At the beginning of the film “James Franco Erased,” which had its SF premier this weekend at The Castro, James Franco is handed a glass of milk, sips, then lowers the class and stares dumbfounded into the camera. What follows are two hours of grimaces, slow deliberate breathing, and clenched breathless staggering — in short, it would appear that the actor is struggling desperately not to shit.
Sadly, this is not the intention of the film. At a Q&A following the screening, the audience was informed that Franco was instructed to merely tone down his acting, to only display 10% of the emotion he normally would. When this proved too muted, the emotion rate was increased to 50%. Apparently, 50% of a normal James Franco performance looks like painful constipation.
The film was directed by an artist named Carter. He is not the former president, but it’s fun if you imagine that he is, and so we shall be doing precisely that for the remainder of this article. During the Q&A, former president Jimmy Carter was given the opportunity to elaborate on his intentions. “I wanted to try to erase his performance,” said the peanut farmer, comparing his movie to a famous painting that had been wiped off the canvas.
To this end, Carter created a compilation of Franco’s performances in other films and TV shows, and asked the actor to re-enact them, minimally, on a nearly-bare set. By removing the emotion and context from the performances, could he be said to be erased?
There are a number of problems here: James Franco’s performances, while lovely, are not quite famous enough to be recognizable. When was the last time you said, “oh, it’s just like that famous James Franco line”? If Carter had cast, say, William Shatner, things might’ve been different. Shatner, at least, has a proven aptitude for self-parody. Sadly, he probably would not have elicited the same response from the mostly-female audience at the screening that screamed for James Franco like he was all four Beatles.
Also! The movie is unbelievably boring. Nothing happens — it’s just long takes of sexy Mr. Franco mumbling random lines, wandering around, writing notes, wiggling his fingers. (ART!) Because there is nothing else to look at, it’s hard not to become fixated on the actor, and to study his every movement in the hopes of catching something compelling. Rather than erasing him, the film makes him stand out even more than ever. “James Franco Emphasized” is more like it.
Former President Carter has kindly uploaded a clip of his film to YouTube, and if you were to watch it sixty times in a row, the experience would be not unlike sitting through the entire film. You can also see the two YouTube videos that Carter has marked as “favorites.” One is his own. The other is a clip of a teenage boy dancing to Michael Jackson music. Highly recommended!
When the lights came up at the end of the Q&A, the woman sitting behind us in the balcony just shook her head and muttered towards the stage, “well done, you asshole.”