Thoughts On: Interior. Leather Bar. (2013)
A contrived documentary by James Franco and Travis Mathews.
No pun intended, this movie blew me away. Simply put, Interior. Leather Bar. is a masterpiece, a new personal favourite and probably one of the greatest films to have come out recently that is actually about current societal ideas floating about in the zeitgeist. That said, how on earth do I begin?
This is a documentary about James Franco and Travis Mathews’ endeavours to make a short film: a re-imagining of the 40 minutes that were cut out of Friedkin’s 1980 film, Cruising, because they were, presumably, too sexually explicit. Cruising itself is about a detective, as played by Al Pacino, who has to go undercover as a homosexual to capture a serial killer that is slaying gay men. Before we go ahead, I’ll say that I have not seen this film, but I don’t think it’s very relevant to this short.
Describing Interior. Leather Bar. is a trap. Seeing this film is a trap. Talking about this film is a trap – unless you’re very careful about how you go about things. Interior. Leather Bar. is not what you think it is… yet… whatever you think it is about… it’s about that. It is a documentary. It is a mediocre amateur film. It is an LGBT movie. It is an exploitation movie. It’s pornography. It is a mokumentary. It is a docufictional film. It’s a self-reflective piece of experimental art. It is nonsense.
Without fully pressing into the postmodern bubble, I believe, this is a film about the contrivance of cinema, yet also the facade that hides the inner and outer realities of the world. Thus, this film is a question of the truth that people can perceive. And because of this, there is great profundity to be found in the narrative; whilst I think its subtext its inexhaustible, there is meaning to be found in this film – it certainly is not abstract to the point of arbitrariness. However, I have fallen into its trap: I’m writing abstract nonsense.
To articulate, as directly as possible, why this film is so brilliant I suppose we have to accept the fact that this movie is masterfully constructed – seemingly from genuine thoughts and emotions – to appear to be a fictional documentary. In such, this narrative recognises that there is a topic that is pretty ominous in society: homosexuality. This topic of course sprawls out into other regions of sexual orientation and identity politics, but in keeping focus on homosexuality, what this narrative does is confront its protagonist with an alien idea. And this is something that the majority of people in current society have to do as homosexuality is not a hush-hush topic like it has been in recent history; it is on our T.Vs, it is in the news, it is on the internet, it is in movies. In recognising this and attempting to confront the alternate lifestyle, our heterosexual protagonist is and isn’t directly confronting gay people. He is, in the most objective way, confronting a recent and developing societal custom to question ourselves in the most private of places. As this film seems to suggest, to ask ourselves, “what do I think of gay people?”, is then an incredibly strange act. Is it vain to ask this? Why should we concern ourselves with gay people? Then again, why should we force them into the dark? Then again, is it vain to even ask that question? What about that one? And thus we find ourselves trapped in perpetuity.
The reality seems to be that much to do with confronting, accepting or rejecting alternate lifestyles is a near-existential means of putting ourselves in a cycle that is perpetually hypothetical. If you’re not gay – or even if you are gay – you cannot control other people. Whilst you can manipulate others and society, it takes a real mastermind to do this consciously and exactly as you planned – you nonetheless cannot truly control society, however. To bring this idea to life, if you are for gay people (which, in itself is a strange notion), it is impossible to change everyone in the world to align exactly with your views. If you are neither here not there, it is also impossible to change everyone else. Simultaneously, if you are against gay people, you cannot magically flip a button to have reality fit your wishes. All forms of activism or physical action (positive, negative, passive or violent) will always be met with a reaction – and thus there seems to be constant conflict. This leaves us with the conundrum of this movie. Why are we being asked to face these deeply, yet simultaneously vapidly, existential questions when we can’t control the world?
This is then what is brought to life perfectly by the fact that this is a ‘documentary’ that heavily leans on gay themes. Whatever you think this film is about as you go into it will shape how you see it to varying degrees. And when you begin to question yourself and the movie as you watch it, you will be engaging in material that is openly, yet sneakily, contrived. This movie dares you to change your opinion, dares you to form an opinion, dares you to say it is even about something. And when you do, which you eventually must, this movie still remains a question as to why you are even thinking that way. This confusing idea is perfectly exemplified by the fact that our main character seems to change over this narrative by confronting this alien idea of homosexuality, but wonders why James Franco has set this whole thing up. However, whilst he is questioning the motivation for everything that is happening, he is also reading from a pre-determined script. Thus, there is a statement about nothing constructed; a statement about being confused and lost, about being manipulated by the world, yet nonetheless wanting to engage what is presented to you feeling that you are an autonomous individual; you do not want to be fed an agenda, but maybe you don’t want to paste your own ideas onto the world; what are you supposed to think; why is this movie even asking you to think?
These are perfectly profound questions that have seemingly pushed us into the postmodern bubble, yet are about to bring us back out. Whilst this movie is about nothing and everything, whilst it is a cliche, yet true, genuine and profound, it is also very simple: it asks you to think. What’s more, this movie asks you to think about something difficult and strange: homosexuality. This is a strange and very contemporary topic because it concerns lifestyles alien to yourself, yet also, it is heavily stigmatised by those who think they have this topic nailed – which I don’t believe anyone in the world does as you’re not supposed to. Being gay is, in my opinion, no different than being Tom. Tom can be defined by a plethora of key factors. Would we all like to be Tom? Would we all like to be friends with Tom? Would we all want Tom to stop existing? The answer is: it depends. These are questions that cannot be answered without knowing Tom. However, these are also questions that cannot be so simply asked, nor answered, once we know Tom. If we truly know Tom, then he will transcend a basic notion of the words that you can use to define him. To then react to Tom is a silent and inarticulate act and an answer to all of the questions that we have asked. To actually react to Tom you will see him as an individual – and such is an idea so complex and ever-changing that it can only be understood, not articulated. Individuals can be put into categories, this is true. And these categories can be very accurate descriptions of people, but there is nonetheless a quality to those that we recognise as individuals that transcends quantifiable sense; people define this quality as a soul, a spirit, maybe a persona.
What this all brings us back to is the fact that people are all facades; we can never truly know their inner reality, nor the outward reality of the world. Things do not, and should not, be left at this observation though as we have to act in this world. The fact is that our most profound actions have to be done without words as they are only profound because they are so complex that they transcend articulation, but are still very much so comprehensible on some level. No matter how confusing, silent and arbitrary the world seems, we still must act – life goes on and things change – and thus there is such a thing as evolution, both on the individual and societal level. So, for example, if the world is to continue changing in respect to homosexuality, it will. We all must act out what we believe is best – and silently. After all, articulating and providing live commentary on evolution as it happens is near-impossible. At the least it is very rare. So, before we try to see the world change and see it as a place made up of individuals, we should attempt to come to terms with our ever-changing selves – which is a life-long endeavour in itself. We live in a world of smoke and mirrors, nothing more, and so the best thing to do is most probably to look down at your feet as you start walking and keep an eye on where you’re going if you can.
This is the phenomena and theory that this film depicts through it’s story, formally, this is also the phenomena and theory that this film embodies, but, if watched correctly, this is the phenomena and theory that this film will trap you in. By asking a very silly, yet very profound and complex question in the way it does, Interior. Leather Bar. says so much via pantomime. The only way to react to this is, in itself, also pantomime. And this is the inescapable reality of this narrative. All I can then say is that I hope this makes sense to you, but also: have you see this movie? What are your thoughts on all we’ve covered here?
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