Cruising together: Cruising (1980)


My university library had the best VHS collection. Rows and rows of celluloid classics, stuffed inside plastic-encrusted boxes with cringe-worthy cover art.

I’m not sure how I stumbled on Cruising, but I remember it was in said library, one humid day in December 2000. I was vaguely familiar with the controversy that raged about the film’s allegedly hostile representation of gay male subcultures.

And I hope that my encounter with this film was unrelated to the godawful Huey Lewis/Gwyneth Paltrow cover version of Smokey Robinson’s Cruisin’, which was climbing the pop charts around that time.

(On the other hand, said tune has provided me with a snappy title for this blog post. So thanks, Huey and Gwyneth!)

Unlike many of the movies discussed here on Video Shop Daze, I haven’t revisited Cruising since my initial one night stand on that hot evening so many years ago. So what you’ve got here are my memories. Memories that are as faded and yet fiercely held onto as the images on a tape that’s been sitting in a suburban video store for almost two decades.

You’re gonna fly away/Glad you’re goin’ my way/I love when we’re cruising together.

Okay, I’m getting distracted …

            Yeah, so Cruising is set in early 80s New York. And we know it’s the early 80s cos of the proliferation of poodle hairstyles. Someone is prowling the city’s leather bars, luring men away with the promise of pleasure, and then bumping them off in brutal fashion.

And so, the job falls to handsome policeman Steve Burns (Al Pacino, years before the coffee commercials) to stop this unseen predator before he strikes again. The ostensibly heterosexual Burns moves into an NYC gay ghetto and starts to frequent the venues where the killer’s victims met their fates.

The further along the assignment progresses, the more Burns starts to question his safety, not to mention his identity—sexual and otherwise. This questioning continues until the ambiguous final scene.

If the plot summary sounds familiar, then it should. Essentially, it’s the same plot that has animated who-knows-how-many noir films. You know, good guy Lawman finds himself being lured onto the dark side, and forced to confront his hidden/repressed/kinky side.

Here’s the original theatrical trailer, to show you what I mean. Old-school trailers are the best. Gotta love that foreboding male voice-over. How many foreboding voice-overs did this guy do? Who is this voice-over guy?

As with the classic noir, there are many shots of gritty urban exteriors and smoky interiors. This film is, however, much more explicit than your average 1940s outing. The camera lingers on the club activity with a fascination that verges on voyeuristic.

Flashes of sweaty, muscular bodies grinding to synthy New Wave music. Flashes of Al Pacino in black leather. Flashes of Karen Allen in black leather.

            Flashes of Huey and Gwyneth. (Okay, I couldn’t hold back …) gwyneth-paltrow-huey-lewis-600x450

            And who’s the killer? Who remembers? Not I. Though I suspect the question of whodunit is irrelevant in a film so packed with highly stylised debauchery. This is a film for those who like to watch, and not watch through a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass, either. This is a film about exposition, not mystery.

It’s 2016 now, and the days of borrowing videos in the uni library have ended. So, too, have those tiresome debates about ‘positive representations’ (okay, well almost …). Cruising tends to be remembered less as a Hollywood-sponsored hate screed and more as a piece of quaint queer nostalgia (hello Interior Leather Bar!).

Perhaps it’s time I did it. Perhaps it’s time I revisited this one.

I think I’ll pass, though, on Huey and Gwyneth.


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