James Franco can do anything. He can act well enough to get an Academy Award nomination or to be in the summer’s biggest movie, write books, novels, short stories, and poetry, enroll in 17 masters and doctorate programs, make three not-that-watchable movies about poets you should read while you’re sleeping like a real human, and then he’s making four more meta pieces of film and art by the time you go to bed the next night. He can make spoofs of Kanye West and spoofs of Cindy Sherman. (Sherman on the latter: “I don’t know if I can say that it’s art… “ ) He can be plastered all over the New York subway system since he’s starring on Broadway in Of Mice and Men. But maybe, just maybe — he shouldn’t be on Instagram.
Last night he got himself in trouble once again, posting this to James Franco TV:
“Brantley is such a little bitch that he should be working for Gawker.com. The theater community hates him, and for good reason. He’s an idiot.”
For a little bitch, Brantley is not that harsh regarding the production, he’s simply dismissive in the way that critics have a right to be, considering that Broadway acting is different from film acting, but due to the economy, it’s the film actors who are on Broadway: “Though he sports a Yosemite Sam accent,” Brantley writes, “Mr. Franco is often understated to the point of near invisibility. It’s a tight, internal performance begging for a camera’s close-up. And only in the play’s second scene — in a bunkhouse, where Lennie retells George about the dream farm they’ll someday own together — did I sense a warming current of affection between the characters.”
Franco has since taken the original post down and reposted it without the anti-Brantley caps-locked content. But the thing is, Franco will probably continue to make blog news if he continues to do silly stuff on Instagram, whether it’s posting bedroom selfies and begging for followers or creepily propositioning a teenage girl. Instagram is where we are getting straight-up James Franco thoughts, unfiltered, and a peek into his id is basically killing the mystery that gives an actor or an artist their power. His maniacal pursuit of art, on the other hand, is so hilariously non-stop that the mystery remains, to a degree: after all, what James Franco-directed joints have you seen, huh?
It’s easy to talk shit about critics because of the nature of their job. Artists have been critiquing critics’ criticism since the stone age. But Instagram was probably not the medium to call out Brantley’s review. There are more nuanced ways to overreact, as opposed to resorting to schoolyard bully tactics. Franco has a Vice column, doesn’t he? Even better, he’s been able to write about the selfie (“The Meanings of the Selfie“) and Shia LaBeouf (“Why Actors Act Out“) for The New York Times; just like his main foe, Brantley! Whether it’s good or not, whatever. He has outlets and he doesn’t have to do something dumb, which seems to be the raison d’être of his Instagram feed.
When Franco writes about LaBeouf, he writes about himself, about all actors, about the need to be a person sometimes and not just an actor:
Our rebellion against the hand that feeds us can instigate a frenzy of commentary that sets in motion a feedback loop: acting out, followed by negative publicity, followed by acting out in response to that publicity, followed by more publicity, and so on.
Participating in this call and response is a kind of critique, a way to show up the media by allowing their oversize responses to essentially trivial actions to reveal the emptiness of their raison d’être. Believe me, this game of peek-a-boo can be very addictive.
In all honesty, it’s one of the better things I’ve seen Franco write. Perhaps he set it up so that “performance art” will color everything that he ever does that isn’t in the mold of being a (good) actor in films. Maybe that’s just a happy accident. If you read Franco’s writing, he really, really hates the media and critics and a lot of what he’s doing is, supposedly, exposing the “emptiness of the media.” Sure. But, dude, instead of fucking up and keeping people employed in a terrible economy by writing about your fuckups (P.S., thanks for that!), maybe just take away the toys that give you the chance to be so garrulous. Maybe instead of playing the meta role of James Franco, performance artist/occasional actor whose Instagram is keeping it real, calm down a bit and avoid that outlet in the future. The ultimate result? People will care about your art more. They may even like it.