QFest got kicked off in a downpour Friday evening. After an opening night on Thursday, the screenings started with regularity at (about) 5pm, 7pm and 9pm intervals. On this night, we saw Meth Head and Interior. Leather Bar. After perusing City Paper’s graded mini-reviews, taking a solid look at the Fest’s in-hand guide and previewing Before You Know It by talking to PJ Raval, these two titles caught my eye, and I wanted to go for a back-to-back viewing binge. I was only mildly disappointed, but almost entirely with the former title; Leather Bar was pretty wild.
Anyone going into a viewing of a movie called Meth Head and expecting anything less than darkness is kidding themselves, right? With the knowledge that the film’s going to address addiction and the ensuing conflict that radiates from crystal meth’s relentless grip, one would be pretty foolish to expect puppies, roses and cotton candy. And it’s an eye-opening film for the way in which one story of meth’s devastating power can help illuminate how an addict’s mind works and what it takes to ask for help. But the success of this particular movie essentially rides on the shoulders of its protagonist, Kyle (played by Lukas Haas, perhaps best known to my generation as The Pin in 2005’s Brick). Whether we care about Kyle and what happens to him is the question. The answer to me is sometimes, but essentially no.
Part of the appeal of Meth Head is Wilson Cruz, who plays Kyle’s loving boyfriend, Julian, forever (for better or worse) known to greater audiences as Ricky from My So-Called Life. The man’s a trailblazer, and as an out actor, his sex appeal isn’t a hindrance. The dude is fit. And in an opening scene, Kyle floats towards a shirtless Julian in a pool on his birthday and asks him to marry him. This is their happiest moment—because minutes later, they meet Dusty (Blake Berris), a creepy photographer who offers them a snort of crystal at a fancy red-carpet party in L.A. where a celebrity spotting includes Lindsay (Thea Gill) from Queer As Folk. Soon, Kyle and Dusty are pissing Julian off with their cavorting, and you start to lose sympathy for Kyle because why would you turn down Wilson Cruz begging you to stay in and get cooked for and watch a movie in his muscular arms?
Funds run out for smack, and they start hustling—and that’s when things get really grimy. Dusty’s straight, it seems, and has a fucked up relationship with a woman named Maia (played with a fair amount of complexity by a beautiful Necar Zadegan), who leads Dusty and Kyle deeper into a dark hole. The show is nearly stolen by an exceedingly charming Candis Cayne, playing a neighbor named Pinkie, a guardian angel-esque figure who insists on referring to herself in the third person. The trope of Kyle’s interest in interior design butting heads with his butch father’s proclivity for manliness is trotted out as a reason for why Kyle’s always felt self-destructive—and inevitably ends up being what saves him. What could be the most satisfying aspect of the film is seeing exactly how meth takes over a body and knowing that the drug’s destructive powers are enough to never, ever let myself, or any friend, put lips to one of those creepy pipes.
It’s the third installment of Travis Matthews’ series of shorts in which he very intimately interviews (in this case) eight men in their bedrooms and bathrooms, talking about sex, love, hookup and apps. As a man in 2013, this shit is fascinating. Seeing men speak so frankly to a stranger behind a camera about how they size up potential fuck buddies is beyond compelling filmmaking. These guys are often fascinatingly brazen in how bluntly they talk about how they want to be perceived, what kind of courtship they’ll endure, how a man makes them feel or how they want a man to make them feel. The fine line between intimacy and physical expression is teased out; does cuddling, hugging and holding a stranger sometimes feel more satisfying than holding the complex boyfriend whose secrets you know? Is it slutty to just want a quick release and not want any future communication or human nature? There’s lots of skin in this one – NC 17 for sure. But the nudity and matter-of-fact malaise of these subjects complements and encourages brutal honesty about oneself and sex. Easily one of the most compelling moments of queer film I’ve experienced to date.
Disclaimer: I’m a James Franco fan. And it turns out, I’m not alone. The film’s been selling out nearly every time it screens. An exploration of the footage from the 1980 Al Pacino-starring cult classic Cruising which was left on the cutting room floor in order to obtain an R rating, this film is exactly that—an exploration. They don’t even really know what they’re doing at the beginning of the film, and the idea of “meta” applies to this short work on multiple levels. Franco paired up with a gay filmmaker, In Their Room’s Travis Matthews, and the film documents their toying with the idea of re-envisioning what the discarded, seemingly X-rated cellulose would have looked like. This includes casting men for gay sex scenes made to look like a 1980 New York City BDSM leather bar, and most significantly a young Pacino character (the stunningly handsome Val Lauren), who’s really a straight detective investigating a series of murders perpetrated by someone preying on the patrons of gothic leather bars.
Sadly, too much of the film focuses on the feelings of Lauren and how hesitant he is to kiss or fuck a man on camera, even if Franco, a man he greatly respects and with whom he’s performed many times on stage, directs him to. There are a couple scenes in which straight actors have been cast to be gay bar patrons, and they discuss their sexualities and what they will or won’t do on camera. As it turns out, there isn’t too much in the way of actually recreating the lost footage,but way more time is spent talking about how vulgarity and graphic sexuality shouldn’t be something of which the American public is afraid. In the best scene in the film, Lauren grills Franco about what they’re doing (they don’t really know) and why. There’s also, in Interior, a significant amount of cock, but it’s not gratuitous, and it rightly belongs in a 30-year-dated scene at a leather bar. Some interesting issues come about in its hour-long run time, but the filmmakers aren’t even sure exactly how to deal with them. And that’s, inevitably, what makes the film flawed enough to question its intent.