Francopherenia – James Franco on the complexities of being James Franco (Sydney underground Film Festival)

At any other time in the history of television, trying to convince the world your guest starring appearances on General Hospital are a work of art would be impossible. However we live in a time of tolerance when it comes to pulp media.  There is a new cultural fascination for what was once derided and a willingness to defend our tastes regardless of the style of criticism. Or perhaps there are more outspoken voices crying ‘let me watch what I want to watch and read what I want to read’. Access via the internet connects us with like-minded souls and less and less do we have to confront any dissenting opinions.

Therefore James Franco is able to call his work on General Hospital art.

And hey!  Who am I to argue?

To prove his point, he has put together this neat little documentary / commentary on the unique strangeness of being a star on a set of a soap opera.  And it is a strange world we are given access to.We witness surreal moments where the director, cast and crew clap and celebrate a successfully completed scene.  We see G.H. obsessed fans flocking for photos and glimpses of Franco.  We see some of the worst acting in history played out over and over again because the boom operator can’t get out of the way.  These are splices of live footage from a particular episode filmed at the MOCA.  An appropriate venue for Franco’s character (named Franco on the show) to be staging a murder as the ultimate work of art.

Except amid all of this rather dull to-doing, James Franco the actor is slowly becoming unhinged. As the film progresses we become privy to the internal dialogue of the actor as he wonders where he is, intense paranoia sets in followed by an extreme megalomania. There is so much standing around, so much nothing to do, except for repeating poorly written lines over and over that the actor loses all perspective.  A classic moment occurs when Franco screams “Don’t Kill me!  I know where the baby is,” and spends subsequent minutes wondering in his head where the hell this baby is they all keep talking about.

A sense of psychological horror hangs over the film as Franco the actor seems to become one with Franco the super villain. Because of the way the footage has been cut the film gives the impression of weird kind of world where anything can happen. Which is of course, what a Soap Opera is.

According to the Hollywood reporter, after having assistants shoot footage on the set of his well-publicized General Hospital episode at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Franco handed the material over to documentarian Ian Olds with a carte-blanche assignment to do something avant-garde-y with it. Olds sliced and diced, ran scenes of the finished show through video-FX filters, and manhandled the sync sound; after achieving the desired aesthetic, he added another layer of meta by writing a stream-of-consciousness voiceover for the “James Franco” onscreen and voicing it himself.

The loose narrative implied in this voiceover (where Olds’ “Franco” is occasionally taunted by other imaginary voices) is of an actor on the verge of a crackup: “I’m all alone in this machine,” he says early on, in between less heady complaints about needing to get something to eat before he shoots his next scene.

The result is a very funny, very strange film. Personally I liked it a great deal, but I know it has received a bit of negative press. I enjoyed the commentary on the odd ball world of an over-loved actor.

I liked that the film was intelligent without taking itself seriously at all.

I like that these guys just wanted to make it.

I liked looking at James Franco.

Its clever and its funny and James Franco really knows how to poke fun at himself which makes him a winner in my books.