James Franco, avant-garde muse

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It’s not every day that a hot Hollywood star takes a detour off Sunset Boulevard and into avant-garde art territory. We expect that sort of thing from moody European actors, not from publicist-groomed studio chattel.

But if anyone can do it, James Franco can. In the past year, the young actor who most recently appeared in ‘Milk’ has earned his multi-tasker cred by writing a volume of short stories, attending class at Columbia University (albeit asleep), watching the entire Criterion DVD collection and engaging in other forms of general weirdness.


He’s not the strangest Hollywood actor around (hello, Joaquin!), but we’re pretty sure his agents aren’t exactly the happiest people at the moment.

Now it turns out Franco has also carved out a side career in experimental video art. Earlier this month at MoMA in New York, the artist known as Carter presented his latest work, a 63-minute piece titled ‘Erased James Franco.’ The actor plays himself (or a version thereof) and proceeds to enact scenes from Todd Haynes’ ‘Safe’ and John Frankenheimer’s ‘Seconds’ as well as his own performance in ‘Spider-Man.’

Artforum ran an amusing analysis of the work by the critic Dennis Lim (who also happens to be a frequent Times contributor). ‘Not unlike Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests,’ it becomes a de facto study of screen magnetism,’ he writes. ‘Franco, even in this oddly muffled mode, retains his drowsy, goofy charm; far from a tabula rasa, he’s not erased so much as distilled.’

‘Erased James Franco’ will travel to other museums, but no cities have been finalized yet, according to the artist Carter’s representatives. (Wouldn’t L.A. be the ideal city for a work of this nature? LACMA, are you reading this?) For the impatient among you, here’s a clip from the movie (above) from the artist’s YouTube channel.

Franco can also be seen in a short experimental video titled ‘The Room: Before and After’ in the latest issue of McSweeney’s Wolphin. In the video, which is directed by Dave Eggars, Franco is one of three actors to trash a bedroom and then offer a deconstruction of his actions.

If only all young, good-looking stars were so willing to take time out from their careers for the sake of art. Culture Monster admires Franco, though we admit that we also fear for his sanity.


— David Ng

Video: a clip from ‘Erased James Franco’ by Carter.