A quick Google search reveals (well, confirms) that the snooty de rigueur critical terms ‘lyrical’ and ‘poetic’, which let you know that a film is serious art, rather than déclassé entertainment, pop up frequently with discussions of Claire Denis’ BEAU TRAVAIL, but only accidentally, if at all, with William Friedkin’s CRUISING. (‘Poetic’ even shows up as a plot keyword in the former
’s IMDB listing, whereas the latter
gets words like ‘perversion’, ‘evil’ and ‘stabbed in the back’.) Yet both films feature extended sequences of men with beautiful bodies, clustered together and moving in rhythm to music; both are concerned with men of uniform in their habitus, either diurnal or nocturnal, performing a ritual; and both argue for a certain degree of fluidity in male sexuality – however, degree is implicated by using highly different narrative styles. The “poetic” homophilia of BEAU TRAVAIL is more a suggestion through the recognition of the beauty of male movement, so any of its purported gayness has plausible deniability (like obsessive wrestling fans rewatching old matches of Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka), whereas CRUISING quite literally and graphically depicts the lure of homosexuality for even the most macho of men, NYC cops. If the object of audience identification, a straight cop, Steve Burns (Al Pacino), can catch it by breathing in the salty air of late 70s S&M clubs and dirty rags drenched in amyl nitrate, then you might, too. I guess lyricism and poesis don’t spring to mind when our hero is starting to get turned on by a greasy depiction of fisting.
That homosexuality might be taught, or that it could lure someone in, remains a controversial idea among gay rights advocates. Essentialism qua naturalism tends to be a more comforting thought, and not without some good reason. Religious demagogues work up the fear of right-wing parents by suggesting that their children might catch the immoral queer “meme.” Thus, the possibility that homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality becomes a way of assuaging these bigoted fears, or at least as a scientistic defense. But this has always been a fallacious debate. Just because something’s natural doesn’t give it moral propriety. If a murder-gene were found, society wouldn’t suddenly start calling murder moral. And so it goes with homosexuality: regardless of whether Steve Burns starts off as latently gay, or begins to become more gay as he goes undercover in the gay S&M outre-mer to investigate a string of murders is unimportant, the moral questions raised by the film shouldn’t be any different. Homosexuality is no more nor less moral for being biologically natural than heterosexuality.