Friedkin revs up for another round of 'Cruising'

America may have been “Queer Eye’d” and “Will & Grace’d” enough to embrace alternative lifestyles, but can it welcome another dose of “Cruising,” the controversial gay-themed film of the early ‘80s?

Oscar-winning director William Friedkin thinks so. He says “Cruising” may be appreciated more today than ever before.

“From a technical standpoint, it looks and sounds better now than it ever did,” Friedkin says of the new-century redux, which hits Castro Theatre for a one-week run beginning Sept. 7. (The theater hosts afestival featuring some of his other classic films Tuesday through Thursday.) An über DVD, complete with back story and director comments, will be released on Sept. 18.

Considered groundbreaking both for its graphic nature and the depth of its storytelling, the film finds Al Pacino as an undercover cop trying to solve a string of murders of homosexual men prowling New York’s leather bar underground. Uncertain as to how homosexual men were going to be portrayed, the movie was protested by some gay groups before it was released in 1980.

“After the ‘70s, which were very liberal and progressive, there were gay groups that became politically responsible by the time ‘Cruising’ came out,” he says. “And I can see why many people advancing the cause would not have wanted just ‘Cruising’ to be representative of gay life.

“It was never meant to be,” he adds. “It was a milieu that had almost never been explored in American film, or European film, and God knows, in Asian film, which still doesn’t explore it.”

At its core, Friedkin says the film is a murder mystery based on real-life events. He adapted the screenplay of Gerald Walker’s gripping novel and used former New York Poliice Department detective Randy Jurgensen, who plays a cop in the picture, as a consultant in an effort to give the work a real edge.

No problem there. After the ratings board viewed it, Friedkin had to cut 40 minutes from some of the more graphic leather bar scenes.

But Friedkin is no stranger to controversy. After taking home the Oscar for 1971’s “The French Connection,” the director turned heads-literally-with “The Exorcist” in 1973. The film was banned in some theaters and shunned by the Catholic Church. The mid-’80s found him directing another thriller, “To Live and Die in L.A.,” among other films.
He recently returned to more haunting waters with “Bug.”

In between films, he finds solace indirecting-of all things-operas around the world.

Overall, Friedkin says backdrop of gay culture in “Cruising” stunned audiences at the time.

“The subject matter was still taboo then, now it’s not,” he notes. “Although, frankly, you couldn’t get this picture made today. Films that are thought-provoking or trenchant in any way are few and far between in today’s Hollywood.

“It’s mostly sequels and remakes or bland comedies directed at young people,” he adds. “For the most part, the films today are designed not to ruffle anybody’s feathers or make them think about anything.”

IF YOU GO

William Friedkin Tribute

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco

When: Tuesday through Sept. 13

Tickets: $9

Contact: (415) 621-6120 or www.castrotheatre.com

Screenings

Tuesday: “The Boys in the Band,” 7 p.m.; “Bug” 9:20 p.m.

Wednesday: “The Exorcist,” 7 p.m.; “Sorcerer,” 4:40 and 9:30 p.m.

Thursday: “The French Connection,” 2:40 and 7 p.m.; “To Live and Die in LA,” 4:45 and 9:05 p.m.

Sept. 7-13: “Cruising”

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