Dealing with My Francophobia and -philia (Part 1 of 4)
I have a problem that involves James Franco.
I can’t identify when it started nor why. One moment I was enthralled by Carlos the Elf and the next cry-shouting into a webcam about how James Franco was ruining higher education (in all fairness, I was drinking a little wine…a little bottle). The crux of the tirade was not that he wasn’t smart, but that this incredible “fanfair” surrounding his admission into 90 graduate schools and the fap fapping about his ability to “balance it all” was annoying - particularly as somebody also balls deep in the process of going to graduate school, teaching, and writing. I don’t admonish a man’s desire to go back to school; in fact, I dig how much that guy likes stuff - but I still feel as if he’s farting in my cereal regarding just HOW much he does and the quality of his scholarly work. Now…I have no basis for this and in fact, I fear it is my academic pettiness shining through. Or is that just an easy excuse for Franco to fall back on? Yeah. I know. It’s a circle of madness. One in which I’m a frequent participant. Too many times I’ve wondered “What is that guy’s deal?” and then spend far too long trying to put the pieces together until eventually my brain turns into something like this:
and realize I have to stop before I give myself an aneurysm.
I’m not sure if we can separate the obvious physical attractiveness with the talent. So often we provide super attractive people a pass with mediocrity in other fields, because we’re so surprised that they can do things. You’re gorgeous AND choose to read books?! Look at when any super attractive person is able to tell a joke on television. Remember when they put Brooke Shields on Friends and then gave her Suddenly Susan? Case. Point. Match. Have you seen Hot Flashes? Have you? Well, that’s the problem when we get our public consciousness dickmatized. We can’t separate the “ugh”.
I decided it was time to dive all in and study the works of James Edward Franco. To finally settle down and confront his deal, my deal, our deal. I am looking at four artistic endeavors - acting, art, directing, and writing. I’m not sure if I will find answers and I’m not quite sure that’s the point (if there is one). I just need to better sort out the bullshit from the persona.
I know some people may think this is all fun and games - but I’m approaching this with a critical eye - there are things I’ve liked and there are things that are like jogging through mud. This isn’t like when I tried to watch all of Leo DiCaprio’s films at 13 and thought each film was better than the other (they weren’t). I’m not going to bullshit - I do get lost in that guy’s curls from time to time, but I dare you try not to
I mean check out that volume … don’t be dumb.
Finding Franco: Writing Edition
Palo Alto (2010)
A collection of short stories based on his and others’ experiences growing up in Palo Alto, California. Short story: It’s not great, but not terrible. Three really interesting things come up in these stories -
First, is the blend of fact and fiction, which mixed with somebody who already has a high profile creates more of an interactive experience, which continues into Actor’s Anonymous. By mixing fact with fiction he dirties the water of his own mediated reality.
Second, the hollowness of the characters, which I have yet to figure out if it purposeful or a lack of depth on the part of Franco’s writing. One of the problems is Franco loves to read, which means he shoves a bunch of stylistic references and frameworks to the point where it reads like somebody very excited to write, but not provide any of the umph of a good story. There are some great characters and stories - potential - but in terms of providing complexity - there is none (despite the incredible complexity of some of the plots - a dude who sexually exploits a girl by providing her as a sex toy for dudes at parties, another girl who is seduced by her soccer coach, and kid who kills somebody in a hit-and-run but gets away with it). Perhaps the point is to make everybody in Palo Alto a character from the Hollow Men (that’s right, I’ve read some poetry, motherfuckers), but it doesn’t seem as purposeful as much as somebody trying really hard to contain himself.
Third, there are some weird stylistic techniques - like using brand names, which I guess are meant to enhance the realism, but read too much like he wants Bose to send him some headphones. He does it strategically, but I don’t know what battle or war he’s trying to win. The other thing is his love for “that” which he uses with impunity and often unnecessarily. Finally, is he love with lists and “and,” which I actually don’t mind. In fact, I quite enjoy repetition and flow and rhythm of using ands within lists as opposed to blunter commas. It helped balance out all the bullshit thats.
There were definitely times where I felt like I was back in my undergrad creative writing class and in order to write deep, meaningful stories all the chicks wrote about cocoons and abortion rooms. It was my greatest acting challenge, because I had to control my forever rolling eyes in that class. This all came down to certain turns of phrase or scenarios. Wandering, for examples, through the streets contemplating the world around him like Benjamin’s flanuer (that’s right, bitch, I’ve read theory too) or letting everybody know that the character was getting super into Faulkner (we get it). However, I also can’t be too hard on this considering it was A) his first work and B) he actually wrote it as opposed to a ghostwriter - and I do think he legit wrote it C) a final portfolio (at least it reads like one). I imagine this was written for school and after writing a dissertation - I can’t be a total bitch about it. It’s pretty good under the circumstances.
A California Childhood
The fucker straight up recycled stories from Palo Alto in this “visual art autobiography” - it’s a fucking scrapbook. There are some great examples of his artistic work, not great poetry, and not enough collage. It reminded me of when we had to make a photo album for Home Economics and then give it to our parents. I think it’s particularly disappointing after reading Diane Keaton’s book and seeing examples of some of the art she, her mother, and brother created. There was, however, this photo, which kind of made the whole thing worth it:
I’m not going to bullshit you, I actually really got into it, especially after after keeping in order. It’s similar to Palo Alto, in the sense it is pseudo-autobiographical, mixed with “heard from” stories. Because I’m also watching his films, there were weird points where you could see Sonny, James Dean, Tristan + Isolde, and Spiderman (some more explicit than others). There are also weird echoes to the past - weaving in of characters or throwbacks to Palo Alto. It also comes across as more relaxed and confident as he indulges in deconstructing and restructuring his own ego, celebrity, and bullshit - then questions it and then goes through the process again. Whereas Palo Alto seemed hollow, Actor’s Anonymous has a little more vulnerability and character. Rather than the characters being written hollow they (for the most part) are the right amount of Hollywood vapid. Additionally, you get the frustration, Franco’s own musings about film (as concept and an industry) and acting in the form of aphorisms, which run from the same ol’ complaints about Hollywood to more insightful about the current state of celebrity. I still think he can push further. He scratches the surface of gross with a “character” giving handjobs in a McDonald’s bathroom, fucking ugly chicks and keeping a sex-surfing catalog of chicks, and instances of stalking and sexual assault - but still needs a bit more Hollywood Bablyon - let’s Chinaski it up, let’s get some Miller’s “unstitchable wounds” (pussy) type language. Granted, this is an issue of style and taste.
Bonus points, he’s a big fucking film nerd. I appreciate the fact he can drop Mekas, Chaplin, Cassavetes, and (if I remember correctly) Ozu through the work. Sure this could just be bragging, but to whom? The readership certainly wouldn’t give a shit and I’m pretty sure would find An Autumn Afternoon a snooze-fest (I recognize I’m making some grand assumptions about who is reading this…but I’d like folk to prove me incorrect).
Besides experimenting with poetry and prose, Franco writes criticism for Vice. I have no beef with them. Dude brought up posthumanism in his article about Her and managed to not come across like a complete d-bag, which is feat of critical strength (he also dropped N. Katherine Hayles’s name, who is super cool - and it actually makes quite a bit of sense that he took a class with her because when she spoke at our university she was all agush about Mark Danielewski’s work and Franco borrows (heavily) some of that formal play in Actor’s Anonymous. If you read House of Leaves, you’ll easily recognize the use of colors, plurality of voices, and footnotes/edits - it’s not subtle). I usually agree with his criticism and find it both smart and accessible. Son of a bitch.
It is what it is.
Are my panties completely off after reading Franco’s work? Not necessarily. I like the subjects he works with - depravity, vapidity, disillusionment, morbidity, self-reflection and doubt, liminal spaces, but could probably use more focus to draw out the affect. Instead of playing with style and form, just dive into the brutal truth, Ruth. The incorporation of celebrity and more explicit insertions of himself into the Actor’s Anonymous’s narratives flush out these themes more and provide insight and depth into (I’m sorry…I’m going to do it and I totally get if you unsubscribe) Hollowood and himself as not only an actor but one who has “made it”. Those most connected to The Actor are the most interesting, particularly as they both add and debunk the mythos surrounding his person. As much as these works are his own, his writing is also so saturated in influence that at points it can get a bit much (WE GET IT. You have a big ol’ boner for Faulkner. So quit it). Sure, it’s fun to watch somebody experiment with style and form, but I think at times he takes “framework” a bit too literally.
I wonder what it would be like if he did nothing but focus on writing for a year. Probably just devolve into …
Oh to be that mirror.
I mean…..whatever. you shut up.