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by Bryce J. Renninger
August 22, 2012 8:54 AM
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EXCLUSIVE: James Franco Teams With Gay Art-Porn Director Travis Mathews For a 'Cruising'-Inspired Film

Travis Mathews on the set of his James Franco collaboration. James Franco
James Franco is giving mixed signals. He's been a part of successful movie franchises, was Oscar-nominated, hosted the Oscars, had an extended run on "General Hospital" and made an art film about it that premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Now he's teamed with gay art-porn director Travis Mathews to direct "James Franco's Cruising," inspired by William Friedkin's controversial 1980 gay murder mystery "Cruising."

The film, which Mathews just delivered to Franco as an initial cut, was shot over two days. Elapsed time from first conversation to first edit: two months. 

"He straddles this superstar summer movie blockbuster celebrity life, and on the other hand he does these very low-budget art films," Mathews told Indiewire. "There's the people who know him for his blockbusters, but there's a different population that knows his gallery shows and that he makes semi-esoteric gay content."

Franco's work includes the five-minute homoerotic short "The Feast of Stephen." The film that Mathews and Franco are creating together is an examination of people trying to make sense of Franco as star figure -- as well as a documentation of Franco's attempt to produce a film that re-imagines the lost 40 minutes of "Cruising."

James Franco on the set of "Cruising" Travis Mathews

"Cruising," based on the novel by Gerald Walker, stars Al Pacino as a police detective who goes undercover in the gay S&M sex scene to investigate the serial murders of gay men within the subculture. The production, which shot in New York City, was picketed by gay rights groups nervous about the film's depiction of gay men. (Those protests are documented in Jim Hubbard's short "Stop the Movie (Cruising)".)

According to Mathews, Franco wanted to update the film, but he couldn't get the rights. As Mathews' gay art porn/drama "I Want Your Love" was getting press attention, Franco's people emailed Mathews to ask him to talk about the film. Within 24 hours, they were talking. 

"He knew he wanted real gay sex in it," Travis said. "His people went looking for a filmmaker who had filmed real gay sex, and I suspect someone who would complement his vision. We talked about why we would be interested in still looking at this film.  We talked about his interest in the film and his interest more broadly in so many gay-themed stories and visionairies. He's worked with so many in front of and behind the cameras over the years."

Mathews, who plays himself and directs, and Franco, who also plays himself and produces, decided to document the recreation of the 40 minutes that were lost from the film after an intense battle with the MPAA to change its rating from X to R.  

"[Friedkin] cut the film down at his own expense," Mathews said. "Recently, when he was getting ready to do an anniversary edition, Warner Bros. told him that the footage was destroyed. It's possible those 40 minutes implicate Pacino's character in the gay S&M culture. That was the place we started from as a launching point: James Franco's version of those lost 40 minutes."

To learn more about what those 40 minutes could contain, Mathews spoke to two extras. "These guys were real New York gays, patrons of bars like the one in the film. The production was so concerned with the protestors that the extras would be picked up by buses to be taken to the set at an undisclosed location."

As for Mathews' own opinion and recollection of the film, "The interesting thing about that movie is it gets short-circuited a bit too quickly in people's eyes. If you forget about the whole murder mystery backstory and you just look at the bar scenes, I think it's quite an insightful, important document of an important subculture, right before AIDS hits, in 1979 New York."

A still from the gay bar scene of "James Franco's Cruising" Keith Wilson

Mathews' experience on "James Franco's Cruising" left him feeling inspired. "We didn't have the luxury or the curse of all this time.  No time to worry or ruminate, just enough time to do the minimal amount of planning to make sure it all happened. It was great for me to see that I worked well under those conditions. I love that blurry space between something that's staged and has a certain level of scripting and direction. It made me want to revisit a bunch of different projects that I had thought of and reimagine them in a way that would be less of an arduous pre-production/production process."

Mathews hopes to debut the final cut in early 2013. An installation version of the footage will play at a group show in a gallery beginning September 12.  

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  • ivanildo bezerra de frança | May 28, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    a eu quero esse filme vai ser muito bom poder assisti

  • josh | January 5, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    It's 2013 gay marriage and life style is being excepted more and more each day .James franco instead of living out his homoerotic fantasies in movies for the world to see.He's need to just come out of the closet and get back to making quality projects and get better at his acting.Instead of sucking dick and taking it up the ass to shock people .Travis mathews IS NOT! and artist by any means .The guy directs gay porn this article even points to that fact out .I saw cruising and the movie wasnt about gay fucking thats for sure it had a message .It seems like JF is missing that message .I don't blame the gay protesters for protesting hollywood has a long history of misinterpreting other cultures .I'd be suspicious too if a supposedly straight actor teamed up with a gay porn director .To make a film from the gay POV you know it will be trashy .

  • Danny | October 20, 2012 6:51 PMReply

    James Franco isn't heterosexual and only an idiot would think he is. Franco is clearly trying to play a game with the audience but he's being a coward about it. It is the year 2012, time for James Franco to come out and declare he is a gay man. The Hart Crane movie was terrible except for the blow job scene and the gay sex scene with his co star.

    I think the public would accept James more if he just came out his contemporaries Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto are out of the closet it didn't hurt their careers to declare they are gay. So it shouldn't hurt Franco to come out as a gay man.

  • Peter Rabbit | September 9, 2012 10:46 AMReply

    "He [Franco] knew hem[Franco] wanted real gay sex in it," Travis said. "His people went looking for a filmmaker who had filmed real gay sex, and I suspect someone who would complement his vision.

    That is a bunch of hogwash. Hiring a gay porn director because Franco wanted 'real gay sex in it', is like hiring Larry Flint because you want to show women in a 'real day to day' activities. It will simply be a fantasized erotic version and not the 'real' thing.

  • Peter Rabbit | September 9, 2012 10:39 AMReply

    Franco's sexual preferences are irrelevant. What I find disheartening, is that at a time when gay rights is on the precipice of real steps forward; James Franco decides to focus on a movie like Cruising which depicts gay on gay violence.

  • Lilith | September 4, 2012 9:35 AMReply

    It sounds like Franco wants to make hardcore gay porn and is too shy to say it, wrapping it in some "artistic" vision. Guy, just do it and have done with it. Cruising was a terrible movie and I never wondered what was left on the cutting room floor. The whole film should have joined that 40 minutes in a trash container.

  • rene | August 31, 2012 3:39 AMReply


  • shelly | August 22, 2012 4:37 PMReply

    I find all Franco's self generated film work tedious and mediocre. No one would pay him any mind if he wasn't already a star. The fact that Sundance played that dreadful short is embarrassing.

  • mmmmmmmmm | August 22, 2012 4:01 PMReply

    @ Jesse - How do know he is gay or even biosexual? Who cares. Only, James Franco knows and if he is willing to tell the world, when he's ready he will. I just like watching everything this unique man does. Apparently, he has done 75 movies to date, and if let's say 10 of them, ends up being gay movies, doesn't necessary mean he's actually gay too, well unless he tells the world that he is.

    "Feast of Stephen" at the Berlin International Film Festival won the Teddy award for Best Short Film, so someone appreciated this particular short.

    "finding Franco's focus on violence among gay men to be disturbing", I'm pretty sure Franco doesn't discriminate on violence and has hetersexual movies coming out like Child of God, Spring Breakers, Iceman, True Story and Homefront that will focus on this. Hey, not that violence is the way to go generally people but such movies happen. James has also starred in homosexual positive movies like Milk, Howl, The Broken Tower and has slotted himself to do the biopic on Robert Mapplethorpe.

    Maybe, just maybe the gay community should give him a break. He does a lot for the community whether gay or straight. At least, he's not just a token movie star who does it once to win award and then disappear.

  • mmmmmmmmm | August 22, 2012 10:07 PM

    @ David, yes I have seen Feast of Stephen, and it's shocking, let's just say I'm more Tristan and Isolde, which he didn't direct but I love as one of my favourites that he starred in. I can't speak for him but he must have had his reasons for this format of interpretation. Importantly, why do you keep directing people to youtube to see it? It makes no sense, if you feel that strongly about it and his grown as a director since then. People either love him or hate him makes no difference but it seems he can't be ignored and he will not change. "suspect was partially due to the gay community's blind infatuation with Franco", how do you know it was just the gay community and it wasn't the mixture of both? "For me, it's not really different than if he'd made a film about a black man eroticizing being beaten by skinheads, or about women wanting to be raped", but such movies have been made in the past and I'm sure in the future too. Again, I'm not saying any kind of violence is the answer, it's always wrong but it happens in our society unfortnately, thus duplicated in movies at times, just be careful what you watch especially children even if the person is Francomagnet. "If Franco wants to come out, and explore his own fantasies of being beaten and raped, more power to him", why does Franco have to come out? He's done plenty of straight movie roles, straight people don't go on about him coming out and being straight? He just did a movie, which anyone can decide not to watch or watch. "But it's not ok for him as a straight or closeted man to ascribe those fantasies to gay teens who are regularly being bashed", again the ugly truth is out there and maybe Franco undertook some research first before he went into this project and not just blinded. The point is, you have an option to watch James Franco's Cruising when it comes out or Oz The Great and The Powerful which is a family friendly movie or both. Every movie experience has different level meaning to people, block the ones that disturb you, even if you watched it by chance or watch the ones you like. However, what Franco does best, he bring both homosexual and hetersexual movies to the table for discussion. Far more so than most actors or directors, so it's always interesting to me, to see what areas of direction that he will take next. The man played Daniel Desario in Freaks and Geeks brilliantly, why are people still surprised, the man is not going to change anytime soon, but just being him. He will continue to shock and inspire at the same time but to me never boring.

  • david weissman | August 22, 2012 8:35 PM

    @ mmmmmm - (I guess I'm the only one who uses my real name here) I'm curious if you've seen Feast of Stephen. I was appalled that it won the Teddy, which I'd suspect was partially due to the gay community's blind infatuation with Franco. He hardly needs us to "give him a break" as you suggest. I've long been a fan and admirer of him and his work, which is why I was so unprepared for the ugly thoughtlessness of Feast of Stephen. "Transgression" at someone else's expense is nothing more than exploitation. For me, it's not really different than if he'd made a film about a black man eroticizing being beaten by skinheads, or about women wanting to be raped. The film is utterly insubstantial and glib, and "transgresses" at the expense of a very vulnerable population, gay teens. If Franco wants to come out, and explore his own fantasies of being beaten and raped, more power to him. But it's not ok for him as a straight or closeted man to ascribe those fantasies to gay teens who are regularly being bashed.

  • mmmmmmmmm | August 22, 2012 4:09 PM

    hahahaha, James is probably turned on by nature too but I meant to say bisexual mmmmmmmm, sure you all got my meaning....

  • david weissman | August 22, 2012 1:10 PMReply

    I found Franco's "homoerotic" short film "Feast of Stephen" quite revolting. As I interpreted the film (based on a poem by a gay man), it was eroticizing the gaybashing of a teenager, portraying the boy as getting sexual pleasure from (or fantasizing about) being bashed. I would welcome hearing other interpretations of the film from anyone who saw it differently. But I certainly know of no gay teens who were bashed and found the experience erotic. And I think that having a straight filmmaker suggest such a possibility is completely inappropriate. I admire Travis, and have certainly admired Franco, but am finding Franco's focus on violence among gay men to be disturbing. Feast of Stephen is on youtube.

  • Driven | August 23, 2012 4:31 AM

    @David Weissman I suggest to clearly observe that my comment is regarding general art, not Franco's. I haven't seen anything by him, by the way and I'm not aware of his career and interest and it's far beyond me to give any thought on his sexuality. It is every person's business (artist or not, self proclaimed or by popular belief) to fantasize/imagine/wonder/investigate/etc. about what ever he wants, no matter how dreadful it is for the rest of us.

    I'm interested in rotten animal corpses and I fantasize being splashed by a truck on the highway...

    The list of films about "black man eroticizing being beaten by skinheads, or about women wanting to be raped" is endless and includes various keys on touching these subjects, including exploitation. Asian cinema is a feast for that matter.

    Although I understand the diversity in audience's tastes, censorship of creative stream is something I can't grasp, and usually the ones that aren't ready to face striking transgression, are faced with the ban of their own ideas sooner or later, because we quite live in very, very different worlds. What's repulsive for one, is intriguing for others, as far as anthropology can go.

    Meanwhile, I fantasize also on reading pertinent critique on his films, not generalities like how repulsive it is for some and how gay is Franco on a scale of 1 to 10, according to what his interests are.

    PS: What's wrong with signing comments under a pseudonym? Are you under some kind of post-Facebook spell where everyone ought to suddenly state their real name from toilet walls to every thing else? This is not a PhD paper and people should go back to enjoying pseudonyms, like poets used to, or at least not argue on others choice to enjoy one or 1001 more. ;)

  • david weissman | August 22, 2012 9:04 PM

    @driven - please see my comment above to mmmmm's post. It addresses some of the issues you raise here.

  • Danielle | August 22, 2012 3:15 PM

    I can see Franco being gay, or an overly open straight man. Like those straight girls that go around kissing other girls just because they can. I like him though regardless

  • Driven | August 22, 2012 2:51 PM

    I haven't watch the short film nor have I read the poem it is based on, and I don't need to watch it to be aware of the fact that globally there Are certified cases or merely confessional trivia of real victim fantasizing about its real assaulter, including sexual fantasies, no matter of our takes on the matter. Furthermore, transgression Is an art form, and it has evolved in so many directions. Nevertheless, even no one knows of "no gay teens who were bashed and found the experience erotic" why shouldn't be this a legitimate subject expressed through a poem, a film, a photograph, a painting, a theater play, and so on and so on, even for a private role-play playing out a fantasy? Anything is legitimate to be expressed through art, better yet - there's no such adjectives as illegitimate/legitimate for art.

    Art is not always pleasant to experience and what's not "legitimate" is to consider people who choose to experience/to create unpleasant art equally unpleasant as the art they choose experience/create.

  • Jesse | August 22, 2012 2:24 PM

    How do you know he is straight ?

  • Gotta love Mr Franco | August 22, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    I truly admire and love James Franco's project choices (sexy risk taker) and looking forward to seeing this new one. Don't know much about Travis Mathews but I'm sure both will shine, whilst importantly respecting Gerald Walker/William Friedkin's work.