Months before anyone even saw the short film Interior. Leather Bar, tongues wagged that A-list hottie James Franco was co-producing, co-directing and co-starring in a gay porn flick.
Well, the final product reveals that in the film Franco only watches other men have sex, as he, co-director Travis Mathews and the rest “reimagine” 40 lost minutes from the controversial 1980 Al Pacino thriller, Cruising, parts of which were set in the interior of a leather bar.
“For me, it’s an exploration of how certain kinds of settings and lifestyles and acts are depicted and seen in cinema today, what the presentation of those things mean to the people doing them, watching them,” said Franco, who Saturday night will receive the HBO Latin America Ally Award presented at the 15th annual Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
Interior. Leather Bar (to be screened Sunday night at the festival) is mostly talk with a little hardcore action. And the talk mostly is by straight guys, including Franco, as they watch gay guys have sex in the film within a film.
“It was a project inspired by [director] William Friedkin’s Cruising. It was never going to be a recreation of Cruising, Franco says. “It was about trying to examine some of the things in Cruising presented 30 years ago through the lens of the culture today. There’s a lot of discussion in the movie, then there are some sexual scenes that are in it that go hand in hand.”
In the original film, Pacino starred as a straight undercover cop sent to find a gay serial killer terrorizing the New York bar scene.
Gay activists at the time condemned Cruising, Pacino and Friedkin for perpetuating negative stereotypes. “It was an unfortunate juxtaposition of murder mystery against a backdrop of gay nightlife,” Franco says.
Interior. Leather Bar gives the impression that it’s unscripted, with Franco, Mathews and actor Val Lauren playing themselves making the movie. In the film within the film, Lauren also plays the Pacino character.
“There was a script. It was more of an outline. It gave us a direction to go in when we filmed,” Franco says. “You wouldn’t find most of the dialogue that ended up in the final script. I knew I wanted to use Cruising as a starting point. I didn’t know exactly what aspects I wanted to explore.”
Franco says the project came together when he met Mathews, a gay director whose films “had sex, but they didn’t use pornos for titillation.”
“At that point, it really opened up everything,” Franco says. “We had the script, a route to follow. Along the way, anything and everything could be captured.”
The 60-minute film premiered in January at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Franco’s next big feature, two months later: Oz the Great and Powerful.
Franco, 34, says there was no fallout from the folks at Walt Disney Pictures as they began to promote the PG-rated Oz, just as everyone in the industry seemed to be fixated on oral sex and Interior. Leather Bar.
“They didn’t say one thing about it,” Franco says. “I was congratulated when it got into Sundance by some of the execs at Disney, who are friends of mine.”
One notable, however, did ignore Franco amid the Interior. Leather Bar hype: Pacino.
“Pacino did not comment. I wrote him an email. It was because of some inaccurate press,” Franco says. “I wanted it to be clear to him and Friedkin that we were not using anything from Cruising. I didn’t hear back from him, so I guess he wasn’t bothered.’’
James Franco appears 9 p.m. Saturday at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. “Interior. Leather Bar” will be screened 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival runs Friday through May 5. www.mglff.com