Director: William Friedkin
Leading Actors: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen
NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Greenwich Village, Meatpacking District, Morningside Heights

When William Friedkin's thriller Cruising opened in February 1980, LGBT rights groups weren't happy. They protested the film as it was shooting and they protested the release, afraid that it would spread violent misconceptions about the gay community. Cruising, which follows a young police cadet (played by Al Pacino) who goes undercover to track down a serial killer butchering patrons of gay leather clubs in NYC, is a mess. It's a gutless picture that mistakes ambiguity for complexity, never letting the viewer get enough close enough to Pacino's character to fully negotiate the questions of sexuality and identity the film superficially plays with. In 2012, the fear that it would incite violence seems unfounded, but protests would still be in order for the mishandling of complicated material. Though the ideas are undercooked, the film allows contemporary viewers to look inside famous gay BDSM nightclubs like the Meatpacking District's Hellfire Club. The club scenes were shot on location and with extras made up of actual patrons (everyone owes there swag to Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising). Let Friedkin tell it, all he did was let the cameras roll. For that, and as an eye-opening look at how Hollywood thought it acceptable to portray gay life, Cruising is essential. —RS