James Franco’s Short Student Film Features Michael Shannon Playing a Necrophile (NSFW)

It’s entirely possible that James Franco has a doppelganger. Or maybe access to some alien space/time bending technology. Otherwise, I really can’t figure out how Franco manages to do all the things he does. On top of starring in movies like Milk, Spring Breakers and Pineapple Express and getting nominated for an Academy Award for 127 Hours, Franco is also a published novelist and poet, an artist and, as an odd performance art routine, a guest on General Hospital. He received an MFA in writing from Columbia, and is currently a PhD student in English at Yale.

And, of course, he’s a film director. His first feature was an adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and his second directorial effort, which comes out next month, is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Child of God. Clearly, Franco is not interested in making light-hearted family fare. Yet perhaps his darkest, most disturbing movie is Herbert White, a short he did while a film student at NYU. (Oh yeah, he went there too.) You can watch it above. Warning: while not graphic, it probably is NSFW.

Based on a poem by Frank Bidart, Herbert White is a glimpse into the life of a dedicated family man and secret necrophile. The film stars Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, and Franco lets him do what he does best – look pensive, haunted and like he’s on the brink of committing an unspeakable act. If you’ve seen his powerhouse performance in Jeff Nichol’s Take Shelter, you know what I mean. The movie is shot in an understated, elliptical sort of way that slowly gets under your skin. This is particularly the case in the film’s climatic scene, shot in one single take, where Shannon circles his intended victim while he argues with himself over whether or not to succumb to his dark urges. It is deeply unnerving.

In an interview with Vice — he finds the time to be a regular correspondent for that uber-cool publication too, by the way – he talks about that scene.

I thought Herbert’s struggle with himself would be best captured if we didn’t cut away from him. The racing around the block along with Michael’s screeches and curses (ad-libbed) adds to the depiction of the inner struggle. We shot it three times, racing around the block. I was in the back with my DP. We were both pinching each other because the scene was so intense.

Franco was so moved by the experience of directing the movie that he published a book of poems about the experience (of course) called Directing Herbert White. You can watch him read some of those poems below.

You can find Herbert White added to our collection, 675 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

via NoFilmSchool

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

 



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  1. Shaun says . . . | July 16, 2014 / 2:40 pm

    Wow, that was intense. Really nihilistic though, in that there’s no redemption, no morality. But it’s a valid aspect of the darkest parts of man. I can’t wait for his Child Of God.

  2. Shaun says . . . | July 16, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    Also Michael Shannon scares the shit out of me.

  3. The voice of reason says . . . | July 16, 2014 / 11:32 pm

    James Franco is an odious little charlatan who needs to be slapped upside the head until he agrees to live out the rest of his life in motionless silence.

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