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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is James Franco too deliciously clever, or totally full of crap?

As you may have heard, James Franco is in the midst of a guest stint on the ABC soap General Hospital. You may be thinking something like, Well, an actor’s gotta work…, but Franco’s got bigger, more significant things in mind than a mere paycheck. He published a piece recently in The Wall Street Journal, of all places, explaining the rationale behind his taking the job:

I have been obsessed with performance art for over a decade—ever since the Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña came to visit my class at Cal Arts summer school. I finally took the plunge and experimented with the form myself when I signed on to appear on 20 episodes of “General Hospital” as the bad-boy artist “Franco, just Franco.” I disrupted the audience’s suspension of disbelief, because no matter how far I got into the character, I was going to be perceived as something that doesn’t belong to the incredibly stylized world of soap operas. Everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world. In performance art, the outcome is uncertain—and this was no exception. My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate. Whether they did was out of my hands.

As Ms. Abramović told me over our dessert tasting, performance art is all about context. “If you bake some bread in a museum space it becomes art, but if you do it at home you’re a baker.” Likewise, when I wear green makeup and fly across a rooftop in “Spider-Man 3,” I’m working as an actor, but were I to do the same thing on the subway platform, a host of possibilities would open up. Playing the Green Goblin in the subway would no longer be about creating the illusion that I am flying. It would be about inserting myself in a familiar space in such a way that it becomes stranger than fiction, along the lines of what I’m doing on “General Hospital.”

Is James Franco too deliciously clever, or totally full of crap?

For what it’s worth, I’m a fan of Franco’s: I think he’s a smart, thoughtful actor, and hearing him say something this intriguing and weird and complicated doesn’t really surprise me. And I don’t even particularly want to fuck him!

What do you think?

In case you need some more context, a moderately awesome clip of his debut on the show:

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Well, there’s no denying that we look at soap operas as distinct from television–not just a genre but a medium unto itself–and just the fact that he’s playing a smirking douchebag, daring us to make the “wrong interpretation” of what he’s doing means just one more meta-layer. Why? Why are soap operas so separate from the rest of the entertainment industry?

    There is a point in that mindset when the artist overwhelms the art–sort of like how John Lennon’s exploitation of his own celebrity in the name of experimental art and the acknowledgment of Vietnam can come across as merely fatuous. At the same time, of course, I realize that I wasn’t really there for when it would have made the most impact. But imagine if someone we consider unavoidably synonymous with “movie star”–Brad Pitt, George Clooney–had played Franco’s stint on “General Hospital.” Wouldn’t it come across as somewhat sarcastic and condescending? It doesn’t matter if it was an earnest attempt to evolve, there’s just too much contextual baggage involved for it to work. I think Franco is at the right point in his career–not a household name, exactly, but someone we’ve all seen–to make this an earnest, and frankly fascinating, endeavor.

  • Bluejay

    I actually found his explanation quite interesting. But the truest part of it was when he said the audience response was out of his hands.

    In a way his rationale reminds me of the “artists’ statements” that are sometimes displayed beside abstract pieces in museums. They can be illuminating, but more often I grumpily feel that they’re bullshit explanations to prop up a work that can’t stand on its own. In any case I try to respond to such works on my own terms first, before looking at them through the filter of the artist’s intentions.

    I did enjoy the YouTube clips–very meta.

  • New Waster

    Damn, he looks like he’s having fun there. I hope Youtube is able to serve up a complete run of Franco-only General Hospital scenes.

  • LaSargenta

    Well, there’s no denying that we look at soap operas as distinct from television–not just a genre but a medium unto itself … Why? Why are soap operas so separate from the rest of the entertainment industry?

    They are? Really?

    A soap opera is a serial program on broadcast media sponsored by advertisers who sell stuff to clean the house. How is this different from any other serial? Aside from the nature of the advertisers?

  • But don’t you think soap operas exist on another train of thought, another stream of discussion? I see it as the difference between talking about Universal horror and Z-grade Ed Wood pictures in the same breath. The vibe is just so different that it prevents you from making too much crossover–they feel like they were made on different planets.

  • Lisa

    that’s tough one to answer – I think it’s hilarious that he’s doing it and that he is equally as bad as the rest of the actors in it. May be they could be as famous as he is, if they had his opportunities!

  • LaSargenta

    I see it as the difference between talking about Universal horror and Z-grade Ed Wood pictures in the same breath.

    But, you can’t say these are in a different medium. Genre difference isn’t a structural difference.

  • Mo

    In a way his rationale reminds me of the “artists’ statements” that are sometimes displayed beside abstract pieces in museums. They can be illuminating, but more often I grumpily feel that they’re bullshit explanations to prop up a work that can’t stand on its own.

    Or maybe even his bs explanation is just another layer of the whole meta thing…

    Either way, he does look like he’s having fun. Or at least trying to not burst out laughing.

  • Bluejay

    Or maybe even his bs explanation is just another layer of the whole meta thing…

    Heh, true. What is part of the performance, and what isn’t? Maybe he’s turning into Andy Kaufman.

  • Geez, you’d think he was the first actor to appear on a soap opera after becoming famous somewhere else. Joan Bennett on the original Dark Shadows, Liz Taylor and Rick Springfield on the ’80s version of General Hospital…Are precedents for Franco’s appearance that hard to remember?

    Plus you can argue that the TV show that originally made him famous–Freaks and Geeks–was a bit of a soap opera too–but in a good way.

    Anyway, I’m glad he’s not taking himself too seriously because otherwise I’d be cracking up like Lindsay Weir did in that test episode…

  • Anne-Kari

    I think it’s hilarious that he’s doing it and that he is equally as bad as the rest of the actors in it.

    Oh my lord yes. He is pitch-perfect Soap Opera Awful here. Honestly I think it’s kind of fantastic.

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