Cruising

Cruising

No star rating (for now), because I'm still sorting out my feelings. CRUISING occupies a strange place for gay male cinephiles. I'm 49, and most gay men older than myself think it's a vile, even dangerous slander against us. But it's gained a cult following among gay millennials. The context of its making and reception has changed - representations of LGBTQ people are now far more common and varied, and stereotypes have changed from generation to generation.

Friedkin is talented enough that CRUISING is every bit as cold and grim as he wanted it to be. But it views gay sex as the culmination of everything destructive about masculinity. CRUISING takes the imagery of BDSM at face value. I don't object to a heterosexual director making a film about the gay bar scene, but the queasy mix of fascination and repulsion in Friedkin's gaze is telling. (In IRREVERSIBLE, which was obviously influenced by CRUISING, Gaspar Noe showed himself masturbating at The Rectum. Can anyone picture Friedkin doing so?) A film criticizing the uglier aspects of '70s gay culture might have been worthwhile, but that film would play better if it actually saw their appeal too. While Friedkin pushed the boundaries of the R rating to a degree you'd never see in a Hollywood film now, CRUISING stands outside the world it depicts.

But if the film contains plenty of homophobic ideas, it also expresses notions about the fragility and essential ambiguity of all sexual identity, especially heterosexuality, that have become more accepted via queer theory. Its doublings lead to a fundamentally incoherent story built around daddy issues and penetration, a nightmare of men taking out their anxieties in blood and passing violence along to each other. If it fears gayness, it recognizes that all men - especially authoritarian figures like cops - are implicated in this nightmare.

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