Movie Review - Interior. Leather Bar.

Val Lauren (left) and Christian Patrick
in "Interior. Leather Bar."
This is not a feature-length film. It's only 60 minutes, but it's an effort from James Franco, starring James Franco and about James Franco's exploration of gay sexuality in cinema. His supposition is that there isn't enough of it and that what little gay sex there is doesn't go far enough, at least not in mainstream, multiplex movies. While films like Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Milk (2008), also starring James Franco, are few and far between.

This past year saw the release of Blue is the Warmest Color and Stranger By the Lake, which both won top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and both feature graphic, gay sexuality. This past year also saw Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac, which also contains graphic sexuality. These films might negate Franco's argument, but Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) convincingly made the case that within the industry-at-large there is a reticence about exploring not only gay sexuality but simply gay characters. Steven Soderbergh's problems with getting financing and American theatrical distribution for Behind the Candelabra also aide in Franco's case.

Franco's intentions here are noble and progressive. It's great that he's tackling these issues and pushing these issues. Unfortunately, the final product here is inadequate. There isn't enough information or context to have care in the characters or this fake situation.

Yes, despite James Franco and everyone else appearing as themselves, these are "characters" and this is a fake situation. It's filmed like a documentary, but the way certain moments play out, it's obvious that this whole thing isn't real. It might as well be an episode of The Office.

It stars Val Lauren as a version of himself who in reality has worked for Franco a couple of times before. Previously, Val Lauren was the titular character in the James Franco-directed Sal (2013), about two-time Oscar nominee, gay actor and murder victim, Sal Mineo.

Lauren meets with Franco and co-director Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) about their next movie project. It's similar to how Franco opens Sal, which is of Mineo meeting with his agent or manager about his next movie project, which is also addressing a controversial story involving gay sex. Here, Lauren discusses with Franco and Mathews their intentions to re-create the lost 40 minutes from the film Cruising (1980).

According to a title card, director William Friedkin had to cut 40 minutes out of Cruising in order to appease the MPAA ratings board. Franco and Mathews want to re-shoot or re-make those 40 minutes. From what we gather later, that footage is mostly scenes inside the leather bar where gay men who like wearing leather and enjoy sadomasochism go to have sex.

Presumably, Franco and Mathews don't actually re-create all 40 minutes because they don't show all of it, only a few scenes. If they had shown all 40 minutes, this movie in its entirety would have been longer. What they do is only show two scenes. The rest of the movie is just Franco and Lauren and a lot of the other actors, many of whom from Playhouse West, sitting and talking about the movie. Some don't understand why Franco is doing this. Some who are gay hope to see Franco naked. Some actors who are straight discuss what they're comfortable doing on screen in terms of nudity and sex acts.

These conversations are interesting, but the focus is more on Lauren, which is understandable, but some more back story or interviews with these actors would have been helpful. One could argue that the movie wants to be more cinéma vérité or fly-on-the-wall that's secretly capturing these actors in between filming scenes, but that's invalidated when a casual conversation between Lauren and another actor getting makeup to be a drag queen is revealed to be staged and the director is prompting questions.

It's compelling to watch Lauren watch the filming of the sex scenes. It's compelling to figure out what's going through Lauren's mind. He's a straight guy watching graphic, if not pornographic, gay sex occur right in front of him. He might feel obligated to stay but he does stay and continues to look. He objects to it to a degree but also sees the beauty in it afterward.

The question is what is watching Lauren meant to do. Is Lauren meant to go on a journey? If so, to what end? He's not homophobic. He's not even making objections that some of the gay actors aren't. It might be that Franco and Mathews are trying to imply that Lauren is going down the scene path as Al Pacino's character in Cruising, so that by the end the audience wonders about Lauren's sexuality. Maybe he's now a little gay.

Making that implication seems to force the issue, especially in an environment where you don't trust the filmmaker or don't understand him. Basic questions needed to be answered. For one, how does Franco and Mathews know what these 40 minutes are? Were they able to find that footage from 30 years ago, which was supposedly destroyed? Did they have a conversation with Friedkin or Pacino about what happened in that cut footage?

Franco and Mathews depict full-frontal nudity and actual fellatio with erect penises. I think that Friedkin is a bold and progressive filmmaker, but I question if he actually filmed real fellatio or anything like what Franco and Mathews film. Friedkin did edit unsimulated sex scenes from a porn film into the movie but nothing he filmed himself. It's a wonder how much of a fight Friedkin put up for those 40 minutes. If it wasn't that big of a fight, then why does Franco care about these 40 minutes so much?

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic, gay sex.
Running Time: 60 mins.
Available on Netflix.


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