Performance art and soap operas

Posted by Rob Walker on December 4, 2009
Posted Under: Entertainment

james-franco-240We were interested here at Murketing HQ when it came to our attention not long ago that James Franco, a pretty successful movie actor, was doing a stint on General Hospital. The story went that this is something he wanted to do, although it wasn’t clear to us why. Fan of the show? Curious about it as an acting experiment? Unpaid gambling debts? Hard to say. In any case he’s taken on the role of an artist — and villian — named Franco. While we did not have a firm explanation for all this, I think it’s safe to say we applauded it.

Today’s WSJ has an essay by James Franco, that sort of discusses his GH turn, and explains it as performance art. Actually the essay is mostly about performance art, and you can read that here if you like. Here’s all he he has to say about his soap role:

I finally took the plunge [into performance art] 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.

Hm. Well, I’m not sure I agree with all of that, but I see what he’s saying. He goes on to discuss performance art and his interest in it, and doesn’t return to the GH experience until the end.

The folks at “General Hospital” informed me that in three days of filming we backlogged enough material for 23 episodes. There will be one more step. After all of the Franco episodes are aired, my character’s storyline will be advanced in a special episode filmed in a “legitimate” New York gallery. One more layer will be added to this already layer-heavy experiment. If all goes according to plan, it will definitely be weird. But is it art?

I’m not sure how I feel about the gallery angle, and I don’t really care if it’s “art” or not. But by and large this is all pretty interesting. The author tag on the story says that Franco “is currently enrolled in NYU’s MFA filmmaking program and Columbia’s MFA program for fiction writing.”

I wish I knew somebody who knows this guy. I’d invite him to write for Significant Objects. He could do so as “Franco,” if he liked.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Franco has been doing some interesting (conceptually if not experentially) turns at this sorta thing. He appears in an experimental Dave Eggers (if I recall) film on a recent Wholphin DVD, where he spends about 30 minutes just trashing a bedroom. And he did some strange performance in SF a few weeks ago where he played various versions of his own and other characters – Erased James Franco – http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/12/MVNQ1AIQFV.DTL has more about it.

#1 
Written By Steve Portigal on December 4th, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

He’s on Twitter, you can probably dm him to ask him to write. I’m a big James Franco fan, but as far as his stint on GH goes – it seems like there’s a bit of condescension in his post-facto explanation for being on the show. That is, implicit in his essay is the idea that a ‘real actor’ would only be on the show in some kind of subversive/art project way, he wouldn’t do it because it might mature further him as an actor and offer another venue to practice his craft along with other hardworking actors. The parallel inference is that “sophisticated” viewers don’t watch such drivel unless it’s performance art, which-as a former GH addict, I can attest surely isn’t true.

#2 
Written By Sara Ivry on December 7th, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

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