“Cruising” for a Big Ole Bruising


I can’t say I’ve been surprised by the way that the 1980 movie “Cruising,” which arrives on DVD September 18, has been defended by a few younger film critics and ogled with interest by twentysomethings I know for whom anything pre-Paris constitutes ancient history. For the critics, this movie about a murder among the S & M gay scene in New York in the late 1970s offers an occasion for revisionism. For the group that the post-stroke Bette Davis used to call “those kids,” the film, starring Al Pacino (pictured here), offers a chance to experience Manhattan when it retained some legitimate edge. While I’m all for the discussion the DVD has turned up, I’ve been annoyed by the distortion of facts about the movie’s production history emanating from its director, William Friedkin. Thus Mark Harris’s piece on EW.com is welcome for its attempt to set the gay record straight. After the jump, Tom Steele, who was involved in some of the initial protests to Friedkin’s film when it was being shot in New York, offers some additional historical context.

TOM STEELE writes: I followed your Lemonwade
> link to Mark Harris’s “Cruising” story. Very
> interesting. But what Harris doesn’t realize is how the protests
> started. Arthur Bell, Ethan Geto, Chuck Ortleb, Vito Russo, and I
> gathered at a friend’s apartment in the West Village in the spring of
> 1980. The friend had “obtained” (through Hollywood spies) a copy of the

shooting script of “Cruising,” which was about to begin filming on
> location in the Meatpacking District and around town. That script was
> completely different from what was eventually shot. The subtext of
> the script was: the only solution to the sickness that is
> homosexuality and S-M is to kill as many gay people as possible. We
> were all horrified — there was a lot of anti-gay violence going on as
> it was. (Interestingly enough, the cover story of the first issue of
> the New York Native, which came out in November 1980 after “Cruising” was released, and of which I was the editor, was about a man who opened fire on a gay bar on
> Christopher and West Streets and killed gay men.) Harris
> wisely provides good sociological context, but I thought someone
> should know about the true origins of the protests. So there you go!

Leave a Comment