There's not much else that needs to be said to explain just how unusual James Franco's multi-hyphenate status is in Hollywood these days. Case in point: a few weeks before his most high-profile big-studio role toplining Disney's Oz, the Great and Powerful, Mr. Franco introduced at Sundance Interior. Leather Bar., a provocative hour-long essay film co-directed with queer documentarian Travis Mathews. Interior. Leather Bar. engages in a hall-of-mirrors meditation about reality, perception and sexuality using as its start the infamous "lost footage" of William Friedkin's controversial 1980 thriller Cruising set inside a NYC gay disco. Messrs. Franco and Matthews want to reenact that footage in a Hollywood backlot, using straight actor Val Lauren in the Pacino role surrounded by real-life gay men.

     Why does Mr. Lauren do it? Because he openly wants to be associated with Mr. Franco's attempt at breaking an age-old Hollywood taboo where on-screen violence is acceptable but any sort of open sex - and specifically gay sex - isn't. Therefore, Interior. Leather Bar. isn't so much a film on sex or showing sex, as it is one where there's a lot of talking about sex, discussing where do transgressive images begin and end in a media-saturated society as ours. That everything is in the eye of the beholder may not be a shattering conclusion to arrive at, but it seems to me that Messrs. Franco and Matthews are not so much thinking of the conclusion as they are of the process to get there: by carefully layering elements ambiguous enough to be either real or fictional. Is Mr. Franco in this for real, is he just playing an elaborate prank, did he lose interest halfway through or only seem to, or all of it at the same time? Is Mr. Lauren himself in on the joke or is he being manipulated from all sides, by both Mr. Franco and his off-screen agent?

     All the while, regardless of what is really going on, Interior. Leather Bar. is opening a serious conversation about Hollywood's double standard and the fact that everything is judged on perception rather than truth (and isn't manipulation itself a way of achieving a constant relativisation of terms?). It doesn't really bring anything new to the discussion, but it's a playful and smart summing up of what is going on in it.

Cast: Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Bradley Roberge
Directors: James Franco, Travis Mathews
Screenplay and editing: Mr. Mathews
Cinematography: Keith Wilson (colour)
Music: Santiago Latorre
Art director: Liz Phipps
Costumes: Lane Stewart
Producers: Mr. Franco, Liz Torres, Mr. Mathews, Mr. Wilson (Rabbit Bandini Productions)
USA, 2013, 60 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 Panorama official screening, UCI Kinowelt Colosseum 1 (Berlin), February 13th 2013


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