William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) startled filmviewers by portraying a serial killer of gay men who enjoy sadomasochistic sexual arousal, with an undercover cop who was straight. Hard, released to the general public in Los Angeles in midsummer 1999, ups the ante on Cruising by focusing on closeted gay homicide detective Raymond Vates (played by Noel Palomaria). Director John Huckert goes beyond Cruising by supplying much more blood on his corpses and far more extreme bondage scenes to produce a film that he expects may become a genre film but not, due to the gore, a commercial success. Similar to Cruising, the film Hard is based in part on a true story—in this case, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer provides many of the ideas for the scenes. Unlike Cruising, the principal theme of Hard is not the investigation of an unknown killer; Jack (played by Malcolm Moorman) is identified at the very beginning of the film as a misanthropic drifter and ex-con. Instead, the film focuses on how a gay cop copes with his homophobic colleagues in the Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, where the prevailing culture parallels Jack’s view that the death of gays (called “homocide”) is some sort of public service. At first, Vates tries to keep his sexual identity in the closet, but he does not fool Jack, who has seen him investigating at the scene of one of the bodies. When Vates encounters Jack at a gay bar while looking for the killer, Jack seduces him; in the morning after the two sleep together, Vates awakens to find that Jack has handcuffed him to his bed and has stolen his LAPD shield. He then has to come out to his partner Tom Ellis (played by Charles Lanyer), who is accepting because Vates is an excellent detective. When Vates’s police shield shows up in the mouth of the next victim, however, he becomes a suspect, so Internal Affairs learns that he is gay, and the word spreads to his Homicide colleagues, who taunt Vates with homophobic discourse, and then beat him up with impunity after work in the presence of his boss, Captain Foster (played by Bob Hollander), whereupon he believes that he has no recourse but to resign from the force. Indeed, LAPD Sergeant Mitchell Grobson, the first police officer in the United States to sue for discrimination based upon sexual orientation, makes a cameo appearance in the film as Brent. To further underscore the realistic theme of the film, Filipino-American Palomaria has admitted that he went to two police departments to learn how to be an authentic homicide detective, but the first police department cut short his training when he disclosed that he would be playing a gay cop. Hard is conceived as the first of a trilogy to deal with perhaps the most pressing fear that has terrified gays for millennia—the willingness of non-gays to look the other way while those in authority act as anti-gay vigilantes. Unlike Cruising, where sadomasochism and leather bars alone are presented as sensational elements, Hard also looks into the darkest elements of our society, in which so many heterosexists are hysterical about wanting to deny any authentic recognition to same-sex love relationships. Thus, at the end of the film, Vates asks, albeit disingenuously, “Where does all the hate come from?” In a culture where certain religious and political leaders seem determined to institutionalize homophobia, preferring Condemnianity to Christianity, it is no accident that gays often live with internalized homophobia, as portrayed so eloquently in William Friedkin’s Boys in the Band (1970). In Hard, we should not be surprised that a few gays whose internalized homophobia is most extreme—masculine gays—turn out to be either sadistic or masochistic or both. The Political Film Society has nominated Hard for an award as a 1999 film focusing on human rights–showing how police persecute gays rather than treating them as ordinary citizens with as much rights as everyone else. MH
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