"Subversive and Controversial"
Written and Directed by William Friedkin. Friedkin directed (The French Connection (1971), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), and the relatively recent Killer Joe (2011)). Based on a novel by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker. Cinematography was by James A. Contner and Music by Jack Nitzsche and Egberto Gismonti
The film stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, Paul Sorvino as Captain Edelson, Karen Allen as Nancy Gates, Richard Cox as Stuart Richards, Don Scardino as Ted Bailey, Joe Spinell as Patrolman DiSimone, and Powers Boothe as Hankie Salesman.
Here is a film that pretty much fell off the face of the Earth once it's theater run was over. This was my first viewing and what sparked that decision was the reviews I glanced at that mentioned it's dark and gritty nature. I've since found out that the eight week shooting of the film was fraught with controversy, and blamed on a negative piece written by The Village Voice columnist Arthur Bell.
In a New York Times interview Friedkin feels that the gay community "have labeled him, unjustly, as homophobe. “Anyone who knows me or knows anything about me knows that I am not antigay,” he said. “I don't make a film because I'm against something. For that matter, I don't make a film because I'm for something —don't make propaganda. If anything, all the films I've made are enormously ambiguous."
Friedkin goes on to say that "The book struck me as a very unusual murder mystery,” he said. “Not unusual from the standpoint of homosexuality, but because of the way the three main characters were poised against one another.”
In researching the book for the film Friedkin, with the help of his NYPD friends from his The Fremch Connection shoot, "he began to visit the best‐known New York bars that cater to sado‐masochistic posturing." He was fascinated. "What struck me was the level of energy, and the total dedication to this fantasy world. It seemed to me to be very exciting. And unusual. And outside my own experience. Whenever a group of people are giving themselves over to something completely, whatever it is, it's of interest to me. Avidity is something that interests me. Obsession ‐ there was true obsession in these places. All the films I've made in one way or another deal with characters who are obsessed, driven, perhaps sexually confused, given over to a macho image, which is generally bluff, and living on the edge of danger.”
|1980 New York City|
|Al Pacino as patrolman Steve Burns|
|Steve Burns with Paul Sorvino as Captain Edelson,|
|Karen Allen as Nancy Gates|
|Don Scardino as Ted Bailey|
Body parts are beginning to show up floating about in New York harbor. The victims are gay men. NYPD Captain Edelson assigns patrolman Steve Burns to go undercover into the kinky underworld of gay leather bars down along the border of the West Village and the appropriately named "Meat Packing" distinct. Burns matches the over all general description of the victims. Edelson wants him to be the bait. Burns is instructed to tell no one not even his girlfriend Nancy Gates. The reward that's dangled in front of him is a promotion to detective.
|A grisly find|
|discussing the case|
The serial killer picks up men at various bars takes them to cheap flop house apartments has sex, ties them up and stabs them to death telling them that "you made me do this."
The M.O. a casual pickup
The movie plot is a mess. It purposely leaves quite a bit of questions about the depth of Burns' involvement into the sadomasochistic leather fetish Gay subculture. Is he Bi? Is He Gay? Is he just fucked up in the head? Burns as depicted is an enigma.
|Richard Cox as Stuart Richards,|
|Joe Spinell as Patrolman DiSimone|
The ambiguous treatment of the Burns character as already mentioned was an artistic decision that weakens the piece. The open ending Friedkin included because in the real police case that the movie is based upon it was determined that in fact there was more than one killer.
The strange sexually charged underground leather fetish S&M world was probably pretty frightening to a certain latent segment of square john America back in the day and probably still is. No denying its dark Noir-ish-ness. Hence the reason, besides of course, also having a lot of hairy musclebound ass on display, that the film has been off the radar screens.
The whole scene looks pretty bizarre on first look but then upon repeated glimpses throughout the film they look like quasi Nazi/Biker mirror shaded leather god worshipers in some desperately outré Halloween costume party.
The above all reminded me of an incident back in the early 70s before I left New York City for Montana. I had two best friends from high school, Walter & Joe. We were all in our early twenties. Joe took off for a college in Michigan for a couple of years after high school. Walter and I stayed in NYC. We together as each others wing man hit the singles bars that sprung up like mushrooms along 1st Avenue.
"By the summer of 1966, that small stretch of 1st Avenue was flooded on Friday nights with the police having to close down the street from 8 p.m. until midnight due to hordes of singles bouncing back and forth between bars like spaghetti-chasing tourists on Mulberry Street. By 1968, there were a whopping 85 bars on the Upper East Side, most of them singles bars." (Washington Post)
When Joe came back one Christmas time he brought along his then current girlfriend who was from white bread Indiana. Joe wanted to show her the city so we went barhopping along 1st, working our way uptown from 59th Street. It was all going fine until we hit this place called the Tambourine. None of us had been there before. It was crowded we got some drinks and pushed our way to the bacchanalia dance floor which had in its middle a giant phallus surrounded by wildly gyrating bacchants. Miss Indiana's mouth flew open in shock as she tried to get her mind around what she was seeing she stammered out at us "that's that's a penis!" I can imagine similar mind blowing reactions to this film across fly over country.
Anyway, the interesting NYC locations include Hotel St. James, Central Park, Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, Claremont Avenue, Manhattan, Chelsea, Manhattan, Broadway & 116th Street, Manhattan, Columbus Circle, Eleventh Avenue, Greenwich Village, Jones Street, Police Plaza, Manhattan Municipal Building, and West Street.
Screencaps are from an online screener 6/10