James Franco, like Ethan Hawke before him, is one of those movie stars who gets bashed left and right for daring to behave like any other arty young man. How dare he think he can write a novel, or paint, or make short films? What a pretentious idiot, right?!
I would counter that these activities out him as a passionate reader who cares deeply about art and movies.
His celebrity opens doors that are barred to your average arty young men, but it also ensures that he’ll be scapegoated without mercy. (An arty young man of my acquaintance earned some nice publicity for himself performing a one-man show titled “Bring Me the Head of James Franco, That I May Prepare a Savory Goulash in the Narrow and Misshapen Pot of His Skull.” )
I rarely feel sorry for celebs who tweet their wounded feelings, but I was rather moved by Franco’s poetic take on what it’s like to be on the receiving end of all this vitriol. It’s the first of six poems he reads in the video above, when he shared the stage with his 74-year-old mentor Frank Bidart, who no doubt enjoyed performing to a sold out crowd of 800. Franco’s debut poetry collection’s title, Directing Herbert White owes something to Bidart. His poem, “Herbert White,” is the inspiration for a short film directed by Franco.
Those who would consider all that just more evidence of Franco’s insupportable pretentiousness should consider the opposing viewpoint, courtesy of non-movie star poet Bidart, who told the Chicago Tribune:
"I'm almost 75. At some point you know the parameters of your life. The terrifying thing about getting older is the feeling that everything that happens from now on will be a species of something that has already happened. Becoming friends with James changed that: I no longer feel I can anticipate the future. Which is liberating."
Perhaps all that frantic, cross-media creative expression can result in something more than a snarky one-man show.
Because I played a knight,
And I was on a screen,
Because I made a million dollars,
Because I was handsome,
Because I had a nice car,
A bunch of girls seemed to like me.
But I never met those girls,
I only heard about them.
The only people I saw were the ones who hated me,
And there were so many of those people.
It was easy to forget about the people who I heard
Like me, and shit, they were all fucking fourteen-year-olds.
And I holed up in my place and read my life away,
I watched a million movies, twice,
And I didn’t understand them any better.
But because I played a knight,
Because I was handsome,
This was the life I made for myself.
Years later, I decided to look at what I had made,
And I watched myself in all the old movies, and I hated that guy I saw.
But he’s the one who stayed after I died.
You can see James Franco and Frank Bidart's Chicago Humanities Festival appearance in its entirety here. Find more poetry readings in the poetry section of our collection of Free Audio Books.