Stop the Movie (Cruising)

The following are answers to questions posed to me by Dr. Dennis Göttel of Leuphana Universität Lüneburg:

DG: Could you tell me something about the aesthetics of the movie?
JH: Much of the aesthetic nature of the film is simply derived from the way it was made. I shot on out-of-date Super-8, mostly black & white, but some color as you can see. I processed the film myself. Much of the film was shot at night in poorly lit sections of the city, so I had to push the film several stops in order to get a viewable image. This is why it’s so grainy, but I love that pointillist effect.
At the time, I was very interested in gesture and exploring faces in the crowd. I tried to pick people out of the group to explore how they looked, how they behaved, how they gestured. I didn’t want it simply to be a roaming mob as demonstrations are usually portrayed. I wanted it to be a collection of individuals with differing intentions. Unfortunately, much of this detail is lost in the bad transfer.
DG: Is there a reason why you didn't use sound?
JH: I was shooting on a Super-8 camera with out of date film which was all I could afford. So it was primarily a practical decision.
I’m not sure that I would have shot sound film even if I could afford it. At the time, I believed that film was a visual medium and sound distracted from really looking at the image. Also, sound, and especially music, was used primarily in a manipulative manner to evoke a specific emotion in the audience. I wanted each member of the audience to experience it in their own way.
However I did originally conceive of the film as having sound. If you look closely, you can see that many of the demonstrators have whistles in their mouths. The overwhelming sensation from these demonstrations was the sound of dozens, maybe hundreds of whistles echoing off the canyons of New York, the effect is all-encompassing. In fact, you can see numerous people with their fingers in their ears. I intended to distribute whistles to the audience and have them continuously blow them during the screening of the film to give the impression of what it was like to be in the midst of these demonstrations.
I once did a screening for an ACT UP event and was asked what the main chants were. Embarrassingly I couldn’t remember any. Primarily that was because of the whistling being overwhelming. However, in the last demonstration in Times Square, it is easy to lip-read the activists saying “No More Shit!”

DG: Was there a specific purpose for filming the protests, for example screening it in particular cinemas?
JH: This was a summer of great ferment in the gay community. The first National March for Lesbian & Gay Rights would be in October and planning was in full swing. The Dan White decision came down in May. So the entire summer was filled with protests. I wanted to document that, although in my own experimental way. It’s impossible to remember exactly what I had in mind 35 years ago, but I probably assumed it would be shown at avant-garde showcases like Anthology, Millennium, San Francisco Cinematheque, LA Film Forum. I don’t think it showed in any of those places until many years later.

DG: Does your movie capture one or more demonstrations?
JH: Looking at it now, I can discern 4-7 demonstrations. Many more demonstrations occurred. There might be others among my outtakes, but frankly I don’t know. It’s important to remember that in the time before the internet with Facebook etc. organizing was much more cumbersome.
Here’s how it worked: First, there was a mole in the production who fed information to Arthur Bell (an important Gay journalist who had a column in the Village Voice) and others. The mole leaked copies of the script and the script was continuously re-written as the demonstrations had their effect. The original screenplay was much more homophobic and uninformed about the queer community. So we would know where the production was being filmed. Handwritten and Xeroxed flyers would appear in Sheridan Square. People would telephone each other to find out when and where the demonstrations were going to be. The National Office for the March on Washington served as a central information outlet. People would call or go there for the latest information. I was working full-time so I couldn’t go to the daytime demos. Some nights I didn’t have enough time to go back to my apartment for my camera.

DG: Do I get it right that one purpose of the protests was to directly disturb the shooting of "Cruising" on location through noise?
JH: That was definitely one of the tactics. If you listen closely to the scene at The Bar, you can hear the faint sound of whistles. I also remember one night they were filming on West Street in the Village and we got close enough so that a few people could pick up one of the cables supplying electricity to the lights and just pulled one until this giant light crashed to the ground.

Digital transfer made possible by a grant from the Al Larvick Conservation Fund.