Steven Spielberg, Al Pacino

Jeffrey Geller/ZUMA Press, Warner Home Video

Steven Spielberg has tackled extraterrestrials, world wars and testy dinosaurs, but the legendary director once had plans to conquer the seedy world of New York’s gay leather community.

The legendary director had unsuccessfully tried to make Cruising during the 1970s. The film, about a gay serial killer who picks up his male victims at leather bars, was ultimately made by Exorcist director William Friedkin and released in 1980. Al Pacino stars as a young cop assigned to infiltrate the bar scene to try and catch the killer.

Spielberg apparently tried for three years to get Cruising made before dropping out, said Friedkin, who eventually came on board when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to make the film. 

Friedkin hosted a special screening of the movie last night in Hollywood to promote its release on DVD. In the audience were Friedkin’s wife, former Paramount Pictures boss Sherry Lansing, and Dreamgirls director Bill Condon.

Friedkin said he “didn’t care much” for the script when he first read it, but he became interested after learning about the real-life story of an extra in the Exorcist who was convicted of killing a man he'd picked up in a bar. Friedkin actually visited him in jail at Rikers Island.

“He had told me he had killed him,” Friedkin said. “He said he was drunk and high. He sort of went crazy and hit him over the head with a frying pan and killed him.”

The movie was controversial, to say the least. Gay activists disrupted filming, fearing the movie would exploit negative gay stereotypes. The project also faced protests when it was released.

Friedkin has always maintained that he was simply showing just one side of gay life. He said last night with a laugh, “I’d rather go attacked than unnoticed.”

And Spielberg wasn’t the only big name once attached to Cruising. Friedkin said that before Pacino took the role, Richard Gere was signed on to star as the young cop.

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