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After his groundbreaking gay romp I Want Your Love, filmmaker TRAVIS MATHEWS has teamed up with James Franco to co-direct Interior. Leather Bar, a documentary about recreating censored footage from the iconic 1980 gay thriller Cruising.


 

How did you come to work with James Franco on this project?

Before meeting me, James had wanted to do something that referenced Cruising, exploring sex as a storytelling tool and the idea of boundaries in terms of sex in cinema, gay sex in cinema and censorship. He also wanted to collaborate with somebody who had already been making films with sex woven into the narrative. So, basically out of the blue, I got an email and then a phone call from him!

Why the interest in Cruising?

James and I were familiar with the history of Cruising and its problematic representation. Then we discovered that 40 minutes had been cut off the original film to secure an R rating. And it seemed like a perfect launching pad for our film. We decided early that this was going to be much more about our making of these 40 minutes than about us laying out 40 re-imagined minutes for people to watch.

Cruising is still generating discussion more than 30 years later.

I’m in my late 30s, and if you’re my age or older, for the most part, there’s a lot of ambivalent feelings at best or just a lot of hatred of Cruising. But younger guys have almost embraced Cruising as a fetishised artefact from the 1970s, this pre-Aids thing where the homophobia is almost amusing.

Why are Americans so nervous about sex on screen?

I think the root has a lot to do with the powers that be. It’s a bunch of straight white men who have historically been running the show. And I think that showing men excited with erect penises is threatening. I don’t agree with that – I think it’s ridiculous – but it’s easier to objectify women and to have that power than it is to have men as sexual beings on film.

 

Even a straight man naked causes a meltdown, like Michael Fassbender in Shame.

It’ll be interesting to see if this changes, because I feel like it’s one of the last frontiers in movies. There’s been a lot of sex and nudity in the movies I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean I think every movie has to have explicit sex in it. But the dynamics of having sex with somebody have not been explored to the extent that they could. I don’t know if that will change, but I have a feeling that it might. I’m super interested to see Lars von Trier’s new film Nymphomaniac and where he goes with that.

Well, you’ve already gone there with I Want Your Love, and we also have Stranger By The Lake coming.

Yes, we’re starting to see depictions of gay sex that aren’t necessarily one-dimensional.
I think gay storytellers, filmmakers and audiences have matured in terms of the stories we want to see and tell. We’re always going to have stories about Aids and coming out and homophobia or bullying, but I think there’s an opening now for stories where the sexuality doesn’t define the character, but it’s an integrated piece of who they are.

You seem to have made this your life’s work.

Well, I was frustrated that I was seeing very few honest depictions of gay life. I’m much more interested in an awkward sex scene or a funny sex scene or a failed sex scene than I am in one where two guys go at it and they’re hard bodies and they’re fucking and it’s just hot. We’ve seen that so many times that it’s boring! So it made sense for me to look into how sex can be something other than hard, pounding, fucking porn. Yes, that’s my work!

 

• Interior. Leather Bar. is out now on DVD/VOD from Peccadillo.

• A special screening of Interior. Leather Bar (with a pre-recorded introduction by Travis Mathews) and Cruising will be held at ICA (The Mall, Charing Cross, SW1Y 5AH) on Sunday 15th December, 3pm. Booking: ica.org.uk

• The official launch party for the DVD release will be held at The Hoist (47b South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, SW8) on Friday 20th December, 10pm-3am. Rumour has it that James Franco will turn up to offer his promotional services, there will be a free DVD giveaway and lots more horny fun to be had. 

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Bootylicious is a gay club night at Union club in Vauxhall, London

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