In 1980, William Friedkin, probably best known for directing The Exorcist, made a thriller that is set in New York’s gay and fetish scene and deals with a psychopathic killer who chooses his victims in darkrooms. Al Pacino plays a straight undercover cop who immerses himself into the gay scene in search of the murderer. Though filmed with the support of local Manhattan gay bars, certain activists smelled homophobic undertones in the script and tried to interrupt and prevent the shooting of the film. When the film was eventually released, 40 sexually explicit minutes of Cruising were cut and are still kept under wraps by the production company today. More than 30 years later, filmmakers Travis Mathews and James Franco had the idea of reconstructing the missing material according to their imagination. The result can be seen at this year’s Berlin Porn Film Festival. Interior. Leather Bar. is a bold experiment and a film that defies many definitions and might disappoint conventional expectations – despite its explicit sex scenes.
At first, there is an image that has a strange beauty to it. The washed out blues and the strokes of white look like an abstract painting. But the further the camera pans to the side, the more we realize that we are facing a wall that hasn’t been painted for some time. Then an equally beautiful canvas with prints of birds that are heading to the sky appears. But it turns out to be a simple window curtain. Then, suddenly, the sound of an explosion that makes the water in a bowl tremble and ripple before a hand reaches into the water to soak a cloth. The hand belongs to a beautiful but nameless woman who washes her husband’s face and is trapped in a room that seems like her prison. This room becomes her shelter as the war outside comes closer and closer.
I have to be honest with you: before watching Behind the Candelabra, I didn’t have any idea who Liberace was. Call me ignorant, call me not gay enough, or call me too young. Calling myself too young at the age of 30, on the other hand, is so gay that I will have to go with ignorant after all. Yesterday a film came out in Berlin that might feel inappropriate for this column and you might ask yourself why I want to talk about it. It got tons of good press already, it has Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in it, and it so glamorous that it stands out from the selection of small films that I usually discuss. But apart from being a glamorous, fabulous and insightful travel into the times of “Walter” Liberace, Behind the Candelabra is an astonishing testament of a film that was made for television and its queer discourse.
I don’t remember the first time I went cruising but I still remember that my heart raced so fast I almost collapsed with excitement. Now that the summer is coming to an end and the leaves will soon be falling off the trees in the parks, the small refuges of anonymous gay sex will make way for a cold and unfriendly winter and cruisers will have to abandon the public spheres and escape to the private cellars and darkrooms of the bars and clubs again.
Starting tonight, expat Australian cinephile and festival director Frances Hill invites Berliners to discover her home country through film at Kreuzberg’s Moviemento. Frances, charming employee of the overall amazing crew of Moviemento, started the Down Under Australian Film Festival two years ago via crowd-funding and with the help of friends. This year, she has put together a diverse and exciting programme which includes documentaries, narrative films, and short films, as well as a couple of great events. I met Frances Hill and head of communication Berit Becker for an afternoon interview where we talked about transgender hairdressers, indigenous actors, and the new films from Australia’s film schools.