Cruising Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Written and directed by William Friedkin
1980, 102 minutes, Rated R
Released on August 20th, 2019
Al Pacino as Steve Burns
Paul Sorvino as Capt. Edelson
Karen Allen as Nancy
Richard Cox as Stuart Richards
Don Scardino as Ted Bailey
Joe Spinell as Patrolman DiSimone
Jay Acovone as Skip Lee
Randy Jurgensen as Det. Lefransky
Body parts are turning up in the East River and New York’s gay community is the target of a serial killer stalking the S&M and leather bars of the West Village. Patrolman Steve Burns fits the victim profile with his dark hair and slim build and is recruited for an undercover operation by Capt. Edelson. Burns accepts the job as a means to fast-track his career to detective. He dives into the scene and begins frequenting various gay clubs. The job is affecting his relationship with his fiancée Nancy, as he is haunted by the things he sees. The killer strikes in Central Park and again at a peepshow booth in the Village. There are plenty of suspects, including some fellow police officers. How will this experience change Burns and can he avoid becoming the next target of a bloodthirsty maniac?
Writer/director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) knows how to tell a compelling story and frequently chooses difficult subject matter for his films. Cruising is a dark social commentary on gay life in the late 1970s, loosely based on Gerald Walker’s novel of the same name. Friedkin expands the story with several firsthand police accounts and recreates some actual crime scenes of the time. He also pulls testimony from street hustlers and undercover officers, going so far as to cast some of the officers who worked these cases as actors in the film. However, Friedkin cheats cinematically when it comes to the mysterious killer by having the role played by multiple actors that resemble each other.
The picture is fascinating and at times intense, but even more interesting is the story behind the scenes. Cruising proved to be a difficult shoot, met by angry gay-rights activists who held massive protests. They felt the material would cast a shadow and be counter-productive to the movement. People in the leather scene were more favorable to the production and appear in the film as extras filling the various clubs. Friedkin employed the testimony of several veteran New York cops for additional authenticity. Knowing this was a tough subject to broach with the ratings board, as the killings occur during homosexual sex acts, the director shot an additional forty minutes of steamy content that he would readily agree to cut in order to keep the edgy material he wanted. This footage has since been lost to time and has become something of a legend in Hollywood. Before release, Friedkin added subliminal shots of hardcore gay sex during the murders. It’s just a few frames per scene but it carries a significant impact once you know it’s there.
Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon, Hangman) gives a knockout performance as Steve Burns, the rookie cop looking for adventure. The case introduces him to a whole new world and forces him to confront some tough questions of identity. Pacino shines in the role and carries the picture with a skill few actors can channel. Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas, The Stuff) plays Captain Edelson with a sadness that suggests this man has seen more horrors than he cares to remember. Pacino and Sorvino have some great scenes together and work well off each other. The sole female character in the film is Steve’s fiancée Nancy, played by the always-welcome Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starman). She represents stability and the normal life Steve is used to, but the assignment tests their relationship. Allen doesn’t have a lot of screen time but has a great presence.
Cruising is a challenging picture that delves into a world largely unseen in mainstream cinema. Friedkin presents his story without flinching or judgment. He is more interested in posing questions than providing answers and the film came under criticism for its open ending. Looking back on this movie as it approaches its fortieth anniversary, times have changed and the environment may be more familiar, but the plot remains every bit as engaging. Setting a thriller against the backdrop of the gay community remains a bold choice and the filmmakers proved to be ahead of their time with this gripping story.
Video and Audio:
The original camera negative has received a full 4K scan and restoration and the film looks better than ever before. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image is rock-solid with increased detail absent from previous releases. Colors are rich and frequently pop while black levels are bottomless.
A newly-remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix spreads the music and effects tracks around the room for a more immersive experience. Dialogue levels are perfectly clear and free from distortion. The original stereo recording is also included in a standard DTS-HD MA 2.0 presentation.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director William Friedkin really knows how to deliver an exciting commentary and he is in top form on two tracks included on this release. On the first, he is solo and rapidly shares the facts and history of the making of the picture. He reveals information he received from both the police and members of the gay community. He addresses the protests and inflammatory material in the story and details a full history of this production.
The second commentary pairs Friedkin with filmmaker/author Mark Kermode and the director responds to a series of questions posed about the making of the movie as well as its legacy. This is another solid discussion well worth a listen.
The History of Cruising (21 minutes) is an interesting featurette recorded for the 2007 DVD release. There are interviews with Friedkin, producer Jerry Weintraub, members of the cast and some of the police officers who served as technical advisors on the film. Friedkin provides a context to events happening in the West Village during shooting and discusses actual crimes and police activity that influenced the screenplay. This is a highly informative segment you probably don’t want to miss.
A second archival featurette titled Exorcising Cruising (23 minutes) looks back at the controversy the film sparked during production, featuring interviews with many of the same participants as the previous featurette. Friedkin shares his thoughts on the material and what he was trying to accomplish and reflects on the film’s lasting legacy.
The theatrical trailer has been included.
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