Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)

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david hare
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#26 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:42 am

Michael, this is the very first thing (and the ultimate test really) that brought tears of furious laughter to my eyes in 1980 - Leather Queens in duty bars in the 70s NEVER danced! It's like pairing leather with tennis shoes at some twink joint in Munich. Incomprehensible. (And yes Brian I was there too - but seedier bars than the Ramrod, like The Toilet etc..) Your comments about the mindfucked POV get it in one. Leather semi-lite for people who dont care. Or know. But REALLY wanna care. Or just look. Or something...

A complete fantasy from a nasty bitter and twisted terminal closet case. And the opportunism was always totally breathtaking.

I presume Warner's spanking new Blue Wash print treatment is a ploy to capture the artsy-fartsy y-gen crowd.

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#27 Post by Michael » Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:11 am

A personal observation: poor Al, he seemed so awkward wearing plain old jeans. They made him look strangely pudgy - especially his legs.

About leather bars: I think the Anvil, the Ramrod and the Manhole all closed before I moved to NYC when I was 18 years old (late 1987). The leather bars I remember from that time were the Eagle and the Spike, both facing each other. The Spike was more to my liking - a stew of construction guys, t-shirt jocks, etc. Both bars long closed. The only leather bar in NYC today is Lure which I visited once.

Cruising takes us to the sex video booth of a porn store but it doesn't bother taking us to the backrooms of 70s leather bars. That should tell you how much people making the film did their homework. The scenes of guys dancing, grinding, interlocking their bodies out in the open like a giant Twister game like there's no life, like there's no tomorrow, like the backrooms never existed, provoke images of Sodom and Gomorrah - the impression I got from watching the film. But remembering the conversation I had with an older NY friend long ago, he claimed that the Anvil had men getting fisted out on display so I don't know.

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#28 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:37 pm

The key joints I recall in NYC used to be he Mineshaft and the Anvil but both had backrooms for action, including fairly specific routines - slings for fisting and wet areas for watersports etc. In many other bars - in particular a Sydney favorite called Signal during the late 70s early 80s the cruising/booth areas were farily nondesrcipt but slings were on open display and there were regular "events" like Slave auctions and fisting tournaments. The auctions were always entertaining to put it mildly - one was presided over by Grace Jones, in Sydney for a concert tour and the only woman ever allowed inside the place. The bidding at that one became stratospheric and she had more than a good time oblging the audience with a fairly knowledgebale exhibition of her skills as an S. It may or may not be ironic but the proceeds went to the AIDS and law reform compaigns running at the time.

As for Pacino the funniest scene (of many) is the colored kerchief diaolgue with the shop attendant. I don't even remember what "signal" he choose - beige?

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#29 Post by Michael » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:44 pm

davidhare wrote:As for Pacino the funniest scene (of many) is the colored kerchief diaolgue with the shop attendant. I don't even remember what "signal" he choose - beige?
Close. He chose yellow so he must like piss. Geez, I desperately want to scrub the Cruising stank out of my system, watching the to-be-released-on-this-Tuesday-from-Criterion Mala Noche (made only 5 years later) will be a revelation for me.

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#30 Post by Lino » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:43 am

I really wanted to watch this one for a long time and during this week I did just that. Twice. I went through all the extras and watched the movie again with the audio-commentary on. What follows are some of my thoughts.

What bothered me most about the whole movie was not the way S&M gay life was portrayed or even how close it resembled reality or not. This is only a movie and movies are works of fiction, given birth by people with a very personal perspective on life and human relationships. Anyone looking for accuracy in a work of fiction is deluding his/herself. Even documentaries are partly works of fiction because they unavoidably depict whatever its subject is in a subjective way - that of the documentarist. See Al Gore. Nuff said.

Now, what really bothered me about Cruising is how uneven it felt. The whole editing felt wrong and in the end you kind of feel that you've seen just another serial-killer movie, which is kind of sad considering the possibilities on offer. Midway through it, I could see that this movie was not about the killings or the killer himself (yes, the S&M gay life thing is merely a backdrop to a murder mystery, like Friedkin says on the commentary and watching the movie in its present format, I feel forced to agree with that statement) but more importantly, about a sort of descent to Hell by the undercover cop played by Pacino. In that way, yes, the bar scenes feel like a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah because that's exactly what the character experiences them like. Heck, even I was sort of scared at what I was seeing! And let's not forget that Friedkin's movies have been mostly about fear and experiencing extreme human situations - something clearly on display in Cruising.

But the thing is, the movie would have been much more effective if it showed us just how far down a personal hell the Pacino character went. That would instantly move Cruising to a pantheon of truly great movies about a character study. That said, I really miss the 40 minutes of footage that were excised prior to its theatrical run. And no, I don't buy for a second that they could not be found. I mean, come on! Don't give us that BS! I'm sure there must be some tight-arsed republican running around at Warner Bros. telling them what should be or shouldn't be released. The Devils, anyone?

Once again, we're not getting the full picture here and it really is a shame because all the while I kept thinking, "so when does Al kisses a guy?" or "will I ever get to see him get down on someone or vice-versa?". The mere fact that Pacino wasn't interviewed in the extras, I think really goes to show that we're not getting the whole story here. Even Friedkin doesn't sound convincing enough for me when addressing the cut scenes during the commentary. Pacino having sex with one of the Leather Queens would have made all the difference and changed the mood and the tone of the movie instantly. Because here is a straight guy that little by little is losing grip of what he really is or what he thought he really was. That would indeed make for a fascinating character study.

Here's hoping that someone has the balls to add those missing 40 minutes (and we're talking about 40 fucking minutes here!, not just 2 or 3, people!, there are still a lot more going on than we'll ever know).

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#31 Post by justeleblanc » Wed Oct 24, 2007 11:57 am

I really liked the movie. I saw it as a metaphor for method acting told as a horror film, or an homage to a giallo film.

Still, I felt the reveal of the true serial killer and the few scenes that followed to be rather haunting and unsettling, I'm not sure why, and I found the whole ending to be pretty brilliant. I had to go back and rewatch the whole altercation scene again in the middle.

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#32 Post by Lino » Wed Oct 24, 2007 2:47 pm

I really thinks this one sums it up in terms of Friedkin identifying with the Pacino character and wanting to do the film in the first place: from the imdb boards -
In the biography 'Hurricane Billy' by Nat Segaloff, Friedkin is quoted as saying "I've never had a homosexual experience. I tried one on Fire Island but I chickened out. I thought it might be good to go through this and experience it. I was seeing the gay lifestyle firsthand with Mart, as a kind of observer. And then I thought I'd get physical and I just couldn't, I just couldn't..."
You see, it takes balls to take on a man, you know? And I know what I'm talking about here.

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#33 Post by Gigi M. » Wed Oct 24, 2007 5:22 pm

Lino wrote:You see, it takes balls to take on a man, you know? And I know what I'm talking about here.
And why is that may I ask? You see, you either like men or you don't. It's not a big deal; it's confusing, but not tough.

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#34 Post by Lino » Thu Oct 25, 2007 7:19 am

Gigi M. wrote:
Lino wrote:You see, it takes balls to take on a man, you know? And I know what I'm talking about here.
And why is that may I ask?
Because being gay is for no pussies. It takes a lot to take on all the shit that comes with it. And you seem to be confused yourself because at first you say that either you like men or you don't and right afterwards you say that it's confusing. So where do we stand? Or where do you stand, Gigi?

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#35 Post by Gigi M. » Thu Oct 25, 2007 8:50 am

Lino wrote:
Gigi M. wrote:
Lino wrote:You see, it takes balls to take on a man, you know? And I know what I'm talking about here.
And why is that may I ask?
Because being gay is for no pussies. It takes a lot to take on all the shit that comes with it. And you seem to be confused yourself because at first you say that either you like men or you don't and right afterwards you say that it's confusing. So where do we stand? Or where do you stand, Gigi?
Sorry, Lino. I guess my response was confusing. I meant to say that being gay can be confusing at first, and maybe tough I give you that, but not after you're convince that you're gay.

Nah, Me, I like women man. Can't live without them!!!

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#36 Post by Michael » Thu Oct 25, 2007 10:03 am

Lino wrote:What bothered me most about the whole movie was not the way S&M gay life was portrayed or even how close it resembled reality or not. This is only a movie and movies are works of fiction, given birth by people with a very personal perspective on life and human relationships. Anyone looking for accuracy in a work of fiction is deluding his/herself. Even documentaries are partly works of fiction because they unavoidably depict whatever its subject is in a subjective way - that of the documentarist. See Al Gore. Nuff said.
Lino, I don't think whether Cruising is accurate or not is the reason why some people, like myself, dismiss the movie. (How accurate Pink Narcissus really is. :) ) There's more to it. It leaves the impression that every gay guy leads a very ugly life. Gay men are presented as being fucked up, weak, demonic, soulless. There's no balance or even a glimmer of good health and intellegence among them. Everything about it feels so faux. If it's supposed to be Pacino's POV, then fine! But the movie fucks up the POV big time, confusing and misguiding those who don't know better (esp. during the time when most gay men remained in the closet). It's a very, very ugly look at gay men, period.

Even with all the SM action, leathermen in drag, serial killers on the loose, the movie is amazingly flat and dull.

I'm only going to say this one more time: a far different kind of movie Mala Noche (made only a few years after Cruising) is the one that deserves all the attention; deserves to be discovered; it's the holy grail, the lost classic. Trust me.

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#37 Post by Lino » Thu Oct 25, 2007 12:40 pm

Michael wrote:Cruising (...) leaves the impression that every gay guy leads a very ugly life. Gay men are presented as being fucked up, weak, demonic, soulless. There's no balance or even a glimmer of good health and intelligence among them.
Not true. There is a gay character in the movie that is equally good-natured, balanced and sympathetic: the next-door neighbour to Pacino (that eventually gets killed in the end by him, most probably). He befriends Pacino right from the start with no intention whatsoever to get him to bed and a true friendship grows between these two characters, one that the Pacino character really appreciates and is fond of.

The fact that Pacino is able to kill him just to make sure that this particular episode of his life will never be discovered (that's my take on it, anyway) is much more disturbing to me than the way S&M gay life is depicted in the movie. And let's not forget the most important thing about all this (and the reason why a disclaimer was originally attached to the beginning of the film at the time of its theatrical release): the S&M scene depicted in Cruising is only a segment of a way of gay life and should not be taken as an overall example. God knows I'm not into that!

Still, I can see that the movie pushes all the wrong buttons and it's quite clear why certain segments of the gay community were incensed. But as a piece of filmmaking, it really has a power to affect whoever watches it and I've always appreciated that, no matter what the subject is. A true artist has a right and a duty: that to shock. Otherwise he might as well stay put.

In the end, I'd still like to stress out that what we're getting is far from the whole story and that's why a full director's cut is mandatory for one to really appreciate what is really going on: the story of an undercover cop that gradually gets corrupted by what he experiences around him. The classic story of the fallen angel. You're only looking at the surface, Michael.

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#38 Post by Gigi M. » Thu Oct 25, 2007 1:33 pm

Lino wrote:The story of an undercover cop that gradually gets corrupted by what he experiences around him. The classic story of the fallen angel.
So, you definitely see the Pacino character switching sides at the end. It didn't seem that way to me; the man was just to involve with gay's surrounding that he needed to explode.

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#39 Post by Michael » Thu Oct 25, 2007 3:19 pm

Lino wrote:Not true. There is a gay character in the movie that is equally good-natured, balanced and sympathetic: the next-door neighbour to Pacino (that eventually gets killed in the end by him, most probably). He befriends Pacino right from the start with no intention whatsoever to get him to bed and a true friendship grows between these two characters, one that the Pacino character really appreciates and is fond of.
Yeah, but he is kind of queeny - another gay stereotype. I'm not stressing that "queens" are negative but in the eyes of the mainstream, they are. Keep in mind, this is a movie intended for the mainstream audience. But of course, he has to get killed anyway.
You're only looking at the surface, Michael.
Please don't make me to watch the movie again. :) I can't imagine I missed that much. It's such a ugly movie with nothing good or valuable to say about me and my friends.

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#40 Post by Lino » Thu Oct 25, 2007 4:22 pm

Gigi M. wrote:
Lino wrote:The story of an undercover cop that gradually gets corrupted by what he experiences around him. The classic story of the fallen angel.
So, you definitely see the Pacino character switching sides at the end. It didn't seem that way to me; the man was just too involved with gay's surrounding that he needed to explode.
Gigi, getting involved with gay people and their surroundings doesn't make you a killer, I guarantee you.
Michael wrote:Please don't make me to watch the movie again. I can't imagine I missed that much. It's such a ugly movie with nothing good or valuable to say about me and my friends.
By all means, Michael, don't watch it again if you feel it will get you in a bad mood. But it is my understanding that you already went into that movie with some preconceived thoughts about what you were going to watch and that may have clouded your reasoning and understanding of it. Feel free to disagree with me.

I feel so detached about that movie to not feel threatened or offended by it in any way whatsoever. Hey, I was only 6 when it came out! And you're reacting quite the same way a lot of gay people did over 27 years ago, which is a bit curious to say the least. It's an artifact of its time, a not very enlightened or enlightening artifact in fact, if you excuse my alliteration but so many gay-themed movies have come out since then that it's kind of silly to regard it as an accurate or negative portrayal of a certain segment of gay life back then. Now that we can see it with completely different eyes and place it in the context that it belongs (that of a director who jerks off to pictures of beefy guys but doesn't have the balls to fuck them or get fucked by them so he makes a film about a cop that is basically his alter-ego playing out the kind of fantasy he's been living for God knows how long), it is my reasoning and understanding that we can pass way over that whole homophobic tag that has been put to Cruising and concentrate on the Pacino character which, again, and I feel like I am repeating myself here and noone is listening to me, is the main focus and NOT the S&M queens.

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#41 Post by montgomery » Thu Oct 25, 2007 9:02 pm

I'd have to agree with you, Lino. Despite what Micheal says, it's not about him or his friends. It's not about anyone. It's a pulp cop movie that uses NY's gay s&m subculture as a major part of the story.
Now, obviously the portrayal of this subculture in the film is inaccurate. Whether this reflects Friedkin's ignorance, or if he had an anti-gay agenda, or if he simply didn't care and was just using it as a plot device, is an issue worth exploring. The film may be offensive; but I personally didn't think Friedkin had an anti-gay agenda, or even an anti s&m agenda. My feeling is that Friedkin was totally politically incorrect and had no concerns about accuracy, or representing positive or negative stereotypes. I think he wanted to make a movie about a cop's descent into a hellish, chaotic, dangerous underworld, and the NY gay S&M culture could be manipulated to serve that purpose (and allowed him to half-heartedly explore issues of masculinity, etc). Perhaps that idea is offensive. But I think it's no more offensive for Scorsese to portray NY as a hellish, chaotic, dangerous city in Taxi Driver, when, while it is a somewhat accurate portrayal of NY in the 70s, it wasn't meant to reflect reality.
I understand it's not quite the same. Scorsese didn't do any damage to anyone. Friedkin is representing a subculture, and what you could say is a minority group, and an oppressed, misunderstood one (especially at the time). Friedkin certainly didn't do the gay community any favors. But I also don't believe the artist has any kind of social responsibilties when it comes to his art. His ideas may be despised, and some ideas are certainly offensive. But when I watch this film, I don't see him as having a malevolent agenda. Whatever the flaws, they reflect poorly on him, and at worst, the film is often laughable. But I don't think it's a film filled with hate or even necessarily ignorance; just a complete lack of regard for the feelings of people watching it, whether gay or straight.
So, at the time of release, I can see why people would be up in arms about it; with few films depecting gay people at all, and the gay community misunderstood, Cruising couldn't have helped anything (though I'm not sure it hurt anything other than people's feeling). But today? It's a time capsule. Nobody thinks it represents reality, nobody would be swayed by its portrayal of anything. But it remains a pretty fascinating record of a long-lost period (not only of S&m culture, but also early 80s NY), and it's certainly fun to see where it DOESN'T hold up, as well as the few ways in which it does.
In between, it's a decent 80s cop thriller that has much to recommend to it, and much to make one roll his eyes. There are few films like it.

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#42 Post by Michael » Sun Oct 28, 2007 8:33 am

montgomery, I agree with most of what you wrote. True that Cruising is not about "me and my friends" but in a way it was, at least because it was filmed with the mainstream audience in mind. It was a mainstream movie. A Hollywood movie. Back in the time when almost no one had the type of exposure to the gay culture that we get today mostly in our living rooms. It has the fucked up "oh look! this is how queers are like" vibe, putting us in the display for those who have no exposure to the gay culture. Cruising was a very misguided, careless project and that could be very dangerous. Imagine back in the early 80s, an early teen struggling with understanding his sexuality and coming out getting his first glimpse of "gay life" from watching Cruising on, lets say, HBO or VHS. Without having anyone to talk to. All I'm trying to point out is that I'm blessed I didn't see the film when I was in my teens. And not become another statistic.

I think its unfair to compare Taxi Driver to Cruising. Cruising is completely insensitive to the community that still gets the most shitty treatment here in the US. Taxi Driver never dares to go that far.

But thankfully, the movie is no longer an ugly threat like it once was. I just don't like it.. it's totally boring anyway except for that one scene when Pacino gets slapped by a jockstrap-and-cowboyhat-wearing giant. That's very funny and you can see it on youtube.

Friedkin has never made another movie as astonishing and powerful and enduring as The Exorcist.

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#43 Post by Lino » Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:40 am

Michael, have you seen Bug? I think you will be surprised.

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#44 Post by Michael » Mon Oct 29, 2007 1:07 pm

No, I haven't seen Bug yet. But after reading Dylan's very thoughtful, wonderful review just now, I immediately added the movie to my Netflix queue.

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#45 Post by Nothing » Sat Nov 24, 2007 3:04 pm

Michael wrote: It's such a ugly movie with nothing good or valuable to say about me and my friends.
There's the problem right there. You (and the two Davids) are too close to the material, you feel personally attacked and are thus unable to appraise the film on its own merits. That many activists were protesting and interferring with the movie before it was even in the can speaks volumes.

I think, first of all, we have to clarify that this is not a film that deals with 'the gay community' but, rather, a specific New York-based S&M community at a certain moment in time. Let us then consider, uncomfortable as it may be to some devotees, that the allure of S&M activity - gay and hetero alike - owes something to the line trodden between consensual fantasy and violent rape and the pleasure of transgression against what is 'acceptable', 'normal' or healthy. We might even consider BDSM to be an active taunting of death - the transformation of pain into pleasure, fear into ecstasy. In such a game, a line can be crossed, play with the fire and you're apt to get burned. When Friedkin show us in CRUSING that death lurks beneath the surface of this world, not just within the 'other', but capable of infecting the likes of 'you', 'me' and Joe Six Pack (Pacino), transfering from person to person like Bob in Twin Peaks, this is not a condemnation of the gay community - or the BDSM community - but, rather, a general observation on the human capacity for, and fascination with, violence and an acknowledgement of a reality that exists both philosophically and in the form of actual events that inspired the making of the film.

And whilst we're on the subject, Friedkin displays far bigger balls than Scorsese, who ludicrously changed the skin colour of the pimps in Taxi Driver to meet politically correct concerns.

And finally, for Michael, which do you find more dangerous, a work or art or the repression of artistic freedom? Oh, and To Live & Die in L.A. is Friedkin's best.

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#46 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Nov 24, 2007 8:56 pm

Nothing wrote:And whilst we're on the subject, Friedkin displays far bigger balls than Scorsese, who ludicrously changed the skin colour of the pimps in Taxi Driver to meet politically correct concerns.
Assuming you're not joking (I admit I only skimmed the rest of the post and for all I know you're being facetious), this is wrong, and not even on an interpretive level, but on a sheer factual level. Go look again at the scene where Bickel sits with the cabbies beside the window of the cafe. There is a nice lingering shot of a couple of black men in big, feather capped hats and purple suits. Now, either they're just really stylish cats, or...

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#47 Post by Cronenfly » Sat Nov 24, 2007 9:47 pm

Mr_sausage wrote:
Nothing wrote:And whilst we're on the subject, Friedkin displays far bigger balls than Scorsese, who ludicrously changed the skin colour of the pimps in Taxi Driver to meet politically correct concerns.
Assuming you're not joking (I admit I only skimmed the rest of the post and for all I know you're being facetious), this is wrong, and not even on an interpretive level, but on a sheer factual level. Go look again at the scene where Bickel sits with the cabbies beside the window of the cafe. There is a nice lingering shot of a couple of black men in big, feather capped hats and purple suits. Now, either they're just really stylish cats, or...
I think that Nothing was referring to the Keitel character et al who are killed in the end, who Schrader originally invisioned as black (they were made white so as not to incite violence in the theatres, though, as you pointed out Mr_sausage, Bickle's racism is made quite clear elsewhere).

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#48 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Nov 24, 2007 10:11 pm

Yes, it's the image of Bickle shooting up a whorehouse full of black people to save a white girl that Scorsese and company opted out on. More true to the character and the story, but the film makes its point irregardless.

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#49 Post by Nothing » Sat Nov 24, 2007 11:26 pm

Cold Bishop wrote:it's the image of Bickle shooting up a whorehouse full of black people to save a white girl that Scorsese and company opted out on.
Yup, a total cop-out.

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#50 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Nov 25, 2007 12:14 am

Cronenfly wrote:
Mr_sausage wrote:
Nothing wrote:And whilst we're on the subject, Friedkin displays far bigger balls than Scorsese, who ludicrously changed the skin colour of the pimps in Taxi Driver to meet politically correct concerns.
Assuming you're not joking (I admit I only skimmed the rest of the post and for all I know you're being facetious), this is wrong, and not even on an interpretive level, but on a sheer factual level. Go look again at the scene where Bickel sits with the cabbies beside the window of the cafe. There is a nice lingering shot of a couple of black men in big, feather capped hats and purple suits. Now, either they're just really stylish cats, or...
I think that Nothing was referring to the Keitel character et al who are killed in the end, who Schrader originally invisioned as black (they were made white so as not to incite violence in the theatres, though, as you pointed out Mr_sausage, Bickle's racism is made quite clear elsewhere).
Ah. In which case the whole argument just makes me shrug. The last thing I'm thinking about while watching half of some guy's hand blow apart is "balless cop-out."

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