Atlanta Film Festival Retro Spotlight #3: James Franco’s INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. Explores Lost Footage, Is Just Lost

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2013 By:

Ed. Note: INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR.  played Thursday March 21 at the Plaza Theatre. Today’s the last day of the  Atlanta Film Festival (Sun. March 24), and you can still catch encore screenings of festival winners and attend a party at the Plaza starting at 9 p.m. Check out our top Retro picks here.

Retro Review by Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Here’s the pitch: The release version of William Friedkin‘s 1980 oddity CRUISING is incomplete. The, um, problematic film stars Al Pacino as an undercover cop hunting a serial killer in New York’s gay underground, and it’s known today more or less as an ugly, backwards-thinking misfire that depicts gay men as craven lust monsters and deviants. In fact, some footage in the original cut was deemed to be too graphic and contained enough sexual material to land the film the deadly X rating. Cuts were made, 40 minutes of cuts, and since this happened in the era before home video and director’s cuts and special features, that footage is lost forever. Three decades later, directors James Franco and Travis Mathews imagine their own version of that footage and hire a batch of young unknown actors to recreate it. Franco and Mathews encourage the actors to find their own boundaries with the material, to go as far as they’re comfortable. For some of them, this means unsimulated sex on camera.

That’s a fascinating premise, but it begs so many questions. Franco and Mathews can reimagine this footage, but why? What point are they trying to make? What do you do with the footage when you separate it from the context of the film that inspired it? And what’s to be gained by shooting material almost certainly more explicit than the footage Friedkin shot? The actors Franco and Mathews hire ask those exact same questions throughout INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR., but they never get any real answers. Neither, I’m afraid, do we.

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. is several movies at the same time. One movie is the recreated footage. Another is a documentary about the making of that footage depicting Val Lauren, a friend of Franco’s and the actor portraying the Pacino role in the new footage, as a confused actor trying to make sense of the project. The last film is a meta-doc about the making of the doc, revealing that all or most of that material is scripted or staged. The result is a film that never seems to get its bearings about what exactly it’s trying to do, when the obvious answer is everything.

Val has the most screen time as the actor asks questions, stares wide-eyed at the sex happening in front of him on the set, and fields calls from a man who is likely his agent complaining that he’s doing “Franco’s faggot movie.” Franco appears in the film as himself, or at least a version of himself who appears gleefully willing to spoof his persona as a Hollywood big shot and all-around weird guy. Val convinces the nervous actors (and himself) that Franco must have a purpose for shooting this footage, but Franco himself can’t muster more than a few incoherent points, basically throwing up his hands and saying “why not?” whenever Val asks why.

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. takes a few well-aimed potshots at Hollywood hypocrisy, both in the content that it produces—sex, especially gay sex, can banish a film to obscurity, but bring on all the murders and gore you can carry!—and the people who claim to have artistic ambitions, but don’t really know what that means. But those points are the stuff that stuck after so many other things were thrown at the wall. Franco and Mathews want to declare that sex is beautiful and belongs in mainstream film, but their film is an outsider because of the explicit sex. For all of Val’s agent’s bigotry, he makes one valid point. People will see this film or hear about it, and immediately assume it’s a porno.

I must admit that there’s a certain thrill to seeing something so far on the fringes conceived by and starring a man who right now, today, is starring in a huge, Disney blockbuster at the local multiplex. But INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. feels like cameras were turned on and footage shot without a plan. Franco (the character) doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s trying to say. Franco (the actual) seems to want to say too much. Hollywood types, amIright?

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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From Robert Mitchum to The Fab Four: A Guide to Going Retro at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 15th, 2013 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The wait is over as the Atlanta Film Festival returns to screens today, kicking off 10 days of programming (March 15-24, 2013) for all the cinema junkies who need a fix (or merely a break from the cold wasteland known as March at the multiplex). As per usual, the festival is overflowing with content from new feature films, documentaries and shorts to seminars on the business and craft of filmmaking, and meet-and-greets around town. If you’re reading this, the safe money says that you’re looking for retro options, and as the title up there suggests, we’re here to oblige.  Here’s a quick guide to what’s retro at AFF this year, which by the way is headquartered at the historic Plaza Theatre.

Let’s start with the true retro bits of cinema history. The AFF is an Oscar-qualifying festival, so it caters primarily to new films, but a retro gem occasionally makes it onto the schedule. This year, you can get your fix at a must-see screening of THUNDER ROAD (1958). This Robert Mitchum moonshine exploitation flick is a ridiculously fun and culty movie, and it’s playing in its natural habitat at the Starlight Drive-In on Thursday, March 21 at 8:45 pm. There will likely be plenty of audience participation at the screening, and the same can be said of the THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), playing at two midnight shows on consecutive Fridays, March 15 and 22 at its home turf of the Plaza Atlanta, featuring the usual antics of the Lips Down on Dixie crowd.

The Plaza is also hosting an unusual new film with a connection to an odd relic of the early 80s. William Friedkin’s  CRUISING (1980) is something of an embarrassment today, a movie that purports to take a serious look at gay culture but winds up taking several ugly steps in the wrong direction. The cut released in theaters is bad enough, but rumors linger of a much-longer version containing 40  minutes of explicit gay sex and S&M material that would have taken the film to an X rating. The footage is lost, but actor and professional-insubordinate James Franco is teaming with director Travis Mathews to imagine that missing material and explore the nature of filming controversial, or even blatantly harmful, art in INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, a piece of “docufiction” playing at the Plaza’s upstairs screen on March 21 at 9:15 pm, or directly opposite the THUNDER ROAD screening, so some choices are going to have to be made.

If you’re interested in new films with a retro angle, you’ll want to look out for the Australian film THE SAPPHIRES, an adaptation of a play (itself based on a true story) about a group of Australian indigenous women who become a singing group for the troops in Vietnam only a year after a referendum expanded indigenous rights. The film stars Chris O’Dowd, the funny cop from BRIDESMAIDS (2012), as the group’s manager and has a fairly awesome late-‘60s style soundtrack that’s already found a lot of success in its home country. THE SAPPHIRES is playing the Plaza’s upstairs screen on Sunday, March 17, at 6:00 pm. Moving forward a decade, the new Canadian film BECOMING REDWOOD orbits around a young boy in 1975 who decides to beat Jack Nicklaus at golf as a play to get his parents back together. The quirky dramedy was a big hit at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and  makes its Atlanta debut at 7 Stages on Saturday, March 16, at 2:45 pm.

If you’re into documentaries, consider OUR NIXON, a new doc assembled from an astonishing find of home movies shot by some of President Nixon’s closest aides, like H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The FBI seized the Super 8 films as part of its investigation into Watergate, and they’re only now being seen by a public that long ago closed that chapter of American history. The footage is incredibly intimate and personal, showing a side of Nixon that’s literally never been seen before on film until now. OUR NIXON plays at 7 Stages on March 21 at 8:30 pm. For a hustler of a different variety, ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP presents a comprehensive look at the late pimp and author who helped illuminate a shadowy profession and redefine urban style and culture for a generation of young men. The Hughes Brothers once tried to mount an adaptation of Slim’s novel PIMP:THE STORY OF MY LIFE, but the project fell apart. Now producer Ice-T and his longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa bring Slim’s story to the screen. It arrives on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:15 on the Plaza’s main screen.

If you’re familiar with writer and all-around-badass George Plimpton, you know that his resume reads like one of those Most Interesting Man in the World commercials, which makes PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF the world’s ballsiest documentary for attempting to fit the story of his life into a mere 86 minutes. They’ll give it a shot on March 23 at 10:45 am at the Plaza. Film nuts will also want to keep an eye out for CASTING BY, a new documentary about the hidden world of casting directors, and how some of the legends in the field helped to shape the film renaissance of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The doc unspools at the Plaza on March 20 at 7:00 pm.

Music lovers will want to look out for two documentaries that shed some light on a couple of major figures. GOOD OL’ FREDA tells the story of Freda Kelly, a girl who started working for a local band and then spent a decade as The Beatles’ fan club secretary” as they became the world’s biggest band. GOOD OL’ FREDA, a film that began life as a successful Kickstarter project, plays at 9:15 pm on March 16 at Druid Hills Baptist Church. Meanwhile, SCARRED BUT SMARTER tracks the career and roots of Atlanta indie rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’ with two screenings at the Plaza’s main screen on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, March 24 at 6:30 pm. There’s also an after-screening party happening at the Highland Ballroom, although AFF’s website isn’t clear about whether or not party access is covered in the cost of your movie ticket. Stay tuned.

There’s plenty more happening at the festival, so for further information and scheduling, definitely take a spin on the AFF’s official website. Frankly, it’s exciting to see the AFF fully embrace the city’s many retro venues this year. The Plaza has had a strong relationship with the festival, but 7 Stages, Goat Farm Arts Center and the Starlight are all a part now, making the fest feel even more closely tied to the pulse of the city and its growing film community. ATLRetro will be present at a bunch of screenings, so keep an eye out and introduce yourself! We’d love to hear from you. See you on the other side!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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