James Franco is a man of many talents. He's an actor, a published novelist, a poet, a Playboy columnist, a film professor, an art gallery curator, an Oscar host, a late-shift cashier at McDonald's, a Grand Marshal for the Daytona 500, a performance artist, and a soap opera star, all rolled into one. And people think it's a bad thing!
But did you know that when Franco isn't wandering into the great unknown of hobbies, he's also making films? He notoriously ran off to New York University in 2008 to hone his filmmaking skills. In turn, the last decade has been peppered with Franco-directed films -- most of which barely see the light of day.
His latest is "As I Lay Dying," an adaptation of William Faulkner's classic novel that the author apparently wrote "from midnight to 4:00 a.m. over the course of six weeks," which sounds like something Franco would gravitate towards. After playing the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals, "As I Lay Dying" is receiving a quiet release courtesy of Millennium Entertainment, the kind of debut that, if you weren't looking, you wouldn't know was there.
That's been the case with most of Franco's films, for better or worse. Here are seven more movies that the Renaissance Man went behind the camera for that may not be on your radar.
'The Ape' (2005)
James Franco's screwball existential comedy barely exists. Or, that's how Franco would prefer it. Like a modernized "Harvey," "The Ape" tells the story of a lowly writer who begins seeing a guy in a gorilla costume hanging out in his house. At first they're a regular Odd Couple, but as Franco's character opens up to the ape, his roommate's animalistic behavior begins to rub off on him. A bizarre, distant memory of Franco's directorial career -- which is perfectly fitting for the quandary of a man.
'The Broken Tower' (2011)
Once again, Franco's student films wind up with a longer life than most student films, and a shorter one than similar indies. This black-and-white portrait of American poet Hart Crane's life stars Franco alongside Michael Shannon as one of Crane's love interests. The movie was criticized for looking and feeling like a student project, with arty photography and a meandering script, but hey, Franco is an arty guy! And it's about a poet! It's currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly for your own consumption.
One of the many easy jabs against Franco is on the subject of his ambiguous sexuality. He's dated plenty of women in his day, but his personal film work is absorbed in gay culture. Like the no-budget "Broken Tower," Franco took some time during 2010 to shoot "Sal," a biopic of gay ’50s actor Sal Mineo, who won over audiences as James Dean’s sensitive sidekick, Plato, in "Rebel Without a Cause." Franco played Dean in a TV biopic in 2001, which may explain his entry point to the material. Rumors have been rumbling that "Sal," which played festivals in 2011 to cool reception, will arrive in theaters this year.
In 2009, James Franco joined the cast of "General Hospital" for a short stint as a crazed artist named "James Franco." In 2012, he took behind-the-scenes footage from his time on the movie, cut it up, provided narration, and debuted a meta-narrative film called "Francophrenia." The film posited that, while Franco was immersing himself in art and psychosis for his murderous soap opera role, he himself became a psycho. It's "Videodrome" for 21st century celebrity culture… which may be giving it a bit too much credit, but hey, give it up for Franco who makes this both hilarious and terrifying.
'My Own Private River' (2012)
Franco has said in interviews that River Phoenix's performance in Gus van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" inspired and shaped him as a young performer. So he was giddy to receive word of rolls and rolls of scrapped footage from the film, featuring more of Phoenix, who had passed away before release. As director/remixer, Franco integrated the footage back into "My Own Private Idaho" to create the art piece "My Own Private River."
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