that Mathews selects to include in the finished film carry particular relevance. Resembling the film’s own thesis statement, these responses neatly encapsulate Interior’s multiple threads: nostalgia, “taboo” sex, creative nonconformity, and the erotics of stardom. Importantly, they also actively give voice to the gay men whose onscreen eroticism will recreate some of Cruising’s most notorious scenes. As in the original film, these directly returned gazes seduce Interior’s viewer in a desirous exchange of vision, but with the added effect of emphasizing that these particular extras are not just indistinguishable clones of one another.

These “looks back”[56] are, in this sense, not only a physical alignment of gazes but also a temporal “looking back” at Cruising, a retrospective reassessment of the film’s continuing relevance for a latter-day gay audience. Cruising was initially protested for not only providing a derogatory alibi for literal gay bashing, but also for its “too Hollywood” glimpse into a subset of the gay community that had previously existed in the subcultural shadows. Cruising can, however, now be revisited as a contra-Hollywood relic of creative bravery from a misunderstood New Hollywood auteur—thereby using the pathos of Friedkin’s 1970s rise and fall to lend Interior itself an air of artistic distinction that resonates with the pathos of queer lifeways subsequently lost to AIDS. From today’s perspective, both 1970s New Hollywood and 1970s gay sex have come to seem positively utopian (see, for example, Joseph Lovett’s rose-tinted 2005 documentary Gay Sex in the 70s). These qualities have allowed Cruising to become, for some latter-day viewers, a

“queer utopian memory, that is, a utopia that understands its time as reaching beyond some nostalgic past that perhaps never was or some future whose arrival is continuously belated.”[57]

When Travis, for example, tells the assembled extras that, “unlike 2012, people aren’t buried in their phones” when cruising for sex circa 1980, his emphasis on the importance of vision could apply as much to the pre-Grindr world of non-social-mediated hookups as to the fact of New Hollywood authorship’s latter-day replacement by post-cinematic, “platform-agnostic” spectatorship.

Although Cruising’s original leather bar extras did discuss in the gay press their motivations for effectively portraying themselves in Friedkin’s film, these perspectives are elided within Cruising’s finished form. These extras may have misunderstood the protestors’ anger about the film’s linkage between homosexuality and serial murder (instead mischaracterizing the protests as a prudish reaction against depictions of gay sex), but they still saw their participation as a sex-positive attempt at self-representation for the leather community (however compromised by the exigencies of the police procedural). Meanwhile, rightly or not, Cruising’s detractors largely dismissed the extras’ attempts at “realistic” self-representation as a narcissistic sell-out to Hollywood cooptation and an easy paycheck.[58] Here, however, the perspectives of Interior’s leather bar re-enactors are directly integrated into the film itself—even if their comments remain semi-scripted. In another scene, for example, the extras uphold James as a supposed “artist who’s really interested in the range of human experience” (quite possibly a self-servingly scripted line), while also acknowledging that “there’s going to be a whole segment of our community that’s going to be waving signs and writing blog posts about ‘why is this straight dude touching [Cruising]?’”

Indeed, this question of why it takes a pretentious “straight dude” like James to bring gay sex into the cinematic mainstream is one of the film’s biggest conceptual holes, since it downplays decades of queer filmmaking to instead elevate Franco’s celebrity-cum-missionary zeal for queer content. For Mathews, it was important for Interior to internalize an element of self-critique through reference to the original Cruising protests, since Franco’s involvement would raise the historical specter of hetero-male Hollywood cooptation of a queer subculture.[59] This is partly a symptom of what Lucas Hilderbrand calls “retroactivism,” or a politically energizing “nostalgia…for past progressive social movements” like 1970s gay liberation and 1980s-90s queer activism.[60] But it is also a desire to overcome the blinkered perspective of identity politics through the luxury of historical hindsight. (An early draft of the script had angry protestors outside the black-box studio, picketing against Franco’s directorial role, but the fact that this idea was scrapped suggests something about the overall decline of direct action among an increasingly assimilated gay population.) If the scenes that Cruising’s protestors once found among the most troubling have since become reclaimed as irreducibly sexy, then it makes sense that these blurred political judgments should have analogues in Interior’s blurred epistemological status.

Even from Interior’s opening scenes, the film begins troubling the notion that what we are seeing is purely behind-the-scenes documentary footage. In their first preproduction meeting, Travis tells Val that he should show some struggle with his acceptance of the project, and Val responds (with allegedly real and unscripted hesitation[61]) that he might not understand James’s artistic mission but nonetheless wants to be part of it. Much like the extras lured by the promise of a “gay…James Franco project,” Val is seemingly drawn to the project by his friendship with James (even if his unstated motivation may also be a paycheck). Likewise, a short scene at the film’s end removes considerable doubt about Interior’s quasi-documentary status: Val sits against a wall in the parking lot, the script in his lap, reading aloud this very moment from the script itself (“Val sits against a wall in the parking lot. The script is in his lap. He reads to himself”). Throughout the film, we see Val nervously reading over the script as he hovers on the margins of the set where unsimulated sex is being filmed—but we also sometimes hear Mathews call “cut” from off-screen, allowing Lauren to visibly break character.

In another scene, we hear Mathews giving cues as Val and a fellow self-identified straight actor (Collin Chavez) improvise a discussion about the process of “playing gay” while the latter is being made up to appear in drag (doubling for the Cruising character DaVinci, a transgender hustler, as originally played by straight actor Gene Davis).

Although Val admits he has also played gay before, including as Sal Mineo in the Franco-directed biopic Sal (2011), he seems almost perversely fascinated by the sexual limits that other straight actors will set for their craft. On one hand, Val’s nervously intrusive questions (“Are you comfortable with physical contact with, like, other dudes? Have you kissed a guy before?”) seem intended to create a homosocial camaraderie with his fellow straight actor—despite Collin’s more nonchalant admission that he would engage in some homosexual contact “if it felt right” for the role. But, on the other hand, Val’s paranoia over simply kissing another man seems laughable in comparison with the gay extras’ earlier, panic-free negotiation of performing unsimulated sex in what one actor hopes will be “tasteful bondage art-porn."

This humorously outsized anxiety continues in a subsequent scene of Val and James watching a rehearsal of unsimulated SM, visibly shocked by what they see (though likely exaggerating this for the camera, since they have at least presumably seen gay sex before). Finally confronted in person with the project’s sexual explicitness, Val pulls James aside and airs his misgivings—the crisis point of his semi-scripted story arc. Although James admits that the sex “was a little shocking at first,” he explains that he deliberately wants to push himself beyond his heterosexual comfort zone. “I don’t like the fact that I feel brought up to think a certain way” about sexuality, he says, attributing it to Hollywood’s idealization of the heterosexual couple. Furthermore, he also blames U.S. cinema’s representational double standard that valorizes graphic violence but relegates (most) graphic sex to the realm of pornography. Even if conventional Hollywood narratives typically move toward ideological closure by promising the formation of the monogamous straight couple, Hollywood has also popularized the acceptability of onscreen violence over onscreen sex, as famously evinced by the imbalanced decisions rendered by the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system (including its exclusionary use of the X rating).

James notes that Cruising­ may have figured the gay SM milieu as a descent into a “dark, evil place” due to the serial-killer plot, but that he wants to instead view such sexual practices as “beautiful and attractive.” (Of course, it is easier for James to make these claims when Interior focuses on Cruising’s excised leather bar footage, thereby screening out the murders—none of which occur within the SM clubs themselves—which the original protestors found so potentially “harmful.”) Val responds that sex is everywhere in media culture, but that he personally prefers restraint over the “bad taste” of what he just witnessed—though James presses him on whether the acts themselves or their means of presentation were in “bad taste.”

For James, unsimulated sex “should be a storytelling tool” instead of simply being seen as “porn,” a stance consistent with other creators of sexually explicit art films.[62] But Val worries aloud whether James may be ruining his own career by pursuing such a project immediately after starring in a major Disney film, Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013). James responds, however, that having just been in a Disney movie is “giving [Interior] half of its power” through the sheer juxtaposition of cultural products to which he attaches his star power. The key difference between this project and other sexually provocative queer films is, presumably, the legitimizing function that James’s hetero-male celebrity can benevolently bestow upon explicit gay sex—notwithstanding the representational limits (yes to fellatio, no to anal sex) that Franco and Mathews deliberately erect. (Their own concession to avoiding “bad taste”?) Moreover, like his previous stint on General Hospital, James’s flirtation with gay “pornography”—a form only a few steps lower than daytime soap opera in cultural ill-repute—recalls his fellow Hollywood celebrities’ appeals to performance art to refute their own association with mainstream blockbuster cinema. But, here, his queer stardom lends the film’s sexual explicitness an extratextual dimension that more fully illuminates his rhetorical engagement with performance artistry.

Acting, performance documentation, and pornography

As already stated, involvement in a vaguely defined “James Franco project” attracted many of Interior’s extras, much as Val’s friendship with James allegedly inspired the former’s participation in the project’s central acting role. The specter of celebrity looms over the proceedings, with James’s stardom and artistic motivations for Interior constantly discussed by the on-set cast and crew. This is in part because James himself is conspicuously absent or hovering around the margins throughout much of the film, leaving Travis to perform most of the day-to-day direction. (In one of Interior’s more humorous nods to its source material, we see Val calling and recording a message for the absent James, mimicking the singsongy rhyme spoken by Cruising’s killer: “Who’s here? You’re not here. Where the fuck you at?”)

Apart from several crucial conversations with Val and the crew, James is mostly seen texting on his phone, serving as a secondary camera operator, or watching the production from the wings. Even when Val directly questions him about the project’s aims, James is deliberately evasive, explaining that even Pacino was nervous about playing the Burns role. Although dissolving his star status into the less visible, behind-the-scenes role of co-filmmaker, James’s artistic motives remain seemingly inscrutable to even his close friends. If Val is expected to become Pacino’s analogue (and, per James’s instructions, to play the part as “Pacino-esque” instead of over-the-top “SNL Pacino”), James becomes closer to Friedkin’s analogue by attempting to recreate and show the unsimulated sex scenes that Friedkin apparently could not include.

Val is thus uneasily positioned between two generations of star images—Al Pacino and James Franco—with different relationships to queer content. Whereas Pacino allegedly requested script revisions to minimize his onscreen portrayal of homosexuality,[63] Val’s anxiety over “playing gay” in a role originated by his “favorite actor” markedly contrasts with James’s frequent portrayal of queer characters. Val might thereby echo Pacino’s reticence over the Burns role, but the vastly unequal celebrity status between aspiring actor Val and established stars like Franco and Pacino means that Cruising’s sublimation of its star into the image of the gay clone has different implications for a minor actor whose career might be hurt by sublimating his professional identity into roles that might somehow mischaracterize or typecast him against his (heterocentrist) strengths and limits.

“I have ego problems. I need to be worshipped and adored,” says Lukas (Arnaldo Santana), an actor and soon-to-be victim of Cruising’s first onscreen murder, explaining to his eventual killer why he goes to SM clubs. The very act of having (queer) sex in public violates the heteronormative expectation that sexual expression be privatized within the individual home. Public sex is thus performative in the sense of openly enunciating desires that are otherwise expected to remain purely “personal,” behind closed doors—and thereby public sex brings queer counterpublic spaces into existence.[64] The theatricality of Cruising’s notorious (albeit non-explicit) fisting scene, for instance, shows how public sex performance and performance/body art are not so different, since both are potentially organized around a “crowd transfixed by the scene of intimacy and display, control and abandon, ferocity and abjection […] scenes where sex appears more sublime than narration itself” and live spectatorship is itself a form of participation.[65]

It is not difficult to see why Franco would be attracted to the leather milieu’s paradoxical combination of “narcissistic fetishism”[66] and the clone look’s diffusion of identity—especially via the clone’s sartorial performance of working-class signifiers seemingly distanced from the typical Hollywood star’s conspicuous economic wealth.[67] The theatrical nature of SM instead breeds a strange mélange of subcultural “stardom” and social anonymity that becomes reproduced in Interior’s on-set scenes of aspiring actors competing for professional distinction. Val’s agent, for example, calls several times, pleading with his client to reconsider starring in “the Franco faggot project,” reminding Val that James is a “major actor” who has far less to lose from his involvement in such controversial subject matter:

“Anyone seeing this will consider it pornography and you will be in it.”

Repeatedly appearing in his famous friend’s queer-themed passion projects might heighten Val’s professional visibility, but at the risk of damaging his career prospects through too close an association with homosexuality and pornography. Indeed, it bears mention that Cruising already prominently links homosexuality and pornography, whether through the gay sex magazines littering many of the men’s apartments or a gory murder of a gay man in a peepshow booth.

Much as Friedkin/Franco enlists Al/Val to “go undercover” in the Burns role, James’s behind-the-scenes status as Interior’s co-filmmaker instead of star parallels Cruising’s paternalistic relationship between Capt. Edelson and Burns. Orchestrating the undercover investigation, Edelson clearly represents a father figure who (like James) has already achieved a mature career, substituting for the actual father with whom Burns apparently has a strained relationship. But beyond a father/son dynamic, the Edelson/Burns relationship also carries a queer charge, as exemplified when Burns eventually breaks down and confesses that he can’t do his job anymore because he is (sexually) changing. As though tonally shifting from police procedural to melodrama, Friedkin cuts in to a close-up of Edelson earnestly replying, in language rife with subtext,

“I need you. You’re my partner and you can’t let me down. We’re up to our ass in this.”

Moreover, it is not difficult to extrapolate from this father/director, actor/son relationship to the implied queerness of James and Val’s relationship as refracted through their respective biopic performances as James Dean and Sal Mineo (the latter also directed by Franco), two bisexual actors whose off-screen sexual relationship was mirrored in Rebel Without a Cause’s (Nicholas Ray, 1955) queer subtext.

Overall, then, Interior finds Val caught between the movie stardom he has not yet achieved and the various performances of queerness that might alternately propel or compromise his career aspirations—a conflict rooted in his proximity to the unsimulated sex scenes that some viewers might read as “pornographic.” Given its common associations with corporeal rutting instead of dramatic skill, pornography’s disputed status as neither skilled acting nor reputable performance might taint “legitimate” actors like Val—after all, some of the extras have apparently been hired specifically for their willingness to perform sex on camera—hence his anxiety over James’s obfuscation about Interior’s aims. Indeed, as Mattias Frey notes, the relative novelty of unsimulated sex within even sexually explicit art films tends to refocus the viewer/critic’s attention upon the flesh-and-blood actor him/herself instead of the character. This corporeality distracts from the character’s fictional milieu, even as the actor’s willingness to participate in such scenes for their craft might demonstrate an artistic seriousness and commitment distinct from the realm of mainstream Hollywood moviedom.[68]

Small wonder, then, that both Shia LaBeouf and James Franco capitalized on projects featuring unsimulated sex to mark their “rebellious” distinction from Hollywood via connections to performance/body art. LaBeouf used the promotional circuit for Nymphomaniac (a European art film in which he appears to perform unsimulated sex—albeit with his face digitally grafted onto a body double) as his performance art stage, his antics trading on Von Trier’s existing reputation as a provocateur. Likewise, Franco used his celebrity status to implicitly frame Interior’s gay sex scenes within the context of his widely publicized forays into performance art. Indeed, much like the only intermittent on-set appearance of James himself, the phrase “performance art” is conspicuously absent throughout Interior as well. Like a structuring absence, it nevertheless haunts the film via James’s star persona as a performance/body art aficionado whose filmmaking motives seem deliberately ambiguous. In fact, Interior’s many on-set scenes of cast and crew either discussing or watching the filming of unsimulated sex resemble the documentation of a live performance event. Like the interpellation of the viewer during the gaze-heavy cruising scenes, the on-set audience (e.g., Val, James, et al.) becomes the live sex performers’ medium for affective commutation between performing/viewing bodies.

Collapsing cultural-taste valuations between the work of Marina Abramović and Annie Sprinkle, Adair Rounthwaite usefully argues that there is “no essential difference between pornography as document and the documentation of performance art” in their affective aims. Both forms ontologically privilege a past profilmic event in which the performer’s body underwent some “affective change…as guarantee that something had occurred,” while also providing an affective impact upon the present viewer, albeit at a historical remove.[69] With both pornography and performance art documentation, “viewers of the past performance become performers themselves, creating a constellation between document and body in which the document, originally a recording of a past event, incites the production of new, live affects”—even if the present-day affects can never be identical to the original ones.[70]

Notable here is Abramović’s recent popularization of re-performance, which allows space for reinterpreting past performance pieces instead of attempting to wholly recreate a “lost” original using extant documentation—an ontological impossibility, given the different historical reception contexts attending each iteration.[71] Indeed, Abramović chose to re-perform in Seven Easy Pieces famous works that she was “not able to see in person” and “really struck [her] deeply, but had done so only through photographs and the little documentation that one could find at the time.”[72] For Abramović, then, the in-person experience of a performance piece may be vastly superior to its photographic or moving-image documentation, but the documentation of an ephemeral live event can still prove creatively generative decades later.

Theorists like Rounthwaite and Philip Auslander, however, disagree with this

“fairly orthodox feminist position on the ontology of performance, which differentiates performance from theater on the basis that performance is not repeated and cannot be saved or reperformed.”[73]

Auslander, for instance, argues that performance art documentation can be divided into two categories—documentary and theatrical. The former constitute secondary traces of a live event (e.g., Abramović’s basis for Seven Easy Pieces), and the latter are performances

“staged solely to be photographed or filmed and have no meaningful prior existence as autonomous events presented to audiences” (e.g., Cindy Sherman’s photo series, Matthew Barney’s Cremaster films).[74]

Furthermore, Auslander argues that performance art is not defined as such by the initial presence of an audience, since even documentary-style performance documentation primarily focuses on what an artist did, not how an audience reacted:

“we cannot dismiss studio fabrications of one sort or another from the category of performance art because they were not performed for a physically present audience.”[75]

If the performative act of documentation itself, and the past performance’s ability to impact present audiences through such documentation, are more important than the presence of an original audience, then the affective impact of encountering such documentation “may not even depend on whether the [original] event actually happened.”[76]

Following Auslander, then, I would argue that Interior’s own “studio fabrication”constitutes Franco’s re-performance of the “lost” Cruising footage, in the sense that “understanding how documentation works in relation to an original” requires “an appreciation for the specificity of authorship of each document.”[77] In other words, much as Franco himself was not able to witness the now-excised vérité footage that Friedkin may or may not have actually captured back in 1980, Franco now attempts to reinterpret that footage through an awareness of present-day queer politics and his own role as authorial stand-in for Friedkin. Although relying on Cruising’s extant SM club scenes (i.e., Auslander’s theatrical documentation) for its re-performative cues, Interior focuses on supposedly documenting the on-set process of capturing unsimulated sex (i.e., Auslander’s documentary documentation) instead of simply presenting the finished “re-creation” footage itself.

It does not matter if the original Cruising sex scenes were performed for a live audience or even filmed by Friedkin at all. Rather, Interior’s “pornographic” explicitness provides the affective link between a hypothetical past and a retrospective present through the performative act of documentation itself. Like Franco, we cannot truly gain access to how the on-set extras felt or reacted during Cruising’s alleged performance of unsimulated sex back in 1980—especially if such scenes were primarily staged for the camera instead of for a live audience of onlookers—just as we cannot literally recreate the same affective impact of an event that may have happened over three decades ago. As  Rounthwaite says,

“[I]mages can survive through time, but bodily affects [e.g., physical arousal] created by performance cannot, even though the original affects may have been incredibly intense.”[78]

Hence, Franco’s re-performance of the “lost” footage can at least attempt to approximate what that affective impact might have been, albeit without going so far as to portray Val, James, or Travis as physically aroused during filming. James may talk a queer game about depicting gay sex as “beautiful and attractive,” but his on-set bodily reactions to that sex remain nearly as guarded as Val’s reticence to engage with the gay extras on camera. Interior’s focus on the present-day cast and crew’s on-set reactions to filming unsimulated sex acknowledges the presentness of their (and our) bodily responses at a very different moment in LGBTQ history than 1980. And yet, by placing limits upon showing sexual arousal among the filmmakers, the film also points toward the limitations of its own historiographic attempt at textual reconstruction.[79]

Interior’s resemblance to performance art documentation also owes much to the sheer theatricality of SM as “the most ceremonial and decorous of practices,” a staged exhibition that “flouts the edict that manhood is synonymous with mastery, and submission a female fate.”[80] But unlike Cruising’s neorealist long shots of cavernous SM clubs filled with revelers, Interior’s reconstructed leather bar scenes are much more claustrophobic and tightly filmed, deliberately hiding the filmmakers’ reliance on a far smaller cast of extras and a nondescript, black-box studio space in place of actual lived spaces.

And although Interior portrays some of the same fetishized sexual activities seen in Cruising (e.g., boot worship), its filmmakers’ willingness to only show certain types of unsimulated sex produces scenes that are paradoxically tamer than the sheer variety of (simulated) sexual acts portrayed in Cruising. Interior’s club scenes show unsimulated close-ups of fellatio and masturbation, for example, but the overall film does not go so far as to provide visual evidence of anal penetration, and does not even attempt to emulate Cruising’s audacious (but still simulated) fisting scene. Despite their ability to deliver the sort of “pornographic” footage that Friedkin was forced to cut, then, Franco and Mathews are actually quite restrained in comparison with their source material, perhaps hoping to avoid the charges of “exploitation” that Friedkin had faced back in 1980.

Indeed, the same actor, Brenden Gregory, who hopes aloud that Interior will become “tasteful bondage art-porn” makes this comment after filming a surprisingly tender sex scene with his real-life boyfriend, Bradley Roberge—but this sex scene also represents Interior’s greatest deviation from its supposed “lost” source material. As Travis explains, we have already seen these unnamed characters (who have no analogues in Cruising) meet at the leather bar, and they have now been taken back to an apartment (filmed on another sparse studio set) where they will have sex on a couch under the instruction of a real-life top, Master Avery (Christian Patrick), who watches from nearby. Although Brenden and Bradley initially follow Master Avery’s pre-filming instructions to engage in a discipline scenario featuring light slapping, they quickly move away from these scripted commands and follow their own SM-free passions. With Master Avery’s topping literally relegated to the margins instead of vividly portrayed in action, the theatricality of SM is eschewed for the more comfortable naturalism of couple sex. This scene thereby moves furthest away from Cruising, but in doing so, it also moves away from the public, kinky, and recreational valences that made the simulated sex in Friedkin’s film so provocative, both yesterday and today.

Despite James’s opening gambit about Cruising’s depiction of a far less homonormative, pre-AIDS period before the rise of gay marriage, this pivotal scene nonetheless privileges the de-queered couple and thus undercuts Interior’s own political ambitions. Michael Bronski suggests that this scene perhaps “alleviates the free-floating anxiety of desire that has been circulating” because couple sex more securely grounds gay identity in specific performers whose real-life love seems “an expression of [socially] acceptable emotion.”[81] Even Val, chatting with the other actors, seems to have greater respect for Brenden and Bradley after watching their sexual intimacy, explaining that he could tell they were a couple. If Cruising is about Burns’ fear of becoming one of the anonymous SM clubbers, Interior is about Val overcoming his apprehensions in standing above the other actors as the (straight) Pacino stand-in, eventually instead becoming at ease with the (gay) extras whose included voices prevent them from becoming interchangeably anonymous.

Indeed, it is notable that we see James quietly leave the set during the couple’s sex scene, as though deliberately testing Val by effectively cutting the lifeline that his celebrity friendship represents. But if this abandonment is meant to represent a crucial point in Val’s own transformation vis-à-vis James’s queer project, this unsimulated sex scene’s emphasis on kink-free gay coupledom lacks the higher stakes implied by recreating Cruising’s more sexually casual, polymorphously perverse milieu. James may want to portray gay sex as “beautiful and attractive,” but he is less successful in portraying it as hot and sexy, especially compared to the longer and more explicit tradition of all-male art-porn (such as the films of Wakefield Poole, Fred Halsted, Curt McDowell, and Joe Gage) that predated Cruising and goes conspicuously unmentioned here. Rather than privileging the intensity of raw, anonymous sex seen in such art-porn, and even in Cruising itself, the intimate, companionate couple remains Interior’s privileged sexual configuration. In a homonormative society, straight men like James can

"validate the not-gay quality of their homosexual contact" by "casting queerness as that which is sincere, love-based, and, in the minds of more liberal heterosexuals—beautiful. [...] With gay identity now tethered to love and biology, these other forms of homosexual relating can be more easily taken up by straights, as they are increasingly believed to be distinct from the true meaning of gayness: monogamous same-sex love and the gay and lesbian families presumed to ultimately result from this love."[81b]

We next see Val talking to his wife on the phone as he sits behind the studio space, watching as leather-clad Master Avery walks down the alleyway during a break in filming. Val’s wife jokingly asks him whether she should buy a strap-on dildo after filming concludes—an oblique reference to Cruising’s final scene, in which Burns’ girlfriend curiously tries on his leathers while he is in the bathroom.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, anal penetration remains figured as the privileged act that would seemingly confirm one’s homosexuality, which makes its absence from Interior’s visual register of unsimulated acts all the more telling as the product of an actor-filmmaker who only considers himself “gay…up to the point of intercourse.” Interior finally ends with a blue-tinted film-within-the-film sequence featuring Val and Master Avery cruising each other in a rough re-creation of Cruising’s extant scene of Burns frenetically dancing with another man. Discussing Cruising, D. A. Miller suggests that, in the absence of more explicit confirmation about Burns’ potential trysts with other men,

“[this] moment when Steve joins the dancing offers the most satisfying ‘gaying’ of his character possible, all the more ingenious in that, given that he’s ‘the Pacino character,’ we would never be allowed anything more explicit in any case.”

Moreover, by Cruising’s ambiguous closing scene featuring Nancy dressed in Burns’ leathers,

Whom he has sex with will no longer prove much; his body has been desublimated, released from the organizational grip of sexual orientation. Is he now homosexual? All that seems certain is that he’s no longer not. He’s been queered.”[82]

By placing this re-performed dancing scene at Interior’s conclusion instead of the mid-film point where it appears in Cruising, Val himself is thus figured as having been finally “queered” by his on-set experience—overcoming his gay-panic anxieties and joining the fray as one of many queer performers, no longer positioning himself as the project’s privileged heterosexual star. Like Franco’s forays into performance art, then, the hetero-male “celebrity” (Val-as-Pacino) is meant to disappear through a proximity to explicit homosexuality that “queers” him away from the normative sex-gender privileges enjoyed by most Hollywood stars. Yet, because Interior’s most faithful re-creation—displayed here as the production’s end result—consists of a club scene that was already extant in Friedkin’s original film, not a “lost” fragment of X-rated footage that never reached screens, Franco and Mathews reveal a certain imaginative limit that, as in Friedkin’s film, injects an ideological incoherence into their project’s overarching aims. That is, much as the queer political ambitions behind Val’s supposed transformation are soft-pedaled by visually privileging the homonormative couple in a scene that drastically departs from Cruising, the filmmakers cannot seem to reconcile Cruising’s most transgressive depictions of kink and public/recreational sex with their own creative desires to re-imagine Friedkin’s compromised vision.

Despite their ability to play with the bounds of celebrity and performance art through a project about unsimulated sex, Cruising’s “lost” footage remains just that: a missing fragment from a retrospectively inaccessible time that Interior cannot properly approximate. Much as re-performances of famous art events cannot accurately reanimate past reception contexts, Interior constructs its own epistemological limits—some more intentional than others—around what Friedkin’s uncut film might have included. Franco and Mathews may acknowledge that their film is not directly intended as a historiographic intervention (à la reconstruction or restoration), but their very inability to access the “lost” past inadvertently highlights the difficulty in creatively re-imagining past sexual attitudes without somehow falling back on the social valuations of our deeply homonormative present (e.g., the idealization of the gay couple). Like his other projects, then, Interior. Leather Bar.’s focus on different layers of stardom and performance in process ultimately does more to interrogate James Franco’s celebrity than to illuminate queer culture on its own merits. But its own limitations as a film more interested in the idea of Cruising’s excised footage than in accurately executing this concept nevertheless reveal the sheer struggle involved in attempting to unthink homonormativity. If Franco’s film ultimately fails in its higher ambitions to aesthetically proselytize on behalf of the gay sex from which he personally excludes himself, then his failure of imagination testifies to the contra-straight potential that excavating queer pasts might, in other creative hands, still hold for challenging our present political strictures.


[1] Travis Mathews, “Press Notes,” Interior. Leather Bar., accessed April 23, 2016, http://www.interiorleatherbar.com/press-notes/.

2. Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 56-63; Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 130-31.

3. As its point of reference, this essay uses the uncensored version of the film (available on DVD), which includes several close-up sequences of unsimulated, explicit sex. Note that softcore (non-explicit) versions may circulate via some streaming sources.

4. Mathews, “Press Notes”; and Julian Hoxter, “Gay Film Auteur Travis Mathews Talks Interior. Leather Bar.,” Filmmaker Magazine, January 19, 2013, http://filmmakermagazine.com/63105-gay-porn-auteur-travis

5. A representative example: Brian Moylan, “It’s Time to Bring James Franco’s Reign of Half-assed Artistry to an End,” The Guardian, September 27, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/sep/27/james-f

6. Alexander Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising, Ghetto Politics, and Gay Sexuality,” Social Text, no. 4 (1981): 101, 109.

7. Amelia Jones, Body Art / Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 13.

8. Ibid., chp. 2-3.

9. David Román, Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 120; José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

10. Holly Hughes and David Román, “An Introductory Conversation,” in O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance, eds. Holly Hughes and David Román (New York: Grove Press, 1998), 7, 8.

11. B. Ruby Rich, “Festival Reports: Sundance,” Film Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2012): 67.

12. Pamela McClintock, “Shia LaBeouf Regrets Spielberg Dig, Slams Studio System: ‘They Stick a Finger Up Your A--,’” The Hollywood Reporter, August 15, 2012, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/

13. Michael Cieply, “Documentary? Better Call It Performance Art,” New York Times, September 16, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/movies/17affleck.html.

14. Peggy Phelan, “Marina Abramović: Witnessing Shadows,” Theatre Journal 56, no. 4 (2004): 571. Also see Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), chp. 7.

15. For an appreciation of Glover’s films and stage show, see Philip Brophy, “Is it Weird? Or, Actualizing Disallowed Cinema,” Lola, no. 3 (2012): http://lolajournal.com/3/glover.html.

16. The title I’m Still Here also recalls the title of Todd Haynes’s impressionistic Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There (2007), which featured a diverse variety of actors playing some version of Dylan’s public persona. Coming off his recent success in a Johnny Cash biopic, it is hard not to see these titular similarities as commenting on Phoenix’s own struggle (however exaggerated for the sake of mockumentary) with his own public persona. As a part-scripted, part-documentary film, Interior. Leather Bar. shares some of I’m Still Here’s interest in celebrity gossip as epistemological wormhole, but the revelation of the Phoenix meltdown as blatant fabrication more closely aligns it with the mockumentary as fictional genre than the reflexive/performative documentary’s self-interrogation of non-fiction’s limits.

17. Also see Penny Spirou, “He’s Still Here: Joaquin Phoenix as Transgressive Hollywood Star,” Akademisk Kvarter, no. 10 (2015): http://www.akademiskkvarter.hum.aau.dk/pdf/

18. James Franco, “Why Actors Act Out,” New York Times, February 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/opinion/

19. See, for example, when Franco’s online flirtation with a 17-year-old woman in 2014 went public, which some observers speculated was a “performance” stunt: Katy Waldman, “I Hope James Franco is a Creep,” Slate.com, April 3, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/04/03/

20. See James Franco, “A Star, a Soap, and the Meaning of Art,” Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2009, http://www.wsj.com/articles/
Sam Anderson, “The James Franco Project,” New York, July 25, 2010, http://nymag.com/movies/profiles/67284/; Jonah Weiner, “The Mystery of James Franco: Inside His Manic Days and Sleepless Nights,” Rolling Stone, March 23, 2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/
; and Jerry Saltz, “In Conversation: James Franco,” Vulture, April 18, 2016, http://www.vulture.com/2016/04/james-franco-jerry-saltz-

21. Anderson, “The James Franco Project.”

22. Henry Adam Svec, “Brando versus Franco: Media Theorizing with the Stars,” Celebrity Studies 5, no. 3 (2014): 369, 370.

23. Jones, Body Art, 149.

24. Laura Stampler, “A Brief History of Shia LaBeouf Copying the Work of Others,” Time, February 10, 2014, http://time.com/6094/shia-labeouf-plagiarism-scandal/.

25. Abigail Ann Schwarz, “On Shia LaBeouf’s Metamodern Performance Art,” Notes on Metamodernism, April 8, 2014, http://www.metamodernism.com/2014/04/08/on-shia-
. See also Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, “artnet News’s Exclusive Interview with LaBeouf, Rönkkö, and Turner,” artnet News, February 11, 2016, https://news.artnet.com/people/shia-

26. Luke Turner, “Metamodernist // Manifesto” (2011), Metamodernism (blog), accessed April 29, 2016, http://www.metamodernism.org/For the origins of this term, see Timotheus Vermuelen and Robin van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, no. 2 (2010): http://aestheticsandculture.net/index.php/jac/article/viewArticle/5677.

27. Sarah Lyall, “For Her Next Piece, a Performance Artist Will Build an Institute,” New York Times, October 19, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/arts/design/marina-abramovic-

28. Lily Rothman, “Explaining James Franco Explaining Shia LaBeouf: Why None of This is Art,” Time, February 20, 2014, http://entertainment.time.com/2014/02/20/james-franco-shia-labeouf/.

29. See Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008).

30. Jessica Dawson, “Why Does the Art World Coddle James Franco?” The Daily Beast, April 22, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04

31. See Roberta Smith, “Everybody is Playing Somebody Else Here,” New York Times, April 22, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/arts/
; Benjamin Sutton, “Why James Franco’s Cindy Sherman Homage at Pace Is Not Just Bad But Offensive,” artnet News, April 22, 2014, https://news.artnet.com/
; and Kelsey Haight, “James Franco Just Tried to Appropriate the Female Experience,” Bust, accessed April 29, 2016, http://bust.com/arts/11965-james-franco-just-tried-to-

32. Michael Bronski, “What’s So Queer About James Franco?” Cineaste, Winter 2014, 10.

33. James Franco, “The Straight James Franco Talks to the Gay James Franco,” FourTwoNine, March 27, 2015, http://dot429.com/articles/5801-

34. Jameson Fitzpatrick, “A Queer Take on James Franco’s ‘Straight James / Gay James,’” Lambda Literary, January 16, 2016, http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/oped/01/16/a-queer-take-on-

35. Jane Ward, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (New York: NYU Press, 2015), 209.

36. See Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising”; Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (rev. ed.) (New York: Harper & Row, 1987); James Kendrick, Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in 1980s American Cinema (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), chp. 2.

37. Guy Davidson, “‘Contagious Relations’: Simulation, Paranoia, and the Postmodern Condition in William Friedkin’s Cruising and Felice Picano’s The Lure,” GLQ 11, no. 1 (2005): 25; D. A. Miller, “Cruising,” Film Quarterly 61, no. 2 (2007): 70; David Greven, Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013), 187, 189.

38. Miller, “Cruising,” 73.

39. Greven, Psycho-Sexual, 198.

40. Davidson, “Contagious Relations,” 31.

41. Greven, Psycho-Sexual, 193-95; Bill Krohn, “Friedkin Out,” Rouge, no. 3 (2004): http://www.rouge.com.au/3/friedkin.html.

42. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 42, 56, 58, 60. Both Friedkin and Pacino had earlier breakthroughs with gay-themed material; Friedkin’s different species of self-hating gays in Boys in the Band (1970) and Pacino’s desexualized gay protagonist in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) each find notable echoes in Cruising.

43. For a more elaborate reading of Cruising in relation to Psycho, see Greven, Psycho-Sexual, chp. 6.

44. Davidson, “Contagious Relations,” 43-45, 52. Quote at 52.

45. Ibid., 41-42, 49; Wood, Hollywood, 56; Miller, “Cruising,” 73.

46. Krohn, “Friedkin Out.” In another example of this seemingly supernatural contamination between films and real life, one of Friedkin’s extras in The Exorcist, Paul Bateson, later confessed to at least one of the late-1970s murders of gay men, including that of Variety film critic Addison Verrill, which would inspire Friedkin to direct Cruising. See Arthur Bell, “Phone Call from a Fugitive: ‘I Killed Addison Verrill,’” The Village Voice, October 3, 1977, 1, 11.

47. Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising,” 99.

48. Miller, “Cruising,” 71.

49. Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising,” 104-05, 109.

50. Greven, Psycho-Sexual, 184.

51. Because Interior’s cast and crew are all effectively playing some semi-scripted version of themselves, I will henceforth use first names (e.g., “Val,” “James,” “Travis”) to denote their characterizations within the film itself, and reserve their surnames (e.g., Lauren, Franco, Mathews) for discussing their actual selves, despite the difficulty of fully parsing such distinctions in a quasi-documentary project. On this overlap between the actual cast/crew and their onscreen incarnations, see, for example, Mark Peikert’s interview “Val Lauren Goes Cruising in ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ at Sundance,” Backstage, January 18, 2013, http://www.backstage.com/interview/val-lauren-goes-cruising-

52. Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), chp. 4. Also see Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public,” in Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 187-208.

53. Wood, Hollywood, 61.

54. Mathews, “Press Notes.”

55. According to Friedkin, Franco only contacted him near the end of Interior’s production to ask what was truly in the forty minutes of cut footage (“William Friedkin on ‘Cruising,’ Franco’s ‘Interior. Leather Bar.,’ & Mineshaft footage,” YouTube, accessed April 25, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ0MGKSd_wA).

56. Davidson, “Contagious Relations,” 44.

57. José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 37.

58. Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising,” 100-01.

59. Mathews, “Press Notes.”

60. Lucas Hilderbrand, “Retroactivism,” GLQ 12, no. 2 (2006): 307.

61. Mathews, “Press Notes.”

62. Notable examples include In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, 1976), Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999), The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003), 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004), Anatomy of Hell (Catherine Breillat, 2004), Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas, 2005), Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006), Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier, 2013), and Love (Gaspar Noé, 2015). See Linda Williams, Screening Sex (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), chp. 7; and Jon Lewis, “Real Sex: Aesthetics and Economics of Art-house Porn,” Jump Cut, no. 51 (2009): http://ejumpcut.org/archive/jc51.2009/LewisRealsex/1.html.

63. Wilson, “Friedkin’s Cruising,” 100; Miller, “Cruising,” 71.

64. Berlant and Warner, “Sex in Public,” 193-95, 198-200.

65. Ibid., 207, 208.

66. Greven, Psycho-Sexual, 187.

67. Derek Nystrom, Hard Hats, Rednecks, and Macho Men: Class in 1970s American Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 142.

68. Mattias Frey, Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today’s Art Film Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 71-72.

69. Adair Rounthwaite, “From This Body to Yours: Porn, Affect, and Performance Art Documentation,” Camera Obscura 26, no. 3 (2011): 63, 74. Quote at 74.

70. Ibid., 65.

71. Robert C. Morgan, “Thoughts on Re-performance, Experience, and Archivism,” PAJ 32, no. 3 (2010): 2, 11.

72. Abramović, interviewed in Chris Thompson and Katarina Weslien, “Pure Raw: Performance, Pedagogy, and (Re)presentation,” PAJ 28, no. 1 (2006): 39.

73. Rounthwaite, “From This Body to Yours,” 74.

74. Philip Auslander, “The Performativity of Performance Documentation,” PAJ 28, no. 3 (2006): 1-2. Quote at 2.

75. Ibid., 6-7. Quote at 7.

76. Ibid., 9. Italics mine.

77. Jessica Santone, “Marina Abramović’s Seven Easy Pieces: Critical Documentation Strategies for Preserving Art’s History,” Leonardo 41, no. 2 (2008): 151.

78. Rounthwaite, “From This Body to Yours,” 75.

79. Notably, the acclaimed French film Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiradie, 2013) premiered the same year as Interior. Leather Bar. Similarly featuring unsimulated gay sex (albeit performed using body doubles for the main actors), it also offers a revisionist take on Cruising’s theme of a murderer preying on cruising men. Because emerging during a far less stigma-laden period of gay history, Stranger could revisit this sort of narrative without receiving such intense political backlash. Indeed, whereas Cruising represents its titular activity as dark and subterranean, Stranger by the Lake presents it in a sun-drenched pastoral setting that eschews the earlier film’s linkage of homosexuality/murder as contagion, even as the later film still troubles clear boundaries for gay sexual identity among its major characters.

80. Anne McClintock, “Maid to Order: Commercial S/M and Gender Power,” in More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography, and Power, ed. Pamela Church Gibson (London: BFI, 2004), 237.

81. Bronski, “What’s So Queer,” 14.

81b. Ward, Not Gay, 197, 199.

82. Miller, “Cruising,” 71. Original italics.