What We’re Watching – 9/28/2011
Cruising is the story of cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino), who has accepted the task of going undercover to investigate the murders of several gay men in New York City during the late seventies. He has no police backup, can’t tell his girlfriend what is going on, and all of the action takes place in gay S&M bars, which is not a milieu with which he is all that familiar. So he packs a suitcase and moves to the gay part of town, where he spends all of his time in bars hunting for the serial killer or hanging out with his nice neighbor, Ted (Don Scardino). As time passes, he changes, losing sexual interest in his girlfriend and having doubts that he can handle this situation. Things get more and more out of his control until he thinks he has found the killer.
Cruising is directed by William Friedkin, and one of the things that I’ve noticed in his movies is he doesn’t like to show the interior lives of his characters. Their motivations are often unclear, which can make their actions puzzling to the viewer. This holds true in Cruising. Burns takes the job to further his career, but beyond that, we have no idea of what is going on in his head. It appears that he might be questioning his sexuality, but it’s hard to know because we have only his actions to judge by. On one level it’s exciting, because you never know what he’s going to do. On the other hand, there are a lot of what-the-hell-is-going-on moments because the guy is a complete cipher. Pacino spends a lot of time with a completely blank look on his face; maybe that means he is thinking about something, I don’t know. Other people’s motivations are unclear as well. The killer might be killing because he hates being gay. Is the nice neighbor nice because he wants to get in on with Burns? Why does Burns’s girlfriend stay with a guy who doesn’t want to have sex with her or tell her what he’s doing? The only thing we do know is that Burns’s boss (Paul Sorvino) is going to get his ass fired if this killer doesn’t get caught.
And then there are the bar scenes. If this film has any accuracy at all, then gay S&M dudes in ’70s New York had a really fun, if kind of painful time. I did not find these scenes offensive, but more shocking in a too-muc- information kind of way. This film walks a very fine line; it is very graphic, but does not actually show as much as you think it does. But it still shows a lot. And there are a lot of guys dancing around in jock straps. Was this a thing? Or are the jocks just there to make the movie penis-free? I was, and am, confused. And I get more confused when I contrast the film’s matter-of-fact approach to the gay S&M lifestyle with the subtext that one’s disgust or fear of being a gay S&M dude can lead one to become a serial killer. (I think vanilla guys are exempt from this, but I’m not sure.) It’s yet another layer of opacity. Everything in this film is ambiguous and I can’t figure out if that is its genius or its downfall. I’m not even sure if the killer was the killer or what the hell was going on with Steve Burns at the end. I am just very confused and I wish I could stop thinking about this movie.
I haven’t been watching as many movies as I usually do because the fall television season has started and I’m trying to decide what shows I will keep watching and what I will abandon. I don’t usually pick up very many new shows, although sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. If you haven’t watched the first episode of your favorite show yet, please be aware that I will most likely spoil it.
Castle: This show sucks. It always has sucked and it always will suck. But it has Captain Tightpants himself, Nathan Fillion, and I will do what I have to do to make sure he has a job. But wouldn’t he have been great in the Rockford Files reboot that never got off the ground?
CSI: Hmm, I’m not too sure about Ted Danson joining the cast. I went into the season premiere thinking that adding him to the show might just be genius. Now, I’m not so sure. I mostly just found his role as the new night-shift supervisor to be annoying. Less because of any inherent qualities his character might have, but more about his relationships to the other leads. He is weird and strict, and none of the other characters know how to relate to him. They are also under review after Langston killed his nemesis last season, and everybody is really stressed out. I don’t actually enjoy the plot threads having to do with tension on the team, especially multi-episode arcs. (The “Ecklie hates Grissom” plot got very stale after the first few times.) I just want them to solve crimes and maybe have a serial killer that they hunt down over a season. Also, I like it when someone gets buried alive.
The one thing I really look forward to is my yearly episode dedicated to David Hodges (Wallace Langham). They are often very funny and humanize a usually completely self-serving and clueless guy. I almost stopped watching last year when they axed Liz Vassey, who played his love interest, but I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne’s Dr. Ray too much. My guess is this will be the season I stop watching, and probably after not too many episodes. I’m not really invested in any of the characters anymore. Marg Helgenberger is leaving the show, and although they brought Jorja Fox back, they haven’t done anything interesting with her.
Supernatural: I was worried that this season would be all about the Winchester boys fighting angel-with-a-god-complex Castiel (Misha Collins). The good news is that Castiel sent the souls that were superpowering him back to purgatory. The bad news is not everything in purgatory was a soul, and one of those things managed to hold on and take over his host body. (Angels are not corporeal; they borrow their human flesh.) I don’t think anyone was much interested in seeing Cas as a bad guy for an extended period of time, and having his host body do bad things, rather than Castiel himself, is probably a little more palatable.
This is one of those shows that I started watching because my daughter was a teenager and we had to watch all of the CW/WB/UPN shows. Over time, the boys have grown on me, especially once the writers loosened up a little and made the show funnier and more self-aware. I didn’t have high hopes for last season (the sixth) because the show was supposed to end after they saved everybody from the apocalypse in season five, but the ratings kept it going. It floundered a little at first, but the purgatory set-up eventually paid off with the descent of Castiel into human-level lying and plotting. His questions about the nature (and location) of God, ends justifying the means, and the limits of free will are what elevated last season above just being a monster of the week addendum to season five. I am curious to see how Castiel redeems himself with his host body taken over by a Leviathan.