We came to know him as an actor (Milk, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, and soon, Eat, Pray, Love), then, as a brainy student (New York University, Columbia, Brooklyn College, Yale, and the Rhode Island School of Design). Now he's created his first solo art exhibit, The Dangerous Book Four Boys, a huge mixed-media experience supported by a high level of work and thought -- and carpentry. James Franco's ethos seems to be "Go big or go home, and look great doing it." Skeptics may write him off as a pretty-boy actor because when celebrities try to make art -- or perfume, as is often the case - it usually, well, stinks. But Franco being Franco, he pulls off the transition into the fine art world with an exhibit that makes you want to forget yourself and get lost in it for an afternoon. That's assuming you don't get lost on your way there.
Clocktower Gallery (operated by AIR, Art International Radio) is located on the 13th floor of a city-owned building at 108 Leonard Street that requires photo I.D. and an X-ray of your bag to enter. The elevators rise to the 12th floor, and one more flight of stairs will lead you to the entrance, assuming you don't take the freight elevator to 13 and proceed down a maze of hallways like I did.
In the sweeping gallery space, three bare wooden house structures anchor the exhibit, and through adjacent photographs, Franco removes the structures from their sterile surroundings and situates them in a deserted area with sand and mountains, and at times, a stray camera or two. In playing with contexts, the presence of cameras, and the idea of home, Franco deconstructs the reality of fame in a subtle, bare, and elemental way, sparing expected cliches. Though tired ideas about destruction of celebrity and flashbulb-attention surface while viewing his work, the presentation feels new, and more than that, solid.
One of Franco's wooden house structures has no door and only one window, a minimalist approach that allows a viewer standing at the window to see projections of fire engulfing the space on the inner walls. The projected flames are not pronounced in the light of the room, but even their lack of potency plays into the feeling of slow, subtle destruction, amplified by a black and white photo of a house reduced to ashes.
In the midst of all of this darkness, Franco inserts flecks of playfulness. One meticulously assembled wooden structure is shaped like a spaceship with stairs leading to an open door at its front. It looks like a little boy's dream fort, and it effectively lightens the mood of the space while touching on questions of boyhood and masculinity that are more explicitly addressed in Franco's videos and drawings.
Sound also plays its part in Franco's work. The area near the spaceship structure gives off the rumble of a flying plane, and a video of a man destroying a wooden structure with a hammer reverberates a harsh, methodic "pow." These noises, strong when nearby, combine and softly blanket the entire show. So, while sitting in the largest house-like structure, you will hear soft soothing music from the looped video projection as a playhouse explodes in slow motion -- while you also hear the hammer and plane sounds from outside. It is a mind-bend for the senses, as is the entire display.
The first thing you see when you enter James Franco's debut art show is a plastic playhouse--the kind that comes in bright primary colors and can be found in suburban backyards across the country--that has been melted to half its height. If you are able to ignore the film showing Franco wearing a very life like rubber penis on his face, which is being projected in a room just behind the vitrine displaying "Plastic House," you'll find a photograph of the warped dwelling, set beautifully against mountains and sky, mounted in the gallery's main room. The piece is reminiscent of a collapsed cake or a semi-deflated Oldenberg; it provides a tactile entre into an otherwise more conceptual and performative show in which a number of figurative playhouses are erected and blown up, burnt down, or manually destroyed.
Franco's "The Dangerous Book Four Boys" went up two weeks ago at the Clocktower Gallery, P.S.1. curator Alanna Heiss' famed alternative space, which also houses her arts radio project, AIR. The private opening enticed celebrities from a range of creative spheres, including starlet Kirsten Dunst, performance artist Marina Abromović, and poet Frank Bidart.
Celebrity, naturally, plays a role in the young actors work. It's why he's got the show in the first place, why he has a (bad) story in Esquire and a book forthcoming from Scribner's this fall; it's why he was able to walk on to his new role as an English Ph.D student at Yale and why he has been able enroll at a laundry list of schools in the northeast, including Columbia, NYU, and Brooklyn College. (Chances are you know someone who tried to nuzzle into the heartthrob's shoulder while he dozed in class.) It's also why he has been playing an artist named Franco on General Hospital, why that seems so incongruous, and why he suggested that his appearance on the show was performance art in the Wall Street Journal. His personal fame, perhaps unavoidably, and in a way that informs his interesting engagement with sexual difference and boyish violence, sometimes hypersaturates the experience of his art.
Inside the Clocktower's main gallery, Franco and his team have installed three very simple and unvarnished, wooden edifices. "Burning House" consists of a room with an angled roof and a cutout for a window into which you can stick your head to watch multiple channels of video, projected on the interior walls, depicting the structure burning. "Rocket" looks like the Boy Scout wanted both a tree house and a space ship, and, seeing a way to satisfy both dreams of escape, decided to put the two together, complete with portholes. Finally, an elongated sort of chapel called "Viewing House" has a loop of eight films shown in projection against the back wall. Here you see lo-fi footage of doppelgangers of the other structures in the show as they are subjected to their respective forms of unmaking via heat, flame, or faux explosion. On nearby televisions, there's a two-channel film showing a Franco look alike succumb to fatigue as he smashes apart two of these constructions with an axe. There is also real home movie footage of the actor as a child, and a sort of trash heap installation of objects taken from a childhood home. Some of these things (a toy race car, a James Dean poster, a Betty Boop lunch box, to name a few) are lined up on an easel and shot through with bullets in yet another video.
Scribbled-on pages, torn from the guide to boyhood from which the show takes its title, are on display on load bearing columns. On one that reproduces an image of the temple of Artemis (burnt down by Herostratus for the fame the arson would confer upon him) Franco has scrawled the word "house."
At work in this series of destructions is the familiar, pyromaniacal frustration of a kid at odds with the world and its architected environments--the many rooms we inhabit and are fitted into--especially those delimiting our sexual and professional identities. Franco's orientation has been the subject of some controversy: is he an actor or an artist? a serious polymath or a dabbling buffoon? a straight trickster or a gay performer?
The answer to this last question may be clear to some, nonetheless Franco is intent on having some fun with our assumptions. Also on loop in the "Viewing House" is a hilarious appropriation of the tradition of Kirk/Spock sex narratives (yes, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock) that launched the genre of homoerotic parody known as slash fiction. The bit is as funny as it is pertinent. In Franco's telling, our star crossed voyagers get hung up in the bedroom because of a species divide that prevents Spock from becoming functionally aroused in the way Kirk expects. "It would be illogical to cover my genitals," the Vulcan explains to his baffled partner, "I use them to operate the science console."
It is interesting to see how Franco mixes overt nods to sexual difference with more coded and complex references to queer iconography. In a longer film made with his part time collaborator Carter, a segment called "The Saint" shows Franco ordering a line of archers to shoot flaming arrows at a mannequin who, in the context, becomes a stand in for St. Sebastian, one of the first homosexual icons. The film also includes a very beautiful shot of a suddenly riderless mechanical bull rotating and softly bucking before an archery target--a really wonderful moment. "The Feast of Stephen," dedicated to (openly gay) filmmaker Kenneth Anger and (probably straight) poet Anthony Hecht, and named for a very homoerotic poem by the latter, depicts a homosexual fantasy incited by a boy on boy beating. The effect of this mix of both public and private outing practices, as I experience it, is to reinscribe techniques of queer performance as rhetorical tropes available for employ by any artist, regardless of sexuality. Pretty interesting stuff. Ok, ok, it's also possible that this is simply what happens when you give a kid with lots of firepower the keys to the queer theory game room.
Either way, this is an engaging first show from Franco, and a daring move from Heiss.
"The Dangerous Book Four Boys" is on view at the Clocktower Gallery, at 108 Leonard Street, through September.
The art world prefers its artists to start out destitute and unknown, working from inside the system toward increasing visibility and renown. Early deprivation and obscurity count as dues paid, reflecting seriousness and a willingness to sacrifice. This familiar progression assures us that an artist is one of us.
When it happens otherwise, we get confused. James Franco is otherwise: he is at 32 a famous actor and celebrity movie star of considerable self-made means. But he also has an interest in art dating back to childhood. He studied painting in high school and has apparently at times considered being an artist.
These ambitions have perhaps been diminished by Mr. Franco’s determined multitasking, which has received quite a bit of attention in the press.
He has combined a movie career with activities as a screenwriter, director and producer, simultaneously attending graduate school in writing, filmmaking and poetry at four separate schools. A book of his short stories is due out this fall, at which point he will begin work on a doctorate in literature at Yale and also study at the Rhode Island School of Design.
In addition, Mr. Franco’s recent appearances on the soap opera “General Hospital” as a handsome, enigmatic, platitude-spouting installation artist named Franco have earned him something of a cult following, although I can’t be alone in feeling that their irony is outdone by their lameness. Against this complex backdrop, art seems to be just one more feather in his cap. But maybe not. Mr. Franco had a show of his paintings in Los Angeles, and now he’s making his New York debut with “The Dangerous Book Four Boys,” an exhibition of video, drawings, sculptures and an installation piece or two at the Clocktower Gallery, a recently revived alternative space in Lower Manhattan that was founded 40 years ago by Alanna Heiss, who grew it into what is now MoMA/P.S. 1. Now Ms. Heiss, retired from P.S. 1, is back at the Clocktower as director of Art International Radio, a nonprofit online cultural radio station. She organized the Franco show with Beatrice Johnson, the space’s associate curator. The show’s title is a slight skewing of “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” a recent volume written by a British father as an antidote to over-protective child-rearing and sedentary activities like video games.
Not surprisingly, there is quite a bit of boyish danger in the Clocktower show: frequent violence, mindless destruction, kinky sex of several kinds and a nearly complete absence of women.
Some people would probably feel better to read that Mr. Franco’s Clocktower effort can be dismissed as bad beyond redemption, an outsider’s naïve dalliance in things he doesn’t really understand. I initially inclined toward that conclusion, although in the end it turned out to be more interesting and complicated than that.
There is plenty to be put off by. In one gallery, “Scatter Piece” consists of stuff from Mr. Franco’s actual childhood room strewn about in familiar disarray; some smaller cultural tableaus are equally generic. And “Burning House” is redolent of self-referential installation pieces reaching back to the 1970s. It consists of a plywood house with videos of an identical structure burning rapidly to a crisp projected on its interior.
The show contains several other short videos of similar acts of boyish Process Art mayhem directed at flimsy house structures. In some, young men take axes or sledgehammers to them, alternating energetic pounding with fake-feeling lassitude and despair — boyish fainting spells. They seem especially uncompelling because Mr. Franco does little of the heavy lifting.
In the video “Rocket,” a playgroundlike plywood rocket ship (a version is in the show) explodes again and again, beautifully shot from different angles and distances and then edited into rapid-fire bursts. It’s like a homage to the conclusion of “Zabriskie Point” by the explosive-mad Swiss artist Roman Signer. Another video of a perfectly nice little red playhouse being reduced to smithereens by off-camera rifles suggests a new disclaimer along the lines of “No objects were pointlessly destroyed in the making of this movie.”
In all, it was a little like watching the early work that Gordon-Matta Clark never made — or at least spared us — only shot with a budget that allowed for professional crews, great soundtracks and color and high-definition.
What made me slow down and start looking? Coming up against my own biases that art must be a full-time obsession, that early work means limiting constraints and that video art requires a sense of one-artist-one-camera intimacy.
Still, the show is a confusing mix of the clueless and the halfway promising. The closer Mr. Franco sticks to conventional film narrative, as he does in some of the shorter pieces like “Bill and Tenn” and all of the longer ones, the more his efforts feel like his own work.
Sort of. One film stars Mr. Franco with a prosthetic penis on his face, but the real star is the City of Light, dreamily shot to the tunes of Charles Trenet and other French singers. “Double Third Portrait,” made in collaboration with the artist Carter, is an amazingly pretentious pastiche of performance art, experimental film and appropriated voice-overs and flaming arrows. But at least in these works you sense some kind of artist yearning to be free, or maybe better.
The best by far is “Masculinity & Me,” despite a bit of gratuitous scatology. This 20-minute sequence of related fragments begins with Mr. Franco describing the impression made on him by videos of Paul McCarthy’s often over-the-top performances. It then careers among scenes of an appealing young blond man discussing his father, his inability to use public urinals and his general unease with norms of masculinity; masked men delivering sexually graphic McCarthy-like monologues in hotel rooms; jump cuts of photographs of that artist’s sculptures; and, most hilariously, a staged interview with a bearded clown clearly meant to be Mr. McCarthy about the childhood sexual trauma that formed the basis of his art.
The blond man’s monologues keep it real, and in the end Mr. Franco returns to talk about his own father, who he says met his mother in an art course taught by Richard Diebenkorn, but who decided to become a mathematician rather than take the risk of being a painter. Mr. Franco seems saddened by what he calls his father’s “renunciation” and cites his belief that “the artist should make a romantic stab at the world and either cut his way or die trying.”
A recurring theme in the coverage of Mr. Franco’s many interests is that we’re all being punked. That the whole thing is one extended, ironic performance piece. It is definitely hard to sort through. At times, I felt like most of this show was a form of camouflage or window dressing, thrown up to keep us off balance and off track. The very sound of so many videos playing at once in proximity, for example, often makes it hard to hear any one of them, and the words especially matter in “Masculinity & Me.”
Basically I would say that despite all his industriousness, as an artist Mr. Franco is only beginning to make his own “romantic stab at the world.” His emphasis should be on worldliness, not romance.
“The Dangerous Book Four Boys” is on view through Oct. 1 at the Clocktower Gallery at Art International Radio, 13th floor, 108 Leonard Street, Lower Manhattan; (212) 233-1096, artonair.org.
Currently on view at the Clocktower Gallery in New York is an exhibition by actor and aspiring visual artist James Franco. The show’s title, The Dangerous Book Four Boys, is a spin-off of the name of a recently released how-to book for boys. Like the book, the exhibit revolves around the self-awareness and confusion that accompany adolescence.
Franco’s exhibit stretches from one end of the hallway to the other, spilling through three rooms and including sixteen titled works and a number of unnamed pieces. Texts torn from The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden have been manipulated by scratching and doodling, often featuring obscenities such as “Fuck Yes!,” which appears on a page dotted with skulls and stick figures.
Two small wooden houses and a rocket ship fill the last and largest room. According to the gallery’s press release, each is “a recreation of houses featured in [Franco’s] short film.” The rocket ship is held up by triangular supports and balances a tall, thin spike on top. Nearby pictures feature the rocket ship in other locations: on a valley in an exotic land, for example, adjacent one of the other miniature structures.
One of the other wooden structures is Burning House, a small cabin made to look as though it is on fire. The outside walls glow, while a video playing inside depicts an actual burning house (fire is a recurring motif throughout the show). The rustic house, protected by glass, is a replica of a Lincoln-era log cabin with a hearth.
These structures take up more than half the exhibit. All imply displacement, with the rocket ship suggesting a journey; they refer to the growing up and moving forward that are integral to the adolescent experience, and to the sense of remoteness and destruction that accompany this transitional phase.
Two videos featured at the entrance to the back room record a man tearing down a miniature house. One house is rolled into a parking lot; another sits in a valley that recalls the UFO’s scene elsewhere in the show. In teenage-fashion, the destructive man runs the gamut of emotions, from extreme passion to extreme exhaustion. At one point, he sits down, apparently spent, and then slowly picks up the hammer again. In another video, a boy talks about his relationship with his parents and his father: “I used to tell my parents I hated them…I didn’t really understand at the time, but he understood me.” While adolescents stereotypically express emotions easily and carelessly, this one realizes his own immaturity and his parents’ capacity to forgive and forget.
The exhibit spans the length of a long hallway so that the viewer re-visits the first two rooms upon exiting the gallery. The first room of the exhibit is full of displaced objects from Franco’s own adolescence. Posters on the wall are supported by one or two pieces of masking tape. The room is disorganized and overwhelming, comprised of three installations: Cat Sculpture (2008), Scatter Piece (2010), and two videos: Dicknose in Paris (2008) and Masculinity and Me (2008). Dicknose in Paris (2008) is described by the gallery as “toying with the language of popular culture… including [Franco’s] own persona.” The piece features Franco talking with a plastic penis on his nose, portraying him as an accessible, humanized entity to the public. Paradoxically, this gesture conveys the image of a more self-aware, perhaps even mature figure than many of his contemporaries.
Franco seems to understand that art is not about perfection. His apparent goal, instead, is to translate a message that is rarely conveyed to the public. It is about capturing, in an immediate and material way, psychological messiness and disorder. It depicts adolescence in “manners at once humorous, salacious and disturbing,” as the gallery describes. Franco freely admits that adolescents are often immature and more often confused, and his art aims to narrate this coming-of-age.
The exhibit is on view through October at the Clocktower Gallery, operated by Art International Radio (AIR).
James Franco just has 'it'. Rather than alluding to his Hollywood superstar status that special something is an adolescent curiosity, which presents moments of pure happiness and exploration, that youth possess and adults strive for. This is most evident in Franco's exhibition, The Dangerous Book Four Boys opening in Berlin on Saturday. There are drawings on pages from a book and film stills and portraits of Franco, often in well fitted suits with his face painted white, among them a collaborative work made with the artist Carter, characters sporting seemingly dangerous and frightening masks, sculptures, installations and ephemera.
Childhood and adolescence, often glamorised and retold with plastered on, dreamy looks, is, after all, about exploration and innocence. It is this childlike curiosity and innocence, with a kind of twisted humour at times, that can be found in Franco's work and in The Dangerous Book Four Boys, with something akin to freedom, a freedom in which, even for a moment, adolescents are free in their world, of pressures and fear of judgement. As Franco's voice as an artist strengthens, he questions notions of identity, masculinity and sexuality, rejecting a kind of normal childhood and way of parenting. Openly influenced by Kenneth Anger and the artist Paul McCarthy, he explores the cult of celebrity, referencing both real and manufactured public figures, including himself, to illustrate how celebrity can be meaningful. The idea of creation pervades, in the doodling on printed pages, but also destruction, in images of a burning lamp perched on an armchair and a melted toy-like house. A kind of chaos exists alongside quieter images. A hand answers the telephone, reaching through a pile of ice. These are the moments that are often remembered, the fun, boisterous afternoons and flashbacks we can't quite pinpoint.
Having painted since before he was an actor, James Franco began showing his work at Glu Gallery in Los Angeles in 2006. Last year, The Dangerous Book Four Boys, his first solo exhibition, was presented at AIR'S Clocktower Gallery in downtown Manhattan. It will be exhibited in two locations in Berlin and will mark Franco's first European solo exhibition.
What does it mean to be young curious and free? James Franco knows.
Parmenides once said, “nothing comes from nothing,” all matter is born of some other stuff, transformed. In parallel, ideas build off forbears. Thus, all art, as with all exchanges, is derivate, and at the same time, potentially transformative. Even so, there is a slight irritation when a new voicing resembles too closely an antecedent. To this end, critics have tried to define the difference between an inspiration and a copy by formulating the pejorative term “plagiarize” to denote theft—around the time the liberal idea of personal property was also in development. In suite, an academic calculus was set in place to regulate these moral issues in its closed system. However, no such measure exists in colloquial speech other than public opinion. In fact, in popular culture, the “transformative nature,” often the yardstick to defend allowable “borrowing,” tends not to be aimed at the work or ideas themselves, but at the ability for the performer to make the appropriation part of their persona. In other words, the transformation comes when the actor “owns it” by reaching a level of intrigue and publicity in an action, a use, or reuse of various forms. This acceptance becomes the transformative act itself; communication is the production. In such a set up, the idea of plagiarism is subjective, as “value” can now be placed in the social performance. Then, nothing is “stolen” from a primary source—hence the tricky juxtaposition of Saddam Hussein and Joe Biden—the first convicted of plagiarism, amongst other things, while the other, also a known plagiarist, ran and effectively won office around the same time. These peculiar issues have been playing out in two different, but recent Berlin “scandals.”
In the small, but rarefied demographic of the art world, visitors to both Peres Project locations, Berlin Kreuzberg and Mitte respectively, will encounter the oddly familiar work of the artist James Franco. Franco’s indebtedness to Paul McCarthy, for example, is so obvious that the press release even discloses the connection. And yet, although many in the art system can spot these rampant, tepid, “contributions”—like the repurposing of toys and other youth nostalgia, such as grotesque masks, to form a constellation of decaying, mutilated relics—they are dwarfed in relation to the overall media package of Franco as polyglot actor-poet-artist-cosmopolitan, and so on. The works on show are simply props for this larger configuration, the real artwork: Franco’s performance as Franco. To critique the exhibition on its own terms would be as bland as critiquing a pianist for using a stolen piano. So, what is there to look at in this presentation..?
On the mass, yet equally exclusive scale of government is the Guttenberg scandal. Here, the recently resigned Federal Minister of Defense, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has stepped down following the discovery of his extensive use of unattributed citations in his PhD dissertation. Yet, even as the disgraced outgoing Defense Minister, Guttenberg—of noble origins and prior to these events, essentially a political icon in the waiting—was awarded the honor of a farewell march. Guttenberg, an avid Heavy Metal fan, challenged such a typically stayed tradition by requesting the band play Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. This semi-bazaar mingling may look like an outtake from a Broadway musical, yet Guttenberg’s choice of song is uncannily significant.
Smoke on the Water SaveFrom.net features the classic blues-cum-rock 1st, to minor 3rd, to dominant 5th chord progression. This riff, used many times before seems to “borrow” form the Stooges’ Lose, which in its own way, is a cousin to MC5’s Kick out the James, and the Small Faces’ Don’t Burst My Bubble. I doubt Guttenberg picked the song for any reason other than musical affinity and popular appeal; however, it is of note that a copyist chose a rather well used “riff.”
As any musicologist will attest, a riff is an ostinato, or a “stubborn” adherence to a musical voice. This baseline is often used as the ground from which a musical idea can be improvised, hence the double meaning of the riff as an underlying theme and its development through solo improvisation. As such, this refrain becomes that which is recognizable, the proverbial tune or meme stuck in one’s head. Following the music analogy further, the variation is what allows the soloist to stand out, to rise above others. Guttenberg’s choice of song will cement his legacy, just as Franco’s acts as a visual artist and an intellectual separates him from his pack: other attractive, young Hollywood heartthrobs trying to attain “it” status.
Paradoxically, the idea of a celebrity is something both exclusive and available to the masses at the same time. With this in mind, could it be that both of these interlopers, one in high academia and the other in the elitist realm of art, capture popular imagination because they rise above sound competition by reducing the trappings of their profession? Whatever the answer to this might be, both examples appear to show that copying by the book is OK, as long as the performance of doing so will be copied in magazines there after.
In June 2010, James Franco held an art exhibition in Tribeca chock full of photography, sketches, video, and sculpture. It was the type of scattershot project that has led some to call him the ultimate toe-dipper. Yet his new book, The Dangerous Book Four Boys – which is actually the exhibition catalogue from that show – indicates that it might be some form of artistic ADD, rather than dilettantism, that afflicts Franco. In the book, out next week from Rizzoli, Franco reinterprets his art show, scrawling all over the pages with notes and annotations like some cracked-out grad student. (Which he sort of is, given all the universities he’s been enrolled in recently.)
On Thursday night, James Franco was in New York for a discussion and signing of his book at Manhattan’s absurdly exclusive Core Club, a private club located in an east Midtown office building. If the book’s title sounds familiar, it should. Franco used as source material the 2007 British bestseller The Dangerous Book for Boys that takes a nostalgic look at male childhood with such lessons as how to tie a knot and how to find true north. I was “loosely inspired by that other book,” the suited actor explained, while lounging in the club’s private theater. “I guess you could say it was a fucked-up version of that.” P.S. 1 founder Alanna Heiss, who ran the discussion and curated the 2010 show, quizzed him in front of a packed house about his artistic inspirations, the choices he made in the show, and the images he included in the book that reference his own boyhood. Speaking of one creepy image, which appeared to picture a terribly wounded man, Franco explained that when he was 12, he and some friends “burned some of our G.I. Joes as a comment on what was going on in the Gulf War at the time.”
In another image, taken from his video “Dicknose in Paris,” Franco wears a prosthetic penis prop from his film Milk on his nose. (Think a rubbery elephant’s trunk with sagging purplish balls). “Franco looks completely different with a penis on his nose,” Heiss noted. This is true. He does. Franco wisely declined to comment on that observation.
Heiss explained that Franco worked on the book while filming 127 Hours and that she, along with Franco and the book’s publisher and editor, prepared it together. Then, they sent it to him and there was “‘The Franco Intervention’ … as if a boy were drawing on those pages.” Virtually every page is “defaced” or commented on by the star – scribbles, scrawls, arrows, diagrams, hastily sketched hearts.
At night’s end, after a long line of co-eds had given him their names to write in their books and asked for advice on being actors, on school, or just generally giggled, Franco inadvertently revealed the secret of his success. Shutting the last exhibition catalogue, he sighed and said: “Last night, I slept three hours.”
It is not hard to feel motherly toward James Franco (thirty years ago I might have sung a different tune). He works so hard, as if chased by demons. By all counts, his scramble to practically bathe in art and literature, his mad dash at academia, Hollywood nipping at his heels all have him neck-deep in projects — no wonder he wants to cut loose, stick his tongue out, and live a boy's dangerous life! This book is based on Franco's 2010 multimedia art exhibit of the same name at the Clocktower Gallery in New York City. It is a "boyhood narrative through actual documents and objects made by and about [Franco] as a young boy," including home-movie clips, "collaged film pieces of fictional boyhood scenarios, and flickering montages of television shows" from Franco's youth. Many of the pages are scribbled over, drawn on, edited.
Franco was born in 1978 and grew up in Palo Alto. After a year studying English at UCLA, he dropped out and took acting classes with Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West. This book, and the exhibit, is full of the effort, the desire to go back to a time before he became famous and "displeased with certain inevitabilities of the world of commercial cinema," as Beatrice Johnson writes in her essay, "That Anxious Object of Desire." There is anxiety in every corner of this book — the relentless, pounding, anxiety of an adolescence buried under fame, clawing to have its day.