|Favorite Actors from A to Z| James Franco
Van Sant & Franco Find Their Own Private RiverMarch 15, 2011by meatlessrawsugar
There’s a time-line to this story. It’s one I think I know better than most- because I’m incredibly interested in James Franco’s education, career, and performance art. Let’s start from the very beginning.
I am into movies, and especially after taking an introductory Film class in first year university, I was pretty keen on discovering new directors, actors and styles, as well as opening myself up to older, stranger material. This was how I’d stumbled across The Criterion Collection, a site perfect for voracious movie-learner types. From here I’d checked out their Top Ten lists, and one of the contributors was Franco himself. He was easily the only recognizable figure at the time (this was a few years ago), so I checked his list. Included was Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, and strangely it was the only one I bothered to watch (I think because it was rumoured to be Keanu Reeves’s least terrible performance).
Now Idaho is easily one of my favorite movies, at one point watching it on my iPod on breaks at work because I loved it so much. Even though I only knew Keanu Reeves (and weirdly Flea!), River Phoenix was undoubtedly the major talent in this film. His quiet handle on the increasingly weird events – despite how unbelievably unstable, fleeting, and kind of sad his and his friends’ lives were – was impressive (if I’ll put things mildly).
So the Criterion list, Van Sant’s filmography, along with a very interesting New York Magazine article about Franco and an examination of his sexuality (see one of my earlier posts), became an accumulation of knowledge about queer cinema, Franco’s perceptions of acting and performance art, and a general interest in the seemingly endless projects James does (despite being a full-time student at NYU with some classes at Yale, a Hollywood actor co-hosting the Oscars, and a recurring character on General Hospital).
In this way, I was not at all surprised that Franco signed on to do Milk, or Howl, for that matter. It also does not surprise me than Van Sant is the one who headed the extremely controversial biopic of a Seattle-based rock musician (c’mon, we know who it is) called Last Days.
This is a bit of an aside, and maybe I’m reaching here, but I think it’s interesting to note that both Cobain and Franco cross-dressed on national television. Especially in the former case, Cobain was most obviously challenging normative values on what it means to be masculine, and as Molly Lambert put it so well: “He challenged the world to call him a fag, to ask themselves why they would be threatened by a beautiful man in a dress and why he was supposed to care. A hirsute or ugly man in a dress can be dismissed as comedic, but feminine male beauty is especially threatening to traditional masculinity because it offers the question of what exactly “maleness” is…”.
So, all of that brings me to where we are now: with Franco and Van Sant working on Unfinished, an art exhibit at the Gagosian gallery in LA. Specifically, it features a film component called My Own Private River (and also apparently another called Endless Idaho?) consisting of footage cut from Idaho. As the title suggests, a lot of the unused footage is of River Phoenix. Unfortunately there are no promotional videos for the film, but here’s an in-depth review of the exhibit, as well as paintings in the show by Van Sant (below). If you’re at all interested in finding out more about Gus & James, let me know!