The symbiotic relationship between celebrities and their adoring public is an interesting one. And it's films like James Franco's FRANCOPHRENIA (OR PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME TYPE OUT THE FULL TITLE EVERY TIME)
that force me to consider my own role in the perpetuation of the fame game, as both a cinephile and a writer.
So after some not-so-careful consideration, I've come to the conclusion that the relationship I have with the celebrity known as James Franco comes with a certain amount of baggage. (Notice I use the term "celebrity" as opposed to actor or artist. My connection to Franco as an artist is an entirely different one, although the two do tend to influence each other.) I'm puzzled as to where his popularity originated. His Deanish good looks? The Spiderman films? Playing David Gordon Green's stoner muse? I liked him enough as an actor in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours
, but he didn't really register on my radar as a celebrity until his ill-fated stint co-hosting the Oscars. That's when I thought, damn, this guy's kind of a douche.
It was also around this time that he started snatching up the options on a host of cool literary properties, ranging from Faulkner to McCarthy to one of my personal favorites, Steve Erickson. In a recent interview
with the man, I asked Erickson how he felt about Franco taking on his novel, Zeroville
. I told him point blank that I didn't think Franco was the right man for the job. He diplomatically responded that the right man for the job was anyone with passion for the project, and Franco had that in spades. Well played, Steve. Well played...
Despite all this, I am very much looking forward to Franco's K-Feddish turn in Harmony Korine's upcoming Spring Breakers
. Recent set photos seem to indicate this is a good pairing. I was also sufficiently intrigued by the synopsis of Francophrenia
to go and check out said experimental doc.
Some backstory: Back in 2009, in a now classic, "What the fuck was he thinking?" move, Franco booked a recurring gig on daytime soap, General Hospital
. He played a multimedia artist named- wait for it- James Franco, who also happened to be a serial killer. Franco claimed the whole thing was one big piece of performance art, but this meta-move left critics cold, and they retaliated by eviscerating him in print.
But the joke was on them. During a marathon day of shooting at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, Franco hired a crew to film the behind the scenes happenings on the soap. They captured a tuxedoed Franco graciously interacting with actual fans (who were there to portray fans of Franco the character), a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, and the now infamous Don't Kill Me I Know Where The Baby Is scene. He then handed the over 40 hours of footage off to award winning filmmaker, Ian Olds, with instructions to craft an experimental documentary out of it.
And craft he did. The end product is a tongue in cheek thriller cum deconstruction that features James Franco the actor teetering on the brink of insanity as he is consumed by James Franco the character.
Or something like that. It's all very abstract, and, one could make the argument, pretentious. Me, I was expecting to have a more visceral reaction, erring on the side of vitriol (which usually makes for a fun review). But while I found Francophrenia interesting, in theory, and quite funny in parts, it just didn't wow me.
But is a film like this really supposed to? Probably not. Although that doesn't mean these types of experiments are a waste of time. Franco and Olds raise some valid questions about celebrity, and have some self-deprecating fun along the way.
Still, even at 70 minutes the premise feels stretched thin, and while the faux Franco voiceover provides some much needed humor, it quickly becomes repetitive. Francophiles who just want to pinch Jamesies cheeks and be entertained will surely find it lacking. Anti-Franco guerrillas will find plenty to hate. The rest of you, like me, probably fall somewhere in the middle. At the very least, Francophrenia makes for a good festival film, and should provoke some lively post-screening discussions.
And the machinations of fame continue to grind...